What Can We Learn from Finland - by Mr. A. Boonstra
At the end of September, I had the amazing opportunity to join 34 other Christian school principals in visiting the country of Finland. Last spring the Ontario Christian School Administrator Association proposed visiting Finland to see first hand what makes their school system so successful. Finland’s educational system is world renowned and is known to have some of the highest student achievement results when it comes to PISA* scores. Joining with the principals from other local Christian schools, I spent 5 days in Helsinki touring a number of schools as well as connecting with the administrators of these schools.
In preparation for the trip, we were required to read Pasi Sahlberg’s book called Finnish Lessons, which outlines some of the reasons for Finland’s educational success. Not only did we have an opportunity to read the book, we actually had Mr. Sahlberg join us on many of our school visits. His presence in our midst allowed us to pick his brain to explore what makes the Finnish model so successful.
A few years ago, I had the privilege of going on a similar excursion to San Diego, California. We visited High Tech High, along with a couple of other schools at that time. We brought back some amazing ideas, including Project Based Learning, or PBL. CCS has immersed itself in this strategy of learning for the past couple of years and even designed a specific day for students to share their projects with our broader community. That day of sharing is affectionately known as our Shine Festival.
My trip to Finland, however, was a little different than the San Diego trip. It was much more difficult to glean a specific pedagogical approach to learning that connected to student learning. Much of the Finnish success can be traced to the cultural approach the Finns have towards education, and changing culture is not an overnight process. However, there are still many lessons to be learned and some subtle changes that we could consider.
For example, in Finland, education is very highly valued and supported within society. Teachers are held in high esteem, and access to education at all levels is provided for the general population. The influence of education on culture is further seen in language acquisition. Not only is Finland a bilingual country (Finnish and Swedish are official languages), but English is practiced by most citizens of the country as well.
Furthermore, Finnish education is characterized by meaningful and exciting classroom work, active movement within the classroom, individualized student programs, and students taking responsibility for their academic progress. In other words, students are invested in their education.
I like to think that CCS is well on its way towards implementing some of the strategies mentioned above at our own school. However, there is room for us to explore how we can support teachers so that they can be empowered to be innovative with lesson implementation and student training. Perhaps a greater emphasis can be placed on deeper learning that teaches children how to be agents of justice in a broken world. Maybe we need to create more space for students to be leaders of their own learning. At CCS, we are in the very unique position to look for opportunities that allow our students to shine. Exploring other school models that help us build upon the programs we already have can only benefit the students that come through our doors. It is indeed an exciting time to be in education, and with the grace of God leading us, we will continue to look for ways in which we can serve the students of CCS in such a way that they can make a difference in our world. * The Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) is a worldwide study by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) in member and non-member nations of 15-year-old school pupils' scholastic performance on mathematics, science, and reading (taken from Wikipedia).
~Mr. A. Boonstra, Principal
April 26 is Administrative Professionals Day.
It certainly is appropriate to set aside a day for administrative professionals. These people are, in most situations, the “front line” staff.
At Calvin Christian School, our front office personnel are Marlene Gallea (Office Manager) and Lianna Reitsma (Office Assistant). Although differing in job descriptions, these two women have many tasks in common. In fact, these tasks amount to just about everything, the unwritten yet presumed.
Without a doubt, these ladies are the pulse of the school. They know what is going on. They are the people to go to when you need to know what is going on, and if you need advice, suggestions, and guidance. They respond to staff and students and parents gathered in the office, while responding to door bells and deliveries and telephone calls. They deal lovingly with injuries, the serious and the not so serious but deemed serious. They follow up on Board of Director and committee requests, gather and distribute cheese orders, and ensure hard copies and e-blasts of the Courier are sent out. They also... I am sure you can fill in the rest.
We would like to celebrate Administrative Professionals Day in their honour. Marlene and Lianna have the gifts, skills, and personalities that make our front office run smoothly. They have a heart for the well-being of students, staff and parents. They serve to make a difference. We thank God for placing Marlene and Lianna in our school and we gladly celebrate this day in their honour. Thank you, Marlene and Lianna, for all that you do at Calvin Christian School.
