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Schools Blog

Schools Work - The Nuts & Bolts

I was in one of my schools the other day to do an R.E. lesson on 'suffering and the Tsunami', before the lesson I had "the call of nature" so I went to the staff room with Jason, an ex pupil who was shadowing my lesson (not my toilet trip!). I said to him casually - you wait in the staff room for a minute. But when I came out to find him I realised that he had been struck down with "the staff room fear" and could not build up the courage to go into the staff room, so was hanging about in the corridor with fear in his eyes. It is right that some staff rooms can make you feel about as welcome as a fart in a spacesuit (!) but after ten years in that school I had forgotten what it feels like.

So in this article I will go back to basics and hopefully demystify schools work and give you some practical ways of resourcing and helping your local school to extend your youth ministry, not only to have further contact with the young people that you work with on a regular basis but also to reach out to new young people who often are rarely involved in any organised youth work.

So I suppose the first question to ask is 'why bother with schools'.

"Ask me my three main priorities for government, and I tell you; education, education, education."
(Tony Blair, 1 October 1996)

Andy Hickford in his book Meltdown in Schools. Says that 'if we are not meaningfully involved in schools then we are missing our culture as a whole' and he pleads to Churches to get involved in their local schools. He says schools are at a crisis point, just ask a teacher!

Culturally speaking Churches are not the centre of our communities like they once were. Many Churches are there for hatching, matching and dispatching and often little else. So what would be the centre of our community now, of course it depends where you live, but it seems to me that schools could fit that bill in our rapidly changing society.

I believe that schools are the most natural centre of our fragmented communities. Every morning either myself or my wife Clare take our kids to school, we meet local people, we chat to them we pick them up at the end of the day, we go to kids parties, we are involved in the parent teacher association and I even do school discos! So it really is a point of connection where all people meet regardless of faith and social standing.

If we want to reach young people then school is a good place to start as an amazing 98% of young people "officially!" go to school anyway.

"We need cultural presence and not just cultural relevance in our youth work"
(Pete Greig, the founder of www.24-7prayer.com)

He goes on to say that it is people that model the gospel not just a brain, it is not just a cerebral connection, but its real people connecting with young people that make the difference.

Schools are the microcosm of society that we live in.

If we have established that schools are a good place to work in then the next step is to check out motives, lets ask ourselves the brave question why do I want to do schools work, is it because I just want to promote my youth club on a Tuesday night, get more bums on pews? or is it because I genuinely want to serve in some way. I have found that if we go in with the right attitude not only are schools more open to Christian involvement but strangely we see growth and a transfer of young people to our out of school clubs anyway. Thinking kingdom not youth program first seems to work - err I wonder where I have heard that before...

"But more than anything else put God's work first and do what he wants. Then the other things will be yours as well."
(Matthew 6:33 CEV)

Mind your language
The next step in our approach to schools is making sure we understand the language that we use has connotations, often because we are Church based youth workers we may take certain words for granted, however, these are not used in normal life or certainly not in the context that we would use them. so whenever you are doing schools work keep your language plain and simple, remember that words such as 'sin' really mean rarely anything in this culture and even when we say 'God' that can conjure up all sorts of things in young people's mind so it is good to explain all things. Unfortunately so much of our Christianity is wrapped up in culture and so much of our Christian culture is implied rather than actually taught so it is important that we strip it down to the roots. Bearing in mind that Jesus spoke Aramaic which was the street language of the day, he didn't speak in a flowery language that wouldn't be understood. Incidentally it appears that most of the times in the Bible when we think people were 'preaching' they were probably in dialogue and not actually preaching as we think. People can find faith easier in an unthreatening atmosphere without strange cultural language.

What will I say to a head or senior teacher?

I advise anyone new to schools to ask a simple question when approaching a school for the first time, that is when asked 'what wil you be able to do' say 'what would you like me to do'? Often they would want suggestions from you anyway but it is good to show that you have a heart to serve.

Q - Aren't you watering down the Gospel by saying stuff like that?

No! it is True contextualisation. Ajith Fernando describes in his book Sharing the Truth in Love (Discovery House Publishers 2001).

"Contextualisation is inviting your Muslim neighbour for Christmas dinner but not serving him pork or inviting your Hindu neighbour and not serving beef."

