The Search for Intelligent Life

There is a fascinating story of a team of scientists striving to find the best way to search for intelligent life elsewhere in the universe.  These scientists were driven by the question, “In our search for life on other planets, what exactly should we look for?”  Their way of answering that question was really interesting.  They decided to create a small spacecraft which they would launch as far into space as possible and then use it to “look back” at Earth which (occasionally) has intelligent life on it.  They concluded that looking at Earth from afar would help them to know what they were looking for elsewhere in the universe.

On the “Spaceship” to Kettle Falls

Stepping back from everyday life and looking from a distance at ourselves can be instructive at many levels.  That’s what 17 people from Edmonton Christian Schools did Oct 13 and 14.  Their spaceship was a bus, and their “deep space destination” was a EL Education* Mentor School in Kettle Falls, Washington where theyimg_5066 were joined by teachers from Christian schools in Surrey BC, Coquitlam BC, Nanaimo BC, Lynden WA, and Bellevue WA.  They were given some high quality experiences of the learning that took place in Kettle Falls and then “aimed their instruments” back towards their own Christian schools to look for signs of life.  “The element of 7 or 8 Christian Schools from two different countries coming together was pretty significant in getting people to imagine what Christian schooling means.”  Doug Monsma, Prairie Centre for Christian Education.

We observed . . .and had great discussions with teacher from BC and Washington


What did Edmonton Christian staff members see and  imagine as we looked back at our schools through the lens of Kettle Falls?  What did we learn about how we can live our mission as a Christian School?

First of all, we learned that we have many cultural and educational practices that are good and that we must nurture.  There is indeed abundant life in our schools!  (Just look elsewhere on this blog for evidence!  God is good!)

Second, we learned that we can grow in making our classrooms places where we do really important and challenging work together  (teachers, students and community), and that we can do that with great wonder and joy.  Here are some participant’s reflections on the voyage to Kettle Falls:

img_5097“What I saw most strongly modelled was the students taking ownership of the learning.” Brady VanRy, teacher.

“We are on our way.   We have a number of good things in place: . . . learning targets . . .focussing on learning, not content…  I am excited about taking it to the next step—the student ownership of their learning.  This is an area we can really step up on.  That is exciting.”  Marcia Kwolick, teacher.

I wish every staff member could have heard their high school students speak about their overall school experiences; it was so powerful and inspiring!  Darren Oskoboiny, Principal

“It was a pretty cool experience to see the students so involved across every course.  Kids are being taught to process their own thinking and to evaluate what they are doing and why they are doing it.  That was a really big piece for me.  It was actually quite exciting.Hendrik Wolmarans, Asst.Principal

Their culture of learning showed a lot of things we could hang onto.” Clint Schenk, teacher and Asst Principal

“Teachers talk less, and it’s very student directed. Students took ownership of their work.” Lena Ayers, teacher

“They (Kettle Falls) have processes, protocols and really deliberate use of language around learning.”  Krista Mulder, Principal.

Then…the long trip home

I’m not sure if that high-tech spaceship was ever launched or got a chance to look back at life on this beautiful planet.  I do know,however, that on our voyage to Kettle Falls, we found many signs of thriving life both in Kettle Falls and at Edmonton Christian School.  May we use what we learned, in God’s grace, to continue to grow into the story that the Creator of this universe is writing through us.


*the EL stands for Expeditionary Learning.  It is a way of doing schooling that others might call project based learning or deeper learning.  You can find out lots more here BY CLICKING HERE.
We are growing in gratitude!  Our thanks go to the staff and students of Kettle Falls!  We also thank the Edmonton Society for Christian Education and the Prairie Centre for Christian Education for making this possible.  Lastly, thanks to Peter Buisman, Tim Epp and Doug Monsma for the roles they played in making this happen.


Restoring and Flourishing

Shalom (Hebrew for “Peace”) is not just the absence of tension and conflict, but also the presence of everything good, especially right relationships…

einsteinAlready almost a month of school has passed and we all have settled into some routines.  Family routines.  Morning-get-out-of-the-house routines.  Classroom routines.  Relationship routines.  But there is nothing automatic or routine about being a healthy, vibrant community that accepts Christ’s invitation to live for renewal. That takes work.  That requires more than routines; it requires a mindset. Albert Einstein once said, “When I change the way I look at things, the things I look at change.”   Even subtle shifts in mindset matter.


file picture 2015

So what must be the mindset of the our school community around relationships?  One word:  Flourishing.  More pointedly, what must be our mindset when relationships become broken?  Again, one word:  Restoring. It is with those two words in mind that Edmonton Christian Schools has renewed its commitment this year to restorative practice in our community.  (We first wrote about that HERE.)  What is the mindset of restorative practice?  It’s more complex than a few bullets in a blog, but here are a few “ways of looking at things” that we want to nurture in our school community.

