At the Chalkface

Classroom, Old, One-Room, School


Thirty years before the chalkface

Wearily I stand

Korczak, Vygotsky, and Dweck as well

Feature in my lesson – planned


Yet for all the experience and the prep

Notes will still make their rounds

Doodles filling pages blank

And whispers start when I turn around


But I am patient, and I understand

Longevity in teaching has taught me such

I know that learning will in the end be had

If I use a firm but gentle touch




Weekend Writing Prompt #133 – Longevity





Related image

image: Pexels

Hollywood made it look easy.  How hard is it to serve you country?  Okay, they shave your head and you have a few weeks of some sadist shouting at you, but then you graduate, and go out and do the job.  Well that’s what some people think anyway.

What the films don’t show you is the near sleepless nights as you take watch so others can sleep peacefully.  They don’t show you the shivering as you sit soaked to the skin in the face of a steady wind.  You don’t feel the sand between your teeth. That’s true grit.


99 word Challenge for Carrot Ranch Literary Community: True Grit

“In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story that shows true grit. You can use the phrase or embody the theme. Who or what has true grit? Go where the prompt leads you!”




The Guardian

Lakshmi Bhat

Photo Credit Lakshmi Bhat

The Guardian Tree stood his post on the edge of the wood.  Oh, how he had envied so many of the other saplings when he was in his youth.  They, with their green foliage and spreading branches.

Ugly, I’m just ugly, he had thought.  He had often repeated those words to himself, as he pondered his dull grey bark and stubby pointed branches.

When he was in his twenties these short branches began to thicken.  While still short, they had begun to harden as well, and the points upon their ends became more pronounced.

He still didn’t see himself as beautiful.  Oak and Maple, they still caught the eye of most passers-by, but Guardian knew he was appreciated by many in the forest.  His unassuming looks, and power of character often drew comments of quiet praise from those who knew him and his purpose.

When he was forty-five, he was proud to take the Guardian’s Oath.  He would stand firm, laying down his own life if necessary, for the “Good of the Wood.”  How many Birches and Willows depended on him?  How many saplings of every kind of bark and leaf stood behind his grey-spined trunk?

So for twenty more years he stood, silent protector on the edge of his community.  Many of the young still marveled at him and his brethren standing in their quiet vigils.  It seemed that the society as a whole, secretly even questioned why they were needed.

Then, un-expectantly the day came.  “Beavers!” the panicked cries rang out.  But there, when others cowered, the Guardians stood firm.


In tribute to law enforcement, the military, and others that quietly serve.

Sunday Photo Fiction


Lessons in Leadership


Much of what I know about leadership dates back to over three decades ago when I was an NCO. But each of those principles has been reenforced over the last couple of weeks when I, in my role as an Area Director for an international speakers’ club, organised and put on a humorous and extemporaneous speech contest.

It has been said that true leaders bring out the talents of others.  If this is the case, I must be one of the most outstanding leaders of this century.  While the first point may well be true, the second is ultimate exaggeration. What I did have in the past few weeks was a group of dedicated, supportive, and already talented people who were willing to give of their time and knowledge, to put together a great programme, and in so doing made me look like I knew what I was doing (even when I was still finding my way).

It is such teamwork, in which each member is working to a shared goal (in this case an entertaining and well run contest) that makes the difference.  Leaders need to remember this above all else, “it isn’t about you!” It is about the goal, and about those going on the journey with you.  Every leader is only as good as those that follow.  If you lord over, if you are “the boss” then they will not so fervently follow.  If one is not followed, then you ARE NOT leaders.

I am thankful and blessed for all who worked with me on this competition.  The success is yours! I could not have done it without you.



Leading From the Middle


While I am a good student, and a competent academic, I have never really been a “high flyer (nor have I aspired to be).  I was a non-commissioned officer in the forces, vice chair of several civic and professional organisations; and when I have held roles such as “President” or “Director” it has always been at a “middle” tier of a larger organisation.

Put simply, I am very experienced at “middle management.” Being in the middle is a challenge, but also a blessing.  Okay, on the down-side you are expected to carry out the plans and wishes of those higher up the organisation. You are limited at times in your own initiatives, by the protocols and requirements of the system.

That said, middle leaders have more of an interaction with the “rank and file.” You get to celebrate in their triumphs and accomplishments, not just the meeting of the “bottom line.”

