Time for a coffee with a head teacher
Fruitful involvement with your local school stems from understanding its ethos and how you can help, writes Martin Sweet
While waiting in a rather good coffee shop for a church minister (non-Baptist) to turn up late for a chat, I was reading an interesting article in Caffeine, a magazine for people who are passionate about coffee.
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The article began, “There’s a saying in coffee that you are given every opportunity to spoil the bean.” The writer explained how the ‘bean’ can be spoilt anywhere from a poorly tended coffee plant to a poorly trained barista. Titled ‘Part of the Process’, the article detailed some issues and problems in the production of coffee.
It caused me to reflect how various agencies and church groups need to be ‘part of the process’ of working in a context of local schools. To use ‘coffee-speak’, each needs to play their part and not spoil the bean.
Director of Education for Diocese of Chichester Ann Holt, speaking at a recent Faith in Education Conference, posed a question: What kind of difference can we make to a local primary school?
To begin to answer this, it is essential that churches see the larger picture of how they can play their part in the process of education, and of course this does not just encompass governorship, providing resources, joining parent teacher associations and so on. It means much more.
The task is for church personnel to understand what goes on in a school and, perhaps a significant part of the process, seek to establish a relationship with the school management. One of the founders of modern Christian missiology, Gustav Warneck, suggested that the ‘pastor is the person in the best position to exert the greatest influence as a missionary worker’.(1) Could this suggest that church leaders should actually prioritise time in order to get alongside and befriend their local head teachers?
Doubtless for some church leaders the last time they stood outside a head teacher’s office was quite a few years ago and might even have involved short trousers and a ‘telling off’. But perhaps it is in the head teacher’s office, over a cup of coffee, that the seeds of a good relationship between church and school are sown.
It is important that we don’t arrive in the schools with our detailed agenda or a request to distribute our holiday club leaflets. Or in ‘coffee-speak’, instead of spoiling the bean, have in mind to go and listen to what their agenda is all about.
it is essential that churches see the larger picture of how they can play their part in the process of education, and of course this does not just encompass governorship, providing resources, joining parent teacher associations and so on. It means much more
And when you leave, tell them that you will visit again and that you and your church will be praying. In going this route, given time, you may be invited to offer help with collective worship, fund some good Christian books for the children or the opportunity to have some retired people who would care to come in and hear the children read.
When a lawyer asked Jesus the question, ‘Who is my neighbour?’ it is noticeable that Jesus did not answer him directly. Instead of giving the man a long list of who deserved help, the story of the Good Samaritan reveals how we can all engage in the costly business of being a neighbour to others.(2)
So the costly bit, in terms of building a link with a primary school, will not be in the affordability or job description of a children and family worker, but whether the whole church understands the value of investing time and energy into their local schools.
However, just as a poorly trained coffee shop barista can spoil the bean right at the end of the process of making a cup of coffee, so too there is every opportunity to spoil the relationship between church and school, usually by a small error of judgement.
So it is essential that we do all we can to understand the school’s agenda. Indeed, if some coffee outlets see a cup of coffee as a work of art, how much more care should we invest in our relationship with a local school? It is all too easy for someone going into a school, who does not understand how they work, to ‘spoil the bean’!
For example, I recently asked a head teacher if there was anything we could pray about in our week of prayer for schools. Did they mind me asking? They (who was not a Christian) looked up forlornly from their desk top full of paper and said “I need all the help I get!” Visiting their school once a fortnight for over 15 years had convinced them that I was listening and could be trusted.
So perhaps time spent over a cup of coffee with a head teacher is a key part of the process. Of course, it all depends upon what we are passionate about. It is a shame to spoil the bean in a rubbish cup of coffee after so many bean-miles from Kenya or Brazil…
Martin Sweet writes on behalf of the Baptist Education Group (BEG). The vision of the Baptist Education Group is to encourage every Baptist church to strategically engage in supporting its local school.
Martin is director of Spinnaker Trust, an organisation with over 25 years’ experience, based in SE London, regularly supporting over 100 primary schools in London and the Southeast with RE, assemblies and much more.
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1 Gustav Warneck, Missionsstunded quoted in ‘A Task Unfinished’ Michael Griffiths pub 1996.Monarch
2 Something to Celebrate – valuing families in church and society. page 96 pub CHP 1995