NCS Staff Conference Week – (17-21 July)
As outlined in my BYTES article, all staff at NCS were privileged to participate in our annual mid-year conference week. Amongst other aims, this week provided an invaluable opportunity for staff to come together as a team to further explore how to develop and deliver an authentic Christian curriculum. Another wonderful feature of this week was that most days began with a time of community singing of well-known choruses and hymns followed by the presentation of a thought-provoking devotion. We were also delighted to be able to provide an open invitation to all members of our NCS community to attend the Friday conference session and I have included some of their reflections later in this article.
I have not previously been at a school where provision has been made for an uninterrupted week where staff can engage in valuable professional development activities. I believe that those who originally proposed this system are to be applauded for their foresight and vision. It was exciting to be involved in the planning of the program for this week as we carefully identified what were our current key priorities.
It is not my intention here to comment in depth on every activity that occurred during this week but rather to provide you with a ‘window’ into just some of the programs that took place, all of which were designed to further equip our staff to provide a quality Christian educational program for your children. Sometimes these programs saw primary, secondary and administration staff working separately, whilst other sessions brought all staff members together. Another feature of the week was the number of occasions where various members of staff took a leadership role in the presentation of stimulating material of direct professional relevance to our staff. We are, indeed, blessed to have such a wealth of talent within our staff team.
A quick glance at the program for the week quickly indicated that we would be covering a wide range of areas. These included such topics as ‘Enhancing student attention and engagement’; ‘Classroom structure and student behaviour’; ‘Kids Matter – working with parents and carers’; ‘Implementing the NSW Geography syllabus’; ‘SEQTA Learning Management System – staff training’; ‘Effective use of PAT Test data’; ‘Respect poster implementation’ and an ‘Introduction to effective teaching and learning for Christian teachers’. As well as these sessions, staff were also involved in year level meetings, developing budgets for 2018 and were provided with some time for personal preparation in readiness for the commencement of Term 3.
Earlier in the year, I outlined in a BYTES article how NCS had sent Paul McLennan, Head of Primary, to South Australia to participate in a ‘Train the Trainer’ curriculum development conference. At this conference, facilitated by Christian Schools Australia (CSA), Paul was introduced to an innovative curriculum design program called ‘Connecting Learners to God’s Big Story’. At our conference, Paul competently presented the first of what will be a series of in-services for all teaching staff on this new curriculum design process. Using this model, staff had their first opportunity to work in groups on the development of actual curriculum unit outlines. Initial responses from staff were very positive.
Another very practical session during the conference was presented to secondary staff by an external consultant with considerable experience in the area of using student data obtained from formal tests to help shape individual learning programs. In this case the external testing device is the Progressive Achievement Test (PAT). Various forms of this test are undertaken by students in Years 7-10 with a specific focus on reading comprehension and numeracy skills. The consultant provided our staff with very specific information regarding how to interpret test results and to use these results to design activities that are carefully matched to student ability levels. Since then, our secondary staff have held a further meeting where they have continued to develop their understanding of how to best use the PAT process.
Without doubt, one of the conference highlights occurred on the final day when Helen Blanch, Director of Education and Leadership at New Hope International, was our presenter. This saw all members of the NCS staff team, teaching and non-teaching, in attendance. As previously mentioned, we were also delighted that a number of parents and members of the wider NCS ‘family’ accepted our invitation to attend. Helen provided an overview of the first of three stages in the ‘Educating for Change’ series. This series focuses directly on effective teaching and learning from a sound Christian worldview perspective. Some of the topics covered included ‘The school as a learning community’ and ‘The Holy Spirit in a learning community’. Helen’s presentation style was very interactive and regular opportunities for discussion and group work were provided.
One of the topics covered was ‘Learning in community’ and, in many ways, this is exactly what we did together throughout this day. I asked some of our invited NCS guests to write their brief reflections on the value of this whole-day program. I have included their comments here for your information. It is clear that they greatly valued the opportunity to be involved.
What a joy it was for us to take part in the final two sessions of the NCS Staff Conference week last Friday. Not only was it special to catch up with our friend and colleague Helen Blanch as she conducted the ETLS sessions but to spend time with former Staff and Board members, ex students and to meet so many others in today’s school community.
