by Darren Spyksma, SCSBC Director of Learning ◊
I received my first “D” from Harro Van Brummelen. I was taking an Introduction to Curriculum Studies course at Trinity Western University, and apparently, my thinking was not aligned with Harro’s instruction. At this time, Harro was Dean of the School of Education at TWU, and the school was working to finalize the application for the professional program for educators at TWU. Up to that point (my year included), TWU education students finished their degree by attending another institution to complete their PDP and receive their Bachelor of Education. In an interview with Wilma Van Brummelen, Harro’s beloved widow, her response to my story was both humourous and telling, “Of course, if students didn’t do good work, they would hear about it. I bet there were notes all over it about how you could improve.”
Wilma was right. To Harro’s credit, in a time when this wasn’t common practice, I immediately took his feedback to heart, worked through the night, and resubmitted my assignment. He graciously took the second assignment and gave it the same amount of time as my first submission; the feedback was indeed much better.
Listening to Wilma share stories of Harro and his love for SCSBC, Christian education, and Christian educators, I was delighted to realize Harro’s passions, hopes, and desires as the first Coordinator of SCSBC still permeate the organization today. As we swapped stories of what was then and what is now, common themes emerged. I found myself uttering phrases like, “yes, it’s still like that” or “yes, we still try to be like that in the world.” As we reflect on the importance of leadership in Christian education, Harro’s gift to SCSBC and Christian education can still support us in our work today.
Even when the SCSBC office was in Harro and Wilma’s basement, Harro believed in the power of community and connections. Whether it was having staff over at the house during teacher conventions or connecting with educators from other regions and organizations, Harro knew that for Christian education to flourish, Christian educators need to be connected and have a unified vision for learning. One of Harro’s strengths was his relentless pursuit of building networks between SCSBC and different organizations, both faith-based and otherwise. Wilma smiled when I shared that in our most recent strategic plan, SCSBC highlighted the need to develop strategic partnerships to maximize impact for our member schools. It was encouraging for her to know that Harro’s belief in the importance of networking and connection is still an embedded way of being for our organization.
For Harro, supporting a unified, independent school voice to the provincial government through the work of the Federation of Independent Schools Associations in British Columbia (FISABC) was a meaningful way to support Christian education in BC. He always took the opportunities he received to represent independent schools on government committees. He knew that relationships with the provincial government and the Ministry of Education were instrumental in supporting and protecting Christian education. Hearing that a positive relationship with local and provincial governments was still part of the mandate of SCSBC and that both our outgoing and incoming executive directors have a role at FISABC was another connection between Harro’s work and the continued work of SCSBC.
Harro’s passion for SCSBC would sometimes conflict with his love for and desire to be with his family. Christian leadership has always been challenging; for Wilma and Harro, it meant regularly discussing how travel and being away impacted life at home. It didn’t take too long in this part of the discussion before Wilma looked at me and asked me how my family had managed this aspect of my role at SCSBC. “We needed boundaries; Christian leaders need boundaries. For us, it was July. Though it wasn’t always easy, I made sure that Harro didn’t work that month.” The trying years of leading in a pandemic have taken a toll on us as leaders, and we know that leadership well-being is essential to a healthy Christian leader. More of us probably need a Wilma in our life, ensuring that we keep to our Sabbath boundaries.
Harro believed in the importance of worldview and using a theologically rich integrated curriculum. He published numerous books and articles to this effect. Wilma showed me copies of his more influential books, Walking with God in the Classroom and Steppingstones to Curriculum, translated into multiple languages. Harro believed a good curriculum empowered teachers to see the hand of God in a blade of grass and to share that awe with their students. “Who’s supporting new teachers in helping them see the world this way, Darren? Are you still ensuring that the story of Creation, Fall, Redemption is being taught to new teachers?” After sharing the work of “The Residency: A Place for Christian Deeper Learning” with Wilma and the various year-long threads that support this development in teachers, I am not sure she was convinced. “Harro and I believed in mentoring new staff. If we are going to support teachers with the integration of faith and learning, new teachers need a buddy teacher who can walk with them and help them with the practicality of living this out.” Harro’s challenge still rings true. We need to think deeply about what we are learning while supporting our educators as they play a significant formational role in their students’ lives.
Harro was constantly anticipating potential risks and threats to Christian education. As an organization, this is best represented in our pillar, “vision.” Though I did not know it until my conversation with Wilma, we are walking in the footsteps of SCSBC’s first employee:
• regularly scanning the horizon;
• obtaining legal opinions on behalf of our schools;
• creating resources to support school sustainability and flourishing.
There was an extended silence when I asked the awkward question, “If Harro was alive today, what do you think he would say were current risks and threats to Christian education?” The conversation meandered a bit after this, but it was clear that Harro believed that Christian education should be part of society, not outside of society. Communities should see the Christian school as a positive contributor to the world, not just to Christians. It got quiet once again when prompted about specifics, but Wilma’s response still has me thinking: “Every human being carries the image of God. But as Christians, we get worried about rules. As a result, we don’t treat people as image bearers.”
We are entering a new time in Canadian history where polls suggest that more than half of Canadians see Christianity as having a more negative than positive impact on society. Harro’s call to active participation in all facets of life and society in the 1980s is still a call to action worth working towards today.