Our board embarked on a comprehensive School Quality Assurance Program in September of this year, and the committee assigned to the work is nearly finished with its report. As we put the finishing touches on it, I thought I would share with you a few lines from the extensive survey that parents were asked to fill out in September. The results have been very informative and encouraging, and they are providing much of the background to the final report. Among many other things, we asked…
“The Christian character of the school is evident in the school’s instruction and programs.”
- 96% of parents agree or strongly agree
“The academic quality of the school program is good.”
- 90% of parents agree or strongly agree
“Faculty and staff model Christian maturity in speech, attitude, and conduct.”
- 98% of parents agree or strongly agree
“Faculty and staff function as a team of Christian workers.”
- 98% of parents agree or strongly agree
“Teachers believe that all students can learn and be successful.”
- 98% of parents agree or strongly agree
“There is a positive atmosphere among the students in the classroom.”
- 91% of parents agree or strongly agree
“The school provides a caring environment for all students.”
- 96% of parents agree or strongly agree
“I believe that students are safe at this school.”
- 100% of parents agree or strongly agree
The survey was overwhelmingly positive, but there was also some near-consensus that some things should be addressed. By far the loudest voice on this front had to do with the facility and the need to be looking for something more suited to the school’s larger enrolment. You also had great suggestions about other things, such as the need for more special education & resource support, and these will be brought up in our final report.
The dreaded principal’s office. We all remember it from childhood. Whether you suffered inside one or not, it was a place you probably associated with fear, punishment, and maybe tears. My own principal was an enormous man with a voice to rival James Earl Jones. I don’t recall ever seeing him smile. I recall never wanting to see him. (Unfortunately, I did… and learned my lesson!)
I care very much that those kinds of memories not be generated in any of our students here at Immanuel Christian School!
Here, we have a relationship-based approach to problem-solving. Our discipline policy is strong on grace and light on automatic consequences. We don’t use the word punishment, because it doesn’t capture the heart of discipline. We’re not trying to employ methods and systems that produce an external show of compliance: we seek instead to draw hearts to what matters most. We want our kids to love what is lovely and to seek to be intrinsically-motivated disciples. We think of this as a “shared followership”: we follow Christ and encourage our children to follow him too.
This is the heart of discipline: learning together how to be disciples.
The teachers and I had a great discussion last week about how important it is for them to be using me in their work of shepherding their students. Specifically, we noted together that in our school’s discipline policy, we have a zero-tolerance approach to…
(and we’re working to add a point related to choosing not to work during class time)
By “zero tolerance,” we mean that these things will not go unaddressed, and they will not be allowed to persist. A few reminders will be given in class, as the teacher employs some classroom strategies. But if those don’t work, then the students are to come to the principal’s office. This is not a punishment, but an involvement of me in the work of encouraging them in their faith. We talk about the problems and why they happened. I might bring into the equation a consequence – or I might not. It depends very much on how the student responds. In nearly all cases, I consider the matter quickly resolved; confession and forgiveness normally play a part. In some cases, I involve you as the parents, depending on the gravity.
As the teachers and I work to strike the right tone on those zero-tolerance matters, my office may for some of our students come to be a place associated with fear… but I’m praying and working hard to make sure it’s only a holy fear, more like the kind the Bible talks about as the fear of God! Pray for me in this.
