On Practice: Good little boys and girls?


As the school year begins, this is a good time to examine our classroom management practices and the expectations we convey to our students. Through the practices we develop at our schools, are we cultivating “good” kids or kids who know they are sinners in need of a Saviour? Do we inadvertently equate compliance with godly character? Do we produce young people who at least partially believe they are “more spiritual” because they memorise Scripture and listen to Christian radio? As educators, we want to effectively communicate the Gospel message to our students, but do we do this by being a role model of goodness or by making sure our students know that we are broken sinners saved by grace alone? Admittedly, these questions do not allow fair response choices, but hopefully they do spark some reflection on the message of “being good” we sometimes communicate in Christian schools.
I am not sure how the excessive interest in being good became so embedded in Christian schooling. Certainly it is rooted in our desire as believers to honor God. Yet somehow the external applause for being good got confused with the internal outworking of the Holy Spirit. How does a teacher get across that the Gospel is not about “being good,” but about the fact that you are “not good enough” and need Jesus to take care of that?

As head of a Christian school I tried to be a good role model. To be honest, I even tried to be a role model about things I did not actually believe, quoting to myself the Scripture about not offending a weaker brother or sister. Although there is truth about the impact of role modeling and sensitivity to offending a weaker Christian, this approach mistakenly puts my goodness rather than Christ’s redemption of my brokenness before the eyes of the student. Once I realised this, I began to direct my thoughts and my actions to the goal of how to authentically point my students to the Christ who lovingly gave His life because our goodness was just not good enough.

As a school head, I handled students sent to my office for disciplinary reasons. Often they entered my office with a chip on their shoulder and defiance in their eyes. But as I told them of my own shortcomings and how the atoning work of Christ is not just for Heaven’s sake, but for the here and now, their postures changed. The focus ceased to be on their good behavior, but on their need for Jesus’ work of transformation in their lives. Of course I backed my teachers by giving the students a strong reason to not commit the offence again, but I tried to make sure there was no confusion about the difference between being good and truly following Christ.

As I’ve wrestled with this distinction, here are a few ideas that I have for helping us to think through ways to model the Gospel to our students:

  • Openly talk about our struggles and need for Christ’s power and His forgiveness
  • Consider how and why we present awards to students
  • Carefully evaluate what we are saying when we offer praise
  • Read Tim Keller’s book Prodigal God and Donovan Graham’s Teaching Redemptively
  • Ask students to assess their motivation for good behaviors and use this as a springboard for a deeper discussion about righteousness

What about you? What are your reflections on this issue? I’d love to learn from you about how to effectively model the essence of the Gospel to students. When the pats on the back for being “good” are taken away, what will drive our students to godly living? What can we as educators do to make a transformational difference? E-mail your thoughts to us at onpractice@teachbeyond.org and we’ll share your insights in a future post.

Helen Vaughan, Ph.D.
Director of School Services