Middle leaders, when they truly lead, motivate and inspire. They enjoy loyalty and a sense of purpose. But how do you get to that point?

First, is the realisation that true leaders don’t command, but by definition are followed.  It is not “standing behind” or “dictating from upon high” but showing the way.  It is sharing your vision, and taking part in the process.

This balance is often missed by those who aspire to “management” (and often by organisations themselves). I remember when I was in the service, we were putting up a command post tent. It was a windy day, and the canvas was whipping around.  I reached out to grab a pole to help steady it, just as the battalion commander came past. He actually scolded me! “You aren’t a worker bee any more.” Here I was a middle ranked NCO helping to get the job done, and supporting my guys.  This was a great middle management learning experience. Why?  It taught me how to lead from the middle.  I responded “Aye, aye that, Sir.” Delegated someone to take the pole.  Then after he had passed drove some tent stakes.

A second lesson was that “stuff” flows down hill.  As a middle manager I have always taken the approach that (unless it is really bad, or outside my skill base to deal with) the shortcomings of my team are my issue.  I never, unless as noted above, flag the flaws of my followers “up hill.” Yet, I always praise them upwards. In a similar fashion, criticism from above rests on me, not my team. Yet, compliments from “above” always get to those who deserve them.

It in the end is not “about me.” Jesus had said “He who wants to be first, should be a servant.” This really fits the “leader” model. Serve, and you will be followed. I have come across this management advice in the scripture (as above), in union leadership “It is about the “Rank and File,” and in Toastmasters training I received yesterday, “It’s about the members.”

Leaders need always remember this. You are not a leader if no one follows. Position and title are empty without their organisation/cause being successful.


Eight Great Quotes on Ministry


Ministry is a calling. Many people of God have answered the call, and many have left us words of advice on how to likewise respond to that call.

First of all there is a great point to ponder,

“Ministry’s not an option for a Christian; it’s a privilege.” Lori Hatcher 

Ministry is not “something we will try for a while,” but a commitment. It is a blessing from God, even as our salvation is. It is not about us, but Him who sent us.

The great message that we have to carry, as ministers of God’s Word and followers of Jesus, is that God loves us not because of what we do or accomplish, but because God has created and redeemed us in love and has chosen us to proclaim that love as the true source of all human life.”  Henri Nouwen

To carry out this calling, we may also need to leave behind the comfort of our churches and parishes. It may require us to do some leg work.

“To convert somebody go and take them by the hand and guide them.” Thomas Aquinas

And this guidance we bring needs to bring transformation. Otherwise, why were we sent. It is again about His work, not our reputations.  We are not (or should not be) in the popularity business. De Sales put it wonderfully,

“The test of a preacher is that his congregation goes away saying, not “What a lovely sermon,” but, “I will do something!” Francis de Sales

We also need to remember that we too need to have a transformational and humble relationship with God,

“A minister may fill his pews, his communion roll, the mouths of the public, but what that minister is on his knees in secret before God Almighty, that he is and no more.” John Owen

We need to seek transformation.  We need to grow! This requires us to be fed as well as to feed.

“Pastors and Bible teachers go about their work in communal settings, where they listen to as well as deliver sermons, hear as well as speak, and gain biblical insights from their parishioners as much as they pass them on.”  Peter J. Leithart

Or as Gary Rohrmayer, more succinctly put it,

“Great leaders are teachable leaders.” 

And ultimately, we as shepherds need to follow the example of our Good Shepherd, who laid down His life for His sheep. Our ministry may seem burdensome at times, and may not have the kudos (note again de Sales words, however) we might have expected. But here is a great point to close on,

“Ministry that costs nothing, accomplishes nothing.” John Henry Jowett 



The Baptiser (Part 3)


John the Baptiser (Free Bible Images)

John’s humility and preparation to diminish so that Jesus would be elevated, does not mean he was a footnote to the biblical account. Jesus’ own testimony of John shows us this.