One of our teachers once said to me, “I can’t believe I get paid to do this!” I recently asked each of them to describe a moment when they were especially happy in their work…
In our morning circle time each day we practice singing “O Canada” so that the students know the words for our Friday chapel services. Recently I commended the seven little Kindergarten boys for their knowledge and strong voices. I told them that they might be the best singers in the whole school. Well, they must have remembered my comment, because last Friday they belted out the words at the top of their lungs, paying no attention to the tempo of the piano or to the rest of the school. It reminded me of a scene from a Mr. Bean episode. It took everything in me (and a few of the other teachers) to stifle our laughter, and to be good examples to the students on how to behave during the singing of our national anthem. That day they really were the best singers in the school! (Mrs. Dickieson)
This week a student approached me during math time and asked to help another student with some work. There was no concern about the fact that there would be more homework because of this. It was an amazing moment of realizing where there was a need and taking initiative to help without prompting; it made me very proud. (Miss Scott)
I love when my students are very eager to pray for each other during morning devotions. They are always very respectful and demonstrate their care for one another by volunteering to pray for a classmate. I feel honoured to help facilitate these times of worship. (Miss Kipp)
When a new project is introduced and while working on it the students start getting excited about it and begin coming up with suggestions to add to it so it could be more effective. We then collaborate our ideas and through this they choose to make it their own. After all the hard work is finished and the students are sharing what they’ve invested time and energy into then all of a sudden their sweet, beautiful faces honestly show how much they are truly enjoying what they have learned. That is the moment that makes me happy in my work here at ICS. (Mrs. Wilting)
There are lots of times but the one that comes to mind was this week when the grades one to three were singing together for our devotion time and I was watching some of the students as they joyfully sang with lots of movement and expression… I love watching genuine joy on their faces.(Mrs. Anderson)
Okay...and one just happened now...I’m sitting here at 3:10 and Levi comes back into school because he forgot something and he says to me “Mrs Anderson, what are you STILL doing here?” .........cute!! (Mrs. Anderson)
I was delighted in my work when we spent an entire month working on a Shakespeare play, and the students were so absorbed in what they were doing that not once did anybody ask how they were being graded! (Mrs. Mawhinney)
I was also delighted when I told the students (who were skeptical) that there was nothing they needed to know about algebra that I couldn’t teach them in 10 minutes – and 10 minutes later, they looked at each other and said with surprise (and relief!) “Wow! That was easy!” (Mrs. Mawhinney)
I love seeing the light that comes on in their eyes when my students make a connection to what we have learned in class to the world around them. While taking a walk with my students, we were looking for examples of what we have learned about trees. The students loved collecting all sorts of ‘treasures’ along the way and I loved overhearing their discussions and songs about trees, leaves, and photosynthesis. They were so excited to share with anyone in listening range what they learned and I was impressed with how much they remembered from class ( they have learned a lot of big words!). It was great to see how excited they were to see a leaf changing colour and to be able to tell why that was happening. (Miss ten Brink)
On bright, sunny days, wandering around the recess yard, I’ll sometimes stop and close my eyes, thinking that I’m feeling just a hint of our Father’s pleasure in His children… the warm sunshine on bright faces, with the giggles of happy play…. (Mr. Mann)
I’ve always considered myself a bit of a stick-in-the-mud when it comes to using technology in school. I locate the heart of what we do in the inter-personal work among teachers and students, with all other things being peripheral (from pencils to books to computers). I expect that many of you feel the same, and would choose a school with no technology and brilliant teachers over a school with high-tech-everything and sub-standard teachers.
Over the past five years of my involvement in this school, I have put most of my effort into investing in the quality of our teachers and their programs, saving technology for “a later day.” It’s always seemed too expensive and too fleeting in its lifespan to be worth a whole lot of time and money.
That said, I’m beginning to think that this is now that “later day,” that the time is right for us to make considered investments in learning technologies.
For those of you who are wary of computers as tools that isolate people and make learning shallow, please don’t worry! The teachers and I are, I think, appropriately sceptical and cautious. Modern technologies pose a serious threat to community; to reading, writing, and research skills; to attention span; and, of course, to budgets. There is a strong argument, however, that digital experiences are the new and permanent reality, and that we and our students need to learn how to enter that part of our culture carefully and wisely, benefiting from what is valuable and keeping our distance from that which diminishes. A corresponding argument is that a great teacher can offer even better learning experiences when bolstered with the right technology.
There are a few aspects of this that I find, honestly, very exciting. I look forward to implementing them here in the near future.
I’ve been learning lately to appreciate in my work of teaching and parenting those odd moments when the little windows of a child’s heart open up. These windows tend to be fleeting and apparently inconsequential. There are two types, I find: the beautiful ones, where we see some reflection of God’s image in the child; and the ugly ones, where something dark flashes briefly into focus. Having worked with children for quite a few years now, I’m learning to be grateful even for the second sort, for the opportunities they provide to help children deal with who they really are.
