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Cultivating Relationships Amid Seasons of Change

Written on September 18th, 2013


For Shirley Huinink, grade 5 teacher at Laurentian Hills Christian School (LHCS), feeling  “grounded” during a period of transition isn’t always necessary. In fact, Huinink describes the act of simply “letting go” and going with God’s flow as a helpful way for her to respond to significant life changes.

“It’s lifting my feet and floating, taking it one day at a time and talking with God at the start and end of each day that helps me feel happy and reasonably calm,” she says.

This year, Huinink finds herself embracing change. After 14 years of teaching grades 7 and 8 students at Laurentian Hills Christian School, she is teaching grade 5.

Although she’ll miss the ironic (often understated) humor of grade 7/8 students, she’s excited by the opportunity to meet grade 5 students where they are.

“I look forward to their ‘wow’ moments and to them sharing their discoveries with each other. I look forward to reading the stories and novels of that age group, and helping them handle problems in their friendships, which become a bit more complex at this age,” she says.

No matter the age group, Huinink believes that the relational aspect of teaching matters. Memories of her daughters when they were in grade 5 remind her of the fact that students have “a big life outside of school.”

“I know how important it is to my students and their families, that children receive not only instruction, but also comfort when they need it—a proper lunch, dry socks, a call home when they’re sick, extra time to finish and face time with the teacher when they’re anxious.”

This year, across our OACS schools, the cultivation of new relationships is happening amid seasons of change. Ideally, those experiences (even at their most challenging) will invite educators to step back and consider what drew them to teaching in the first place. While preparing for her first full year of teaching this summer, Janelle Haanstra frequently went back to the words of an education professor she had at Redeemer University College, who advised her to never lose the joy of being in relationship. Haanstra, a recent graduate of Redeemer’s education program, is transitioning into the role of full time grade 5/6 teacher at John Knox Christian school in Fruitland.

“As I taught during my placements, and now as I look forward to teaching my own class, I keep that idea of ‘never losing joy’ in my mind. It is a privilege to educate children. It is a blessing to be able to share with them the love of Christ and the wonder of his creation. There will be times when I am anxious, when things are difficult—I just hope that in those times, too, I will be able to know the joy of being in relationship and experience peace as a result.”

Change, and its tendency to uncover fresh challenges and new responsibilities, will factor into the lives of individuals working alongside OACS schools too. For the new OACS Director of Learning, Justin Cook, his change in position has already allowed him to serve schools in ways that he couldn’t before. Although the former Hamilton District Christian High School (HDCH) English teacher says he’ll miss, “being intimately connected to one school’s culture,” he looks forward to providing a variety of schools in Ontario with both clarity of vision and service.

Spending more time on the road, leading presentations, and reporting to an office of less than twenty people has been a drastic shift from life as a teacher—but he has a healthy attitude towards change and the risks that come with it.

“My upbringing has made it ok for me to take risks. I’ve been loved unconditionally and so I don’t feel a sense of threat at trying something risky and trying something different and it not working,” says Cook.

As Director of Learning, Cook will aim to help educators engage students in dynamic culture making. Seeing that vision through will often mean helping principals and teachers implement change in a way that enriches their school’s learning culture.

Introducing change to a community can be difficult. A person attempting to do it on their own will find it doubly challenging. That’s why Cook sees a great need for leaders within Christian education to collaboratively partner with others as they move forward.

“We have to implement change with each other, and not from the top down,” he says—which takes both courage and patience.

Change, whether in the form of teaching a new grade, standing in front of your first classroom, or taking on a new role within Christian schooling, has a precious role to play. With God’s help, such changes hold the promise of growth and renewal for our entire community.