Another exciting tournament of the Battle of the Books is behind us. We had a very successful season, with a great turnout of students wanting to be part of the battle. The requirements to becoming a member on a team involve reading eight books and completing a short report on each book. There is a junior and a senior level. The books for both the junior and senior team were well enjoyed! We ended up with four teams that represented Calvin on April 5th - our Battle Day - with approximately 6 students on each team as we headed to Grimsby Mountain View CRC - where the day was hosted by Covenant Christian School. There were a total of six schools participating.
Prior to the battle date, many, many recesses are spent studying the books, and becoming familiar with every little detail of the stories, as well as knowing the title and author of each novel. Mr. Veldhuis, Mrs. Goodwin, Mrs. Vanderwindt, and Mrs. Eising are the coaches for the teams, and they assist the students in their preparation. On the day of the battle, two types of questions are posed to the contestants: battle questions and lightening questions. Calvin was well represented on our Battle Day: Teams ‘Senior A’ and ‘Junior B’ both won third place and were awarded with two new books that will be placed in our school library. Way to go!
Many thanks for the hard work the students put into preparing for the day, and for the many parents that encouraged us, drove us, and cheered us on. A special thank you to Mrs. Goodwin, who as a chair person put in many hours of preparation for this exciting day. Lastly, we thank our heavenly Father for the gift of creative writing and the joy that books bring us. Grade 8 students, we hope you will continue to enjoy the pleasure of reading for many more years! For the rest of the students: we hope to see all of you back again next year! Thanks for being part of BOB! It’s been a great year!
Taking time to rest and be refreshed is sometimes easier said than done. In a world where we are pushed to “make the most of every moment”, “be the best you can be” and “strive for excellence”, it could be easy to get caught up in that momentum. And the result might end up being stress. Unfortunately, if we are stressed, we can get burned out, and our light cannot shine. Jesus instructs us: “... let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven” (Matthew 5:16).
Being pulled in many directions is true for so many of us, we claim any one or all of these roles: parent, sibling, aunt/uncle, son/daughter, employee/employer, counselor, mentor, member of the school, the church, the community in which we live and there are responsibilities with each role. Wow. Work, obligations, duties. Possible burnout? And yet, we are called to put God first. Put God first. God asks us not to worry, but to seek Him and know Him (Matthew 6:25 - 34) and He will give us rest “... learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls” (Matthew 11: 29).
How can we do that?
Jesus tells us, “Come to Me,all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest”. (Matthew 11:28). Jesus knows we get tired and that we need Him, and so He tells us to come to Him! The author of Philippians tells us many great things about looking to God and Jesus Christ and living out our faith in our everyday lives, but he also includes that we should rejoice and talk to God about everything and He WILL give us peace:
“Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus (Philippians 4:4- 6).
Regarding peace and refreshment for our souls, God gives us the steps to follow, a directive: Rejoice, Seek HIM, Talk to HIM, Guard your heart, Guard your mind; Do these things, and He WILL give you peace.
The government gave us “Family Day”. Family Day is a day many people can rest from their work and enjoy the day with their families. But, let’s remember that God has already given us a day: Sunday!! He has given us that day because he knows us and loves us and knows we need rest. So take it! Take a day every week: a day to rest, to worship our Lord and Saviour, fellowship with believers and be refreshed. And we do not have to feel guilty for needing and wanting this day because God gave it to us. Accept His gift, thank God, rejoice, and be refreshed! And then be ready for whatever the week may bring….
~Mrs. M. Heeg
Project Based Learning is currently a buzzword in academic circles. Project Based Learning is a “teaching method in which students gain knowledge and skills by working for an extended period of time to investigate and respond to an authentic, engaging and complex question, problem, or challenge.” Here at Calvin Christian School we are committed to this teaching in our classrooms, with the hope of inspiring a passion for learning and exploring God’s creation, and the various relationships found within it; in science, socials, English, physed, music, and even within our peer relationships. We believe that when students are engaged in learning, excited about solving problems and given freedom to make choices and mistakes, amazing things happen, and beautiful work is accomplished.
