Happy New Year! I hope you feel refreshed and ready to return to our work in learning. I had an amazing break with family and friends (if you teach at Quinte, ask Eric Lammers about his 3 acre ice rink). We were also blessed to have power during Christmas. I know that some of you might not have been so fortunate.
I’m also excited for the upcoming months. I’ve been invited to participate in the Edifide district PD days this winter and spring. I’m honoured to follow in the footsteps of incredible educators who have shaped my own thinking; leaders like Damian Cooper and Dan Beerens. Run four times in the four Christian school districts, the day will flow out of my keynote address from the fall convention, building where I left off with this graphic: The Learning Cycle with Projects.
In the address, I explored how the Biblical narrative shapes our imagination for learning, inviting us to see ourselves as powerful image bearers, called with the privilege and responsibility to exercise our power for the flourishing of all things, including ourselves, students, and indeed the cosmos. What a challenge! And yet, like Bartimaeus, we are met by Christ on our own roads where he gently reaches out to us in our blindness, asking us what we’d like him to do for us. What love and support!
In my next four blog posts, with permission from OCSAA’s The Rudder where they were published originally last year, I’ll once again unpack the four areas of the keynote, hoping to continue to provide a strong foundation for our PD days this spring. So, here’s part one: Vision!
Education reform has been a hot topic in North America for many years. In 2011, Barack Obama focused his State of the Union Address on America’s need to “Win the Future.” The speech highlights education as a primary pillar in a global competition for dominance: “If we want to win the future … then we also have to win the race to educate our kids,” he says. Education as competitive nation building is a vision for schooling in North America. We need to give students an exceptional education that gets them into college or university so that they can self-actualize their dreams and strengthen our global economic influence. School systems around the world are comparing themselves on international tests in an attempt to gain innovative dominance in competitive world markets.
Two years ago, in the fall of the same year as Obama’s “Win the Future” address, approximately a thousand Christian school educators in Ontario were gathered at Edifide’s annual education conference, listening to Andy Crouch talk out of his book Culture Making. If you were as inspired as I was, or if you missed him, you’re in luck: he’s back in town January 14 and 15 with two free lectures at Redeemer. Crouch encourages us to believe in our ability to participate in God’s desire for cultural flourishing in our role as educators.
At the heart of the cultural mandate found in Genesis is the desire for shalom, “the webbing together of God, humans, and all creation in justice, fulfillment, and delight” as Cornelius Plantinga says. The cultural mandate is the invitation to go out into the created world and participate in creatively filling it with the glorious presence of God through our culture making. Time and again, we turn our worship inward, hoping to create personal kingdoms of wealth or prestige or power. And time and again, God remains faithful in his desire for hesed, a deep covenantal commitment of love for his people and creation. We want to build our own citadels of Babel or watch competing evil towns like Ninevah suffer punishment for their sin. Mysteriously, even through our own selfishness, God enacts his vision for flourishing through the participation of broken people like Jonah and Joseph, like a solitary woman at a well, like Blind Bartimaeus, people like you and me and the children in our care.
If our own kingdom building results in Babel, God’s kingdom building is realized in the beautiful coming together of diverse shalom communities. We participate in a narrative that moves from a garden of trees, through our own brokenness, back to a glorious city where the river will be lined with trees whose leaves will provide “healing for the nations” (Rev. 22:2). It is a beautiful vision, not of global economic competition but of multicultural social flourishing.
Our vision here at the OACS is “flourishing Christian schools.” What does learning within a vision for shalom look like in a school? How do we form learning communities for kingdom culture making while also ensuring that our students are developing essential knowledge and skills in literacy and numeracy? What vision for learning has your school committed to? Too often our own schools attempt to achieve “safety” through a deep insular mentality. We don’t always trust the strength of our vision to lead us with boldness beyond the walls of our own schools where the Biblical language feels validating and reliable. We don’t participate often enough with the larger cultural contexts in which we’re placed, our towns and cities.
We are participating in a Story with a narrative horizon that is both awe-inspiring and overwhelming in its scope. It claims nothing less than the reclamation of the entire universe from brokenness. And we are clearly called to participate. Understandably, it can feel overwhelming. Our shadow selves want to hide from the challenge, to stay behind practice that feels safe because it is familiar. We’ll explore that a bit more specifically in my next post about memory. But let us have the courage to question our practice and hold it up to the beauty of our vision. Let us not retreat into our silos. With a hope for our own personal flourishing, let us share our stories of both success and failure, fear and courage, and let us learn as friends, staffs, Christian organizations, in person and online, how to be inspiring and to be inspired, by each other and by what our students are producing, to share what God is doing for such a time as this, and to believe with playfulness that our participation in it can always be improved. Is it possible that the beautiful flourishing of our school communities and their participation in culture at large might some day lead to OACS schools being a significant partner for education in Ontario beyond our own Christian communities?
My challenge for us is to consider whether or not our design principles—the structure of our buildings and classrooms, the design of our pedagogies and our own professional learning plans—encourage and participate in this Kingdom vision. In that spirit, perhaps you might consider these questions about vision:
- Does your school staff share this vision of education for culture making and shalom? Do you?
- What is your mission statement? Do you have it memorized? Is it visible on your school documents?
- What needs to be happening at your school for you to know that the vision is being embodied?
- What is your school’s priority for learning design? Has your staff discussed what makes for good pedagogy?
- What story would you tell a parent as a way of illustrating your school’s vision? What about that story makes it inspiring?
Also, just in case it’s helpful for you, you can listen to or see the video of my keynote on Edifide’s website. And here’s the prezi that accompanied it.