Celebrating Meaning Through Stories

I read an article recently published by the Huffington Post, which confirmed to me once again why it’s important to share our stories. In the article, entitled “Why Tell Stories?”, Mitch Ditkoff wrote that in the last 60 seconds 168 million emails were sent, 700 000 Google searches were launched, and 60 hours of YouTube videos were uploaded—not to mention all the spam, banner ads, phone calls, Facebook posts, tweets, texts, and telemarketing calls that found their way to our attention span—leading to what is now being called “information overload”.

These statistics led the author to ponder the important question of how we can share things that are important in a way that can be heard and remembered. As I expected, he concluded that telling stories is the most effective, time-tested way to transmit meaning from one person to another. After all, telling stories has been going on since the beginning of time. It’s how parents share the values they want to impart to their children. It’s how faith is passed on from one generation to another.

The stories I’ve been invited to share this past year have reflected the ways that school communities are a part of a much larger Christian school movement in Ontario that strives to be connected and to celebrate, encourage, inspire, and grow together.

We began the year by writing about the beginning of school and some of the angst that can accompany this transition for students in Kindergarten. We shared the creative and thoughtful way that a teacher came up with to ease her new class of students into their unfamiliar environment on the first day of school.

“The new students are often timid and scared the first day of school. This activity provides a great way for me to introduce them to their new surroundings in a fun and inventive way. It’s about building community and helping the new students to build trust in those they’ll be sharing a building with for coming years. It’s important for them to know that others at the school care about them.”

Yvonne Grootenboer (teacher), Laurentian Hills Christian School

Kindergarten students are shocked to realize that their Gingerbread man has escaped in Gingerbread Man Hunt at Laurentian Hills.

The year also began with a look at some of the big issues that the Christian schools are working through as communities. When teachers at Guelph Community Christian School put together a program to teach students about the proper use of technological devices in school, they were quick to share their story in hopes that others could benefit from the resources they had created.

“We have adopted a technology policy at the school that is designed to promote a God-honoring learning environment. It allows our students to enjoy the wealth of information and online resources that are available to them via the use of the school devices, within the context of the digital citizenship they have earned.”

Tanya Pennings (principal), Guelph Community Christian School

Students learned responsible use of technology to earn their ‘digital license’ in Teaching Digital Citizenship at Guelph Community Christian School.

While our stories are often celebrations, some important stories are not always joyful. While still processing their own grief after the tragic death of their son, Jordan Hiemstra, his parents asked us to share his story in hopes of helping others who struggle to deal with issues, such as depression, that plague many teenagers.

It’s so important for us to share Jordan’s story with as many people as we can. We feel that by letting others know what this journey has been like for us, perhaps we can create opportunities for others who are struggling to recognize that there are those who care about them and to find ways to get help.”

Chris Hiemstra (parent), London District Christian Secondary School

Remembering Jordan Hiemstra in Sharing Jordan’s Story.

During the Christmas season, many schools are intentional about partnering with organizations in their community to help families in need. Our article titled “Christmas Chicken Cheer” highlighted the story of students at Strathroy Community Christian School who circled the school with pictures of chickens as they partnered with World Renew to buy chickens for families in Honduras.

“Sometimes we don’t think that we can make a difference, but when we look at the chickens on the walls as we walk through the hallways, we can remember that all of us have worked together to make a big difference in someone’s life this Christmas.”

Micah, grade 8, Strathroy Community Christian School

Pictures of chickens circle the hallways , showing student support of World Renew efforts to feed hungry families at Christmas in Christmas Chicken Cheer.

As I traveled to various schools throughout the year, it was striking to see how many teachers are beginning to play with the idea of what a classroom can look like in the 21st century. When a grade six teacher redesigned her classroom to include a variety of learning environments for students, her story was shared in hopes of engaging other educators in conversation about intentionally transforming learning spaces.

“Before you can even begin to teach, you must create an environment that is safe, cozy, and comfortable. It’s essential for a teacher to create relationships with her students, and their environment is such a key part in being able to do that. Once you do that, you can begin to do your job as a teacher.”

Marianne Visser, Chatham Christian School

Students show off one of the newly created learning spaces in their grade six classroom in Building a Better Classroom Culture.

As the school year wrapped up, I had the opportunity to share stories that highlighted the learning and beautiful work students had created throughout the year. As a high school drama teacher recognized the powerful way that improv had changed his own life and the lives of his students, he reached out to share his story in hopes of collaborating with other high school teachers to develop vibrant improv programs across the province.

“Before improv, I had been struggling to engage non-drama nerd’ students in my class. I had been pushing the skill-learning components of drama. Preparing for the Canadian Improv Games showed me students engaged up to their eyeballs, learning skills more effectively than the ways I had been teaching them and having a blast throughout the process. It was clearly life changing for the kids involved!”

Richard Peters, Toronto District Christian High School

The Improv Team from TD Christian won first place at the Regional Canadian Improv Games in Toronto in Improv Games Champions Head to Nationals.

When I look back at my office whiteboard, it is filled with story titles and publishing dates. I am amazed and even a bit overwhelmed as I reflect upon the opportunities I’ve been given each week to meet so many of you and to hear about—and in many cases to visit your school and be a part of—the amazing learning that is happening in Christian schools across Ontario. The variety of stories that you’ve allowed me to share—school events, celebrations of community engagement, reflections on service opportunities, student projects, and even a story of grief and loss—remind us that every school and every classroom has a story to tell and that story has a place in the present fulfillment of God’s Kingdom.

Thank you for allowing me to get to know you and to share your stories this year! I’m looking forward to meeting even more of you in the fall—whether by phone, email, or by taking a trip to your classroom— to hear and share your stories as part of the Christian school movement happening across Eastern Canada.