Why Edifide?

Posted by Matthew Schonewille, Category: Editorials,

At the beginning of every school year, the Edifide office receives requests for information about our organization, so I thought I’d focus on “Why Edifide?” for this editorial. Edifide has had a long history of working with the board organization, the Ontario Alliance of Christian Schools (OACS), and the principals’ organization, the Ontario Christian School Administrators Association (OCSAA). Edifide serves educators (mainly teachers) in Christian schools.

Edifide has three main foci:

a) Professionalism

b) Professional Learning

c) Employment Services

What does it mean to focus on professionalism? For our members working in Christian schools, this means that our educators meet or exceed Ontario standards for an educational vocation. We encourage/expect all of our members to join the Ontario College of Teachers (OCT), and we encourage/expect that all of our members will have the Christian School Teachers Certificate (CSTC). We support the professional and ethical standards of the OCT, unpacking the nuances within our own new Edifide policy on Professionalism, Boundaries and Social Media. This policy is a working document to be shared at the 2015 Edifide convention for your input and critique. Both certifications (OCT and CSTC) and memberships are reflected in our salary grids and categories. We believe that Christian educators need to be people of character, having integrity, faith, humility, compassion, and a focus on the students’ best interests. Edifide members need to understand the complex issues of confidentiality, honesty, respect, and boundaries in their communities.

Professional Learning (and Leadership) means that we strive to be on the leading edge of best practices in education, choosing wisely the foci and programs that will enhance the flourishing and learning of our students. This means that we are not riding a bandwagon but carefully, wisely choosing the best ideas in education and transforming them to serve the interests of Christian education. We have chosen to mainly categorize professional learning with three amazing learning strands during our upcoming convention: Culture and Character, Beautiful Work, and Mastery of Knowledge and Skills.

Culture and Character- An intentional focus on culture and the shared habits of character that will create that culture is crucial for all schools. Both students and adults play a significant role in developing a relational culture in the school community. Our image-bearing of the Creator implies relationality: we are Inter-dependent in our relationship to creation, to each other, and to God as Father, Son and Spirit. Christian educators believe that a Spirit-filled community will reveal the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5: 22-23). A culture that embodies these characteristics is determined not only through writing a good discipline policy or outlining a school’s habits of a graduate. They are woven into the daily practices that foster healthy relationships: active listening to understand, speaking with courage and honesty, and collaborative protocols that outline how we treat each other in community. These practices are embodied in both student and professional learning.

Beautiful Work-Full of mystery and wonder, the Biblical narrative moves us through a grand story from garden to city, and our image-bearing of the Creator implies that we are also creators; our learning empowers us to participate in making beautiful things. Mark Shaw defines work as “rearranging the raw material of God’s creation in such a way that it helps the world in general, and people in particular, thrive and flourish.” (Shaw, M. Work Play Love: A Visual Guide to Calling, Career and the Mission of God. Downers Grove, IL: Intervarsity Press, p. 65. 2014). Within our classrooms, we want the commitment to culture and character and the master of knowledge and skills to find their realization in the beautiful work that we pursue together. Proverbs 8 indicates the Wisdom is craftsmanship, woven into the things we observe as so beautiful. As we explore how God has woven wisdom into the things he has made, we also respond by weaving our best sense of wisdom into thing we make too. Often, cultural artifacts will act as powerful models for us to consider our own work-a bridge, a novel, a topographical map, a math solution, a meal-the qualities of these artifacts can invite us to ponder what skills are needed to create something well, and to ponder how our artifacts might play a part in God’ s unfolding drama of shalom. We believe that beautiful work will exhibit the qualities of complexity, craftsmanship and authenticity (Expeditionary Schools). As a means of both encouraging and celebrating our desire for these qualities, beautiful student work should be shared with others who can appreciate it and be blessed by it.

Mastery of Knowledge and Skills-Schools have always been concerned about cultivating knowledge and skills, and for good reason. Our image-bearing of the Creator implies responsibility and privilege in stewarding what has been made and discovered. We inherit knowledge and skills from the ongoing story of creation and humanity and in turn discern how to use that knowledge and skills in service to God and his ongoing kingdom. Phil Teeuwsen described this as an inter-generational dialogue in his keynote at last year’s convention. There can be a sense of joyful play and delight in what we are discovering in our learning. Although we often approach knowledge in specific disciplines-math, language, arts and sciences-we also recognize that knowledge is inter-connected. We want to explore how mean is inter-disciplinary. While pursing knowledge, we want to foster life-long habits that support skill development, the discipline required for any apprentice to become adept in skills. In this sense, play and delight in discovery lead to habits and mastery through practice. Practice in skills in encouraged through a growth mindset and takes many forms. Skills are cognitive (such as analyzing, communicating, reflecting), physical (such as through using tools, technology or body movement) and socio-emotional (such as collaborating, sharing, empathizing). Like knowledge, these skills are inter-connected. Finally, for all students to be supported in the mastery of knowledge and skills, we are committed to pedagogical approaches that support diverse learners. We want inclusive classrooms, practices, and structures that help us to support a diversity of students. Diverse learners help each other develop diverse understanding and skills.

Employment Services take up a majority of Edifide’s time and resources. Edifide represents and negotiates for teachers (employees) at the provincial Coordinating Committee where annual salary grids and benefits are formulated. Updating employment schedules that make up a major part of your school contracts are done through this committee as well as compensation reports and other policy documents that affect the workplace. Edifide has hired an outside employment consultant to weigh in on more intricate employment questions. We advocate, support, and come alongside our members in situations where they do not feel that they have been treated fairly. Our services include scripts, advice, facilitation, restorative practices, mediation, and arbitration. We are not a union but do union-like work for our members. Our relationship with the Ontario Alliance of Christian Schools is based on a partnership model that encourages both the employer and the employee to dialogue, negotiate, and work out issues through a local contract partnership committee. One of the areas that are the most innovative is our Dispute Management Schedule, where restorative practices are embedded to enhance the workplace culture.

Edifide represents the educator’s voice in the movement of Christian education. All stakeholders (boards, principals, administrators, teachers, support staff, para-educators) are called to work collaboratively and cooperatively in Christian schools to realize healthy school environments, flourishing classrooms, and fair workplace policies. Without Edifide, the educator’s voice would not be as vibrant and strong as it is today. Edifide is a unique organization in the Canada’s educational landscape. This year, it has its first representative elected to represent independent education at the Ontario College of Teachers, it is focusing on professionalism for its members, it strives for “continued” learning for its members, it brings an employee voice/partnership to all workplace decisions, and it strives to act in the best interests of the students entrusted to us through our educational institutions.

( A special thanks to Justin Cook, the OACS Director of Learning for his eloquent descriptions of the learning strands. )