Tag Archives: Education

Moral Courage – Rushworth Kidder

A few points I pulled out of this excellent book:


What, then, is moral courage? It can be defined as the quality of mind and spirit that enables one to face up to ethical challenges firmly and confidently, without flinching or retreating. It is a “quality of mind” as well as “spirit” because, like all ethical endeavours, it partakes of both the rational and the intuitional capacities, both left-brain and right-brain activity, both the processes of intellectual discourse and the feelings of rightness and wrongness inherent in each individual.

  • It enables us to face up to problems—not necessarily to resolve them, and certainly not to promise that we will master them, but to address them squarely, frontally, and with determination.
  • It requires action that is both “firmly” persistent and “confidently” assured that its tools—the moral, mental, and emotional elements of argumentation and persuasion—are sound enough to weather serious resistance.
  • Finally, it requires us to act “without flinching or retreating” in the face of persuasions, from the subtle to the violent, that make us want to turn tail and run.


Step 4: Understand the Risks I
Understanding risk involves the contemplation of possible outcomes…Have I adequately assessed the dangers involved both in acting and in failing to act? Am I clear on the moral hazards, even if the situation involves physical hazard as well?  Do I have a clear picture of the three principal challenges — solving ambiguity, exposure, and loss—inherent in any situation


Am I willing to face up to the ambiguity and confusion that surrounds this problem? Can I penetrate its mysteries without being baffled, duped, or mentally overwhelmed? If I fear I could be wrong about the facts, does that
prevent me from moving forward? Or do I have that tolerance  for ambiguity, that confidence in my ability to figure things out, which is essential to moral courage? Can I distinguish persistent firmness in the face of wrongdoing from true moral courage in the face of right-versus-right dilemmas?


Do I recognize the fear of exposure that can inhibit moral courage? Am I willing to make myself vulnerable for the sake of achieving some higher good? Do I acknowledge that by acting with moral courage, I may be thrust into a highly visible leadership role—whether I want it or not? Or am I hoping I can hide and still make a difference? Have I got the focus and stamina to weather the exposure that frequently accompanies morally courageous acts?


Do I grasp the peril to my income and position—as well as to personal relationships and public reputation—that may be involved here? Is this the hill I want to die on? Have I underestimated the risk, so that I might lose everything to no avail and be accused of foolishness? Or have I overestimated the risk, so that what I think to be courageous has very little risk at all, leaving me open to charges of mere bluster and bravado? Do I understand that moral courage shines most brightly when the stakes are highest?


State of the World Forum Values


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Gandhi’s 7 things that will destroy us and Covey’s question

In the introduction to Robert Greenleaf’s Servant Leadership, Stephen Covey writes the following

Gandhi taught that there are seven things that will us. As we study them slowly and carefully, we see in a powerful way how each represents an end being accomplished through an unprincipled or unworthy means:

  • Wealth without work.
  • Pleasure without conscience.
  • Knowledge without character.
  • Commerce without morality.
  • Science without humanity.
  • Worship without sacrifice.
  • Politics without principle.

Isn’t it interesting how each one of these admirable ends can be falsely attained?

If I were to pick one as the most dangerous, I would go with ‘knowledge without character’ – “Knowledge is power” after all.

Thoughts to share? Enagage with me on twitter.

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Class act: ending the education wars – Maxine McKew

I’ve given a voice to the many teachers in schools who are experts at what they do and every day find ways to challenge and stretch young Australian minds

Maxine McKew

9780522866575McKew’s book contains nothing new. That is not so much a criticism of the book but of governments of both stripes who have not heeded the recommendations coming from leading Australian researchers in education. Suggestions that the Gonski ‘needs based’ funding be adopted, that Hattie’s Visible Learning precepts be integrated into all schools and equipping school leaders to direct resources for best student outcomes, have been written about at length elsewhere. Her writing style makes the material very accessible and her public profile will perhaps attract some readers who are not well versed in the topic.

The book is available through Melbourne University Press.

A few quotes that I will be reflecting further upon are reproduced below. They are not my own work – please attribute them to the original author.

