Curriculum Trak was pleased to be joined in The Teacher’s Lounge by Stacy Kok, senior kindergarten teacher at Cairn Christian School in Stony Creek, Ontario. Stacy was originally from Tennessee, but after teaching at a missionary school in Indonesia, where she happened to meet her future husband, Albert, they moved back to his native Ontario. She stepped away from teaching for a few years to raise their four children. But seven years ago, Stacy returned to the classroom after also serving for several years as the Children’s Ministry Coordinator at her church. In addition to teaching kindergarten, she’s a Teaching for Transformation Early Adopter at Cairn Christian. And in all of her free time, she’s also a part time student at the Institute of Christian Studies in Ontario, pursuing a master’s degree in educational leadership. And we’re excited to have her with us to share some high level thoughts about a project that she’s also sharing with the Curriculum Trak networks as well. If you’d like to hear the full conversation, you can listen here.
Michael Arnold: I’m really excited to talk about some of the upcoming blog posts that you’re going to make available to our network. But, I wanted to, first of all, mention that your husband Albert has contributed to the blog as well. It’s amazing to have a team represented here in the Curriculum Trak community. We know this teamwork happens quite a bit, but you teach kindergarten and your husband teaches at the eighth grade level. I’m sure you’ve got a lot of interesting conversations that happen in your household as you approach teaching from two almost opposite extremes.
Stacy Kok: Sometimes some of our stories are very similar, like this happened in kindergarten, and he’s like, “Oh yeah, something almost like that happened in grade eight today too.”
Michael Arnold: Yeah, I was going to say in my time in junior high, I wondered if I had kindergartners in my classroom from time to time. And this is the first time to my knowledge that we’ve had a kindergarten teacher on the podcast. So thank you so much for representing all of those important teachers. It’s amazing work. We were talking before we started recording about how I am not cut out for kindergarten. I tried it one day and never wanted to go back. I went back to the junior high class for myself.
Well, I wanted to get started by pulling some of the threads out of your bio before we talk about the joy of teaching, which is our underlying topic for the day here. But as a current kindergarten teacher, former children’s ministry coordinator, missionary teacher, and stay-at-home mom, what’s been your motivation? What caused you to get into teaching and make some of the decisions that you’ve made?
Stacy Kok: Yeah, when I went to university in the States, I was not in the education program at all. I took a completely different route and was in that program for the first semester and realized this was not for me. It was more in the finances and business programs, and I just didn’t enjoy it.
My mom was a children’s worker in our church for years. Ever since I can remember she’s been involved in children’s ministry somehow. And that’s always been a part of my life, seeing her and how she influenced children growing up. For me, I wanted to do the same. I wanted to be a part of children’s lives. And I think I connect better with little ones than I do with teenagers or middle school students. But just watching them grow, watching them flourish, watching them shine when they understand something, that really warms my heart. So I think that’s been the driving force all along.
I still want to work with children, even raising my own children. There was a lot of education even in helping them button their clothes. We count the buttons, we name the colors– just helping them to learn and understand more about God’s world around them. And then bringing that into the classroom. It’s amazing to be able to teach in a Christian school. I’ve only ever taught in a Christian school full time. I’ve taught in two public schools, part time in the States. But to be able to help children see the world around them and to influence them for Christ, that’s the driving force.
Michael Arnold: That’s interesting. And so how did you get into teaching in Indonesia as a missionary teacher?
Stacy Kok: I went to a public university in the States, in Tennessee. But I was a very busy, active member of the Baptist Student Union. And through the Baptist Student Union, missionaries all over the world would put in a request for someone to come and help on their team. And there was a request for a school teacher in Indonesia. So I applied and I went, and the program was for two years and I ended up staying for three.
That’s where I met Albert. He came independently. He graduated from Redeemer and then saw a flier on a bulletin board in the education hall and said, “Ah, I’ll do that.” And we met there.
Your Deep Hope
Michael Arnold: And you’re an early adopter of the Teaching for Transformation journey there at Cairn. Tell us a little bit about your Deep Hope. I’m sure you’ve developed a Deep Hope for your class, for your own ministry.
Stacy Kok: My Deep Hope for my senior kindergartners is that they know that they are loved by God,that they are able to share that love with others, and that they recognize they have an important role in God’s big story right now, not later when they’re adults, but right now there are things that a five year old can do that an 18 year old cannot do. So I’m helping my students to know they have a place right now in God’s big story.
