Thursday, December 20, 2007

Best Practice

When I was a teacher, one of the things that bothered me most was the culture around criticism. Not the culture that meant that teachers spent half their free time bitching about pupils (though that should have bothered me more than it did). The culture that meant that teachers often refused to accept criticism or feedback. Often their self-esteem was so tied up with their own perception that they were good teachers that they really couldn't cope with the idea that they might not be, or that they might have something to learn from other people. I guess it's a bit like driving – 90% of teachers would say that they are above average.

This was more extreme in my PGCE (teacher training) than in the school I taught at for 5 years. For example, during my PGCE, I wanted to investigate what made a good explanation. My plan was to ask pupils which teachers they thought were particularly good at explaining things, then observe some lessons with those teachers and try to find commonalities. My plan got vetoed by senior staff at the school, because they couldn't stand the idea of pupils being asked who was good at explaining things because that would imply that other teachers were less good at explaining things.

The same sort of thing happens in churches too, though with even less good reason. If church A is very good at youth work, for example, then the response of neighbouring churches of different traditions is (in my experience at least) likely to be one of the following:

  • ignoring it
  • accusing them of stealing the young people from “our” church
  • pointing out deficiencies in the way that church A does things

The better response, of course, would be to get the youth workers from A in to talk about how to do youth work. Don't necessarily accept everything they say – it's possible to build what looks outwardly like a successful youth group on foundations that are distinctly not Christian, for example – but aim to learn from what they do well. Why don't more ceremonial churches get evangelicals in to talk about how to help people to grow through preaching? Why don't evangelical churches get ceremonialists in to talk about the power of the acted word? (With examples of how lives have been changed in both cases of course – it's all very saying how we think God should work in something; it's much better to say how God has worked in something).

As it is, we too often lose that in a haze of politics and pride.

Sharing best practice – good. Obvious, but ignored.


PamBG said...

I think are three issues. In order of importance as to what stops this happening:

1) Vicars and ministers are hugely over-worked. My week averages about 68 hours. There is a lot of ecumenical good will where I am but the main reason we don't do more things together is that we can't get together to coordinate them, we don't have secretaries and any new project basically means someone (some minister) will have to do all the admin as well as all the 'interesting stuff'.

2) I think you are most certainly correct that it's hard to hear criticism. It's a lot easier for me to say 'I'll do a project that will improve the way I work' than for someone to come into my work situation and say 'Let's analyse what you're doing wrong' which is, I think, how some of your colleagues probably took it.

3) Of least importance in this area but still somewhat of importance is the suspicion between traditions. An evangelical anglican minister who arrived the same time I did was immediately invited into a prayer group of self-identified evangelical ministers of various denominations. I only found out about it when he mentioned it recently. To be fair, there is also a group of self-identified liberal ministers who didn't invite me either! Which gives me hope that I really am somewhere in the middle, but does make me feel rather isolated!

John said...

Overwork is a problem, and it's not just those without secretaries. My sending church has a full-time staff of 10 or so, including a secretary. And when I was there, the main job given to one of the wardens was trying to get the vicar (with a young family) to work less than 60 hours a week by finding other people to do stuff.

Also agreed about the suspicion between traditions, though at the same time recognising that there are false teachers out there. It's important to draw lines somewhere; I suspect many people tend to draw them too near to themselves. Personally, I'd think the Nicene Creed would be a good starting point.