Through PBL we challenge our students to develop 21st century skills such as collaboration, team work, creativity, critical thinking and problem solving,we encourage our students to produce “beautiful work,” work that they have put significant thought and time into, something that has often gone through several rounds of editing and refining (with the help of classmates critique and ideas) and something that they are proud of.
Beautiful work is also motivated by the desire to share it with an authentic audience. This is a large part of Project Based Learning. Students discover that what they produce means something to someone else, or can be used in a meaningful way by others or the community around them. Our school is excited to invite the school community through our doors during Open House in May and see what PBL is all about. Each student will have PBL inspired work to show and share with others. Come and see what it is all about!
We believe that our purpose as teachers is to equip every student “for every good work” in God’s kingdom. We often reflect on how this can be accomplished, how we can meet the needs of each student and also challenge them to refine and develop the gifts God has blessed them with. At CCS, PBL inspired teaching is a tool that we can use to develop these gifts in our students. Some examples of PBL units and PBL inspired teaching include:
- JK/K classes – Inquiry based learning – listening to students wonder about things (butterflies, ants, weather, space etc), exploring them further and developing communication skills to articulate what the students see/hear/feel and have learned. - Grade 1 – Exploring the question of what an animal needs to survive. Students engage in learning about a self-selected animal and learning about what it needs for food, habitat and defense. - Grade 2 – We ask students what makes a fun and safe playground. Students learn about 3D shapes, each attribute of the shape and designs the ‘ultimate’ playground. Students develop presentation skills and also create a 3D model of the playground along with a map.
PBL is an amazing tool that teachers at CCS are using more and more in their classes. We seek to engage our students in the learning process and develop a passion for learning. It is our hope that as we do this, each student will be equipped with the skills needed to serve in God’s kingdom, and be a light.
~Mrs. K. Taekema
"Why Project Based Learning (PBL)?" Project Based Learning. Web. 19 Oct. 2016.
After just over two years of teaching the French AIM program at Calvin Christian School, I find that I’m really enjoying it!
Here is a description of the top 4 things I like about the AIM program:
From the start of class time until the end, we sing songs, move around, read, and speak together using French. Each grade is learning a dramatic story with amusing characters which make us laugh as we listen to, read, and retell the story. With its emphasis on developing listening and speaking skills, students are actively engaged in hearing and producing French for the whole class time. Each French word is gestured by me, the teacher, so students can actually watch the language unfold, and be prompted by each gesture to speak with confidence and accuracy in French. Aural, visual and kinesthetic learners can easily remember vocabulary, and can actively engage their whole bodies in learning the language.
Sometimes, learning the AIM way is so different, it almost seems weird! Weird in a fun way. Gone are the vocabulary lists to memorize. Gone are the formal verb conjugations. Gone are the endless sentences to rewrite. Gone are the lengthy paragraphs to decode. AIM provides meaningful, engaging, authentic communicative activities. As a result, students first listen, then speak, then read, and then write in French (strictly in that order), which is the reverse of how many of us have learned French (but is, in fact, how one learns a first language)! Because the gestures help the students speak with accuracy (grammatically and with correct pronunciation), they gain confidence in speaking French right away and develop strong listening comprehension skills. From there, the vocabulary embeds in their brains, so that when the written word is introduced, it has strong meaning and can be easily retained. In addition, a big difference from traditional programs is in verb conjugation. Instead of introducing all forms of regular and irregular verbs, AIM uses conjugations in first person because these conjugations all sound the same. In order to express the plural, AIM uses conjugations for “on” (we) and “tout le monde” (everyone). These controlled verb conjugations allow students to create full sentences, which then increases their ability to effectively communicate complete ideas right from the start. This increases fluency, which increases satisfaction, which increases desire to communicate more - all of which increases teacher, student, and parent happiness!!!
It offers full support.
