Example #48 Failure and Community

What if failures were seen as opportunities to serve?

David taught a class of older modern language students, and after the first major test it was clear that the makeup of this group was going to be a challenge. He had become concerned about what he saw as a tendency for his students to think in a very individualistic way about their learning, focused mainly on their own success or failure.

"Almost half of my students did very well on the test; almost half did very badly. There were relatively few scores in the middle of the range. I decided to treat this as a learning opportunity. When I gave the tests back, I explained about the scores and intentionally stated that 'we' (not 'I') had a problem, because some students needed to move ahead faster and others needed to go much slower. I also handed round two kinds of cards, telling students that they could choose one of them to sign and return if they wished. One card said 'I think I am struggling with this material. I would appreciate having someone available to give me some help.' The other said 'It seems like I am doing really well – I would be willing to give a little time each week to serve as a tutor to another student who is finding this hard.' I explained to them that this was a chance for us to build a learning community in which we took care of each other and grew together.

"About half of the students returned one or another of the cards, and I used them to connect students with each other, having them agree how to contact one another outside class. This was of course not the only way I tried to keep everyone learning. However, it became one of the ways we worked together to keep everyone engaged."

What’s going on here?

David saw poor test results as an opportunity to help students consider their responsibility to help others, and wanted his students to see others’ learning struggles in a communal context as an opportunity to show that they valued their fellow learners.

He engaged learners in identifying their needs and reflecting on how they could use their abilities to serve, leading them to make a voluntary but specific commitment.

He reshaped his practice by choosing his language intentionally to promote community ('we' have a problem), using response cards to structure students' responses, and providing a concrete way for them to help one another rather than a general exhortation.

How do I do this myself?

What does this have to do with faith, hope, and love?

Love, writes Paul in 1 Corinthians, is not self-seeking or proud – instead it protects and perseveres in kindness. A Christian community is, among other things, one in which weaker members are honoured and cared for, and the strong do not boast in their strength. This lesson was an attempt to apply 'love your neighbour as yourself' to the classroom community.

What difference does it make?

David helped his students take some responsibility for one another’s well-being in the class and moved the focus from individual success to class success and serving.

Where could we go from here?

It is good to celebrate individual achievement – but it is also worth considering whether our classroom practices, such as the ways we report test scores to students, or the ways we structure group assignments, encourage mutual responsibility among students.

Digging deeper

Individual achievement is celebrated in the Bible, be that success in battle (David), wisdom (Solomon), faith (Esther), skill (Bezael the craftsman) or intelligence (Abigail). Yet there is also a strong emphasis on mutual serving and responsibility. Christianity is not a religion of 'lone rangers'; faith grows in community and is practised in community. Christian fellowship is about a quality of community between Christians where all are interdependent with each person being important and working for the good of the whole. Christ is the head of the community and all are dependent on him (1 Corinthians 12:22; Ephesians 1:22). The Holy Spirit binds the community together (Ephesians 4:3).

… the duty is now emphasized of serving God in the world, in every position in life. Abraham Kuyper

All the blessings we enjoy are Divine deposits, committed to our trust on this condition, that they should be dispensed for the benefit of our neighbours. John Calvin

Our society looks for freedom and happiness in wealth, fame and power. The Bible sees it in giving and serving others. One Anglican prayer describes the service of God as ‘perfect freedom’. Those words translate ‘cui servire, regnare est’: ‘To serve is to reign’. To serve God and others is the highest honour; it is what we were created for.

One thing I know: the only ones among you who will be really happy are those who will have sought and found how to serve. Albert Schweitzer

Explore similar examples:

What if anxiety about tests could turn to thankfulness?
What if perseverance were acknowledged, not just perfection?
What if success in maths depended on forgiveness?

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1My friends, you asked me about spiritual gifts. 2I want you to remember that before you became followers of the Lord, you were led in all the wrong ways by idols that cannot even talk. 3Now I want you to know that if you are led by God's Spirit, you will say that Jesus is Lord, and you will never curse Jesus. 4There are different kinds of spiritual gifts, but they all come from the same Spirit. 5There are different ways to serve the same Lord, 6and we can each do different things. Yet the same God works in all of us and helps us in everything we do. 7The Spirit has given each of us a special way of serving others. 8Some of us can speak with wisdom, while others can speak with knowledge, but these gifts come from the same Spirit. 9To others the Spirit has given great faith or the power to heal the sick 10or the power to perform mighty miracles. Some of us are prophets, and some of us recognize when God's Spirit is present. Others can speak different kinds of languages, and still others can tell what these languages mean. 11But it is the Spirit who does all this and decides which gifts to give to each of us. One body with many parts 12The body of Christ has many different parts, just as any other body does. 13Some of us are Jews, and others are Gentiles. Some of us are slaves, and others are free. But God's Spirit baptized each of us and made us part of the body of Christ. Now we each drink from that same Spirit. 14Our bodies don't have just one part. They have many parts. 15Suppose a foot says, I'm not a hand, and so I'm not part of the body. Wouldn't the foot still belong to the body? 16Or suppose an ear says, I'm not an eye, and so I'm not part of the body. Wouldn't the ear still belong to the body? 17If our bodies were only an eye, we couldn't hear a thing. And if they were only an ear, we couldn't smell a thing. 18But God has put all parts of our body together in the way that he decided is best. 19A body isn't really a body, unless there is more than one part. 20It takes many parts to make a single body. 21That's why the eyes cannot say they don't need the hands. That's also why the head cannot say it doesn't need the feet. 22In fact, we cannot get along without the parts of the body that seem to be the weakest. 23We take special care to dress up some parts of our bodies. We are modest about our personal parts, 24but we don't have to be modest about other parts. God put our bodies together in such a way that even the parts that seem the least important are valuable. 25He did this to make all parts of the body work together smoothly, with each part caring about the others. 26If one part of our body hurts, we hurt all over. If one part of our body is honoured, the whole body will be happy. 27Together you are the body of Christ. Each one of you is part of his body. 28First, God chose some people to be apostles and prophets and teachers for the church. But he also chose some to perform miracles or heal the sick or help others or be leaders or speak different kinds of languages. 29Not everyone is an apostle. Not everyone is a prophet. Not everyone is a teacher. Not everyone can perform miracles. 30Not everyone can heal the sick. Not everyone can speak different kinds of languages. Not everyone can tell what these languages mean. 31I want you to desire the best gifts. So I will show you a much better way. Love
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