“When the messengers of John had left, Jesus began to speak to the crowds about John. “What did you go out to the desert to see—a reed swayed by the wind? Then what did you go out to see? Someone dressed in fine garments? Those who dress luxuriously and live sumptuously are found in royal palaces. Then what did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet. This is the one about whom scripture says: ‘Behold, I am sending my messenger ahead of you, he will prepare your way before you. I tell you, among those born of women, no one is greater than John . . . . (Luke 7:24 – 28 emphasis mine)”

John was more than a prophet.  In fact in Matthew’s account Jesus adds,

“From the days of John the Baptist until now, the kingdom of heaven has been subjected to violence, and violent people have been raiding it.  For all the Prophets and the Law prophesied until John.  And if you are willing to accept it, he is the Elijah who was to come. Whoever has ears, let them hear (Matthew 11: 12 – 15).”

John, the awaited Elijah?  The precursor to the arrive of messiah?  Jesus says – yes.

But we have this account immediately before Jesus’ announcement about John in which John seems to question Jesus’ identity.

“After Jesus had finished instructing his twelve disciples, he went on from there to teach and preach in the towns of Galilee. When John, who was in prison, heard about the deeds of the Messiah, he sent his disciples  to ask him, “Are you the one who is to come, or should we expect someone else?” Jesus replied, “Go back and report to John what you hear and see: The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is proclaimed to the poor (Matthew 11: 1 – 5).”

 Was he despondent? While it has been argued that it was the despair of captivity and impending death which clouded his faith? Was this the same man who had seen the Spirit descend on Jesus?  Had he not proclaimed Him to be the lamb of God? Is he doubting now?

Many pastors have drawn on this seeming crisis of faith to use as an analogy of our own doubts, and struggles. But this approach seems problematic (though not impossible) based on the scriptures.  Let us remember that John had a loyal supporter base.  Even in Acts, Paul encounters “those who only knew the baptism of John,” but not the gospel.

If we explore John’s attitude about his disciples “abandonment” of him in favour of Jesus (see Andrew and John) we might have a clue. The question may well have been for the sake of the messengers sent to Jesus, not for John himself.  He may well have seen that his remaining followers needed to hear Jesus’ testimony for themselves.

John Chrysostom suggests a more consistent view that the question was intended for his disciples’ instruction, rather than his own benefit.  He was passing the mantle of “master” from himself to his cousin, much as he had 2 or so years earlier with Andrew and John (John disciples who had witnessed Jesus’ baptism).

While we may never know while on this Earth the answer to this question, it does seem that John’s question  offers an insight into the man.  Whether as some suggest, that his humanity (even as one of the greatest men ever born of a woman) remained nonetheless human, with doubts and fears; or as a prophet to the end, giving direct teaching to his disciples by sending them to the source – this was a man of God.

John: Levite, prophet, teacher, and above all example.  We have much to learn from this cousin of Jesus.




Six Thoughtful Quotes on Theology


Theology by definition is “the study of the nature of God and religious belief.” It is the human attempt to unwrap and understand the “mind of God.”  In the first take on theology it is ambitious but straight forward.  The second is a rather tall order, for who are we to presume to know much less understand God’s infinite mind?

I have often said that the study of theology, while a really fascinating intellectual endevour, must bow to the simple faith of the believer.  We who deal with (and teach) theology often fall into the dual traps of intellectual vanity (thus our use of “Theo-babble”), and of “missing the woods for the trees.”

1. “Faith is more basic than language or theology.” Sydney Carter

It is in this vein that I have assembled some thoughtful, and positive quotes on the theologians “art,”  in the hope that we can reflect on these basics.

2. “One of the main tasks of theology is to find words that do not divide but unite, that do not create conflict but unity, that do not hurt but heal.” Henri Nouwen

Jesus prayed in John 17 22-23, “ I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one –  I in them and you in me – so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.” Our philosophy of religion, then should not be divisive.

We should also look the the beauty of the message of God.  Its spiritual, emotional, and psychological power to uplift:

3. “A theology should be like poetry, which takes us to the end of what words and thoughts can do.” Karen Armstrong

And in that poetry of the soul, our theology must be practical.  It must not merely be for our intellectual pleasure, but for the fulfillment of our dual call of the greatest commandments:  “Jesus replied: ‘“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.” This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: “Love your neighbour as yourself (Matthew 22:37-39).”

4. “Theology is not only about understanding the world; it is about mending the world.” Miroslav Volf

Acknowledging that the world is in need of mending is not to be a discouragement to us.  Jesus came to give us life and life more abundantly, and John 15:11 tells us that Christ’s message is to make our “joy complete.” Therefore,

5. “The theologian who labors without joy is not a theologian at all. Sulky faces, morose thoughts and boring ways of speaking are intolerable in this field.” 
Karl Barth

Finally, in all that we do in the name of theology, we must remember humility.

