Building and Keeping: Looking Ahead with Edvance President, Deani Van Pelt

By Deani Van Pelt  |  September 7th

What are you building this year? What are you safekeeping?

At Edvance, we’re beginning our fourth year as a service organization for independent Christian schools. Together with our board, we’re taking this moment to reflect on the building—and the maintenance—we’ve had the privilege to participate in since our founding. We’re also looking ahead to our next three years to imagine and discern what our constructing and safeguarding might include.

In this moment of our story, the song of the pilgrims written by ancient Israel’s wise monarch, King Solomon, comes to mind. This song of ascents, recorded in Psalm 127, offers the encouragement that “unless the Lord builds the house, its builders labour in vain [and] unless the Lord watches over the city, the watchmen stand guard in vain.”

With a short history, half of which is marked by a global pandemic where we’ve operated mostly from bedrooms and basements, our team at Edvance can only conclude that the Lord of Solomon has been our architect and our keeper as we’ve been building and protecting.

Our reflections three-years-on remind us that through our programs, events, resources, advocacy, publications, and research, we’ve continued to protect and enhance the place and the effectiveness of independent Christian schools. We’ve built on the legacy of our founding organizations and lived into the mission and vision our board cast for us at our inception—to be a Big Tent organization. We’ve prioritized relationships with each new and returning affiliate school and their leaders. We’ve fruitfully collaborated with provincial, national, and international organizations in areas where our goals overlap. We’re building a dynamic capable team that cares deeply about our purposes and our goals.

We look back with satisfaction on the large and ever-expanding Edvance Affiliate Portal available to our affiliate school leaders. This portal contains over 200 resources, including policy templates, HR guides, governance handbooks, finance insights, and school program resources, all created and vetted by leading professionals to respond to changing circumstances. During the pandemic alone, more than 75 pandemic-related resource guides or e-bulletins were designed and added to our portal.

Edvance Notice, our succinct monthly e-newsletter now received by almost 500 education leaders, is packed with relevant articles on school leadership such that we’re building a rich reservoir of thought-leadership and insights by increasing numbers of school leaders and educators.

Most affiliate school leaders and many leaders of non-affiliate schools participate in a regional cohort led by one of our team of Cohort Leaders, where bi-monthly meetings offer opportunities to gather with colleagues and external experts around key ideas and issues influencing Christian school leadership. We’re also launching our second cohort of Emerging Leaders, a group that meets regularly.

Our events include annual Leadership Retreats for 100+ principals and school leaders to meet for two days in a retreat-like setting. Our (now) annual Bootcamp offers 30+ workshops by educators for educators each August, featuring sessions ranging from how to implement social emotional learning strategies to how to facilitate education out-of-doors. And our Annual Gathering at the end of each October continues to feature world-class speakers offering inspiration and ideas on such timely issues as social-emotional learning (Dr. Rob Loe), diversity and inclusion (Dr. Mary Ashun, Dr. Steve Sider), education excellence (David Brooks), and hospitality in education (Dr. David I. Smith).

New services we’ve built through collaboration with others include first-time ever participation for secondary students who attend independent schools in the province’s Ontario Youth Apprenticeship Program (OYAP) and a brand-new podcast celebrating Christian educators, Every Square Centimetre. We’ve got Slack groups for quick dialogue among leaders and between educators on all manner of classroom topics and education themes. And we’re now full participants in offering TfT (Teaching for Transformation) training.

As we have since our founding, we’re continuing to offer customized Financial Services from Edvance which assist with critical financial sustainability matters including T3010 calculation. We continue to offer Student Support Services assistance in partnership with All Belong. We facilitate or otherwise support participation in MAP (Measures of Academic Progress), Responsive Classroom workshops, ELDI (Emerging Leaders Development Institute) with Christian Schools International, CSTC (Christian School Teachers Certificate) and Compensation guidelines with Vocate, and Project-Based Learning programs with The Christian Teacher Academy. We work with the Christian School Foundation on numerous programs towards ensuring financial accessibility to Christian schooling and we hold board responsibilities with Christian Schools Canada where we plan biennial national conferences. We sit on committees with Association of Christian Schools International-USA where we’re currently planning Converge, a global 2022 Christian School leaders’ conference.

Protecting Christian schooling these past three years has involved numerous collegial collaborations with many provincial independent school groups. For example, our Supporting Students campaign stimulated 3500 Ontarians to write customized letters to elected officials across the province. Our advocacy for private school participation in the federal CEWS program was effective, as was our standing up to protect the opportunity for independent schools to hire beyond OCT-certified teachers. Media pick-up, including this take by Janet Ecker, a former minister of education, on the August 9, 2021 court hearing between the province and three independent schools (one of which was an Edvance affiliate) was extensive. We’ve engaged the Ministry of Education at key junctures throughout the pandemic and before, and we’re building capacities to continue our sector advocacy.

Edvance has participated in research collaborations, many with Cardus, which are enhancing our understanding of the contributions of our sector to public education. The most recent study captures the response of our affiliates during this past year of the pandemic.

As we at Edvance now look ahead, under the guidance of a skillful strategic planner, we look forward to asking anew: What have we built? What might we build? What ought we to build? And what must we protect, maintain, keep? In all, we know that without a continuous eye to fruitfully and effectively serving our affiliates in a timely and responsive manner in collaboration with local, provincial, national, and international experts and networks we will not be building well.

Most significantly, Solomon’s wise counsel reverberates, explicitly and implicitly, through our board and our staff gatherings: unless the Lord build…unless the Lord watch…we labour and we stand guard in vain.

May this encouragement reverberate through your school community too as together we begin a new school year.

Deani Van Pelt, PhD, is the President of Edvance.