A couple of years ago, whilst at a Christian Education conference, I attended a fascinating workshop on avoiding conflict in the classroom. It wasn’t quite the standard reflection on conflict resolution that I expected – it was much, much more. It looked at some of the causes of conflict and how, as Christian teachers, we can address them. The presenter suggested a range of reasons why conflict arise, many of them either to do with factors external to our classrooms, or due to unresolved baggage that pupils bring with them when they walk through the door.
One word in particular grabbed my attention and got me thinking, because in contemporary use it implies an industry, which provides a service at a cost. It was the word ‘hospitality’. What does the word mean to you? The dictionary has two definitions: the friendly and generous reception and entertainment of guests, visitors or strangers, and relating to or denoting the business of entertaining clients, conference delegates or other official visitors. Christian teachers, the presenter suggested, should exercise hospitality in their classrooms. Well, he clearly didn’t mean ‘entertain’ which is the thrust of the dictionary definitions and which rather skates over the full meaning of the concept. So what does the Bible say?
Answer: a great deal. ‘Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers’ (Hebrews 13:2), ‘Show hospitality to one another without grumbling’ (1 Peter 4:9), ‘You shall treat the stranger who sojourns with you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself’ (Leviticus 19:34) and ‘hospitable, a lover of good, self-controlled, upright, holy, and disciplined’ (Titus 1:8, all quotations ESV). Clearly, God wants us to be hospitable not in the sense of entertaining, but in a much deeper sense, and it’s not an optional extra. It is fundamental to our work for God.
So, we are to welcome people, even strangers from other lands. We are to love them as we love ourselves, in other words, to consider their needs not at the expense of our own, but as equal with them. We should seek to care for others just as willingly as we care for ourselves. Hospitality is about perceiving the needs of others and doing our best to meet them and it’s also about service (1 Timothy 5:10).
What does this mean in practice, in our schools, every day? The practice of Christian hospitality is about inclusivity. We look for God’s gift in each pupil, we treat each one with dignity and we teach each pupil according to their need. We also provide an environment where individual needs to belong are met and in doing so, we model to our pupils how to practice hospitality towards each other. If we are leaders, we have a role in helping our staff to accept responsibility for practicing such hospitality to everyone in the school, not just those who conform to particular norms.
I have spent much of the last week browsing through OFSTED reports for Christian schools. Despite their widespread geographical locations and the unique context of each of the schools, there were common threads to the reports. Teachers were excellent role models for considerate, caring relationships. Pupils talked about their schools feeling just as comfortable as their homes. Their behaviour was judged to be sometimes good and often outstanding.
Tens of inspectors over a long period of time noted the positive, caring and supportive relationships in schools which experience little or no bullying. And, not surprising for those of us who have experienced this kind of nurturing environment, children make good or outstanding progress regardless of ability, often surpassing national standards. The reports proved a powerful argument for Christian schooling.
A hospitable classroom is one in which the fruit of the Spirit grows in abundance. And it’s not just any hospitality – this is Christian hospitality, because we are ‘Rendering service with a good will as to the Lord and not to man’ (Ephesians 6:7 ESV). Whatever our context, this is what makes us distinctive as Christian teachers.