Over two hundred leaders from all over Canada gathered last week for the biennial Christian Schools Canada (CSC) conference to encourage, challenge, and support one another.
This year’s conference, held in beautiful Banff, Alberta, brought leaders together with a mandate of developing and promoting a Canadian identity for Christian education based on a Biblical worldview. Representatives from each of the organizations that make up CSC were present, including the Ontario Alliance of Christian Schools (OACS), the Ontario Christian School Administrators Association (OCSAA), Edifide, the Society of Christian Schools in British Columbia (SCSBC), the Christian Teachers Association of British Columbia (CTABC), the Christian Principals’ Association of BC (CPABC), and this year’s hosts, the Prairie Centre for Christian Education (PCCE).
The desire to foster inspiration and motivation among Christian leaders in Canada was met in several different ways during the three-day convention amidst the spectacular Rocky Mountains: through the powerful messages shared by keynote speaker Andy Crouch, through challenging and collaborative workshops that invited community among educational leaders, and through the networking of colleagues and educators that share a common foundation of faith in Christ as the centre of their calling.
Andy Crouch seamlessly wove song and scripture together into his challenging and moving keynote addresses to the group of more than two hundred educational leaders. He clearly articulated the idea of authority and vulnerability in such a way that challenged leaders to contemplate their leadership approaches.
“Teachers and other creative professionals in our schools influence students’ lives every day,” shared speaker Andy Crouch. “But what is the nature of our influence, as those who give leadership to other creative professionals?”
Crouch wondered along with his audience of leaders about what it means for schools to prevail and flourish during a time when institutions all around us are collapsing. He recognized that Christian schools are aspiring to be a faithful presence at a time where trust and interest in institutions is are dwindling. He pointed out that clarity of purpose and direction becomes increasingly important as leaders move into the critical era of the third generation to carry the goals of Christian education forward. Specifically, Crouch emphasized our cultural needs in having strong institutions that will stand against modernity’s influence of individualism by standing against injustice, being champions of excellence, and serving the common good.
Crouch’s encouragements resonated with everyone in attendance. “Andy Crouch painted a picture of people and institutions that are using God-given power to be a source of immense blessing to those around them,” shared London Christian Elementary School principal Stephen Janssen. “Acting with total authority and simultaneous total vulnerability allows people and institutions to properly bear God’s image and encourage the kind of flourishing of God’s world that he originally intended.”
Bonnie DeJardins, principal at John Knox Christian School in Stoney Creek, appreciated how Andy Crouch was able to connect head, heart, and hands in his challenges to educational leaders. John van Pelt, principal at Woodland Christian High School agreed, sharing that the keynote addresses not only challenged what leaders are doing in their school, but who they are as leaders.
“Crouch is very good at articulating what we’re about, or at least what we should be about,” he explained. “He hits you both at the intellectual as well as the heart level, and he makes you want to change.” Mr. van Pelt added that his takeaway from the conference has much more to do with what kind of leader he is, and who he is becoming, than about creating strategies to pass down to his colleagues.
The convention also offered a variety of engaging workshops for leaders to attend throughout the three days—from conversations on Deeper Learning, to a presentation on International Baccalaureate, to a look inside one school’s journey into reconciliation and relationship with First Nations people in British Columbia.
“I heard in nearly every conversation I had with other attendees that they appreciated the diversity of the workshops available,” shared Smithville Christian High School vice-principal Fred Breukelman. He described how hearing stories of how others were shaped by their experiences in education is empowering to other leaders. “It’s so important to share stories, the challenges, and the celebrations,” he added. “I was energized by the conversations and connections that were happening.”
Mr. van Pelt agreed that the workshops were a helpful and encouraging part of the weekend. “It’s always exciting to see and hear what others are doing, and how they are trying to accomplish the same goals as we have,” he shared. In particular, he appreciated the collaborative workshop environments that encouraged “borrowing, sharing, and ‘good stealing’ of ideas” that was created within the context of achieving deeper learning within classrooms.
Perhaps the least structured but equally impacting component of the convention that educational leaders were quick to comment on was the personal connections they made throughout their three days together. “The setting was so beautiful in itself,” shared Mr. van Pelt, “and it promoted a collegiality that you wouldn’t necessarily find in other places.” He continued to explain that the opportunities to hike, explore, and just take in the beauty of the creation with others was a powerful experience for many.
“Often, as leaders we feel isolated in our work,” shared Ms. DeJardins. “This conference, in particular, provided sufficient opportunities for interaction with peers and colleagues.” She continued to say that deepening relationships with colleagues is not something that leaders have the time to do while serving in their individual school communities. “To be able to pray together, while holding hands, with Lake Louise or Cascade Mountain as the backdrop—there are no words!”
“There was a feeling of a much needed ‘be still, slow down, just breathe’ in Banff that so many of us felt,” shared Dunnville Christian School’s new principal Nicole Van Huizen. “By the end of the conference, there was a renewed energy, spirit, and inspiration to continue to follow God’s call to do the work that he has prepared us to do.”
Trenton Christian School principal Al Bron agreed. “Spending time in the solitude of personal devotions and morning walks…the beauty of seeing an early morning rainbow against the background of majestic mountains… spending time worshipping and sharing moments in God’s word with other leaders… I was often overwhelmed by the blessing of the Holy Spirit.” He added, “These times remind us that we need to continue to support one another in finding our place in God’s story.”
According to OCSAA Executive Director Ren Siebenga, each of these ways that Christian school leaders were impacted by the conference are of equal value and importance, and each will be applied differently by the leaders when they return back home to their school communities. “I hope that everyone that attended the conference will return feeling strengthened, equipped, and encouraged in the work that they do,” he commented. “It takes a concerted effort to move the experiences into actions that will impact the teachers, and in turn the students, that they lead. They need to know they are not alone in this effort.”
“Conferences often involve a deep commitment to time,” added Mr. Breukelman. “However, they are an essential element to our professional development, and necessary to our sanity and growth. It is so important to share the journey with each other! And at the end of this conference I felt full—in every meaning of the term.”
Ms. DeJardins echoes this reflection. “At CSC conferences, we realize once again that God’s kingdom is bigger than just our individual schools; God’s kingdom is being advanced across our nation!”
The conference wrapped up with the announcement that the next Christian Schools Canada event in 2018 will be held in Ottawa, Canada’s capital city, hosted by the Ontario Alliance of Christian Schools. The OACS is excited for this unique opportunity to host and bless the leaders of the Christian school movement.
It was a privilege for me to attend the Christian Schools Canada leadership conference this year, and to have the opportunity to meet many of you in person. As Community Journalist for the OACS, I feel passionate about helping leaders in Christian Schools share their stories with each other and their communities. I’d love to encourage each of you to contact me when there are exciting things happening at your school, and to let us share your stories with other educators across Canada.
This year, the keynote speaker at the CSC conference was well-known author and speaker Andy Crouch. You can read our written summaries of Crouch’s four keynote addresses in the “Summaries” section of our news page, or by clicking here.