I recall one such moment that occurred in my second year of teaching. I noticed one of my grade nine students carelessly dropping some shreds of paper on the floor of the class. When I asked him to put them in the garbage, he kicked them over to the corner and, when he thought I wasn’t noticing, swept them under and behind the can. Grade nine teachers are well-experienced in conflict with students, so it was very tempting just to ignore it. I realized, too, that I could simply ask him again to pick them up, and maybe shoot him “the look.” But I knew that this student had a real problem with submission to authority figures, and I could tell that this one small action was actually pointing to a more profound heart issue. Instead of treating this seemingly minor act as minor, I instead used it as an opportunity to probe an issue that was critical to his spiritual development – learning to demonstrate an attitude of humble respect. The ensuing conversation was difficult but very valuable.
A central part of our work as Christian school teachers is to care for our students’ whole selves, and this includes their spirits. With over thirty hours of school time a week, we tend to have quite a few opportunities to look into the windows of our students’ souls. When we see such sins as dishonesty, rebellion, and anger, we don’t shy away. We believe, in fact, that it is our responsibility to engage our students about such matters with the ultimate goal of helping them to see their need for Christ.
What the world considers “small stuff,” we view as important windows into the heart.
The following is a piece I wrote for the school newsletter several years ago. The movie in question is now somewhat dated, but the ideas in this piece reflect well one of the strengths of our school’s approach to our culture.
“My books are about killing God.”
Christianity is "a very powerful and convincing mistake."
- Philip Pullman
I can’t say it took me long to decide: when my friend called late one evening and claimed to be needing a post-exam indulgence, I couldn’t resist the temptation to join him at the movies. I had been intending for some time to go and watch The Golden Compass when it first came out – so on opening night a few weeks ago, there I was.
Many of you will have heard of Philip Pullman’s subversive novels and of this movie, based on the first book in the trilogy, His Dark Materials. I had read the book a few years ago, and knew it to be worthy of the accusations: the author clearly communicates his hatred for God and his scorn for everyone and everything that honours Him (the church, the clergy, C.S. Lewis, Narnia, etc.). So why go and see such a movie? Well, for one, I value good story-telling, and I had enjoyed reading Pullman’s novel. I’ve also been mulling over for some time the issue of parents’ duty to protect their children – since Pullman’s works have been so wildly successful among children, I thought the movie would be relevant to my thoughts.
Stories are powerful – far more powerful than most people imagine. Often with the greatest of subtlety, they shape the inner heart; they undermine cherished beliefs, they conjure new ones. Because Pullman’s writing quietly assaults the truths about God that Christians hold dear, they must be kept far from our children. Like letting a snake into a garden, allowing them into our children’s lives would counteract our work of edifying their faith and leading them to know and love Jesus.
Parents who send their children to Christian schools sometimes hear the accusation, “But you’re sheltering them!” The obvious premise here is that sheltering children is bad – or in other words, parents shouldn’t protect their children and shouldn’t act as gatekeepers, discerning which influences will help and which will hinder. But shepherding our children in this way is our obligation! We live in a world that hates the truth and seeks to squelch it in others.
There is, however, an important limitation on this work of sheltering: it ought slowly to disappear. While they are young and their spirits are so malleable, we need to surround our children with that which points to Christ. Then, once they have come to faith and experienced some maturity, we need to train them to engage the world and its ideas – and not to shrink away from danger.
We should look forward to the day when our children are mature enough to read Pullman and Dawkins and Freud and any other subtle or overt antagonists of Christianity. At that time, we should read these books with them carefully and thoughtfully, paying heed to lies and to truth, to goodness and to evil.
For now, when they are young, let us happily read to them those stories that reinforce what we believe – in order that they, too, may believe.
I’ve often heard that making children memorize will dull their minds, curb their creativity, and turn them off of school.
