Stress, Rest & Growth

It has been an intense time at school since returning from the Christmas break. The Celebration of Learning was indeed a celebration of many good things that our students have been doing. The hard work that went into this coincided with a time of wrapping up courses, completing summative assignments, reflecting on what has been learned, and, for some classes, preparing for this week’s exams.

These couple of weeks bring a heavy workload for most students and a lot of stress for many. As teachers and as parents, we are always trying to find the right balance for encouraging and stretching our children, but not overwhelming them. There is a fine line between eustress (the positive stress that motivates us) and distress (the negative stress that can discourage us).

At HDCH, we don’t always get it right for ourselves or our students. It’s more of a dance than an exact science. Each person is unique, and so many varying factors affect our ability to cope with stress. Since cultivating the character of our students is at the heart of our mission at HDCH, we do look to challenge and stretch them. We also seek to support them wisely and well. We will continue to evaluate and review how we do this.

When the last exams are written this week, there is a change of pace for a few days, and a chance for students to catch their breath. Then there is hope for a fresh start to a new semester next Wednesday. I hope that they will find time to rest and rejuvenate in the short break between these semesters, and, more than that, that a regular “Sabbath” rest will be part of their healthy weekly rhythm. For growth, we all need a balance of good stress and good rest.

Join us to Celebrate

Tomorrow night is our Celebration of Learning.

I hope you will all come and see the beautiful work our students have been doing this semester. To us, beautiful work does not mean just pretty displays, but work that shows effort, perseverance, and depth of thinking and learning, work that connects to a purpose beyond themselves, that is permeated with God’s redemptive action in our world, work that is directed toward loving God and loving our neighbour.

You might have heard this summarized in the catch-phrase “deeper in and further out” – look for evidence of this in tomorrow night’s celebration of our students’ learning. Ask the students about their work that they share, why it matters, how they have been stretched and have grown through it.

Discover more about COL >>

I hope you will see glimpses of what gives my colleagues and me, the staff of HDCH, so much joy and hope in what we do here: the cultivation of sound Christian character in our children, through their learning, oriented to lives of service to God.

Duncan Todd, Principal
Hamilton District Christian High

Eternal Significance

“Earth’s crammed with heaven, and every common bush afire with God”

In Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s epic, nine-book poem “Aurora Leigh” Aurora, an aspiring writer, is trying to make sense of how an artist can write about both earthly, temporal things and spiritual, eternal things at once.

In some of the most beautiful lines of poetry ever written, Browning summarizes what so many have struggled to connect about the dual elements of nature and spirit. They exist, she tells us, as necessary parts of the same whole, joined inseparably through their creator who fashioned them both. She warns readers that if “we divide this apple of life” it will perish “as utterly as if we ate both halves.”

When Jesus Christ descended his royal throne to come to earth in the form of a squalling infant, the spiritual became as mundane as the earthy, dark stable to which it emerged. In every way, this tiny human was as normal and natural as “a tree, a leaf, a common stone.” Nothing about him signaled his divinity, and yet, this Emmanuel, God with us, was the very breath of God, warm and real, enrobed in human flesh.

What does it mean to be with?

Webster’s Dictionary defines it in part as a word that “indicates a manner of action” (e.g.: She ran the race with effort). In this context, to be with someone requires an active role, a choice to be in the moment.

Jesus with us is God’s choice to walk alongside us in empathetic care and to open the way to total reconciliation with him. Our job is to embrace that gift by taking the time to notice, to really see elements of the divine in the everyday.

As Browning says in her poem, “nothing’s small!” Every created thing, every task, every beautiful moment is “built up to eternal significance through the open arms of God.” When we can look at every part of our lives as eternally significant, we begin to see with the eyes of God. We can see “every common bush afire with God” and know to take off our shoes for we stand on holy ground. Without that vision, Browning warns, all we can do is “sit round it and pluck blackberries.”

This Christmas, dare to see the world with the eyes of God. There is divinity in the smallest of moments, Christ in and among us. Blessings to you and yours this Christmas season.

Sara Whetstone, Teacher & Vice Principal
Hamilton District Christian High

God’s Gift of our Amazing Brains

Have you ever entered a room and stood there forgetting just why you went all the way up the stairs in the first place?

Have you ever suddenly started whistling a tune that you haven’t heard in years?

This past weekend I had the enriching opportunity to attend a conference in Boston focused on how the brain thinks, remembers, and learns deeply. I heard a great variety of talks from Harvard professors, researchers, and educators from around the world.

Some spoke about their research into language acquisition and the importance of having conversational “turns” even with the smallest of infants. Others focused on how brains learn better when they are relaxed and in a safe space. Many talked about how deep learning can only be achieved through multiple, spaced-out retrieval sessions (review concepts early and often!). All of them agreed on one specific thing: the brain is a mysterious organism that we are only beginning to understand.

Our complexity and intricacy
As a Christian educator, I am continually amazed at the complexity and intricacy of human beings. Imagine how much God loves us and delights in us to design our bodies and brains to be so amazing! When we wrestle with a new concept or persevere through a challenge, we praise God by valuing the astonishing brain he gave us and by nurturing it to grow.

