“Why did those gunmen want to shoot those people in New Zealand? I bet if they only knew some Muslim people, they wouldn’t want to hurt them. They could be friends instead.”
This was a question asked of one of our grade four teachers one morning during the class’ morning meeting, shortly after the mosque shootings in Christchurch, New Zealand. The question stayed with the teacher and brought her to my office door. In her follow up discussion with the class, it became apparent that not many of her students knew any Muslim kids. She had an idea. Could the grade 4 classes go and visit a Muslim school in a nearby city as an expression of friendship? There were some worries though. How would this idea be viewed by the Muslim school and by our own parents? Would there be fear and hesitation?
Rather than worry and do nothing, we determined that our staff goal of doing What Love Requires meant taking a risk and reaching out to extend an invitation, and then waiting to see what would happen. The Muslim school was delighted for the invitation! They too wanted to break down barriers for their students and increase their understanding of others. Since their school space was limited, they decided to bring their fourth graders to our school for a morning of interaction, play, and activities.
When the bus pulled up on the appointed morning, kids in traditional Muslim clothing and shy smiles piled out. The accompanying teachers were excited too and brought the gift of Tim Horton’s coffee for our staff.
As our students and their guests interacted, the shy smiles vanished, and playful laughter filled the classrooms. A circle game of “Just Like Me” broke down any remaining barriers. “You have a dog, just like me? You love to eat bubble gum ice cream, just like me?” “Wow, we like the same things!” was heard throughout the morning. They made friendship bracelets and played pool noodle tag.
Teachers also connected with teachers as they shared their passion of helping kids make
sense of the world. I had the opportunity to have a conversation with the
school’s principal who came along for the trip as one of the chaperones. She
shared her story of starting their school in her home, and how it had blossomed
through the years because parents had wanted a faith-based education for their
children. We discussed the challenges faced by private schools for busy school
leaders who often must wear many hats. Just like our students, we found we had
more in common than we had in differences. We had met that morning as strangers
but parted as respect-filled colleagues and a commitment to stay in touch.
As the bus was loaded at the end of the time together, our students gathered outside in the driveway and waved off our guests. They now knew Muslim children and were a few steps closer in understanding and having respect towards others who may seem different on the outside.
Answering the question of “What Does Love Require?” is not easy, and the more we asked the question at our school, the more areas we saw its application. It is a risky, demanding question but it has a simple answer - go and love in my name. This means doing things that may be hard and uncomfortable. When we as school staff struggled in this discomfort, we would remind ourselves that dying on the cross for the sins of the world was harder than anything asked of us.
Engaging in authentic and purposeful education for our students is another answer to this challenging question. To do so often involves taking a risk. It may mean, like our grade four teachers, inviting another faith community over to play, not knowing if all parents would approve. It may mean being courageous enough to move away from the “factory model” of school and give students voice and choice in the things they are learning, and to see them as individuals with their own development timelines. It may mean totally changing teacher plans for lessons and projects and letting students take a lead role.
Recently, one of our teachers had developed a project-based learning structure in which she thought her students would prepare a newcomer’s guide to Canada to assist Eritrean refugees. It was a great idea and an authentic project. As the students had the privilege of learning about refugee sponsorship within the community, they decided that they wanted to get more directly involved. As they began to think about gifts and talents God had entrusted them with, the students decided to plan a talent show for the school community. With more dreaming and conversation, it grew into something much bigger. Grade 5 and 6 students hosted a benefit concert (think Live Aid) in a local church and invited the community, raising over $10,000 to help with the sponsorship of a boy named Dan from Eritrea. It took two years for the process to complete, but Dan has arrived in Canada, and members of the class were there to welcome him at the airport even though they were now two years out from that classroom project. Authentic, purposeful education while doing What Love Requires impacts students and changes lives.
School leaders too must ask the question “what does love require?” as we support our teachers in taking risks and engaging their students in purposeful and engaging work. You may ask yourself, Am I being bold and courageous in my leadership and empowering those who work in my school to see students as capable and passionate difference makers? Am I willing to have difficult conversations that challenge perceptions or practices? What barriers can be overcome as we follow the command of Christ to love everybody always, even when it is hard?
What does love require of you in your school setting?