During class time, the teacher is the main support for the student, guiding the choral French speaking using gestures, and prompting students individually to speak with gestural support as necessary. Outside of class time, AIM teachers and students all have access to the AIM web portal in which we can view and hear each song, story and play. In addition, each word and gesture that we learn is accessible for review. For parents, the web portal and website offer more info on the AIM philosophy and methodology, and a means to encourage and help their child in learning the vocabulary of his/her specific kit. For AIM teachers, there are excellent resources and supportive networking opportunities with AIM professionals and colleagues. Parents: if you would like to get your child connected to this AIM web portal in order to review at home, please email me for login info at firstname.lastname@example.org
The kids are speaking French! Teachers share with me that they hear their students using French phrases appropriately with their peers during other classroom activities. In the hallways, students are greeting me and each other in French and carrying on short, impromptu interactions using French. Parents tell me that their kids are conversing in French at home, as well as noticing French on signs and packaging. Some kids are even singing the AIM songs at birthday parties together! Their brains are absorbing it, their mouths are producing it with confidence, and their hearts are enjoying it. Ça, c’est fantastique! I’m pretty sure that primary and junior CCS students like the AIM French program for the same reasons that I do! So, just ask them: “Est-ce que tu aimes la classe de français? Pourquoi?”, and please report back to me! :)
Madame Van Eek
Parent/Teacher Conference Tips
Calvin Christian School's vision is that all God's children are “thoroughly equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 2:17). Conferences are a wonderful way for parents and teachers to partner together in Christian community towards this vision. Conferences not only deepen the parent/teacher relationship, but they also help each to have a better understanding of the gifts, concerns, needs and goals going forward for the child.
So how can we make the most of a parent/teacher conference? Whether it's your first conversation or an ongoing conversation with the teacher, here are a few suggestions to help you get started:
BEFORE the Conference
Be sure your child understands that the conference is nothing to be worried about. Rather it is a time where we are all coming together to talk about how to help your child best. Have a discussion with your child and find out what subjects they enjoy. What are your child's strengths/weaknesses? Talk about any concerns your child may have either academically or socially. Write down any questions/concerns you may have. Prioritize the list in case you run out of time.
DURING the Conference
Be on time. The conference evening is often fully booked and each minute of your conference is precious. Remember that we all want the same thing: the best for your child. Ask the important questions first. If there are still items that you wish to follow up on, make plans with the teacher for that follow up. Take notes. Respectfully discuss differences in opinion. By communicating respectfully together these differences in opinion, we can reach a greater understanding of the child. Work together to create an action plan of ways that you can support your child at home in areas of struggle. Thank one another for the time taken to celebrate and support your child. Pray for one another.
AFTER the Conference
Talk with your child. Emphasize the strengths and positive points discussed with the teacher. Be honest about the concerns. Fully explain any action plans that were made to help support the child. Start those plans immediately. Remind your child that this conference is intended to help the child. Keep in touch with the teacher especially if any action plan was created. Support one another in prayer.
The parent/teacher conferences are intended to be a wonderful tool in deepening the understanding of each child and developing communication between home and school. By following these before, during and after tips, our hope is that your parent/teacher conference is a meaningful time.
~ Mrs. Van Voorst
Assessment is an exciting and important component of good teaching. A teacher conducts assessments before learning takes place, while learning is taking place and after learning has taken place. In the education industry, we usually say, assessment for learning, assessment during learning and assessment of learning. When the teacher readies the student for learning, the teacher may wish to know what the student already knows, or what the student has already mastered. Assessment for learning indicates whether the teacher's lesson plans and unit plans need to be modified. Then, as learning occurs, the teacher may wish to know whether the student is progressing in meeting the skill objectives or learning outcomes. If not, what can be done? The teacher may decide the appropriate learning has happened, or provide additional lessons to provide the students opportunities to meet the skill objectives. Then finally, there is the summative test or assignment. At this point, the teacher conducts an assessment of learning. Much good work has gone into preparing the student for a final assessment.
