I recently enjoyed a visit with a Rosthern (Sask.) Junior College (RJC) alumnus whose graduating class is from decades past. There were many smiles as we talked about old classmates, teammates, teachers and coaches. His stories were certainly evidence that RJC is a place where one makes friendships that last a lifetime, and that RJC has been a true learning community for generations.
As students, teachers and staff come together each fall for a new school year, we anticipate the same process of community building. First, we commit to learning about each other, becoming familiar with each other’s stories and backgrounds. This enables each of us to find many points of connection and common interest. More importantly, by learning about each other we also begin to “find our place” in the larger community.
We also begin the process of learning with each other. In some contexts this is easy and expected. It is the norm for lessons in a classroom, beginning with our earliest school experiences. But as a true learning community, RJC extends this practice far beyond the confines of the school day, as students learn important life lessons together in the residence, in chapel, at retreats, on teams and in choirs.
Deep learning occurs when we begin to learn from each other. This is only possible once strong relationships are in place. In his book The Courage to Teach, Parker Palmer, says, “Relational trust is built on movements of the human heart such as empathy, commitment, compassion, patience and the capacity to forgive.”
Those characteristics are the same as the core “curricular” requirements of a true Christian learning environment spoken about in Philippians 2: “Therefore, if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being likeminded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests, but each of you to the interests of the others.”
In partnership with homes and churches, we at RJC seek to nurture the development of each student’s identity and potential. My recent visitor showed me this was the case decades ago, and it still is today.
Jim Epp is the principal of Rosthern Junior College.
See also: “Why Mennonite education matters.”