[E]xperts possess knowledge that is more integrated, in that they combine the introduction of new subject knowledge with students’ prior knowledge; they can relate current lesson content to other subjects in the curriculum; and they make lessons uniquely their own by changing, combining, and adding to the lessons according to their students’ needs and their own teaching goals.

John Hattie quoted on 3

But Australia’s scores in international literacy tests aren’t dropping because the students who sit those tests don’t know their sounds. They are performing poorly because they cannot comprehend what they are reading. They have poor vocabularies and cannot follow sentences that employ more complex language structures. They cannot read between the lines.

Our low-achieving students – both on international measures and the home grown National Assessment Program, Literacy and Numeracy (NAPLAN) tests – share one, very telling, common characteristic. They don’t speak “school English”, or Standard Australian English, at home. They may speak a language other than English, or Aboriginal English, or a creole, or “bogan” English – the kind where words like “youse” feature.

Misty Adoniou quoted on 20-21 (read the original piece online here)

Nowadays, families just like [the many migrant families before them], in search of a more settled life and their own piece of Australian magic arrive from across the globe—from the Subcontinent, from north and south Asia, and from Africa. But the children of these new migrant groups are entering a vastly different Australian schooling system. Long gone is the suburban public high school that once brought together the sons and daughters of just about everyone—where the kids of doctors and dentists rubbed up against the offspring of tradesmen and shopkeepers. There is a remnant of this social diversity left in the primary sector, but by high school the divide is acute. The best and brightest (and those who max out on private tutoring) head for the country’s selective high schools. The professional classes opt for high-fee independent schools or the more prestigious of the Catholic schools while trade- and commerce-based families increasingly enrol
in the newer, low-fee, faith-based schools.

That leaves [public] schools…to cater for the rest: the children of low-income or public housing dependant families, urban Indigenous people, and newly arrived refugees.


What to do?

1. Invest in the training and capabilities of school leaders so that they are operationally proficient and know how to motivate and direct resources towards teachers who are constantly improving their knowledge and skills.
2. Adopt as a standard across the system, and especially in teacher education academies, the key elements of John
Hattie’s Visible Learning approach. Know thy impact should be on the wall of every staffroom in every school across the country.
3. Go for quality…[get] rid of dumbed-down electives. Show students you care enough to make the material intellectually demanding and watch them take off.
4. Listen to the voices of students. They know when they are being short-changed by teachers who are ill-prepared or by schools that are cruising.
5. Create an environment that enables more government schools to develop strategic partnerships with business groups and philanthropic organisations.
6. [Fully adopt] the Gonski funding model [and direct] resources to where the need is greatest.


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What would I look for when hiring school staff?

Last week a @Danhaesler posted a graphic (reproduced below) exploring his thoughts when thinking about hiring school staff.

So what about this principal’s thoughts? At a teacher meeting this week I asked all of the teaching staff at my school to come up with their own. Mine is reproduced below. There are a few underlying ‘non-negotiables’ present in the questions.

if yes come teachI encourage all educators to have a go at this. It provides a wonderful way into clarifying the educational values of both individuals and schools.

Let me know what you think via twitter.

@Danhaelser’s thoughts:

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#acelconference thoughts to remember

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Augustine – lessons from his life and ministry

An article I wrote a little while back about Augustine and cross cultural ministry. I am far from an Augustinian scholar – so please send feedback my way.


Augustine – lessons from his life and ministry

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Streams in the desert – World Prayer Day address 2014

Streams in the desert: reflections on Egypt, John 4:1-26 and Isaiah 35:1-3
PD5Before I commence my address I wish to say that I am humbled today by the presence of representatives of the Egyptian Coptic Church. A church that has suffered persecution over nearly two millennia, a church that welcomed me into their country, a church that can teach us a great deal about the God. Ahalan wa sahalan – Shookran gazeelan (Translated from Arabic: you are most welcome, thank you greatly)

The Egyptian Copts say we must worship God in the church, the Muslim in the mosque. It sounds a little bit like the Samaritan woman who asked Jesus “I know the Samaritans believe this and the Jews that, Jesus, which one is right?” Who is right? The Egyptian Christian or the Egyptian Muslim?

