This academic year, every other issue of OnPractice has focused on the practical way TeachBeyond’s stated values play out within the classroom. Some of these values are easy to apply: what teacher doesn’t want their classroom to reflect creativity and integrity? Others, such as holiness, have been a bit more challenging to pin down. Such is the case with this month’s value, congeniality.
If you’ve been to a TeachBeyond orientation, you’ve probably heard our President George Durance talk about what we mean by congeniality—which can be literally translated, with friendliness. He tells entertaining stories of the brothers Janz who were able to sing praises to God and in nearly the same moment play incredibly funny practical jokes on each other—jokes that didn’t in any way detract from the integrity of their living testimony. These illustrations can be helpful when we think about congeniality in the light of how we interact with others within our organization, but what does congeniality have to do with transformational education in the classroom?
To answer that question, I took a brief informal survey of a number of classroom teachers and school services personal from around TeachBeyond. These are men and women who serve from various cultural backgrounds in many different regions across the globe. Here are some themes that emerged:
Know your Students: A congenial classroom is one where all are welcomed, all are seen, and all are known. The teacher takes the time to see the students as more than academic vessels. She finds time to ask about the things the students care about, to notice student interests and behavior (good, bad, goofy, etc.) and to speak into the students’ lives. Learning becomes a byproduct of relationship; students rather than content are the focus of classroom instruction.
Model the Value: The loudest voice the teacher has is his life. A teacher who models a life marked with congeniality demonstrates how to relate to others in a loving, respectful, warm, and kind way . He models both how to give and to receive these traits. He is transparent in his life and can invite students to laugh with and delight in the peculiarities that make each of us unique people while at the same time maintaining a classroom environment that is a safe place to let these peculiarities emerge. Students recognize that their teacher enjoys and respects them, and they are encouraged to enjoy and respect each other as well.
Create Opportunities for Students to Work Together: In a congenial classroom, everyone has a role to play. Every student has a legitimate voice in the learning process. Teachers can create a classroom environment that encourages this by creating intentional cooperative learning experiences , opportunities for students to learn from each other and discover how to work through differences in respectful and meaningful ways.
Build on a Biblical Foundation: In congenial classrooms teachers recognize and point out that all people have value and dignity as image bearers of the Creator God. They provide opportunities for students reflect this image: relational interactions, creative assignments, critical reflections, and experiential learning. Students are encouraged to recognize different perspectives and evaluate their views and those of others through the biblical lens of what is righteous, true, and just. They are taught to critique without rancor and to season their arguments with grace and compassion. People, not perspectives, are the priority in this classroom.
Congeniality may at first glance seem like an odd choice for inclusion in an organization’s core values, but a second look makes it clear that it’s actually brilliant. We serve a triune God: a God whose very nature is relationship. As we set up classrooms and learning environments that we hope will have a transformational impact on the lives of learners, these must reflect this reality. A congenial classroom does just that. It recognizes the importance of relationship and finds creative ways for this to be expressed to and by students and teachers alike.
Special thanks to those teachers and school service personnel around the world who gave input into this article: Bob Adams, Andrea Craddock, Leighton Helwig, Liz Hutchinson, Russ Kraines, David Midwinter, Joel Olson, Pam Sanderlin, Lynette Sorensen & Jessica Weaver.