Celebration of Learning
On Thursday, January 9 our students will be presenting their work at our biannual Celebration of Learning. Some classes will be showing completed products that have undergone many rounds of drafts and feedback. Other classes may be demonstrating work that is still in progress. For many students, the products that are on display represent hours of digging deeply into a concept and exercising their brain muscle. One of our goals as educators is to teach students to reflect on their own work and their own learning process.

Next time you attend a CoL, ask a student one of these questions:

  • What is something that will stick with you after learning this concept?
  • What did this project teach you about your own learning styles and how you learn best?
  • What part of this task was hard for you? How did you overcome it?
  • What did you learn through this process about God’s amazing world and your place in his story?

I am continually thankful for the learning that I see happening in our classrooms and hallways. If you haven’t seen it for yourself, come! Celebrate God’s gift of the amazing brain with us.

Sara Whetstone, Teacher & Vice-Principal
Hamilton District Christian High

Future Belonging

This year, as last year, our theme as a school has been Belonging.
We’ve been thinking and talking together about what it means to be a faithful school community; what it means to learn and work with each other, and what it means to belong to each other as part of the body of Christ.

Next Thursday, November 21, we have the opportunity to welcome Grade 8 students to HDCH for the day. Our goal for this special Exceler8 Day is for Grade 8 students to experience HDCH, to meet some of our staff and students, to have fun, and to eat delicious food.

Most of all, we hope to give them a taste of our community of belonging. We hope they leave this day with a sense that they could be an HDCH Knight next year–or even that they are HDCH Knights already!

If you know someone who might like to experience a day of life and learning at HDCH, please share this event with them and invite them to attend!

Questions? Contact Kris Slootweg, our Director of First Impressions, and she’ll make sure they get everything they need to find out more about HDCH.

Cheryl Webb, Director of Operations
Hamilton District Christian High

A deep love for HDCH

Farewell, Nathan

It is with some sadness, and also a strong sense of gratitude for what has been, that we announce to our community Nathan Siebenga’s resignation from HDCH. Nathan’s gifts as a leader have been a great blessing to HDCH during his stint as a Vice Principal, and more specifically during his eight years as Principal.

In August 2010, Nathan introduced project-based learning (PBL) to a somewhat intrigued HDCH staff and set out a transformative vision for Christ-centred learning that would engage students more deeply and purposefully in their learning. As Principal he pursued that vision relentlessly and coaxed, urged, and sometimes, with the persistence of a prophet, pressed us to change. His leadership pushed not only HDCH to expand our vision for Christian learning, but also had a significant transformative influence province-wide and even beyond, particularly in Christian schools. The Christian Teachers Academy, birthed at HDCH under Nathan’s leadership, has been an important vehicle for that transformation in Ontario, other provinces, and even internationally.

Nathan is an innovator, visionary, and dreamer, and has always been driven by a desire to see the kind of learning in our schools that will bless the current and future generations of our children to discover, develop, and deploy their God-given gifts in faithful service of God’s Kingdom.

The proposed new facility project, which has now been put on hold for reimagining, was spearheaded by Nathan and represented part of his dream to remove physical obstacles and provide the spaces in which innovative, purposeful, Christ-centred learning could flourish. That dream for flexible learning spaces at HDCH will continue to inform our vision for facility renewal and development as we move forward.

On a personal note, I am deeply grateful to Nathan for how he has helped me grow in so many ways, and particularly in my understanding of God’s work in and through a place like HDCH. Nathan leaves with a deep love for HDCH and for the people who have journeyed with him here these past 17 years. He goes with our wishes for God’s blessing on the next chapter in his professional adventure.

Duncan Todd, Principal
Hamilton District Christian High

Education Withness

Student Learning Conferences

Tomorrow night is our first round of Student Learning Conferences (SLC’s) for this semester. For a few years now we have been strongly encouraging students to come to these meetings with their parents and teachers:

  • so that they can participate in the conversation about and take ownership of their learning,
  • so that the partnership between home and school for the student’s growth and learning can be strengthened,
  • and so that we can do education with rather than to or for our students.

I hope these evenings (Oct 17 & Oct 22) will confirm for you that their teachers know and love your children. We don’t always get it right, of course, so hearing your insights into your child’s unique personality and gifts are always helpful.

We hope that each student will feel honoured and supported as they talk about their learning in each class, their struggles and successes, their frustrations and their joys. And we hope that you, the parents, will learn something about your child and the way the Spirit is calling them and working in them and through them in their learning at HDCH.

Duncan Todd, Principal
Hamilton District Christian High

Every Child Matters

Hello Privilege; It’s me, James

Okay, so I shamelessly borrowed the title for this week from a recent Netflix production about the experience of advantage and disadvantage in America. While that’s not exactly the theme of this reflection, the title still kind of fits because I, like so many, have begun (finally) to reconcile how my story intersects with the stories of others. Part of that process involves the recognition that ‘privilege’ persists, partly, through the prioritization of a particular voice or story over another.