Why was it that the hospitality I received in churches in the poorest areas of Egypt was the warmest?

My Egyptian friend John* said ‘This is the first time in history that the Egyptian people have been free’. How is it that this only occurred in 2011?

Why was my wife not able to walk down the streets of Cairo for fear of verbal and physical abuse because of her gender? Something not restricted to pale skinned white women.

How was it that a foreigner in the land of Egypt discovered what tear gas feels like when he was just trying to renew his visa? (It doesn’t taste great – especially as the Egyptian police are using expired surplus US gas currently!)

Why is it that I know what it feels like to teach an African refugee child one day and have them die from malaria the next?

How can an Egyptian hospital refuse to administer saline solution to a woman suffering from food poisoning because she is poor and allow her to die as a result?

How can one meet more Muslims following the teachings of Jesus seriously than Christians in Egypt? What does that mean?PD2

My pastor in Egypt, the Anglican Reverend Paul Gordon Chandler wrote the following in his book ‘Pilgrims of Christ on the Muslim Road’

‘“(A culturally Muslim man who follows the teachings of Jesus) once spoke with a Muslim peasant who noted that Jesus was very hospitable – after all, he said, didn’t Jesus make sure there were a lot of leftovers when he fed the 5,000? (The Christ following but culturally Muslim man’s) spontaneous response was to thank this simple, “uneducated” Muslim man for giving him a new perspective on the life of Jesus, as he had never thought about Jesus’ miracle in those terms before.’”

Why was it that even in the most conservative areas in Cairo, I was welcomed to a Mosque?

I was walking down the back streets of Old Cairo with a friend of mine when we were greeted by a local man who invited us to see his mosque. We followed him through narrow streets, markets and goat herds. When we entered, we found the most beautiful mosque I had seen.  The interior was littered with lush palm trees and flowers. It was an oasis from the dusty and noisy streets.


At the end of our first year in Cairo working with refugee and Egyptian teachers, pastors and doctors we had not made any progress. The practice of all three groups was the same as it was when we arrived. It felt like all we had done was have an expensive and disappointing holiday. After all, we had left our careers to spend our entire life savings to serve those in need.

Egypt isn’t all about the below photos and you don’t get to ride a Camel at the Pyramids every day.


It looks more like this.


We got back to Australia and saw that a cup of coffee costs what feeding 20 primary school students at my refugee school did. We hear of a looming refugee crises in our country after leaving a country that actually has a refugee crises, as a poor country tries to house perhaps up to 4 million refugees in their borders. I read in the paper the day after Rudd became our Prime Minister again – “Rudd defeats Gillard in bloody coup”. Really?

When we returned to Australia it was just after the second revolution had broken out (It occurred 5 days after we left). Many people talked to us and said one of two things. “Wow, Egypt, that must have been amazing!” As if we had been working as young professionals in London or Paris on a gap year. Or the other, “Gee, you must be glad to be out of there now that the poo has hit the fan and tanks are in the streets again.” Well, perhaps we would be if we didn’t have friends living and working there that may be in increased danger. If we didn’t know that as the Egyptian government refuses to fulfil its UN obligations, every time the country becomes unstable, key workers with the refugee and the poor leave, and they are left alone.

People said “It is great that you are home and I’m sure God has things in control.” Yes he does. He is God after all but what I do know is when I arrived at my school we had 6 volunteers doing hours at the school in crucial roles. Now I know there are 2 and there haven’t been any refugees able to fill those roles.

God may have things under control but I know what is happening to refugees on the street. I know the fear that the Christian community feels in Egypt right now. I know the problems of the Egyptian families who want education, employment, healthcare and a fair justice system. This is being denied to them.

