The Matthew 18 Principles
Matthew 18:15-17 describes a conflict resolution model which we often use in Christian schools. According to this passage, if someone is offended by a brother or sister in the Lord, they are to go to that person directly and speak to them about it privately. If the person listens, then that is the end of the issue. If they refuse to listen, then two or three others are to join the discussion so that everything can be confirmed out of the mouth of two or three witnesses. If the person refuses to listen to this group, then the matter is taken to the church. Finally, if they still refuse to listen, then the person is to be treated as an unbeliever.
Now, it is clear that the issues being discussed in this passage are quite serious and presumably deal with sin or heresy. Problems in the Christian school and in our lives outside of school are seldom of this nature; however, the general principles still apply. The first principle is that we are to go directly to the person who has offended us in some way. The second principle is that we are to protect that person’s privacy by involving as few people as possible. The third principle is that as we involve new people, the original parties continue to be present for the discussions.
In a school setting, the most common situations involving the Matt. 18 principles are those between parents and teachers. These come up because the school is constantly impacting the home through its ministry to the children. The most common causes for offence have to do with one of the following: discipline, playground issues, or homework assignments. Generally, something is done or said at school which, when reported at home, sounds unreasonable. There is a saying, "If you don’t believe everything your child says about school, we won’t believe everything he says about home." This means that everyone needs to give others the benefit of the doubt: Assume that the story is different than your child has related it. Assume that teachers know what they are doing and have acted responsibly. But do call to get further information and the teacher’s perspective. If after having done that, you remain concerned, then you should contact the principal directly, and you can both go from there. It has been my experience that when parents follow this procedure, issues are quickly and quietly resolved to everyone’s satisfaction.
You may wonder, is it ever appropriate to call the principal directly? Yes. First, contact the principal if you have a question about school’s policies, program, or procedures that are beyond the scope of an individual classroom. Second, the principal should be notified directly if you have a concern about the competence, reasonableness, or integrity of a specific teacher.
While at first glance this second situation seems to violate the Matthew 18 principles, it does not. In this case, we are not dealing with a specific moral issue that causes concern but with the quality of the service being provided by the school. A Christian school is an educational ministry. As such we are in the "business" of providing a service to our families. Like any service organization, if we don’t live up to the "client’s" expectations, then it is appropriate to speak to the "manager." If after contacting the principal, it appears that the matter is a serious issue of competence, then it is the principal’s responsibility to follow up with the teacher. On the other hand, if it appears to fall into a more routine category, then parents are encouraged to either meet with the teacher, or perhaps meet with the principal and teacher together.
Finally, parents should speak to the principal directly about any issue which might cause them to reconsider enrolling for another year. Any issue that is that serious is clearly a matter to be discussed with the principal.
Over the years it has been encouraging to note that the vast majority of problems are resolved between the parties that are directly involved. Occasionally, the principal must get involved, and then once again most issues are satisfactorily addressed. Once all parties have been consulted, and once the matter has been taken to the Lord in prayer together, it is very rare that a satisfactory solution will elude us. God has promised that with every test, there is a way of escape (1Cor. 10:13), and it is our job to do all we can to find it.