The Practices: Character
The Professional Practices: Character
The purpose of education in a Christian school reflects the specifically Christian vision of human flourishing found in the New Testament. The vision focuses on nurturing Christian character; encouraging specific learner behaviours and habits that result in the practice of distinctive Christian virtues. We seek to develop students’ character by teaching them the ‘language of heaven’ in order that they might participate in the building of the Kingdom of God on earth. By teaching this ‘new language’ we create opportunities for learners to gain deep insight into God’s purposes for them and their unique place in God’s creation.
Professional practices of character have the potential to generate ways of thinking, acting and doing that help communicate something of God's character and the virtues that characterise the Kingdom of God. They also provide an alternative narrative to the dominant ‘tongues of our age’ that speak of self-fulfilment, individuality, tribalism and acquisitive greed. N. T. Wright in his book, Virtue Reborn (SCM, 2010: 132) puts it like this:
“A complete and flourishing human being needs all the basic strengths of character … The ‘virtues’ are the different strengths of character which together contribute to someone becoming a fully flourishing human being”.
Developing character will result in more than just students who are powerful learners, it will nurture strength of student character; students with a flourishing sense of compassion, grace, kindness, humility and commitment to justice.
“In everything set an example by doing what is good. In your teaching show integrity, seriousness and soundness of speech that cannot be condemned, so that those who oppose you may be ashamed because they have nothing bad to say about you.” [Titus 2:7-8]
Integrity captures that character trait in which learners are true to themselves. The word comes from the Latin integritas, meaning wholeness and soundness. Integrity therefore implies openness, honesty, authenticity, and reliability. Fostering integrity in learners involves encouraging them to take responsibility for their feelings and behaviours, owning them. As learners develop their excellence in this kind of agency they will likely endorse such statements as these:
- It is more important to be myself than to be fake and popular;
- When people keep telling the truth, things work out;
- If you have integrity, nothing else matters. If you don’t have integrity, nothing else matters;
- I always follow through on my commitments, even when it costs me.
The wisdom that comes with deep integrity allows others to maintain their particular integrity, even if that integrity is different to our own. Educating for wisdom of this kind is one of the great challenges facing a plural, multi-religious and multi-secular world, and there are many areas where learners will need to develop integrity through respectful discussion, negotiation, and mediation.
Our role model: Dr Hawa Abdi
“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.” [Luke 4:18-19]
Both the Old and New Testaments insist that God’s desire is for generosity, love and practical action towards the poor, the marginalised and the oppressed. Our vision for education fosters in learners a deep concern for the disadvantaged. This concern is so central to the biblical message that it not only defines ethical behaviour but also defines what worship itself is: “Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen: to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free...to share your food with the hungry...to provide the poor with shelter...” [Isaiah 58:6-7]. Learners who care about social justice will be helped to demonstrate proactive advocacy and develop the courage to “speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are poor.” [Proverbs 31:8]. They will be graced with a passion to build cultural capital and increase equity for the benefit of the whole community. As learners develop their excellence in this kind of agency they will likely endorse such statements as these:
- I have a responsibility to improve the world in which I live;
- I care about the least, the last the lost and It is important to me personally that I work to correct social and economic inequalities;
- It is important to me personally that I help others who are in difficulty;
- It is important to me to be involved in programs to clean up the environment.
Learners who have developed a responsibility to remove disadvantage possess a deep sense of wisdom, supporting one another in a journey of love in prophetic action. There is no more tangible way of increasing the equity of God’s kingdom than learners minded to choose this path, becoming signs themselves of the possibility of abundant life for all.
Our role model: Oscar Romero
“Blessed are those who trust in the Lord, whose confidence is in him. They shall be like a tree planted by water, sending out its roots by the stream. It shall not fear when heat comes, and its leaves shall stay green; in the year of drought it is not anxious, and it does not cease to bear fruit.” [Jeremiah 17:7-8].