In Egypt there are those who, despite all, keep going. James* was our ever patient and wonderful Arabic teacher. His family is Coptic. When I told him what I was doing in Egypt, he insisted he come and help translate at the refugee Bible college. James had an interesting time in university. Due to corruption, his professor of English had a PhD but could not speak and write English. As a result, the exercises and assignments James had to complete were flawed. James was required to write incorrect English in order to pass in this professor’s class. James passed with distinction after spending endless hours figuring out exactly what elements of English the professor had incorrect and reproducing those mistakes in his work. In order to make sure he knew English, James watched every English language film he could find and read every book in English he could find. His English is extraordinary. A month ago, through Facebook I learnt his brother was killed. Egyptians fear that their internet is being monitored and thus don’t write some things online so James has not told me the full story. I suspect the death of James’ brother was not accidental.

My friend John’* is a travel guide. He speaks fluent English, German and French. He wanted to learn more about God and attended my lectures at Bible college. They say that the tourism industry in Egypt since the revolution has diminished to 10% of what is used to be. In Aswan, deep in the south of Egypt, a tourist hotspot, hotel vacancy runs at 96%. John now struggles to support himself and his hopes of getting married are gone.

Michael was my trusty driver whenever I needed one. He now drives a taxi to support his family after the foreign company he worked for pulled out due to security concerns.

My friend Paul* is an Egyptian man who I met in Adelaide before we left. My wife and I were invited to his wedding in Assuit as honoured guests. Paul fled persecution in Egypt and is now trying to get his family out to save them from the Muslim – Christian tensions in unpoliced upper Egypt.
My leadership team at the refugee school consisted of a Ugandan, a Congolese, and two Sudanese. They helped me run a school on an annual budget of 100K. On this we educated 550 kids and paid 50 staff. Over 20 African nations are represented in the student body. Two of my most favourite people, mama Helen and Aida managed to feed 550 people (plus visitors) each day on $50. As an Australian I hate class and position. Helen and Aida took great pride in bringing me a lunch every day and refusing them hurt them greatly. They took great pride knowing that they were looking after the principal of the school that educated their children.

Australia has a refugee problem? Egypt has a population of perhaps 87 million and is probably hosting another 4 million refugees from across Africa and the Middle East. I have no official and public position on refugees in Australia but I will say that perspective is important.

Below is a photo I took of the Nile in Aswan and I find it so poignant. You see a blue river, a small amount of greenery and stretches of desert beyond. In this case, it runs uninterrupted for hundreds of kilometres until it hits the Libyan border.PD92

From Isaiah we read ‘The desert and the parched land will be glad; the wilderness will rejoice and blossom.  Like the crocus, it will burst into bloom; it will rejoice greatly and shout for joy, they will see the glory of the Lord, the splendour of our God. Water will gush forth in the wilderness and streams in the desert.’ (35:1-3)

Streams in the desert – just like this picture. After my experience in Cairo I am not optimistic – but I am hopeful. They are two different things. In this picture there is some greenery, some growth, but not a lush forest.

As Christians we know where this hopefulness comes from – from the water provide by Christ whose service to others brought forgiveness, mercy, justice and compassion. It is a water that never leaves us thirsty.

And this is what gives me a reason to keep doing what I am doing now as a principal of a Lutheran school in the Western suburbs of Melbourne when everything else in the world is telling me to stop. This is God’s business – bringing hope to the hopeless. Bringing meaning to the meaningless. Life to the desert. Of giving me, a returned and worn out missionary, purpose, comfort and direction. And God does this, not through focussing me inward but focussing me outward – calling me to share God’s water with the world. To help the Samaritan, the Egyptian, the Australian – so that all know where hope comes from.

It is interesting to note that Egypt is one of the most water poor countries in the world. Thanks to a new dam being built on the Nile in Ethiopia, Egypt will soon receive 50% less water every year.PD94 PD93

The left are pictures of the cave church in Cairo. Some Christians moved to Cairo to escape persecution and live on the rubbish tip. They live by recycling the refuse of the city and cause Cairo to have the highest recycling rate in the world. Building a church in Egypt is illegal (still) but they overcame this by carving churches into the hills above the tip. Here up to 100,000 people gather to pray for Egypt and the world.  Pray for these Christians who worship in truth, they are called the Zabbaladeen – the rubbish people.


