The five key tools and schools work
There are rules about how we can share and talk about faith in a schools setting which mean that our approach may need to be different from the way we do it in church. This will depend on what sort of school it is, and each school will have policies and guidance you will be able to access. Your church or denomination may also have good practice guides. When I worked in schools, I found it helpful to remember that I was a guest, invited in to share my faith rather than impose it on anyone. I always tried to make things an invitation rather than an instruction, and knowing how influential a popular guest can be, I was careful to use phrases like ‘this is what Christians believe – what do you think?’ or ‘we’re just going to be quiet for a moment to think about that, and if you want to you could chat to God about it in your head’. The examples below are all from my experience working in primary schools - do let us know if you've used the key tools in your work in secondary schools too.
Much of what we teach in Parenting for Faith works really well in a school setting, because our approach isn’t to dictate what you should believe but to say this is my ongoing journey with God and these are ways you could explore it if you want to. It’s about opening up the idea of what faith looks like and demonstrating how Christians understand the world and what part church and the Bible play in that. In essence, it’s sharing the reality of a life lived with God so that pupils (and staff) understand what that might look like.
So it makes sense that the five key tools that parents and carers can use with their children are also good tools to use in schools work. In this article, we’re just going to look at each tool and suggest some ways it might be used. If you are unfamiliar with the key tools, it would be worth you checking out our key tools pages and the Parenting for Faith course (which unpacks the tools).
Creating windows is about giving people glimpses of your own journey with God – helping them see the impact God makes on your everyday and how important and real he is to you. It’s usually a very simple tool. For example, you might say, ‘as I was walking to school, the autumn colours were so beautiful that I just had to say thank you to God for them’, or sharing an experience when you felt God’s presence, or praying at the front of assembly in the same way you’d pray at home. You can also create windows by sharing true stories about you and God, or others and God, linked to the point you are teaching or sharing about. You can also invite pupils to share stories about them and God (for example, what makes you feel close to God, or when did you see God changing the world?).
Framing is about explaining who God is in the world and how he impacts us today. Many pupils in school will have heard of God but few will have a good understanding of him biblically or know much about him. There’s a great tool within framing we call the questions tool which would be really useful in a classroom setting as it gives children a helpful structure for answering any big question about God or Christianity (and anything else), and it could form the basis of a discussion time in a club or lesson.
Under framing we also think about how to help children really engage with bible stories so that they see more than the words on the page and get to see who God is and how he works – because if he’s the same yesterday, today and forever, the truths they find out there will be true for them too. There’s an article here that explains this more fully and demonstrates how to do it.
We often fall into patterns of doing things without always explaining what they have to do with God: for example, reading a Bible story or singing a song or donating food at harvest. By explaining the why as well as the what (for example, we're going to read a story from the Bible now, because Christians believe that God uses the Bible to tell us things today', or 'At harvest we give gifts of food to others - it's a way of sharing God's love with other people') you help people connect what they are doing with God.
People’s perceptions of God are shaped by many things – stories they’ve heard, other people’s opinions, experiences they’ve had, for example – and it is easy to end up with a view of God that is distorted or unbalanced: for example, he’s far away, or he gets cross when we sin. The unwinding key tool is simply about ‘unwinding’ any misconceptions about God, and giving people a broad and balanced view of God so they begin to understand him more deeply.
Both aspects of this tool can be useful in schools work. It is particularly helpful in planning assemblies or RE lessons: for example, if the story you are using in assembly points strongly to one aspect of his character (that he is caring, or that he is fighting for his people, for example), how can you balance that over time so children see a fuller picture of who God is, or what could you say to remind children that this is just one aspect of his character? If you take assemblies regularly, you can build this into the series you choose, talking about a different idea about God each time. This tool is also useful if you sense that children have a misconception about God that needs unwinding.
Another helpful tool for giving children (and adults) a fuller picture of God is to help them see the whole story of the Bible – how it all makes sense as part of God’s rescue plan for us. There’s an article explaining that more fully here. Again, if you are able to plan assembly series, you could do a term on the whole story and give it a catchy title, like 'Mission Impossible?' or 'The Big Rescue Plan'.
Chat and catch
Chat and catch is a model of prayer we use because it invites children to their own connected prayer life with God, not dependent on an adult. This can be very liberating to use in assemblies, because it doesn't put words into the children’s mouths or ask them to join in with someone else's words. You can simply invite them, if they want to, to chat to God about what we’d been thinking about, reminding them that God ‘chats’ back in different ways.
Surfing the waves
Surfing the waves is the idea that we can spot things that God is growing in people – interests, passions, skills – and then support them using the six stage circle as they explore and grow those things. This works particularly well with smaller groups such as after school clubs. I once ran a term’s after school club based on a passion the children had for supporting charities and we ‘went around the circle’ exploring God’s heart for others, what we might do, etc, and ended up with a great fundraising day all set in the context that they were partnering with God to love people like he does. You could also pick up on a wave the school is riding and build that into your assemblies.