  • We look at  the BEHAVIOUR as the problem, not the PERSON as the problem.
  • We see discipline as an OPPORTUNITY FOR GROWTH, not as something SCARY to be AVOIDED.
  • We look to have all people FLOURISH, not have all people merely COMPLY.

img_4632All of this, of course is part of our mission as a school to “challenge students through Christ centred education to actively play their role in God’s story.”  May God give us eyes to see so that our mindset may be Christlike. We trust then, that we can be a school community of shalom, a community that grows in grace and in gratitude.

Material in the bulleted portion was largely taken from a resource the staff received in their August workshop on Restorative Practice.

Deep Learning by Shallow Water

Wetlands are places of abundant shallow water.  This past week, the shallow wetlands east of Edmonton became places of deep, authentic learning.   It’s the kind of learning that moves Edmonton Christian Schools towards its mission of “challenging students, through Christ centred education, to actively play their role in God’s story.”  img_0923

The learning that the grade 4/5 R students from Edmonton Christian Northeast School did, highlighted a number of the key tenets of deeper, formational learning.  A quick mention of three of those:

  1. Deeper learning often happens in mutually beneficial partnerships with others.
  2. Deeper learning often takes us outside of the classroom and school.
  3. In deeper learning, field work takes the place of field trips.

Here is how Liz Rachul, teacher at Edmonton Christian Northeast described the day:

dscn1569In collaboration with the Biology Department at the King’s University, the grade 4/5R class at Northeast Christian school got to partner with Dr. Darcy Visscher’s Ecology students to experience the biodiversity of the wetlands in Cooking Lake- Blackfoot Reserve. Through this collaboration, our elementary students got a glimpse of how the wetlands are interconnected with our forests and grasslands and the important earth-keeping work that takes place in order to preserve them. As a way to express gratitude for this amazing trip everyone enjoyed a treat of ‘worms and dirt’ made by the grade 4/5R class.




Worms and dirt!
Thanks to Mrs. Rachul for the photographs and description of this trip and for giving her students this rich learning experience.  Thanks also to Dr. Visscher and the students from The King’s University  for sharing their learning with our students!

Journeys Joined–Meet ECWS’s New Assistant Principal

Mr. Hendrik Wolmarans

It’s probably a metaphor we overuse: Life is a journey.  But for Edmonton Christian West School’s new Assistant Principal, Mr. Hendrik Wolmarans, it seems a fitting way to introduce him, if for no other reason than how far from Edmonton his journey began.  There are 15,590ish kilometers, between Edmonton and Pretoria South Africa.  Mr. Wolmarans, or as some of his colleagues and family call him, Drikkie, spent the first 16 years of his life around Pretoria where his father pastored an inner city church and the whole family worked a farm.  The sweat and effort of  farm labour for Hendrik, the oldest of three children, has become something he fondly remembers for the together-time it gave his family.

It was when Hendrik was 16 that his family journeyed across the Atlantic and found themselves in Rocky Mountain House.  He recalls that the family, like many immigrants, came with little, but in the same breath he talks about life as being blessed. As for him personally, moving during that identity-searching time of adolescence wasn’t as big of a struggle as some might think.  He tells of the strong family bonds and the faith foundations that made redefining himself in his new country easier and he talks of important connections, that exist to this day, with other South African immigrants in Canada.

Rocky Mountain House is still home to Wolmarans’ parents and his brother.  His sister lives in Edmonton with her husband and four children.  His father pastors Covenant Christian Reformed Church in Rocky and his mom teaches a grade 2/3 class at Rocky Christian School.  As if those vocations are not enough, once again, the family has a small farm which often draws the family together, as it did in their homeland. Many weekends will see Hendrik journeying home to fix a corral or do chores with his wife  Annerieke, a PHd student in cell biology at the U of A  (remember the connections to others immigrants? –this was a special connection!)