Trust is that integrity trait by which learners are able to differentiate truthful claims from sensationalist post-truth misinformation. The explicit development of this critical skill helps learners make discernible choices around issues of trust and is of priority when it comes to professional practices that nurture character. Truthfulness - and the ability to discern it - breeds trustworthiness without which individuals and society cannot flourish. As learners develop faith in this kind of agency they will likely endorse such statements as these:
- I make sure that what I say, or text, or post about others is accurate;
- I speak my mind truthfully;
- I believe truth is larger than what I know and is something that needs to be discerned;
- I seek a more truthful world for myself and others.
The virtue of trust and truth has become increasingly important in this digital age of ‘the fake’. Those educating for wisdom have a serious concern to help learners differentiate fact from fiction, helping them to discern how society can judge what to trust and who and where to place one’s faith.
Our role model: David Attenborough
The Bible understands God as inherently creative: “... he founded the world by his wisdom and stretched out the heavens by his understanding” [Jeremiah 10:12] and imaginative: “see, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland.” [Isaiah 43:19]
Creativity and curiosity are fundamental to a life orientated towards abundance and make for significant aspects of fullness of character. In his study of the biblical prophets, The Prophetic Imagination, Walter Brueggemann writes: “The imagination must come before the implementation. Our culture is competent to implement almost anything and imagine almost nothing. It is our vocation to keep alive the ministry of imagination” (Fortress, 2001:40). The New Testament focuses on Jesus as ‘the image’ and ‘wisdom of God’. He is both God’s self-expression and self-giving, breathing his Spirit of love into those who express hope in him. The practical impact of this is to stimulate a hope in learners to imagine living in line with who Jesus is and to create ways of continuing his work of teaching and service in love. As learners develop excellence in this kind of agency they will likely endorse such statements as these:
- Despite challenges, I always remain hopeful about the future;
- I am always looking for new ways to do things;
- I am curious to see if my way of doing things will work out for the best;
- I believe that good will always triumph over evil.
Creative learners live in hope and aspiration and are encouraged to pursue a future that they cannot yet quite see. Those who educate for hope encourage in learners a God-centred creativity and instil a hopeful imagination that helps them aspire beyond what seems plausible. Such practitioners consciously weave creativity into their pedagogical craft aware that imagination can be easily eclipsed in the narrow pursuit of productivity.
Our role model: Albert Einstein
“So if the Son sets you free, who will be free indeed.” [John 8.36]
To liberate is ‘to let go’ and to nurture liberation is to encourage learners to move into an identity in which they draw upon the abundant life of Christ and the hope of God’s freedom. Wisdom, hope and aspiration - together with the support of a compassionate community – lends learners dignity by treating them as endowed with freedom; unique and precious. This ethos serves to emancipate learners, giving them freedom to learn, grow, relate, create and flourish. Learners come to understand that this liberation is, by its nature, social because it anticipates the freedom of the Kingdom of God where “creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and all will obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God” [Romans 8.21]. Learners who inhabit this sense of hopeful liberation appreciate that their equity is yoked to the protection of the equity and freedom of others and seek ways of liberating their neighbour from all that oppresses them. As learners develop their agency in this characteristic they will likely endorse such statements as these:
- I can make a difference in my own world and the world around me;
- I care about the least, the last the lost and feel angry at all that oppresses them;
- I cannot be free until all are free;
- I am enough and can live my life from that place of abundance.
Those who educate for hope teach that liberation is counter-intuitive to the ‘scarcity model’ that causes learners to question: “Am I enough? Is this enough? Will I ever be enough?”. To develop this characteristic of liberation is to live more and more in that abundant place where the learner is not held back by their inadequacy or failures but is able to live in hopeful aspiration, freedom and expectancy.
Our role model: Rosa Parks
“Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything”. [James 1:2-4]
Angela Duckworth in her book Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance, says that perseverance grows with age and that over time we learn to ‘adapt in response to growing demands of our circumstances’ (Scribner 2016:89). Enabling learners to lead a gritty life is to encourage them to have faith in themselves and keep going when things are difficult believing that by perseverance, they will eventually change the world for the better. It is about helping learners to work on something they care about so much that they are willing to ‘stay loyal to it’ and remain faithful. In a Christian context, perseverance and hopefulness are developed with the promise of resurrected life within the persevering love and fullness of God. As learners develop faith in their agency in this area, they will likely endorse such statements as these:
- I do many things on the spur of the moment;
- I don’t need lots of encouragement in order to complete many things;
- I believe I can do it;
- When I fail in something, I am willing to try again and again.
