Nehemiah 2:17 (NIV) “Then I said to them, ‘You see the trouble we are in: Jerusalem lies in ruins, and its gates have been burned with fire. Come, let us rebuild the wall of Jerusalem, and we will no longer be in disgrace.”

“Thinking of a medieval or ancient city may help us understand why walls are almost always positive images in the Bible. They speak not so much of confinement as of protection.” (Smith and Felch, 2016, p. 163)

“Walls allocate places; they protect; they make possible all those human activities that require a secure space. When used properly, walls promote human flourishing.” (Smith and Felch, 2016, p. 168)

A wall is often seen as a source of division and captivity, a structure that is meant to keep people out, or keep people in, one that separates and segregates. When walls, either metaphorically or literally, are torn down, we celebrate; and we mourn over walls that exist between people. However, when we think about walls that are mentioned in the Bible, they are also seen as structures that protect, provide security and a place of shelter, forming a sense of community and belonging.

When Jerusalem was destroyed, the first thing that the returning exiles did was to repair the wall. Nehemiah 4:6 (NIV) says that they “worked with all their heart.” Rebuilding the walls of Jerusalem was important because it showed that God was with his people (Neh. 6:16 NIV). The wall provided a sense of security as well as protection from Jerusalem’s enemies.

Let’s think for a moment about the walls that encapsulate your classroom. The physical walls are there…it’s hard to deny that. How do your classroom’s actual walls create a space of security and belonging for your students? Do your walls provide a safe space for your students’ “work-in-progress” to be honored, or are the walls in your classroom reserved only for the best work? Or perhaps, are those walls the display boards for the teacher’s best work and creativity? The physical walls of your classroom are there. Use them as a space to create belonging, safety and vulnerability, not to hang “wallpaper.”

What about those metaphorical walls in your classroom? They exist, too. Are there walls that divide your students? Those are walls that you as educator and your class should be intent on tearing down. However, teachers and students alike need to build walls that provide safe spaces. What are those walls made of? Compassion, acceptance, vulnerability, listening, and a willingness to try make up the bricks in these metaphorical classroom walls. These walls will then provide the security and “safe-to” spaces that students and teachers alike need in order to thrive.

At the beginning of each school year, I spend time with my kindergarten students creating a class “Promise” poster. On it are gentle reminders, prompted by myself but worded by my students, of classroom rules and expectations. Some of these are to provide a physically safe classroom environment, such as “I promise to use walking feet inside the classroom” and “I promise to use gentle and helping hands.” Some of the promises are aimed more at developing our classroom culture to be one in which students feel safe to try new things, to make mistakes, to ask each other for help and to try again. These include “I promise to show kindness to my classmates with my words and my actions” and “I promise to be a good listener when others are speaking.” We talk about and model what these promises mean and what they might look like in action in our classroom. These promises, along with a few others, help my students to build walls of protection and security for themselves and their classmates. These are the “walls of protection” that perhaps Smith and Felch are describing in their book Teaching and Christian Imagination (2016). Human flourishing, and in our case, student flourishing, happens when students are in a “safe-to” place, safe to become whatever it is that God is working in them to be.

Think about the walls in your classroom…what role do your physical walls play in providing a “safe-to” space for your students? What metaphorical walls should be torn down? How do you help your students build walls of security and belonging?

Photo by Evgeny Dzhumaev on Unsplash

Stacy Kok is a Senior Kindergarten teacher and Teaching for Transformation early adopter at Cairn Christian School in Stoney Creek, Ontario. Stacy is originally from Tennessee, USA and moved to Ontario, Canada in 1999, after teaching at a missionary school in Indonesia. While teaching in Indonesia, Stacy met her future husband who is originally from Grimsby, Ontario. Both Stacy and her husband spent a total of 5 years teaching in Indonesia before moving to Toronto. Stacy took time away from classroom teaching and devoted her time and energy to their 4 children. Seven years ago, Stacy returned to the classroom after serving 4 years on staff at her church as the Children’s Ministry Coordinator. Over the past 7 years, Stacy has had her teaching degree from Tennessee transferred to the OTC and has also received her Christian School Teacher’s Certificate. Stacy is currently enrolled as a part-time student with the Institute of Christian Studies in the Master of Arts (Philosophy) in Educational Leadership.