Review Archives – Christians in Education



Another little Grove Book full of big thoughts, Called to Teach: Teaching as a Mission Vocation from Trevor Cooling will prompt you to consider your calling as a teacher. The first chapter defines vocation as it relates to teaching, simultaneously questioning the role of the Church in honouring teaching as a vocation and encouraging the reader to ascertain whether his or her own calling to teach is in line with God’s gifting.

The text then moves on to three chapters which, in turn, define our calling to be distinctive, inclusive and professional. The weight of the argument is centred on the need for Christian teachers to understand that it’s not about working harder or smiling more as part of our Christian witness. Rather it is about understanding the worldview from which we interpret our professional responsibilities and influencing the story which our students are being told by the prevailing worldview. It is about offering a counter-cultural vision to a profession which no longer understands the Christian view of what it means to be human.

Laying out a vision for inclusion, in which we can work alongside those of other faiths and those of none without compromising our belief, Cooling encourages us to be open about our faith, whilst fully realising that what we believe can and will be contested. In fact, as he points out, our Christian worldview overlaps at many points with that of our colleagues. We all want justice and peace in our society – the difference emerges in the way we define those values. We may, as Christians, also uniquely value forgiveness and servanthood, but these are values which should increase our contribution to inclusion, not cause division.

The problem arises, of course, when the prevailing concept in which professionalism equates to neutrality conflicts with our faith. Here Cooling is particularly helpful, demonstrating both from 1 Peter and the story of Daniel, that we can identify, work within and seek to transform a culture in which we are ‘aliens and strangers’ right up to the point at which we are required to abandon our primary loyalty to God.

Thoughts and ideas are liberally supported with case studies and examples from a range of contexts. It is a challenging text to read, however experienced you are as a teacher. That said, it is also an affirming text, pointing the way to a transformative model in which we, as Christians in a profession which is often aggressively secular, can fulfil our calling to mission. It’s tough, it’s costly and if we’re working without the prayerful understanding of our church family, it’s lonely. But if we are to connect our faith with our working lives in any meaningful way, it is vital.

Grove Books 978-1-85174-754-2 28pp softback £3.95 Available post free on 01223 464748, [email protected] or by visiting

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John Pritchard, the key author of this book, is the former Chair of the Church of England Board of Education. He retired as Bishop of Oxford in 2014. The core of the text is his talk at the launch of the National Institute for Christian Education Research, in which he examines the contribution that Christians can make to shaping contemporary educational values. Following chapters are written by a range of educational practitioners, all of whom are engaged in the debate, and the chapters are bookended by thoughts from Trevor Cooling, Professor of the Institute.

Common to each writer is the view that education is becoming a narrowed exam-passing activity in which each child is merely, but simultaneously, a trainee economic contributor and also a trained consumer. John Pritchard calls for Christian teachers to adopt a distinctively Christian approach to what they do, focused clearly on the narrative of the life of Jesus. He offers definitions of a human child in a Christian context and of community as seen from a Christian education perspective.

Successive contributors offer insights into how this can work in practice, as well as sounding a clear warning about the fragile position of the Christian faith in a national context which continues to embrace its values whilst systematically divorcing them from the faith in which they should be centred.

John Pritchard ends his chapter by pointing out that as Christians we are fortunate to have both a clear rationale for what we do and also a clear point of reference in Christ. He exhorts us to ‘seek human flourishing for every child of God through holistic educational practice’ knowing that the means of achieving it is through Jesus who said, ‘I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.’ (John 10:10 NIV).

Other writers consider the purpose and function that underpin our church schools, making them inclusive and distinctive; the role of church schools in developing character, and the role of Christian educators in creating communities which nurture wellbeing.

Although only 26 pages in length, this book provokes a great deal of thought about what it means to be distinctively Christian teachers and schools in an education service dominated by individualist and materialist ideologies.

Grove Books 978-1-85174-836-5 28pp softback £3.95 Available post free on 01223 464748, [email protected] or by visiting

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What might it mean for teaching and learning to be distinctively Christian? Drawing on insights derived from the What If Learning programme, Trevor and Margaret Cooling pose this question, using both discussion of the issues and practical classroom examples to explore some answers.

Professional approaches to pedagogy cannot be neutral – teaching and learning are shaped by the hidden curriculum of the school which in turn is formed by the culture in which its pupils exist. Using the analogy of a dinner party, the authors liken the outward expression of the school ethos to the ambience created for guests, the menu to the curriculum, and the crockery the container in which it is presented. So why then, they ask, do teachers persistently serve the curriculum in saucepans rather than crockery?

The book then argues the case for a distinctively Christian pedagogy, one which pervades every subject in the curriculum and which focuses the learners’ attention on a Christian vision of what it means to be human. It’s about nurturing Christian values in pupils, not just talking about them. It’s about integrating those values so that their practice shapes character as teachers and learners work together in a relational community. When the practice of those values is second nature, they become virtues. This is a pertinent discussion at a time when character education is so high on the DfE agenda.

What If Learning sees the school as a signpost community to a way of being that accords with God’s design for humanity; a signpost to life lived in all its fullness which also allows members of that community to explore their own understanding. There are three steps that support teachers to make the many small changes needed to organise learning to facilitate this.

Seeing Anew is the point at which a teacher re-imagines what he or she is teaching – the example given is seeing language learning as a means of offering hospitality, rather than as a preparation for tourism. Choosing Engagement involves the intentional choice of learning activities which will open the eyes of pupils to this new way of seeing – in the case of language teaching, the use of conversation to build a relationship rather than perform a transaction. Finally Reshaping Practice, where the habits of the classroom are brought into line with the new way of seeing.

Copious examples from a range of teachers are used to explain and amplify the thinking, from both primary and secondary practitioners. Each example is presented as a case study, then analysed in detail so that the reader can see what is going on, what difference is made to learning and what the next steps might be. An explanation of the Christian thinking behind the lesson is also offered.

What If Learning sums up the Christian faith under the headings of faith, hope and love; virtues which are affirmed across all Christian traditions. Each case study relates back to one or more of these three virtues, but the point is well made that contextual factors could equally well influence the focus – it’s suggested that a school influenced by a local gang culture might focus on reinterpreting loyalty and respect from a Christian perspective.

As an introduction to the possibilities of What If Learning this is an essential text for all Christian teachers to read. It’s not just for those teaching in church schools – because of its focus on virtues, it is a way of being that can inform the thinking of any teacher who wants their pupils to experience wholeness as people. It’s about being distinctively Christian, not uniquely Christian. It’s about being a signpost to life in all its fullness just as God intended. And, as the author hopes, it’s also about encountering less saucepans at the dinner party of learning.

Grove Books 978 1 85174 863 1 28pp softback £3.95 Available post free on 01223 464748, [email protected] or by visiting

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