Note: This is part three of a four-part series on the distinctives of transformational education, in which we explore four types of changes. These changes correspond to TeachBeyond’s four foundational principles and influence everything we do in our schools and classrooms. To read part one, click here; to read part two, click here.
I grew up in a non-Christian home. My parents were good people, good parents with good values and high standards. I followed script until I got on my own. It was the 60’s and many in my generation began to question all current values. I abandoned many of them. I had no reason to hold them. My choices no longer reflected what was expected but what seemed right for me.
This example points to the underlying danger of not understanding that student behaviour needs to be more than outward conformity. We have all heard the story of the little boy who said, “I may be sitting down on the outside, but I am still standing on the inside.” Eventually, he will just walk away.
While our students were created in the image of God, they don’t always act that way. It is because that image has been corrupted by sin. We tend to focus on correcting the behaviour, but the real problem lies deeper than that.
I have met teachers who think that they are being effective in the classroom simply because they have the class under control. Effective teaching does depend on keeping the class ordered, focused and on task, but this is not the end goal. It is a means to achieve educational objectives. In a transformational Christian school this means both academic objectives and spiritual objectives such as the development of character. Genuine transformation occurs at a deeper level where God works to change our thoughts, attitudes and character to be more like Jesus.
As transformed teachers, we have the responsibility to help our students to develop their inner character. We are to be part of the process of their becoming more Christlike on the inside as well as on the outside.
This idea is reflected in this mirror illustration.
We were created to reflect the image of God. As we look in the mirror, we see an image of the character of God. Suppose that someone comes along and sprays black paint all over the mirror. Now when we look in the mirror, that image is marred and distorted.
We see only bits and pieces of God’s character imperfectly reflected back. This is not who we were created to be. Sin has tarnished what God originally intended for us.
The transformation process of restoring that image is like having Jesus come with a soft cloth and begin to gently wipe away the black paint that is keeping us from seeing who we are in Christ.
As teachers, we have the opportunity to help students find their true identity and reach their potential. This includes seeing themselves as God sees them, seeing their place in the world, developing right attitudes, loving others, overcoming the effects of sin in their lives and doing what is right. This is a restorative process that deals with the root issues of inner change.
Character is what we have become on the inside. It is an inner quality but is demonstrated by outer actions. This inner quality can be developed, and often is by having the grace to see our experiences from God’s perspective and learning from them. Sometimes these experiences are difficult and painful but make us stronger and less self-centered. The teacher can initiate these learning experiences by creating a practical, value-laden culture in the classroom, where these values are talked about and encouraged. When needed, they are upheld through confrontation and correction. This doesn’t sound like teaching Math or history, but it is part of our calling. The teaching of righteousness (2 Timothy 3:16) and the development of character is perhaps the more important part.
“No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.” Hebrews 12:11
Christianity is not a moral code, but it contains one. We are to act in a way that God prescribes because it reflects his character and nature and because it is the best way for us to live fulfilled lives. Teaching students the reasons behind the rules helps them understand so they can commit to making them their own.
The formation of character is dependent on God’s grace. Grace is the power of God for the transformation of his people into Christlikeness. This occurs on his timeline and in his way, not ours. This means we are not responsible for how or when change occurs.
However, we are responsible to add to our faith certain character qualities such as goodness, knowledge, self-control, perseverance, godliness, affection and love (2 Peter 1:3-8). So with God’s grace, we work on these things in our own lives and in the lives of our students.
This and other scriptures tell us to be growing in these virtues. A growing person is a fruitful person. This fruitfulness will be expressed in the lives of students by the choices they make, how they act and what they say.
Teaching good behaviour to our students is necessary but not the end goal. It is part of the process that God uses to develop their inner qualities. The ultimate goal is transformation “into his image with ever-increasing glory”.
[i] All Scripture references are taken from THE HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®, NIV® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.