Learning by rote has a very negative connotation in most people’s minds. What was once a valued tool in a teacher’s toolbox of methods is now old-fashioned. It would be a laughable mistake for a school, for example, to put in its promotional ads something like “We employ the rote method of learning”! If you read modern educational literature, you will find virtually no conversation about the place of memorization in the classroom.
But for Christian schools since the dawn of the early church (and for Jewish schools and homes long before then), rote memory work was an essential element of learning. Jews and Christians felt strongly about this approach for a number of reasons, but the simplest one is that the Bible commands us to teach the Bible in this way:
“These commandments that I give you today are to be upon your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up.”
But Christian school teachers do not ask our students to memorize the Bible only because the Bible itself commands it (although that would be a good enough reason on its own) – we do so also because this is the right thing to do for our students’ minds. This is particularly true for students in the younger grades, when minds are fresh, impressionable, and inclined to soak things up quickly and easily. I know that in my own case, what I memorized when I was young is still with me; what I memorized last month I’ve already lost somewhere in my mental filing cabinet.
Several years ago, the teachers decided to introduce a new school-wide approach to Bible memory work. We became convinced of the value of coordinating our efforts to teach the Scriptures in a systematic way to our classes. This new system organizes the passages by grade level, so that our students will all learn a predetermined collection of what might be considered the most important passages in the Bible (including the names of the books of the Bible and the Apostles’ Creed). Students carry a folder of work with them through their years at Immanuel, so that by grade nine, a student who has been in the school since kindergarten will have learned 56 selections of Scripture. Some are short; some are quite long. But in the end, our students will have accomplished something very significant – they will have committed to memory passages that will shape the rest of their lives.
(If you would like to see a copy of the list, let me know.)
French entered the mainstream in Canada several decades ago for some very good reasons, most of which have nothing uniquely Christian about them. Many years ago, as a five-year-old French student, I was too young to know why my teachers were making me learn all these funny new words. If they were hoping to prepare me to be able to work in better jobs once I graduated, then their hopes were ultimately realized: the best jobs I had through high school and university required fluency in both official languages. Having children learn French in order for doors to be opened down the road is wise.
However, a far more convincing reason for studying French, I believe, is the positive effect it has on the mind. When we help a child to make sense of new channels of vocabulary, grammar, and expression, we are stretching the mind, making it more open and adaptable. The child who has mastered a new language is far more ready to take on similar challenges – and not just linguistically. I have no doubt that students who learn a second language when they are young find it easier to learn new subjects as they come. There’s a good reason why upper-level teachers tend to prefer the French Immersion classes: their students’ minds are typically better-prepared for chemistry, history, geometry, etc.
But Christian parents are also deeply interested in their children’s spiritual development. Having them learn another people’s way of communicating teaches them a powerful lesson in humility: the child learns to submit to another culture and to admire its many unique values and ways of expression. By studying another person’s language, our students quietly express an interest in them. They learn to care about someone else and to understand what is important to that person.
Moreover, we can certainly hope that God would choose to send some of our students overseas in time, to learn languages and to share the gospel with those who haven’t yet heard.
In prizing French here at Immanuel Christian School, we are preparing a generation of students who will have sharper minds, more hospitable spirits, more open doors – and, yes, better resumes!
On the first day of classes in my first year of teaching, I wondered if I might be in for an interesting year after a colleague witnessed a student pointing at me and directing a friend to “Look at the nerdy new student with the tie!” Because I looked young, it was to be expected that my place as an authority in the classroom would soon be questioned. Sure enough, a few weeks later a young lad in my grade nine class erupted in angry defiance in the middle of an English lesson. His displeasure at my foiling of some plan of his was clearly evident. A few hours later, Leo, our principal, had “Bobby” sit down with us and proceeded to engage him in a dialogue about his reaction in class. The line between principal and counsellor quickly blurred as Leo sought to help Bobby understand how his actions were fundamentally manifesting a problem of the heart. As it turned out, Bobby was deeply upset and angry about his family situation at home, and had developed what Leo called a “fire inside.” When I, as an authority in his life, placed expectations on him that he resented, this fire “burst out” in sinful ways. We engaged with Bobby over many months as we sought to help him deal with what threatened to become a debilitating life-long problem.