Like most every other kid in Ontario, I took Canadian History in high school. But the history class I took was pretty different from the one students take today; there seemed to be a reluctance to shine light into the darker chapters of the collective Canadian experience (whatever that is). So, we never heard about the internment of Japanese Canadians during WWII, about the refusal for asylum of people aboard the MS St. Louis in 1939, or about the long history of residential schools. There were important stories I didn’t hear, and I think that not hearing these stories allowed me to exist within a single cultural narrative and a narrow, sanitized framework for a long time.

This past Monday, students at HDCH participated in the “Every Child Matters” orange shirt day. About seventy students also had an opportunity to visit the Woodland Cultural Centre in Brantford to see a residential school and to hear about the experiences of survivors. When someone challenged me on the value of this day, I thought about the opportunity it provided for us to engage with the reality and legacy of residential schools and to adopt the position of listener and learner. I’m grateful that the students of HDCH had a chance to hear these stories and to reflect on how these stories intersect with each of their own.

One of the compelling things about Christ’s ministry is exactly this: the radical desire to challenge a dominant cultural narrative, the commitment to hear a person’s story, and the empathy to understand how that lived experience shapes the individual’s journey. In doing this, Jesus certainly ruffled a few feathers, but He unequivocally demonstrated that a person’s worth is not determined by culture, status, origin or experience. He lived the idea that belonging is about listening, learning and loving.

For a second year, our school theme is “belonging.” As we journey forward as a school community committed to being a place of belonging, the model of Christ’s desire to hear story and understand context is worth emulating. I’m grateful for the stories our students get to hear, and I’m excited to think how diving into a wide variety of experiences and expressions helps us all to strive toward living in humility and love.

James Apers
Director of Student Services

A Community of Care

Community Forum Evening

On Monday night, over sixty members of our HDCH community (parents and grandparents, prospective parents, alumni, current and past staff, friends of HDCH and others invested in the wider community of Christian education) gathered here at HD to participate in a community forum. For over 60 years we, as a community, have been answering God’s call to take courageous steps towards sustainable and innovative Christian education. Now again, we are seeking as a community to discern God’s wisdom and leading in the process of determining campus renewal to bless the next generations of Christian teenagers with a facility that will support the Kingdom mission of cultivating character through learning for a life of service to God.

The meeting was facilitated by M&M International, an independent consulting firm that is conducting a fundraising feasibility study on our behalf. The forum was an opportunity to ask questions about campus renewal and to complete questionnaires that will inform M&M’s study report.

Here are a few of my take-aways from the evening.

  • We are surrounded by a community passionate about Christian education – excellent quality, Christ-centred education that is accessible to all who seek it for their children.
  • There is some excitement about the future of HDCH, and some healthy caution.
  • There is a strong desire to be proactive about the current and future enrolment growth.
  • There are concerns about the potential effect of the proposed project on future tuition for HDCH families.
  • There are some misconceptions and some lack of clarity surrounding the details of the proposed building project.
  • There is some doubt about the rationale for a new build, and the concept of flexible, transformative learning spaces is still somewhat nebulous for many.
  • HDCH has a deeply committed and generous support community that is serious about investing wisely.  They are seeking good value and Kingdom vision.

I am greatly encouraged by our support community.  I was encouraged by the thoughtfulness and care evident in the questions people asked. I have said to staff more than once this year that the only way we can do this beautiful HDCH thing we do is together. Evenings like last Monday are forums for the dialogue that is so critical as we move forward.

The report from the Feasibility Study will go to the Board later in October, and we will report back to our community after that time. We have important decisions ahead of us. We have facility opportunities and challenges that we will need to address. Thankfully, we have a God who we believe gives wisdom and guidance. And we have a remarkable community that has stepped out in bold faith many times through its history.

Please continue to pray for HDCH: our students, our staff, our Board of Directors, and also for our future.

Duncan Todd, Principal
Hamilton District Christian High

Welcome Back

Welcome back to the new school year!

Yesterday, we welcomed close to 500 students through the doors of HDCH.  We are bursting at the seams, but, more importantly, the students were bursting with joyful possibility.  Yes, some were apprehensive, some unsure of how the year would unfold.  Some were overwhelmed, some tentatively making new friends.  Some were loud and some quiet.  Some found comfort in the familiar, some excitement in the new.  Some were just trying to find their way from one class to the next without getting lost or trampled in the hallways.  But everywhere was a sense of hope: a new year, new people, and new possibilities.

We are hopeful that every student will find HDCH to be a place where they belong, where they are known, and where they continue to discover their gifts and calling and purpose.  We don’t and won’t always get this right, but we are hopeful.

We, the teachers and staff, are excited and honoured to be entrusted with this privilege of working with your children this year – co-labourers in God’s work in their lives.  Thank you for partnering with us on this journey of joyful hope.

Duncan Todd, Principal
Hamilton District Christian High