Farewell and Thank You for the Gift of Community
by Henry Contant, SCSBC Executive Director ◊
How does one say farewell after having the exceptional privilege of working for SCSBC for the past 19 years? For half of my 38-year career in Christian education, I’ve experienced the remarkable power of a community of Christian schools working together around a common mission and vision. And prior to joining the SCSBC staff team, I was molded as a teacher, principal and development director by the nurturing influence of others in our SCSBC community of schools.
The strength and necessity of a group of schools working together and living in community hasn’t changed. However, change to allow for a timely infusion of new leadership to guide this extraordinary community of Christian schools is healthy. The time has come for new leadership to lead this flourishing body of Christian schools. The exciting fact is that this transition has already occurred.
Max De Pree’s book, Leadership is an Art, has been named one of the top ten leadership books of all time. When referring to leadership change within organizations, he says, “Change without continuity is chaos. Continuity without change is sloth and very risky.”
For the past nine months, I’ve had the joy of working alongside SCSBC’s new executive director, Ed Noot. I’ve been able to celebrate new initiatives that are emerging in SCSBC under his leadership and that of the entire SCSBC staff team. I’ve also been able to provide perspective, context and story on how this extraordinary society of schools has operated, and why it has or has not done certain things during the past two decades. Be assured, SCSBC’s leadership is in good hands moving forward.
Retrospectively, I’m profoundly grateful to so many mentors who invested in me throughout my educational career. I have been able to stand on the shoulders of those who came before me. Their example and experience have further fueled my own passion for ongoing leadership development. In fact, it is something I hope to continue in the years God gives me beyond my time at SCSBC. Allow me to share a few of many key influencers who invested in me throughout my career in Christian education.
SCSBC’s first executive director, the late Dr. Harro Van Brummelen served as a mentor for over thirty years. He encouraged my curriculum development work as a high school Social Studies and Bible teacher back in the 1970’s; he nurtured me to serve SCSBC as a part-time Social Studies curriculum coordinator for a few years while he was finishing his doctoral studies. And twenty years later, he prompted me to teach in TWU’s M.Ed. program, approving my initial graduate course syllabus. Thank you Harro!
Retiring CTABC Executive Director, Peter Van Huizen, invested in me as a rookie first year teacher, some 38 years ago. Peter embraced me as a colleague and worked alongside me as we team-taught Man in Society, the high school Christian perspectives course. With his encouragement and leadership, I began to better understand the importance of integrating a Christian worldview throughout each unit taught, and the wisdom and value of cooperative planning and team-teaching. Although at the time I didn’t fully understand it, I was embraced into a professional learning community long before the educational community began using such language. Thank you Peter!
Former SCSBC Executive Director, Dr. Lee Hollaar, who, along with other veteran principals in the CPABC, encouraged and supported me as a young principal. Lee taught me the important governance and leadership role a principal (superintendent) and school board have in working together strategically to shape the vision and direction of a school’s future. Thank you Lee!
Countless others, including the SCSBC staff, colleagues, friends and family have also been influential in supporting me, inspiring me, encouraging me, and challenging me. I am thankful for the life lessons you have helped me learn throughout my journey. Thank you!
As I write my last Link article, as executive director, I’ve been challenged to share some “big lessons” learned throughout my educational journey. I’ll limit it to five.
First, my strong encouragement and challenge to current administrators, learning leaders and teachers is simply this: share some of your time, passion and wisdom with someone else, someone younger. Mentoring is a delightful gift every current and experienced administrator and teacher can give to the cause of Christian education. Be passionate about leadership development whether it be as teacher, director of learning, vice principal, head of school or board member.
Second, don’t be a lone ranger. Don’t try to walk alone as a teacher, administrator, or school board member. SCSBC is all about community. Draw from the wealth of experiences, life stories, and example of others. Stay committed to being an active part of a larger Christian school support community, whether it be within, for example, the CPABC (principals), the CTABC (teachers), the SCSBC (school board members), or one of the many networks that SCSBC has established for principals/superintendents, business managers, development directors, board/committee members, teachers, learning leaders, special education coordinators, librarians, international student coordinators, or IT directors.
Third, over time, small, incremental and intentional steps can lead to significant change. Did I see the impact of teaching high school students after my first year of teaching? Not really. But what a pleasure to now meet former students who were the beneficiaries of an entire school community of parents, teachers, board members and donors invested in Christian education. Some of my most challenging students back then are among the most committed and passionate parents, grandparents and school board members today.
