See, I Am Making All Things New!
by Darren Spyksma, SCSBC Director of Learning ◊
The Bible is a story of reconciliation. A story of God reconciling himself to all creation and inviting us to reconcile with each other and with creation. A story set in a world tainted by human selfishness on a path to destruction if it weren’t for the mysterious and abundant love of God. A God so committed to reconciliation that He sent His Son, His very essence, into the world to show humans and all creation how to live as part of His reconciliation story. As Christian schools live into God’s story of reconciliation, they are invited to look at the many elements of running a school through God’s lens of reconciliation.
When a person reads the word reconciliation in our present time in history, it conjures up various thoughts and emotions. A quick definition search suggests that reconciliation is complicated even for dictionaries to define. Definitions vary between “the restoration of friendly relations,” “the action of making one view or belief compatible with another,” and “a situation in which two people or groups of people become friendly again after they have argued.” The biblical call to reconciliation is far greater and more demanding than any of these definitions. The biblical call to reconciliation, as represented in the Incarnation, is a call to pay the debts on behalf of others. A radical and almost unfathomable expectation is at the heart of the story we claim to be our story as Christian schools. What would it look like to live out the biblical story of reconciliation in the systems and practices in Christian schools?
Culture as Reconciliation
A reconciliation culture puts others first. Though challenging to measure, the culture and feel of a school are palpable upon entrance into the building. When families or students arrive late for school for the third time in a week and the eleventh time in a month, a reconciliation culture ensures that staff are not issuing “late slips” and asking for clarification. Instead, as much as is feasible, meeting the family with the necessary information they need to make the transition to school as seamless as possible. If a type of slip is required, let’s call it a “We’re Glad You’re Here” slip.
In a reconciliation culture, staff are aware of each other’s health and well-being. Staff look for opportunities to serve their peers, sharing well-designed resources (i.e., visual schedules, numeracy centres, opening circle prompts) freely with colleagues rather than using the idea of a new resource as an opportunity for personal gain.
Instruction as Reconciliation
Instruction through the lens of reconciliation places relationships at the centre of design. To reconcile is to be in relationship and willing to do the hard work of repairing that which is broken. As a broken person, a Christian school graduate should exhibit the skills and characteristics of a person willing to acknowledge their faults, take responsibility for their actions, and move forward without shame. All while knowing they continue to have roles and responsibilities that benefit and support the community. Instruction that does not encourage and demand a collective responsibility for each individual’s learning is counter to the interdependent nature of God as found in the Trinity. Opening circles, peer teaching, mentoring, collaborative work, service, and other outward-looking practices are pedagogies that can help students practice the reconciliation story. A school’s pedagogical choices can assist students in developing the self-awareness and others-awareness necessary to see relationships and reconciliation as key elements of learning and God’s call on their life as community members.
Assessment as Reconciliation
No aspect of Christian schooling negatively impacts students’ ability to see themselves in God’s reconciliation story more than in a school’s assessment systems. Any system which highlights personal achievement (i.e., awards, letter grades, percentages, and other similar practices) over collaborative development is inadvertently or intentionally rejecting God’s story as the guiding story in the school. In a reconciliation culture, assessment practices should be created to focus students on growth and development within a context of mistakes as a critical element to learning. Penalties for taking longer to master a particular curricular competency (i.e., averaging marks) make the foundation of learning fear and competition, and invite cheating towards achievement rather than a focus on learning. By creating assessment practices that foster and expect reciprocal engagement between educator and learner, learning is improved and reinforces the interdependent nature of creation.
Curriculum as Reconciliation
Does the learning in your school’s classrooms point students toward a deeper understanding of God and His plan for reconciliation? A curriculum with foundations in God’s story is built on a structure that acknowledges God created all things good. We know that through humanity’s selfishness, all aspects of creation have been negatively impacted by sin. With Christ as our example, we are invited into a way of learning that brings healing and redemption to our interactions. As we collectively live with the goal of reconciliation, God is working to restore all creation. A curriculum that reconciles explores various and wide-ranging perspectives on all learning areas. It explores the chance that the dominant story of the day is not the only story and that a reconciliatory curriculum ensures that varying voices are heard, especially the voices of the marginalized and voiceless. God is a God of all things, not just the dominant culture or story of the day. Curriculum and resources should show the complexity, pain, and beauty represented in differing perspectives of a single topic or event. Flowing out of this complexity, good learning plans will acknowledge the need for humility, listening, wrestling, and contemplation as crucial components of the learning journey.
Many competing stories are vying for the attention of our schools. To stay true to a school’s mission and vision, we need to employ decision-making filters that orient us toward a God who cares deeply for all aspects of creation. As you make decisions about systems and structures for the 2023–24 school year, may an orientation toward reconciliation be one of the filters you apply to your ongoing planning.