This article is part of a series from the writings of Martin Hanscamp, a friend and partner in Christian education. Martin faithfully served Christian Schools and Christian Education National (CEN) in Australia, but passed away in 2020. Michelle Dempsey, CEN’s CEO, set the stage for this series in her introductory post. In her words “If we are going to honor Martin’s legacy, we will need to put Jesus front and center in our lives, our work, and our play.” Enjoy some of CACE’s favorite writings from Martin.
As I come to departing for a year’s sabbatical, I’m left reflecting on what’s been acquired and what needs to be thrown away after 40 years of Christian education at our school.
The stuff we collect
After school is done this week, I’m going to clean up my office so that the Acting Principal has a reasonably organized space to work in and then I’m going to tackle my own place. We’ve been living over in our current home since 1987 and over that ¼ century, the place has grown and been filled with all sorts of ‘stuff’. How true is the observation that is shared at parties—those who move acquire less because of the periodic cleansing, whilst those who stay just build more sheds and cupboards!
The seasons of life
My own personal journey is just a whisker longer than our school’s and over this time, along with my wife and three children, we’ve collected quite a bit of baggage—more than a house full. Some of it is precious and reflects who we are. We’ll really protect those items. Some of it is valuable to us and will be kept, but is replaceable. Then there’s all that other stuff. Some is a little useful, but we don’t need it and we should pass it on. Then there’s the stuff that really needs to be ‘piffed’. We’re going to have a ‘fine time’ (read difficult) sorting it out as we pack-up house. Psychologists say that moving is up there on the top of the list of the most stressful things in life.
As I was thinking about all the ‘stuff’ we’ve collected over the years my mind categorized the decades. In our 20s we accepted donations. In our 30s we bought cheap stuff. IN our 40s we bought better stuff. Now in our 50s we’re getting rid of stuff… Our school is approaching its fifth decade and some of those groupings have a parallel for us as a community.
What’s in the school house?
As we reflect on our school at 40… What’s precious? What’s worth keeping? What’s worthy but could be moved on or needs to be refreshed? And, what should we ditch? What things would I put in which category? You could also play this game. It’s an interesting exercise.
This is the stuff that you’d try to rescue if a fire hit. It’s your identity stuff. Personally, I’d include our photo albums, the key official documents, our kids’ keepsake boxes, the rosewood coffee table that Anita’s brother made…
Our school has lots of precious stuff, things I wouldn’t want to let go, no matter what. Things like: …a meaningful indigenous experience for our Year 10s; the school photo collection; presentation nights where all the students are celebrated and not just the select; teachers having to work in teams to developing a biblically-informed curriculum; our ‘partnership’ philosophy; parent seminars; ensuring the child is more important than the system; having Yr. 12s and Preps doing activities together; parent invitations to primary assemblies; section-based staffrooms and staff devotions that bring the team together each day; and not entering comparative positions on reports for a student’s academic ‘standing‘ within a cohort (we just won’t do it).
The Worth Keeping
This is the stuff that’s reasonably valuable and you make active use of… and if you lost it you’d have to replace it. It’s the practical stuff you need for living. Personally, I’d include our leather couch, a core group of books in my library, our Dutch cheese knife, and the chalk message board at our front door.
We have lots of stuff worth keeping at school, things that aren’t quite our essential character but they’re pretty good: …working bees for parents to practically help (we could pay people to do this, but WB’s are a better approach); a paper newsletter (though some argue it should be in next category); parents helping in classrooms and camps; some key student artworks; a Egyptian tomb space for senior primaries to learn about hieroglyphics; the Primary school pod with an odd collection of adventurous play equipment…
Could Stay, Could Go
This is the stuff where you should ask—is it working well, does it need a refresh, and how effectively is it working? It’s not so precious that you’re holding onto it and it is fairly easy to replace. Personally, I’d include all those extra blankets and sheets we’ve got, the dodgy picnic chair that still holds you up, the extra game of Scrabble and the plastic containers that have no lids.
What’s our school’s ‘could stay, could go’ stuff?
…no disrespect meant, but teachers at this school will come and go. Those who have been around for a long time, however, do shape more formidably and they are hard to replace. Programs like HOP (middle school ‘hands on program’ from 2007-11) might have gone but the principles were not lost, just reshaped. The same could be said about the SS Cert III Navig8 program and senior school compulsory involvement in the Swimming Carnival.
Needs to go
This is the stuff that’s tired, causes clutter and should be ditched. Personally, we’ve got more tents than any famly could use; a collection of cords and chargers from electronic gadgetry that goes with some machine that came out in the 80s; books I’ll never read again (or for the first time); and the hermit crab fishpond and gear that the kids haven’t said boo to since last century.
What should we let go of at school? A number of ideas crop up here.
…We’re going to have to embrace teaching another language across the curriculum. That means making space and having a different mindset to our indigenous studies program; I’d like to permanently let go of Nescafe and have decent coffee in every staffroom; we’ve let go of chalk (except Dr. Rog) and embraced digital whiteboards, but they also have a limited life span; we’ve let go of the P&F structure but not the principles of volunteering and helping out; good care and higher expectations means we need to change the cheap Canberra camp venue; we’ve needed to improve our First Aid duty approach and bring in a school medical officer.
We all need a good cleansing
There are key moments where we need to embrace reflection, review and critique what we’re doing in respect to our key characteristics and programs, i.e. what is important and treasured and what isn’t? The occasional ‘clean out’ is a part of the process. In our ‘cleansing’ we need to talk about what belongs where- particularly for the precious things. Let’s continue to have clarity about who we are, what we hold onto and what we don’t, and let’s not let our clutter hold us back from focusing on our primary purpose.
Martin Hanscamp was a Christian school teacher, principal, and Executive Officer for the Australian Association of Christian Schools. Martin spent many evenings behind the keyboard writing about Christian education and what it means for the life of the Christian school.