More importantly it was great to spend time focusing on Christ centred Biblically based Christian Education which is what our school is all about. The vital role of the classroom teacher in leading students as a Christ like shepherd of the flock was highlighted as Helen took us through the ETLS approach and we participated in the round table discussions.
It was most encouraging for us to see that our school is in the good hands of Mr Rob Bray as he leads the team of committed Christian teachers, support and Administration staff. May the Lord continue to bless the NCS community in encouraging students to “Grow up into Christ.”
Betty Windsor (Pioneer Teacher- Librarian 1986-1996) George Windsor OAM (Principal 1987-1996)
It was such a blessing just to be there, to see just how much the staff (and I mean all staff, not just my own child's teacher(s) but all teaching and non teaching staff) genuinely love our kids. This was so evident to me all day and fills my heart with joy that my child, who spends a lot of her waking hours here, is so loved.
We (our children as well as ourselves, whether Christian or not) are image bearers, we have been made in the image of God. We are relational beings, the most important aspect of us is spiritual and because of this, traditional education does not touch our heart desires. The purpose of Christian education is relationship, restoring our relationship with God, one another and to God's world. He has given us gifts and wants to use us - even the young ones - to bless the world. Love is a doing word not a feeling, we were challenged to love in a way that helps the kids grow and mature. To think 'how is this child smart' rather than 'how smart is this child'.
Children spend 13 years at school, who will they become (character) when they move through school. Sometimes the seeds sown flourish after leaving school. School is part of the journey NOT the destination. Our role is to help our kids discover their gifts and help them to use them. As a parent it is such a relief to know I have others helping my child to do this - it's not just up to me!
Amy Weissel, Parent
One of the main things that stood out for me was the sense of community that was present. It was encouraging to see teachers, admin staff, executive, and parents all coming together as the proverbial village, looking to raise our children as Godly and counter-cultural in what is now known to be one of the most secular nations in the world.
Helen actually talked about this notion of Christian community as the “Shalom Community Vision” – that we experience peace and wholeness as God’s people, living under God’s rule, where God wants us. The Christian school tells a different story to that of the Western secular school, and that story begins and ends with God. We are spiritual beings who were made to be in relationship with the living God, who as a triune God, Himself embodies community.
It is this “Shalom Community” that provides the context for learning and growth to occur in our children, as we all seek to raise up responsive disciples of Jesus who live under His rule, reflect His character and are equipped to undertake His purposes in the world and more specifically within their own communities.
The fact that the school invited Helen to come and spend a day talking on the topic of Christian, Biblically- based education and its many facets, is a testament to the school’s commitment to this; hearing past principal, George Windsor, talk about the early days of the school, also highlighted how this commitment has been there from the beginning; and hearing feedback in a group exercise, predominantly from a number of teachers, on how they see our school as providing a distinctively Christian education, was illuminating.
Education within the secular system is not touching the whole person; the head isn’t reaching the heart. For our school to be an effective learning community we need to reflect God’s sacred vision in education, Christ-centred and defined by love.
Helen likened Christian education to ‘temple building’. In history, the temple was the king’s palace and had his image imprinted on it. We, and as an extension of that, our school, are God’s temple, and as such need to clearly show the imprint of Christ.
Fiona Beavan, Parent
I would wish to conclude by highlighting a very special moment that occurred at the commencement of the final day of the conference. Matt West, who teaches the HSC music program at NCS, asked if he could bring along a composition that had been created by Caleb Mackie, one of our musically talented HSC students. This song had been written by Caleb as his HSC composition piece and was titled ‘Call Me Enough’. Mr West stated that he was confident that the words of this original song would be most fitting for our devotional session. With Caleb’s permission, I have included the moving lyrics of this composition here.
Call Me Enough (by Caleb Mackie)
You found me in the wilderness when my hope was lost.
You opened up my heart Lord and showed me to that cross.
How great is Your love
How great is Your love
Jesus my all seated high. I’m finally found when I look in your eyes.
You light my way and that’s why we sing.
Jesus my all seated high. I know I’ll be loved until the day I die.
Who am I that you’d call me enough?
You call me enough.
You led me through the valley when fear was in control.
My eyes could barely open but the path shone like gold.
You bled on that cross for me. Took on my sin.
But then three days later you died and rose again.
So we will run the race till we see your face oh Lord.
We are warriors so pour out your love on us.
You are glorified by Your grace as we lift you up.
We surrender all we are before the king.