Calvin Christian School has embarked on a whole new set of reporting protocol regarding student performance. This protocol exists to provide parents with information early in the school year concerning student work habits, behaviour and academic performance, by means of a progress report and a parent/teacher conference. Both the teacher and the parents love to see the student growth and achievement. The progress report serves as an early indicator of student achievement, and indicates areas for growth and improvement. The progress report becomes the basis for further reporting at the subsequent parent\/teacher conference. The motive behind the reporting protocol is to give parents and students time to follow “next steps” so that by the time a student obtains the final report card for the semester, much good work had been done by teacher, the student and parents in preparation for assessment of learning.
Mr. T. Postma, Principal
In a For Better or for Worse comic strip by Lynne Johnson, five-year-old April and her mother make a donation to a veteran and receive a poppy. As she pins the poppy onto April’s coat, Mother gives April a quick lesson on John McCrae and “Flanders Fields.” April responds, “But why do I have to wear a poppy? I don’t even know what war is.” “That, perhaps, is the best reason to wear one,” is her mother’s apt reply. Growing up in a country where war is relegated to a headline, we can appreciate April’s innocence and naivety.
Remembrance Day is, arguably, a misnomer. Technically speaking, we cannot remember something that we have not experienced. However, when we engage in purposeful, serious reflection, aided by pictures, videos, and historical narratives, we can develop an empathy and respect that Remembrance Day deserves. My appreciation for Remembrance Day has been a slow journey, and it is my mother to whom I credit my growth in this process.
Remembrance Day was a holiday from school when I was a kid. I was in the sixth grade when my mother informed me that I would be participating in the Cenotaph ceremony in my hometown of Wyoming. I had made plans to spend the holiday with my best friend and neighbour, Kevin. Already upset about not being asked if I wanted to go (my opinion would not have mattered on this occasion), I became even more sulky when my mother decided that I would wear my cadet uniform. Now I was going to stick out like a sore thumb. Ironically, the decision I loathed turned out to be a blessing. I was chosen to lay a wreath in memory of one of the soldiers who died during the War. I do not remember if it was the First or Second World War, but I do remember listening intently for the name that matched the one on the wreath, and placing it up front with the others. I felt honoured to have been chosen.
Flash forward four years. After spending two hours doing chores in the barn, I had planned to spend my twenty-minute coffee break with a pair of headphones and my new Linda Ronstadt album. My mother had other ideas. She instructed me to put away the record and respectfully observe the two minutes of silence that commenced at 11:00 A.M. Together we watched the Remembrance Day ceremonies as they unfolded on Parliament Hill. I can recall the veterans in their wheel chairs wearing their medals and the steady rain.
As I grew older, my appreciation for what my mother experienced during the 2nd World War deepened as I heard her stories. I remember the story about my Uncle Cryn who, while bent over and tying a shoelace, was stabbed in the back by the local butcher. Apparently, he was with a group of teenagers who had been teasing the butcher’s son for being an NSBer (a traitor). Then there was the story of his brother, my uncle, who brought dishonor to my grandparents when they learned that he and other young men had shaved the hair off of a young woman. Her crime? She had dated a German soldier. There was also the story of the bombs that fell on three sides of the house. The windows shattered and the house was shaken to the core. The bombs left massive holes in the yards, but miraculously, no one was hurt. To this day, my mother has difficulty hearing sirens.
But it wasn’t until 2001 that my mother’s stories truly hit home. My sister Cathy and I accompanied my mother as she retraced her journey through the fields she and her family fled. Canadian soldiers were shooting from behind. I do not recall if my mother knew that the intended targets were the German soldiers running alongside. My mother remembers sharing a ditch with a German soldier whose shaking hands lit up a cigarette before he continued his run. It was a scary experience for an eleven-year-old girl.
At CCS, we take Remembrance Day seriously and always plan meaningful assemblies. Grandparents may be invited into the classrooms to share their stories to an audience of eager students. The grade four classes regularly attend the Cenotaph Ceremony at Gore Park. As teachers, we insist that the students personally thank as many veterans as they can and personally give them their Thank You cards that they have prepared in advance. Our Vets are always appreciative. Prior to Remembrance Day, our students learn the words to John McCrae’s poem “In Flanders Fields.” I recall the surprise in their eyes when, unexpectedly, the poem is read out loud and they spontaneously chime in with the recitation. Throughout the day, I choose stories and poems appropriate for Remembrance Day. The stories are powerful and sobering.