Did SCSBC’s initial investment into leadership development have an immediate impact? No. However, a decade later, over 60 teachers who were encouraged to attend an Educator Leadership Development Institute are now serving in significant leadership positions as principals, assistant principals, special education and athletic directors, and learning leaders.
Did one governance workshop have a big impact on how our boards operate? Probably not. However, the impact of fifteen continuous years of SCSBC Leadership Conferences, Link articles, SCSBC-led board retreats, and numerous governance training workshops have shaped the culture of our board rooms. I have observed school boards moving away from micro-management problem-solving toward being strategic and visionary boards, now spending more time thinking about the next five years instead of the last five weeks.
Did one professional development workshop or teacher’s convention impact student learning? Not likely. However, the incremental impact of decades of work by our SCSBC curriculum coordinators and directors of learning have helped reshape how classroom teachers think about worldview, pedagogy and assessment. The transition from worksheets to project based learning and from fill-in-the-blank tests to student presentations of learning is shaping a new generation of Christian school graduates.
The first Finance and Development Conference inspired a few schools to think about fundraising differently. No longer are bazaars, bake sales, and bank loans the only sources of revenue for our schools. The first Christian Stewardship Services “Will Visits” among our school supporters didn’t have an immediate impact. However, the incremental impact twenty years later has resulted in over $5 million dollars in estate gifts directed to our schools, with the potential for millions more as the current founders of our schools transfer
some of their wealth to the next generation.
Over time, small, incremental, and intentional steps can lead to significant change. We live in community, learn from others in community and are held accountable by community.
Fourth, advocacy work is best done in community. No one school operating independently can garner the attention of the Inspector of Independent Schools, the Ministry of Education or our Federal Tax Department. Neither can one school establish a national pension and group insurance program or be part of a provincial bulk purchasing program. However, collectively, SCSBC member schools have a voice with the Ministry of Education (MoE); the Federation of Independent School Associations (FISA-BC); Canada Revenue Agency (CRA); and our provincial Educational Resource Acquisition Consortium (ERAC). SCSBC also represents member schools in Christian Schools International (CSI) and Christian Schools Canada (CSC).
Fifth, we need to remain visionary, understand the times we live in and know the best course to take as Christian school communities. 1 Chronicles 12:32 (NLT)2 describes the sons of Issachar as men who “understood the temper of the times and knew the best course for Israel to take.” The word translated as “understood” actually implies much more than simply “knowing”. There is a strong sense here of the presence of insight, discernment and wisdom. In other words, a person with understanding has a clear sense of what something really means – and what responses are appropriate.3
Our Christian schools in BC, across Canada and globally operate in complex times. Increasingly diverse religious, ethnic and socio-economic school communities bring changing expectations. New approaches to curriculum, pedagogy, assessment and technology are challenging traditional approaches to teaching and learning. New legal challenges before the courts have put our human rights and religious freedoms on a collision course. New definitions of family are reshaping admissions policies, and discussions around financial sustainability are demanding new financial models.
Christian schools are deeply affected by the changes occurring everywhere around us. Leaders in Christian education need to understand our times and be able to plot a course forward. They need to be able to answer questions such as, Where is our culture going? What underlies the decisions that we as people within that culture are making? How can we discern God’s will for our lives, both individually and communally, in this world? How can we articulate biblical truth in a culturally appropriate and sensitive way?
It is my prayer that SCSBC will continue to help our Christian schools understand the temper of our times and discern the path that God’s people should take in Christian education in the 21st century. This remains a task much larger than any one school can undertake. However, I have confidence that God will continue to use our SCSBC community to fulfil its mission to strengthen Christian schools through service, community, advocacy and vision.
A sincere thank you to our past and current SCSBC board and committee members. You each served with vision and commitment and were a model for how boards are to function. Amid the myriad of gifting around the board and committee table, there were no egos, but only a passion to serve the greater Christian school community.
Finally, a heartfelt thank you to my colleagues who served with me on our SCSBC staff team. No one can lead unless surrounded by a staff unified by a common mission to serve others. You are among the most competent, collaborative and caring professionals I know. You rose to every challenge, deadline and opportunity to assist others. It has been an absolute joy to work with you all.
Farewell and thank you for the gift of community. I will miss you all, but I leave knowing a faithful God directs all our paths.
1 Wright, Walter C. The Third Third of Life: Preparing for Your Future.IVP Books, 2012.
2 New Living Translation