Drikkie recalls how as a 9 yr old child in his homeland he took up wrestling to help him become stronger for rugby.  He was good at it and by 13 wrestling was his main sport.  In Canada, he was able to continue that pursuit in high school and at one point was the provincial champion.  When he furthered his education at the University of Alberta,  he continued to wrestle in the CIS wearing the green and yellow of the Golden Bears.  He medalled four of the five years in the CIS national championship.  He also was the Canadian Greco Roman Wrestling champion in the open junior competition.

Even though competitive wrestling has ended for Hendrik, he continues to enjoy wrestling with who he is, who God is and how knowing God can help us to live.  He currently is working on a Masters in Theological Studies at Taylor University, something he said that he “ felt a call to do” all the way back in 2005 when he graduated from the education program at the U of A.  Since 2005 he has also broadened his mind and his skills as a teacher and leader.  His experiences include being resident director and campus chaplain at Taylor when it was still called Taylor College.  Teaching experience was gained in a  Catholic High School in Rocky Mountain House, at Kate Chegwin Junior High in Edmonton and up until this week, at Ross Sheppard High School where he was the CTS and Fine Arts department head.  The fact that a Mathematics major could be a department head in fine arts speaks to his ability to gently bring people together around a purpose, calling out each person’s gifts.

And it’s the calling out of gifts as a servant leader that Hendrik looks forward to at Edmonton Christian.  “Two things excite me,” he says, “the chance to take my own growth and move it to the next level in leadership AND doing that in a Christian school where I don’t need to be as careful and reserved about how I present my faith.”  He says this humbly, but with anticipation for the next part of his journey.

Perhaps that metaphor isn’t  as much worn as it is just too small to contain our stories. One blog post is not big enough either.  And so, untold are the parts about his time as a heli-attack forest fire fighter.  Unexplained are the reasons why he would want to have two Boxers (dogs) and nine new puppies keeping him and his wife up all night.   Unexplored is Hendrik’s love for tinkering with things and how that has led him to some basic level auto mechanics and some grass roots motor sports all the while as he renovates his home.

Those, and many other things are parts of the journey you’ll need to ask him about as you welcome him to our community, thankful that in God’s bigger story, our pathways have crossed, and in this place we call Edmonton Christian Schools, our journeys have, for now, joined.  May God bless us all.

Growing in Grace and Gratitude

For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast.   For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.  Eph 2:8-10


This school year at Edmonton Christian Schools is brought to you by the letter G.  




The middle word, the word at the very centre of our school theme is the word Grace.  That is as it should be.  For it is by grace  we have been saved . . . it is the gift of God.  sara-groves-add-to-the-beauty-1
The Creator’s amazing, gracious love for us and all of the creation is why we can…no, we must, seek, find and worship God in all things; Math and Music, Phys.Ed and field trips, Science and sports are but a few ways for us to learn and live the story that God’s grace has invited us into.  Singer Sara Groves, in a song titled “Add to the Beauty” says, “This is grace, an invitation to be beautiful.  This is grace, an invitation.”  Accepting that invitation is what this school year is about,  for we are God’s handiwork.

Miraculously, the moment  we accept the gift of grace the other two  G’s begin to happen, and we become a school that adds to the beauty of God’s story.  Being a grace-filled school will mean we work hard at restorative practice and grow in our love for each other, for humankind for the created world and most of all, for the Giver of all good gifts.  

Gratitude Journal–ECNS Gr. 3

And daily, we will give thanks, in personal prayers, classroom devotions, learning activities and  community gatherings.  And the mysteries of physics and food studies and phonetics will, at very least, be tinged, and  will often  be soaked with wonder and joy that will leave us grateful and invite us to grow.

Will Edmonton Christian Schools do this perfectly in 2016-17?  We all know the answer. We know it because we know ourselves.  There will be times we will turn our backs on the gift.  There will be times we will be so focussed on ourselves, our growth will grind to a halt and gratitude will fade.  There WILL be conflicts and disagreements in our community, masking the beauty of God’s story.  And that is precisely when we will once again be called by our God, through a faithful and committed school community, back into grace.  Back into beauty.  Back to where we can grow, be grateful and do good works which God has prepared in advance for us to do!

by Brian Doornenbal
What does this year’s school theme say to you?  What works has God prepared for you to do in our school community?

Rebooting Relationships–A New Year Begins

This week it all begins. Routines. Bus rides. Studies. Homework.  Making lunches.  Class projects. Staff meetings. Board meetings. Sports teams . . .