I remember being moved to tears as I watched a group of veterans amble along the shores of Normandy Beach where they and many fallen comrades had fought so bravely 60 years earlier. We thank God for the freedom we celebrate today, because of the sacrifices made on a yesterday long ago. May God grant freedom and peace for the many millions who, at this very hour, are weary, afraid, and longing for the same.
Written by Mr. T. Boer
If you were to pop in to Calvin Christian School sometime in the last two weeks of August, you would see an entire team of teachers setting up their classrooms for a brand new teaching year. Bulletin boards go up, new pencils are sharpened, name tags go on desks, welcome signs are posted outside of the classroom door, and the list goes on. It’s an exciting time, readying for the students we will soon meet.
In my case, I teach grade one, and when I get my class list in the mail I am excited to see who I will be sharing the next year with. I recognize some of the names, but many of them are unknown. I write names on lots of things and as I do, I wonder who these little people are. At this point they are just names, but I know that soon they will have faces and personalities. I know that they are all individuals known by their Creator, loved in their families, and coming to my class. When they enter the classroom on the first day, some of them are eager and ready to take on the learning challenges coming their way. Others aren’t so sure and there can be serious butterflies. (I must confess that teachers have serious butterflies too.) Who are these students? How will we become a class community?
I decided many years ago to invite parents to visit our class early in the year to share with us the special story of their sons and daughters. After all, who but God and parents know the children best? I and the classmates wanted to get to know them too. I send out invitations with suggestions as to what to share and ask parents to bring along some photos and stories about their child. We learn the meaning of names, important things about the family, significant events, involvement in sports, dance, music, etc., jobs at home, family traditions, favourites, pets and whatever is deemed worthy of sharing. The class eagerly anticipates these visits. “Is anybody coming today?” is a usual question. We have some time for interacting with questions, and gradually the students learn to ask good questions about the child in the seat of honour rather than turning the focus back to themselves. We practice good listening and questioning skills. At the end of the visit we sing a song: God made only one of me. There’s no one quite the same. I’m a very special person with a very special name. We then pray together, thanking God for this friend and asking for a blessing on the year. Photos are hung up for a couple of weeks following the visit. It’s fun to have another look.
I enjoy finding out more about the children in my care early in the year. Another blessing is the opportunity to meet one or both parents and to find out who loves them at the other end of the day. I have had an overwhelmingly positive response to these visits, and parents do an amazing job of making it happen. In some cases it means rearranging work schedules or making younger sibling care arrangements. We all have stories, and stories need to be shared. A big thank you to all who have paid us a visit for your role as storyteller.
Miss Wierenga, Grade 1 teacher
Have you “battled with a book” lately?
Twenty four of our CCS students have just enjoyed doing so. In April the Battle of the Books teams travelled to Trinity Christian School in Burlington to take part in the annual competition that tests their knowledge of 8 different novels. Each student on the team reads all eight books and when battle day approaches they choose a few novels to become an expert on. Any detail could be asked during the competition, so knowing the books well is the key to success.
Battle of the books is a wonderful opportunity for students who love reading to take part in a team sport and enjoy time with others who love books. It also challenges all the participants to read a variety of books in genres they may not otherwise read. Each year new books are chosen with the list including genres such as historical fiction, science fiction, fantasy, ethnic fiction, adventure stories and books with Canadian content. Excellent literature is enjoyed each year.
Battle of the Books is also a way for students to build relationships with others. The teams are made up of mixed grades and genders. The students must learn to work as a team to successfully answer as many questions as possible in a timed competition. Students also get an opportunity to meet students from other schools and broaden their sense of Christian community. They can begin to see themselves as a part of the larger body of Christ as they sing and do devotions together before they separate into their individual teams. Battle of the Books, building readers, building community.
~Mrs. J. VanderWindt