At the same time, my wife was employed in a public school elsewhere in Ottawa, and she was dealing with more severe behaviour. After a student threatened to kill her, the principal suspended him for several days and then sent him back to class. In that system, we realized, a little massaging of their problems is all that some students ever experience.
My reason in writing this is to reassure you that we teachers are not here merely to give our young scholars the best academic training that we can, but that we are also here to work, as many schools put it, in loco parentis – “in the place of the parent.” A Bible passage that has inspired Immanuel Christian School throughout its twenty-six years of operation is a Proverb of Solomon: “Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old, he will not depart from it” (22:6). This school was founded in order to assist you in training up your children as followers of Jesus. For six hours each day, you choose to entrust to the teachers of ICS your work of training your children in the way they should go.
I’m sure it won’t be a shock to divulge to you that our students here are very normal – you all know that from spending time with them at home! Like all other children, they have problems with anger, harsh words, disobedience, lying, and the lot. But I can promise you that we won’t just tell them what’s unacceptable and then reprimand them. Caring as we do about the development of the whole child, we routinely engage in meaningful small-group and one-on-one guidance.
With such an excellent student-teacher ratio, we have the time needed to pursue our students’ real health – health in body, mind, and spirit. I’m regularly able to sit down with students and address problems of the heart. In these conversations, I always try to establish first of all with the child what actually occurred; often a straightforward reckoning of events helps to clarify for them what went wrong. Then we talk about how their behaviour measures up to what the Bible says. I try to think of a Bible verse that addresses the issue. For example, I might choose for a case of dishonesty a verse like, “Those who deal truthfully are His delight.” If wrong was committed towards someone, I then lead the child in solving the problem biblically – that is to say, by asking for forgiveness. Once restoration of relationship has been accomplished, and I’ve had a chance to pray with the child, then I consider the matter finished.
I’m grateful for the trust you have given us, and I encourage you to pray for us regularly as we join with you in training up your children in the way they should go. -MM
One of the main predictors of a child’s future success with math is the ability to do math facts quickly and accurately. Even by grade 5 and 6, math concepts become complicated to the point that slowness with basic math (addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division) undermines the child’s ability to progress at grade level. Emphasizing what we call “mental math” is especially important when young, because of the foundation that it builds and because they learn it most easily when their brains are still young.
Ultimately, the goal of mental math is instantaneous response: they know the answer automatically, without thinking. As with things like music and sports, the most important way to acquire these math facts is practice. Done properly, the drills can (and should) be fun!
Here are some suggestions:
While it’s best for these skills to be developed while young, it’s never too late to work on it! Children in junior high who are weak in this area will certainly benefit from some extra practice.
“When we work, we work. When we pray, God works.”
- Hudson Taylor
No successful church, school, or family has ever been created or sustained without prayer. All human institutions are inherently fragile: one doesn’t have to live very long before witnessing or experiencing in them some painful strife or division. The only chance we have to make our homes healthy, our churches united, and our school truly successful is by spending considerable periods of time in prayer. I must say I have always considered it fairly mysterious that God would choose to bless us only after we ask Him. He often (but not always) holds off blessing us until we ask. Why wouldn’t He in His goodness and wisdom just automatically work for the growth of His kingdom at all times, regardless of whether people are praying or not? Isn’t it His kingdom? Well, He chooses to wait for us, and I believe that it’s because He genuinely wants to empower us.
Ironically, when we are frenetically busy with our many projects and plans, giving nary a thought to prayer, we accomplish very little. Or we even see our hopes dashed. But when we cease from our harried pace and settle down to ask God’s blessing, we finally start accomplishing things. He empowers us. What a marvellous and gracious thing to be permitted to join in God’s work, to be His very body on this earth! One of my prayers is that we at Immanuel will all grow in prayer, and that our meetings and community life will be characterized by a noticeable conviction about our dependency on God.
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