This same spirit can motivate teachers to be patient with difficult learners and to offer radical forgiveness and grace. Learners need to deliberately practice these habits of hopefulness and perseverance because many today find it much easier to be cynical and give up.
Our role model: Nelson Mandela
Jesus said, “Whoever welcomes you welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me. Whoever welcomes a prophet in the name of a prophet will receive a prophet’s reward; and whoever welcomes a righteous person in the name of a righteous person will receive the reward of the righteous; and whoever gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones in the name of a disciple – truly I tell you, none of these will lose their reward.” [Matthew 10:40-42]
Jesus speaks of the profound joy that comes from living a life of mutual hospitality – where the difference between ‘giver’ and ‘receiver’ dissolves as each gives up any claim to have power over the other. Christ says that the best of human relationships are not ‘above’ or ‘below’ others but are encountered in mutuality where all are welcome and none are regarded as less than any other. Hospitable learners seek to embody this ethos of living well together; they appreciate that flourishing as an individual learner requires an equal respect for the integrity of other traditions and beliefs. As learners develop excellence in this kind of agency they will likely endorse such statements as these:
- I am interested in other cultures and beliefs especially those different to my own;
- I am interested to know what others think about this;
- There is nothing threatening about difference;
- I’d rather be excluded for who I include, than be included for who I exclude.
Those who educate for community appreciate that the world teaches something quite different: that to be a successful human is to have ‘power-over’ others and that to thrive is to be more attractive and popular; to be smarter and wealthier than others. An education grounded in encouraging hospitality stands counter to the dominant tribal messaging young people regularly receive: to ‘close their borders’ and simply acquire more for their ‘own’. By contrast, education for hospitality is curious to discover God's "great deeds" hidden amongst our rich and diverse community realising that we were not created a single tongue, a single fluency.
Our role model: Emmeline Pankhurst
“Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.” [Colossians 3.12]
Compassion and kindness define the empathic orientation of the learner towards others. It is to be contrasted with solipsism where the learner relates to others only insofar as they contribute to his or her needs and are considered useful. Compassion requires learners to assert belief in a common humanity in which the equity of others is worthy of attention for its own sake. Compassion gives rise to helping behaviours that secures the equity of others without the assurance of reciprocity or reputational gain. As learners develop agency in this area they will likely endorse such statements as these:
- Others are just as important as me and of equal worth;
- In a world where you can be anything, be kind;
- The kindest word in all the world is the unkind word, unsaid;
- I am not the centre of the universe but part of a common humanity.
Those educating for community hold that compassion encourages learners to soften critical self-talk, thereby growing in love of self which then makes possible a new level of empathy for others. Such concern, empathy, and care enable the learner to be in vulnerable solidarity with their community and embody the equity and compassion that God has for each person in Christ Jesus.
Our role model: Mary Seacole
“Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.” [Matthew 11.29]
Jesus’ promise of life in all its fullness is given when he describes himself as the good shepherd who calls his sheep by name and loves them with a gentleness that is expressed in laying down his life for them (John 10:1-18). Instilling gentleness in learners nurtures in them the ability to heal brokenness and be amongst those who reconcile. Learners with a strong disposition towards gentleness are likely to endorse statements such as the following:
- I don’t hold a grudge for very long;
- Seeking revenge doesn’t help people to solve their problems;
- I think it is important to do what I can to mend my relationships with people who have hurt or betrayed me in the past;
- ‘When hate is loud, love must be louder.
Our society lacks this kind of gentleness in its relationships at all levels: polarised politics, divisions centred on wealth, class and culture, ethnicity, religion, gender, age, family, health and disability, and conflicting responses to controversial issues such as the environmental crisis, immigration, or crime. Those who educate for community do so believing that a healthily plural school is one where learners put energy, thought and imagination into forming an attitude of gentleness towards others and commit themselves to the common good.