The photo below is of an evangelical church in upper Egypt– in a place no longer safe to travel to. Actually, it wasn’t safe when I travelled there I just didn’t tell my mother! I was asked to come and teach them. In Egypt you are either Muslim of the Sunni variety, Coptic Christian or Catholic. If you are outside of these groups you are in trouble. These young people are hated by Muslim, Coptic and Catholic alike. They have no pastors and no teachers. I have not met a group of people so dedicated to worshipping God and serving others. As they have no pastors, they saw me as their ‘abuna’, their spiritual father and were desperate for counsel.  I sat and listened as person after person came to me with their precious stories. Please pray for themPD95.

Please pray for the millions of refugees in Egypt for now they are Egyptian, pray for my Arabic teacher James and his grieving family, pray for Paul and his family who need protection, pray for the young Christians in Egypt wanting to diligently serve God. Pray that the thirsty would be thirsty no more.

My wife and I visited Mt Sinai on the Sinai peninsula.  We climbed up from the parched desert floor but got lost.  We didn’t see the sunrise from Sinai – we saw it from half way but we sat and drank tea beside the sign below.


Help for the needy. Please pray for the needy. Please not only pray, put seek to support those who work to build gushing rivers in Egypt.

Yabarakoo Allah (God bless you all)


*Name changed to protect identity

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What every good leader knows – Richard Rohr

Quoted from Richard Rohr, The Naked Now: Learning to see as the Mystics see, The Crossroad Publishing Company: NY, pp 156-­157. More information here.

At times, spiritual wisdom does not harmonize well with the goals and practices of the world. But sometimes spiritual seekers take this truth too far, thinking that to be “spiritual” we have to be naive and simplistic and can’t lead as well as others. At the same time, religious leaders often try to bypass the needed competencies because they believe their special status makes the training whether skill sets or the work of spiritual growth unnecessary.

In fact, there is no greater training for true leadership than living in the naked now. There, we can set aside our own mental constructs and lead situations even more imaginatively with the clearer vision of one who lives beyond himself or herself. This is surely why some of Christianity’s great mystics, such as Teresa of Avila, Catherine of Siena, and Ignatius of Loyola, were also first rate leaders, motivators of others, and reformers of institutions.

Here are some insights into what every good, nondual leader knows and practices, whether in the workplace, at home, or in the classroom.

  • Good leaders are seers of alternatives.
  • Good leaders move forward by influencing events and inspiring people more than by ordering or demanding.
  • Good leaders know that every onesided solution is doomed ahead of time to failure. It is never a final solution but only a postponement of the problem.
  • Good leaders learn to study, discern, and search together with their people for solutions.
  • Good leaders know that total dilemmas are very few. We create many dilemmas because we are internally stuck, attached, fearful, over identified with our position, needy of winning the case, or unable to entertain even the partial truth that the other opinion might be offering.
  • Good leaders search for a middle ground where the most people can find meaning; they work for win/win situations. (This is hard to do if you assume you are the higher, the more responsible, the in-­charge, the senior, the more competent or once you have made a harsh judgment about the other.)
  • Good leaders know that there is no perfect solution. That is the lie and false promise of the dualistic mind, polarity, and all or nothing thinking.
  • Good leaders know that seeking exclusive or overly rapid recourse to the law is an easy way out, and often just a sign of laziness or fear of taking responsibility.
  • Good leaders know that the rule of law and obedience can inform you only about what is illegal or immoral; it cannot of itself lead you to God, truth, goodness, or beauty (Romans 3:20 and 7:7).
  • Good leaders know that rapid recourse to the law might be seeking the will of God, but it might also be seeking to avoid the responsibility, the necessary self-doubt, the darkness, and the prayer required to live in faith, hope, and love.
  • Good leaders know that when done well, compromise and consensus seeking is not a way of abdicating essential values, but very often a way of seeking, and finding, other values, especially community building, along with giving more people a personal investment in the outcome.
  • Good leaders know that wisdom is “the art of the possible.” The key question is no longer “How can I problem solve now and get this off my plate?”, it is “How can this situation achieve good for the largest number and for the next generations?”
  • Good leaders keep prayerfully offering new data, until they can work toward some consensus from all sides.
  • Good leaders want to increase both freedom and ownership among the group -­ not just subservience, which will ultimately sabotage the work anyway.
  • Good leaders let people know the why of a decision, and show how that is consistent with the group’s values. In short, good leaders must have a certain capacity for non polarity thinking and full-­access knowing (prayer), a tolerance for ambiguity (faith), an ability to hold creative tensions (hope), and an ability to care (love) beyond their own personal advantage.

