Ever since I was in elementary school, I can remember being excited about the Edifide Teacher’s Convention days in October. Of course, back then I was excited because it meant having two PD days tacked onto a weekend, making for a nice long break from classes and homework. Because I grew up on a dairy farm with a long driveway that was lined with maple trees, those two extra days were usually set aside for raking countless piles of leaves, scooping them into garbage pails, and depositing them in our manure spreader for my dad to spread as compost in the fields. It was an unusual sight for those driving down our gravel road on those two autumn days—to witness thousands of coloured leaves flying in the air behind the tractor and landing on the freshly plowed land.
Since then, I’ve had the opportunity to experience the Teacher’s Convention from a variety of other perspectives. The first time that I was actually at the conference was as an education student in my final year at Redeemer University, over twenty years ago. Although I don’t remember who the speaker was, or what specific workshops I attended that day, there was one thing that I was immediately struck by—the deep sense of community and ‘homothumadon”(togetherness) that I felt amongst the wide variety of educators that had gathered for a time of worship and fellowship.
After graduating with my Bachelor of Christian Education and joining the staff at Jarvis Christian School, that sense of community was something I experienced each year as teachers put aside their planning books and met together to share insights, successes and failures with a measure of vulnerability and trust that I hadn’t experienced before.
In fact, even when I took some years off from teaching to raise my own four children, I still attended a few Edifide workshops as a guest, and benefitted from browsing through the vendor booths of teaching materials that were on display in the gymnasium.
When I enrolled at Redeemer University a second time, in 2012, to complete the bridging program designed for graduates who wanted to obtain their Ontario College of Teachers degree, it was an odd feeling to attend the conference again as a student guest. I was thrilled for the opportunity to reconnect with familiar faces and learn from the experience of educators who had been implementing new educational trends in their schools and classrooms.
For the next three years, I had the privilege of working with a team of people at the Ontario Alliance of Christian Schools (OACS). I got a “behind-the-scenes” look at the amount of planning and preparation that goes into hosting conferences—finding keynote speakers, choosing a theme, enlisting workshop leaders, preparing food, etc. I gained an even greater appreciation for the people who work tirelessly for months ahead of time to provide a meaningful and honoring experience for the educators who attend these two days in October.
As the community journalist for the OACS, I also had the opportunity to interview the keynote speakers—Stephen and Joanna Levy—before the annual two-day conference last year. I gained a better understanding of the time and energy our speakers put into sharing their passion for Christian education, and the amount of vulnerability they demonstrate as they share their stories in hopes to inspire the hundreds of educators that gather each year for this event.
My journey came in a full circle this past week as I attended the 2017 Edifide Teacher’s Conference wearing the nametag of a classroom teacher once again. Because I’d attended in the many capacities just mentioned over the past 20 years, I did not anticipate the depth of emotion and gratitude I felt as I walked through the hallways filled with teachers, administrators, students and the many others that are tied in with the Christian education community.
I soaked in the first moments in the foyer as participants shared smiles of recognition and hugs of reunion on their way to the registration table. I spent too much time trying to cram in excited conversations with colleagues I hadn’t seen for some time, and by the time I entered the auditorium for opening devotions many of the seats were already filled. As I scanned the crowd for a place to sit, I was overwhelmed with a sense of ‘belonging’ as members of the staff that I’d just recently joined waved and told me they’d saved me a seat.
The same feeling of community and homothumadon that I experienced over twenty years ago as a student was present in the auditorium as nearly a thousand voices were raised in worship to start the day. Along with everyone else that packed the auditorium chairs, I was inspired by the challenging address given by the keynote speaker. I marvelled at the willingness of educators to be vulnerable with one another in the workshops as they shared their classroom experiences, as they asked questions about things they struggle with, and as they embraced the opportunity to learn and grow.
Moment after moment, while in conversation and after, I was reminded again of the importance of sharing our journey with others. As educators, we are all a part of the same journey — this calling to teach children, and to challenge and encourage them to develop their gifts and talents so they can serve God and further His kingdom in their communities. What better way to accomplish this task than by doing it together? As I sit in my living room, reflecting on the past two days and also on the past twenty years of my own educational journey, I am grateful for the opportunities I’ve had to experience this overwhelming sense of community that is shared at the Edifide Teacher’s Conferences, and for the people who have worked tirelessly to provide these moments of homothumadon.