An excited buzz filled the hallways as crowds of educators reunited from across the province to attend the Edifide Christian Educator’s Association this past week. The annual two-day conference, held at Redeemer University College in Ancaster, hosted approximately one thousand educators from across the province of Ontario. Principles, teachers, and educational specialists shared collegial handshakes and hugs as they stood in line to register—anticipating a time of inspiration, professional development, encouragement, and fellowship with old and new friends and colleagues.
Led by a team of fellow teachers, hundreds of voices joined together in a communal time of praise and worship at the start of the event. Attendees were then introduced to conference keynote speakers Steven and Joanna Levy, both experienced and passionate educators from Massachusetts, who were the embodiment of this year’s theme “Leading with Love”.
The Levy’s were intentional about redefining the priority of what it means to lead with love, as opposed to focusing their teaching goals on grades and other systems of measurement. They challenged educators to re-imagine education with a commitment to a new covenant model of education—a dynamic change from the past industry of education that has focused primarily on academic measurement through testing and assigning grades.
During the first of the convention’s keynotes, Mr. Levy encouraged his audience to consider student engagement as the symbol and emblem of love in their schools, and to create opportunities for students to love and serve others through the work they are doing. “If students don’t get the feeling of what it’s like to be engaged in their learning at any given moment,” Mr. Levy queried, “then how can we expect them, when they are older, to have the longing to be engaged in the kingdom?” He intentionally wove the answer to the question of how to actively foster student engagement into his stories of projects that his grade four students have done over the years, inspiring teachers to move themselves and their students outside of their comfort zones.
Teachers were quick to share that having fellow educators as keynote speakers was a wonderful aspect of this year’s convention. “Both Steven and Joanna are master educators,” shared Edifide Executive Director Diane Stronks. “They understand teachers, their stresses, and how much work it takes to really engage students.” Ms. Stronks went on to appreciate that the Levy’s were able to take their passion and vision for educating students, and to ‘put legs to it’—to narrow it down to a place where teachers can relate it to their kindergarten class or their grade ten class.
After a brief time of refreshments and conversation, attendees were invited to attend a variety of diverse, engaging workshops designed to inspire as well as challenge educators. Similar to previous years, these workshops were divided into several strands. “At the planning committee level, we are always ‘playing in the sandbox’, so to speak, about different ways to reconfigure the workshops in a way that is more coherent and connected to the things that educators are focusing on in their present journey,” shared Ms. Stronks.
This year, the workshops tried to cover four main aspects of education. The first emphasized the empowering of students in the classroom, by focusing on three dimensions of learning: the creation of beautiful work, the development of culture and character, and the mastery of knowledge and skills in the classroom. The second group of breakout sessions turned the attention towards the health and empowering of the teachers, by looking more closely at issues such as healthy living, leadership, and more specific areas of education managed by librarians, kindergarten teachers, and resource specialists. Ms. Stronks was excited to highlight two newer workshop areas that were added this year—an expeditionary learning experience where teachers were invited to immerse themselves in hands-on learning that involved taking a risk and going rock-climbing with fellow educators, as well a series of workshops that gave leaders an opportunity to engage in conversation on bigger worldview conversations.
Excitement and laughter filled the gym as teachers gathered to eat and reflect on the day’s experiences together. After lunch, the conference continued with a celebration that was unique to this year’s convention. Educators gathered once again in the main auditorium to publicly acknowledge those who had been awarded the John Rozema Teaching Excellence Awards earlier this year by Cardus. “I’m excited that we’re doing something new this year—something that teachers do with their students in the classroom and in the community, but that we have not done previously among teachers—to celebrate excellence,” shared Ms. Stronks.
The conference came to a close on Friday afternoon with a final keynote address delivered by Joanna Levy. Mrs. Levy wrapped up the convention by taking the opportunity to champion the importance of developing a kingdom mindset in students as they work. “Students need to know that their work has meaning beyond just the classroom,” shared Mrs. Levy, “and that they’re doing the work not just for the teacher but ultimately in service to the Kingdom of God.” Mrs. Levy encouraged teachers to look for the needs within their communities, and to find opportunities for students to serve—never underestimating the value of small things, and the role those things can have in bringing the Kingdom to others around them.
In response to the fellowship and sense of community that was reinforced during the two days spent together with educators from across the province, Justin Cook shared his reflection on the event in this way: “To me, the convention is like an annual festival. It’s like a huge bonfire that we all gather around to have a deeply emotional and spiritual experience…where we celebrate vision. There’s a playful joyfulness that we experience together.”
As educators return to their respective schools, that sense of community and conversation which naturally occurs during such a, “bonfire experience” will be carried back with them. Hopefully, the stories shared by the Levy’s as well as by other colleagues, will continue that feast for many months to come.