Our role model: Betty Campbell
“[Christ] made himself nothing, by taking the very nature of a servant... he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death, even death on a cross...” [Philippians 2:7-8]
Developing humility in our interactions with others takes significant practice precisely because it places the dignity of the other above oneself. Christians take inspiration from the example of Christ who ‘emptied himself’ of divine dignity and became one-with-us. Humility stands in tension with the constant pressure to be right and builds trust with others by placing greater dignity on other people than oneself. Humility requires learners to re-orient their desires by taking into account the needs of others. Far from self-deprecating, humility enables the active building up of others: it avoids bitterness in the face of a challenge or mistake; it helps diffuse arguments, and also builds the capacity for patience. As learners develop this kind of agency they will likely endorse such statements as these:
- I can acknowledge my mistakes, imperfections, gaps in knowledge, and where I fall short;
- I have an accurate (not underestimated) sense of my ability;
- Sometimes the need of others must come before my own;
- I appreciate the many different ways that others contribute to our world.
This re-orientation towards humility is a fundamental posture of life in the Kingdom of God and educating for dignity begins with the humility required to preference the dignity and wisdom of others.
Our role model: Mohandas Ghandi
“Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful.” [Colossians 3.15]
Gratitude begins with a sense of ‘gift’ as the learner is encouraged to look outward, away from themselves in order to receive life itself as ‘given’. As a disposition, it is the opposite of ‘entitlement’. In ‘receiving’ a Christian education the learner is encouraged to view themselves as ‘part of something bigger’ rather than individually entitled and at the centre of all things. Education becomes less of an individual right for the learner to ‘take or leave’ and becomes something which is given, entered into and handed on. Gratitude therefore turns the learner away from autonomy towards heteronomy, encouraging learners to engage with the need to protect the equity of others by cultivating an appreciation of gift and blessing. As learners develop this kind of agency they will likely endorse such statements as these:
- I have so much to be thankful for;
- Sometimes the needs of others must come before what I am entitled to;
- I make a deliberate effort to say ‘thank you’ whenever I can;
- Some people always seem to want more of what they think they should have.
Those educating for dignity accept the ease with which we learn entitlement today and stress that we be better flourish when we learn thankfulness. A thankful learner will respond to life with deep gratitude and are thereby less likely to end up with mental health issues. Gratitude establishes an attitude to life that builds sociality, equity and generosity and helps educate for dignity and fullness of character.
Our role model: Maya Angelou
“Therefore as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly beloved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience...And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.” [Colossians 3. 12, 14]
The goal of faith is love and the Christian tradition teaches that love is the only reality. When Jesus is asked to name the greatest commandment, he draws on this perennial tradition and says, “Love the Lord you God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and love your neighbour as yourself” [Matthew 22:37-39]. This imperative to love is made clear by John: “Beloved, since God loved us so much, we also ought to love one another... God is love, and those who abide in love abide in God, and God abides in them...We love because God first loved us.” [1 John 1:8-10, 4:11, 16, 19]. Learners are taught that love is who they are and who they are becoming; love stands above all the other virtues and “binds them together in perfect unity.” When learners’ lives are narrated by love they are able to let go of the other scripts in which they dwell – those of fear, comparison, or the sense that they do not truly belong. As leaners develop faith in this kind of agency they will likely endorse such statements as these:
- There is someone with whom I feel free to be myself;
- There is someone for whom I would do almost anything and whose happiness matters as much to me as my own;
- There are times when I feel deep contentment;
- If you want to feel good, do good.
Throughout the gospels, Jesus’ divine character is revealed by the demonstration of love for others. This occurs in radical and hospitable ways and involves crossing social boundaries, confounding expectations and breaking with tradition to demonstrate love in action. Love binds all virtues together because it involves multi-layered forgiveness and patience, coupled with deep compassion and empathy for those around, particularly the outsider. “Faith, hope and love abide, but the greatest of these is love” [1 Cor 13. 13]. Learning love is to be educated for our deepest dignity – dignity towards self and others.
Our role model: Desmond Tutu