In your own life of leadership, whether in private or in public, meditate on this list from time to time. Ask yourself honestly which aspects of non dual leadership are your strongest, and make note, over time, of which ones become more natural for you as you grow in the contemplative gaze.

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A letter to the teacher of Abraham Lincoln’s son


I write this post from a training room with a rather spectacular view of Sydney. I am here with other leaders from various school systems undertaking a subject on school leadership through Australian Catholic University. We are blessed to be learning from an engaging lecturer who is doing a great job of challenging us to reflect on our leadership from differing perspectives.

He shared this quote with us. This is not a passage I have heard before and thought it worth sharing. It is attributed to Abraham Lincoln and was addressed to his son’s first teacher.

He will have to learn, I know,
that all men are not just,
all men are not true.
But teach him also that
for every scoundrel there is a hero;
that for every selfish Politician,
there is a dedicated leader…
Teach him for every enemy there is a

Steer him away from envy,
if you can,
teach him the secret of
quiet laughter.

Let him learn early that
the bullies are the easiest to lick… Teach him, if you can,
the wonder of books…
But also give him quiet time
to ponder the eternal mystery of birds in the sky,
bees in the sun,
and the flowers on a green hillside.

In the school teach him
it is far honourable to fail
than to cheat…
Teach him to have faith
in his own ideas,
even if everyone tells him
they are wrong…
Teach him to be gentle
with gentle people,
and tough with the tough.

Try to give my son
the strength not to follow the crowd
when everyone is getting on the band wagon…
Teach him to listen to all men…
but teach him also to filter
all he hears on a screen of truth,
and take only the good
that comes through.

Teach him if you can,
how to laugh when he is sad…
Teach him there is no shame in tears,
Teach him to scoff at cynics
and to beware of too much sweetness…
Teach him to sell his brawn
and brain to the highest bidders
but never to put a price-tag
on his heart and soul.

Teach him to close his ears
to a howling mob
and to stand and fight
if he thinks he’s right.
Treat him gently,
but do not cuddle him,
because only the test
of fire makes fine steel.

Let him have the courage
to be impatient…
let him have the patience to be brave.
Teach him always
to have sublime faith in himself,
because then he will have
sublime faith in mankind.

This is a big order,
but see what you can do…
He is such a fine fellow,
my son!

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Stealing contemplative moments

Pages from Nov 2013 JournalAs I began to write this post my colleagues and I were trying to coax a collection of rather excited Year 1/2 students to succumb to sleep at their school sleepover. The seeming impossible achieved, the cool night air and quiet of the deserted schoolyard provides welcome respite.

I was blessed this year to have two pieces published in the Dialogue Australasia Journal – a publication of a wonderful organisation in this region which seeks to promote respectful, innovative, engaging and rigorous religious studies programs in schools across denominations and religions. The first of these articles you can find here and the most recent (and catalyst for this post) can be downloaded here.

The topic is contemplative spirituality in schools – one I have been journeying with for some time now. I have shared a great deal of this before  and the article summarises the material I have been presenting at workshops over the last year or two.

As I say at the beginning of every workshop I give, ‘I’m terrible at stillness and silence but I know it is worthwhile.’ I’m not sure where to next. Moving into leadership of a primary school brings new priorities but the long weeks and stressful days reinforce the need for practices that assist my own wellbeing in order to support the wellbeing of my staff and students. Let’s see what happens.

Stealing contemplative moments with students – article in pdf form.


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