6. “And if we don’t turn on the light of the gospel and remind ourselves of God’s glory and beauty, pride will set up shop in our hearts for an extended stay. Theology will become about us.” Brandon D. Smith






When Candles Became Food


There are harrowing tales of beseiged people resorting to the consumption of candles in places such as Londonderry and Leningrad.  Such despiration should be wept at, and the plight of civilian populations in wartime lamented.

This particular account of candles as food, however, is not one of desperation in warfare, but of political expediency and of a civil power struggle. It occurred in Cambridge in 1628, and was one of the most marked clashes between “Town and Gown,” to take place there.

The Vice-Chancellor, Henry Smyth D.D., had set the price of candles at 4 1/2 d. per pound. Four of the town’s chandlers exceeded this price and were summarily arrested. The chandlers had the support of the mayor John Sherwood, and were subsequently freed by the Court of Common Pleas.  The court ruled that while it was accepted that the university had control of the price of food within Cambridge, this power did not extend to candles, as they were not “victuals.” Candles therefore were not within the Vice-Chancellor’s control, and the arrests then were invalid.

The situation was not settled, however, and the university soon petitioned the king on the matter.  The result of this was a ruling by the Privy Council that candles were indeed victuals. By order of the Council, the mayor, civil bailiff, and the chandlers were to publicly admit fault and were to pay whatever fine the Vice-Chancellor set. What was ultimately at issue here was the matter of “University Privilege.”*

Tallow (and to a lesser extent bees’ wax) candles are edible, and as I noted in the opening paragraph, people in extreme hardship have been driven to consuming them.  But what we have here really is the assertion and misuse of power and influence, not a matter of survival.

Such tales of abused privilege are not unfamiliar to us, but does “might make right?” Jesus said that “The greatest among you will be your servant (Matthew 23:11),” and  “If anyone wants to be first, he must be the last of all and the servant of all (Mark 9:35).”

True authority does not come from forcing others to obey your rules, but guiding them to share your vision.  “The greatest leaders” said Ken Blanchard, “mobilize others by coalescing people around a shared vision.” Is our vision today one of power or of purpose? Is it one that makes food of candles, or one that truly serves.


* See J. Miller Gray, Biographical Notes on the Mayors of Cambridge, n.p. 1922, p. 35; and Rowland Parker, Town and Gown: The 700 Year’s War in Cambridge, Cambridge: Patrick Stevens, 1983, pp.126-127.

The historical portion of this blog is from my booklet, A Gentleman’s Guide to Fayre Cambridge

Motivating People

Last night I gave a presentation at Toastmasters on motivating people as an aspect of excellence in leadership. Different people are motivated by various things such as money, personal growth, love, fame, or praise.  For many of us it is money that makes us get out of bed in the morning (well we do have to pay the bills), it is seldom the thing that drives us to “do our best,” however.

In my years as an educator I have learned that the most effective motivating factors have been praise and appreciation. People like to be liked.  Giving praise for their efforts is a great motivator. In education assessment takes two general forms: Formative (that which shows a way forward), and Summative (that which evaluates the finished product).

Praise and encouragement can follow the same pattern. When we see someone beginning to develop we can encourage them by noting it.  These words of praise should be deserved, however.  Praise for praise sake is flattery and really doesn’t advance people.  It is kind of empty.  As a leader we should look for opportunities to congratulate progress.  Formative praise need not stand alone if we want growth to occur, but when instructive criticism is given, it should be sandwiched between points of success.

Summative praise and reward can take several forms.  Recognising the accomplishment of a task is a great reinforcer of motivation.  Success leads to success.  If we acknowledge and reward in tangible ways the successful completion of a project, our team(or charges) will be more likely to seek to replicate it in the future.

Recognition is not the only motivating factor that we can bring to our leadership skills.  We can also motivate by creating challenge.  Most people when given incremental challenges, will seek to rise to them.  It is up to leaders to see the strengths and skills of people in order to best place them for success.

So how do we motivate others?  Encourage and praise developmental successes. Give more challenge as skills and competences are mastered. Position people where they are most likely to succeed. Then reward in a tangible way the successful outcomes.  It may not be rocket science, but it is good people skills.