“What is ‘Anglican Education’?” This is a question that has occupied a lot of space over the last few years. It has been discussed on panels, over coffee in conference breaks, and among leaders in Anglican education. It has been explored in papers, reviews, and articles. The answer (if there is a single answer) remains elusive. In focussing on what it is that Anglican’s believe, there is little that makes us stand out from any Christian school. When describing our values there is little that sets us apart from any caring community committed to the flourishing of young people. “But we do that too” is a reasonable response from almost any other school to anything we might say we do because we are an Anglican school.
I’m sure we’re not alone in our experience of understanding our Anglican Identity in our school being relegated to a 20-30min presentation (usually by the Chaplain to new staff) that includes something about a local historic bishop, maybe a three legged stool, and then the practicalities that ‘We have Chapel, Service learning, morning prayers, and one or two people on staff who look like they’ve got their shirts on backwards… Is it really only the traditions and expressions of church life that set us apart? I mean, apart from Catholic education wanting to have a word, it has to be more than superficial ‘packaging’ right?
Developing our own education model suitable to our context and consistent with our ethos has prompted the important question of where does the faith ‘fit’ in our community and how do we express and live it? In some ways this has led us to explore our own version of the question, “What is Anglican education?”
We are a coeducational, Early Years to Year 12, multi school College with the mission to be “A College of excellence, open to all, in a disciplined, caring, and Christian environment”. Like many Anglican schools, our openness, in particular our openness to those of other or no faiths, can make it a challenge to lock down what we mean by being a Christian School in the Anglican tradition. We can’t say that it is the personal faith of our staff, students, or families when significant percentages of all of them are not Christian, and most who are, are not Anglican. What does it mean for an institution to have a faith that isn’t personally owned by its members? Well that’s a big question, and probably a PhD for anyone who’s interested. I think part of answering that question is to have a more missional understanding of education. That is, our school isn’t so much an extension of church, but rather is an act of loving service for its members and the community it is located in. A helpful analogy perhaps: in a region that suffers from high rates of cataracts could be served by a Christian organisation in the establishment of an ophthalmic surgery. Now the patients don’t need to be Christians to benefit from the work, and the staff don’t necessarily need to be Christian to do the work; I know if I was having eye surgery I’d be less concerned with whether the surgeon had prayed for me that morning than that they knew what to do with the scalpel in their hand!
Our motto is “In God is My Faith” and it is the foundation and motivation for all we do. It is that prompted the school to be founded; a desire to have affordable, excellent education, open to all, in our region.
Another motivation for us came about in response to the impact on our community from COVID. While the impact of COVID has been trying over the last few years, especially times spent in lockdowns, many lessons have been learned. Before COVID there seemed to be a growing expectation that online and remote learning were key for future oriented education. While the lockdowns necessitated widespread upskilling in online learning, and those skills have created opportunities for greater flexibility and creativity in education, the general consensus was that students, parents, and teachers couldn’t wait to get back to being physically present at school.
One of the great lessons (or perhaps reminders) of having delved into online learning is that education is not merely data transfer; true education is a human endeavour and is therefore at its strongest when done in community. We teach people, not content. Of course we always knew this, but the experience has given depth of understanding. This has then prompted clarity and celebration of what makes our community unique. Our faith and the values it inspires are at the centre of our community.
So, we are now in the process of designing a professional development course for our staff around this elusive idea of Anglican Education, “Teaching in an Anglican school” or more particularly, “Teaching in this Anglican school”. At the heart of it we’re aiming to foster a shared understanding of what it is we believe as an institution. This ought to create space and a shared language for individuals in the institution to explore and describe what it is they believe.
In stark contrast to the standard 30 minute chaplain presentation about Anglicanism (I swear I’m not having a go, I’ve done that same presentation many times) this will be a series of topics that we will be rolling out over the next three years for staff to explore individually, collaboratively, and develop into action and activity in the life of the college.
The main building blocks of our PD will be three main units:
- Theology: Christianity and Anglicanism – where Anglicanism is located amongst denominations and the breadth of Anglicanism
- Anglican Schooling: Understanding the history and tradition of Anglican schooling in Global, Australian, and Local contexts
- Faith in Action: Using the Anglican Marks of Mission as framework for faith expression and practice.
While the outcome of this process is unlikely to result in a universal descriptor of Anglican Education that can be taken on by all, I’m hopeful that we can at least be able to more clearly describe and live out the faith in our context in an authentic way. And perhaps in sharing this process, we might help others to do the same.