We are not hiding the fact that we are Christians we are just being more relevant to the culture that we are impacting. Most unreached schools are genuinely fearful of Christians usually this has come from a bad experience they have had from a visiting group or maybe even an inappropriate teacher some time in the past.

We should always leave the door open in school - even if they reject us we should leave a foot in the door for the future work of God.

When we look at schools work we often do think that it is only the traditional assemblies and lessons that can be done, however I was chatting to some youth workers in Leeds recently and they decided that that is really not for them but they are going to investigate other areas of school and hopefully going to use some of their skills in music and sport to help their local high school.

Quoting directly out of the Handbook for Secondary Teachers in England, published in 2000:

"All national curriculum subjects provide opportunities to promote pupils' spiritual, moral, social and cultural development, explicit opportunities to promote pupils' development in these areas and provide religious education, citizenship and the non-statutory framework for personal, social and health education (PSHE) at key stages 3 and 4. A significant contribution is also made by school ethos, effective relationships throughout the school, collective worship (assemblies) and other curriculum activities. Pupils' spiritual development involves the growth of their sense of self, their unique potential, their understanding of their strengths and weaknesses and their will to achieve. As their curiosity about themselves and their place in the world increases they try to answer for themselves some of life's fundamental questions. They develop the knowledge, skills, understanding qualities and attitudes they need to foster their inner lives and non material well being"

First things first
It is always good to do your research first. it is important that we do not work in isolation and we should not presume that no Christian work happens in a particular school we should always ask around, ring around different Churches, find out and ask God to reveal people in the school to you so that you can work with them, and not suddenly find out six months down the road that there was another Christian group going on that you didn't know about as this will only be seen as divisive.

How do I actually approach the school?
The best way I think is to write to the school and ask them if you can support them, tell them about your gifts, your abilities maybe give them a reference or the name of someone they could contact, a copy of your enhanced CRB check always shows your commitment and suitability as well. Then I usually follow a letter up with a phone call or an informal visit to the school, get the guided tour around the school learn a few more of the teachers names, steal the prospectus from the reception desk and gather as much information as you can.

Get used to signing in at reception as well, wear your visitors badge proudly (!) at first so that you don't get those funny looks as I used to and allow the teachers to let the young people to call you by your first name if at all possible.

Early days
It is also great in the early days just to hang out in places to be seen by the right people and to catch up with people; maybe you could go to the staff room for a coffee. Be aware that people have their own seats, definitely their own cups and often their own coffee and milk. If in doubt ask, I'm sure someone will help you, it is best not to use someone else's mug, coffee and milk on your first couple of visits to school. It is good to try and feel comfortable there so that you become a familiar face around the school.

Oh yeah! Make sure you park in the right place and not in the Head Teacher's parking place as I did in one school! And believe me it is really good to stay on the good side of receptionists and school caretakers!

Going public
I took my kids to the park the other day and while I was there some young people from school came up to me and were chatting to me about the assembly that I had done the previous week. Sure that was 'officially' my day off but it was great to see them and I was really glad that I had made an impact with the talk I had done. They got to meet my kids and it was great, being a natural part of my community and that is really what it is all about.

Settling in
Once you start to get settled you will start to learn to use your own unique gifts in school. It's really important that you play to your strengths, I love the big assemblies and the public speaking, I know that is one of my strengths however some of my workers don't enjoy the big talks and they are much happier mentoring individual young people. Play to your strengths - if you have a skill in a sport or music then why not offer it to your school. I have always been interested in basketball and when I first started 10 years ago I started playing a little bit of basketball with the 6th formers then eventually I realised that I could actually do this in school more so I decided to get qualified and I took my level 1 and 2 coaching awards, that gave me the opportunity to go to the school and say look I've got this award would you like me to coach your team which I have done for several years now. It shows the school that you are committed, it shows that you are professional. Sports, music, mentoring and art etc are always helpful ways of getting involved in schools if the traditional schools work of lessons and assemblies is not your strength.

Play to your strengths, go with the right attitude, think team, don't work in isolation and I'm sure your schools work will naturally become part of your ministry with young people.

Lee Jackson is the Director of Leeds Faith In Schools - www.lfis.org , an author - www.deadmenwalking.net , and a DJ - www.2turntables.co.uk
March 2005

Further clicking

"Dependability is one of the keys things we have to model"
There is no excuse for boring RE lessons led by Christians!

Submitted by Lee Jackson at 12:02pm, 31st May 2005