And those, those are the easy parts.  By far the most complex aspect in the story of our schools is the relationships.  Students will excitedly pick up with the friends they have been away from for the summer.  For most, there will also be some nervousness, an uncertainty about what some relationships might bring. Students will meet new classmates and teachers.  The teachers themselves will begin the challenging task of getting to know the students as people and as learners.  Parents will meet teachers. Teachers will work with parents.  Principals will establish trust with new staff members. Bus drivers will get to know their routes and their riders . . .   When 1500 people (that’s just students and staff!) get together 5 days a week in three different schools, the web of relationships is incredibly complex and deeply important to the life of a school.

We have always known that at Edmonton Christian Schools.  As people awash in God’s grace, we have tried to grace-fully deal with the inevitable conflicts that arise in this complex web.  But we can’t take that for granted.  Knowing that we need to be deliberate about this crucial part of who we are as the body of Christ, Edmonton Christian Schools, with the direction and support of the ESCE Board has embarked on deepening our learning around restorative practices.  These restorative practices are mindsets, attitudes, protocols, routines  and ways of being together that help our schools to be communities of grace and they compel us move us towards God’s vision for Edmonton Christian Schools — shalom.

Restorative Practice promotes values and principles that use inclusive, collaborative approaches for being in community.  These approaches validate the needs and experiences of everyone within the community, particularly those who have been marginalized, oppressed or harmed.  These approaches allow us to act and respond in ways that are healing rather than coercive.      Lorraine Stutzman-Amstutz and July Mullet, 2005

IMG_4532Last week, 25 staff members cut their summer short by two days to wrestle with and practice some of the skills and attitudes needed for the transformational work of restoration.  We pray that healthy, joyful relationships will be a defining characteristic of Edmonton Christian Schools this year.

This is just Part One on this topic of Restorative Practices.  In the coming weeks, in this blog, we will unfold what this means for staff, students, parents and supporters.
by Brian Doornenbal


Each year at this time, with some sadness, we say farewell to a number of people who have played their role in God’s story at Edmonton Christian Schools .  Four of those people we are saying farewell to have been servant workers at Edmonton Christian for more than 15 years.

IMG_4198Sharon DeMoor has been at Edmonton Christian for 25 years.  Five of those years were spent teaching at Edmonton Christian Northeast School  and the rest were in Edmonton Christian West School.  Sharon worked so hard to ensure that the students in her class learned, and she did a beautiful job in her teaching of clearly showing that Jesus is the Lord of all things!  Sharon is retiring and moving on to her next role(s) in God’s story.


IMG_0461Vicki De Haan has been with Edmonton Christian Schools for the past 18 years, all of them at Edmonton Christian Northeast.  Starting as a junior high teacher and then for the last 8 years as the Assistant Principal the beauty in her work was seen in the relationships she cultivated with students, parents and colleagues.  Vicki will be moving to the Argyll Centre, an arm of the Edmonton Public School Board that is a resource for virtual schools, schooling on the Internet, home schooling and distant learning.  She will be the assistant principal there.


Kathy Doornenbal has worked as an Educational Assistant in Edmonton Christian for 16 years since 1998.  Her heart for people with differing abilities meant that she often worked with some of our most high needs, medically fragile students.  This took her from working in Kindergarten to working with high school students and every grade in between. While you may occassionally see Kathy at the school as a supply EA in the future, Kathy is retiring to pursue other passions in the coming years.


Ger VanderMeulen began her teaching at East Edmonton Christian School in 1988.  Since then she has worked in West School, with some time away when her boys were born.  By her own calculation it is 23 or 24 years of teaching in intermediate and junior high.  Ger has a keen desire to see the students thrive not only academically, but emotionally.  She has put a great deal of energy in recent years into her own learning in this area and into counselling and walking beside students in our schools.  She will be going to WP Wagner High School where this will be the main focus of her role.

In addition to the above, there are a number of others who will be moving on to new schools, new cities or new vocations.  Staffing is very fluid at this time of year, so it is difficult to have a completely accurate list.  At the time of writing, the people pictured in the slideshow below are those to whom we will be saying goodbye. (Based on a list provided by each campus.  Does not include those going on leave or those whose contract status is still to be determined).

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Thanks to each of you for journeying with us. You will be missed.   May the new roles God has given you be exciting and fulfilling.  Keep the faith!