Michael Arnold: It’s amazing. How far are you into the TFT journey there?
Stacy Kok: We are starting our second year where all of the staff are implementing the different protocols in their classroom. For me, it’s my third year because two other teachers and I were the early adopters, so we did the one year on our own and attended workshops and practiced it within our classroom.
Michael Arnold: So you decided in your free time to become a student at the Institute of Christian Studies there in Ontario. I had the opportunity to meet Edith Vanderbloom a few years ago, and talked with her briefly and heard a little bit about the story. I think that she launched this program during the height of COVID. Launching an educational program for teachers at the graduate level is a major undertaking, but her passion and desire to just inspire and equip teachers is amazing. I enjoy every chance I get to talk with her. So you can insert your own shameless plug here if you’d like, but tell us about your decision to pursue that master’s degree specifically at ICS.
Masters Degree at ICS
Stacy Kok: I graduated from university in the States and I had my bachelor’s degree and I had my teacher’s license and then I went off to Indonesia. And I spent three years there single, came home, got married, taught for a year, and went back to Indonesia for two more years with my husband.
Our first child was born in Indonesia and I was teaching, but there weren’t any opportunities in Indonesia really for professional development. So fast track coming back from Indonesia in 2003, I needed more education. I felt like I really wanted more, but then we continued with our family and I knew for a while I was just going to step out of teaching in the classroom.
So when I began seven years ago to get back into the classroom, I started as an educational assistant and that same year I started teaching grade six math. So watching other teachers and just remembering how to do class with students was wonderful, but I still didn’t have any professional development beyond what I graduated with from university years before.
About two years ago, our site director, Kevin Hunick, told me to do my master’s degree because I really wanted to do Christian professional development. I’d gone to a public school, public high school, public university, and didn’t have that deep underlying Christian philosophy undergirding my teaching career, so I really wanted that. And Kevin Hunick is a graduate from ICS and he really recommended it. So I went to an open house in an online chat and I was hooked.
Finding Joy in Learning
Michael Arnold: That’s a great program. And one of the courses was something about finding joy in learning.
Stacy Kok: That’s correct. That’s the one I just finished.
Michael Arnold: I think it would be worth taking the program just for that course alone. What problem would you say or question is it seeking to answer or address?
Stacy Kok: It is more about the teacher than the student. Why are we called to teach? Why do you feel that as a Christian educator you are called to teach students? And who are you in the classroom? The joy that we have in anything starts within ourselves, right? And that joy comes from God, but then how do you live that out in your classroom?
It’s designed for educators. It’s about who you are as a teacher and what brings you joy and how do you allow God’s underlying truths in your life to come alive in the classroom? So all of the coursework, all of the readings were focused on that, your calling as teacher.
Michael Arnold: That call is important. I’m pretty sure there’s a lot of people who go through something like this, but teachers find, especially in their first year or as they switch into a new setting, a new school setting or new grade level perhaps, that they come in with high hopes, wanting to get a lot done and then the realities of the school year settle in hard and they’re just holding on for dear life and just living for the next vacation day or summer break and it can seem like joy is maybe a bonus, not necessarily a requirement. Would you address that?
Stacy Kok: It’s true. The first year, second year, even third year teachers, you’re learning routines at the school. You’re learning families. You’re learning just how to use the curriculum and how to do more than hand out a worksheet and collect it. (I’m opposed to worksheets.)
Maybe we lose a little bit of our happiness because there’s a definite difference between happiness and joy. And for sure, you’re not always happy. You’re tired, you’re stressed out. You’re busy. You’re constantly busy. Teaching is not an eight-to-four job. It’s always on your mind. You go home and you’re still thinking about your students or parents, and that joy that you have can seem to be sucked away.
This course helps us to remember why we were called to teach to begin with. And where did that calling come from? And actually, Dr. Vanderbloom is changing the name of the course from “Joy in Teaching” to “Call to Teach.” And that’s going to be the focus in a more predominant way in her writing and the lessons that we do. Why are you called to teach? And if you’re called to teach, then what? It’s not just a job, it’s a calling, right?
Profession Versus Calling
Michael Arnold: Do you see where, maybe as a generational thing, some teachers are approaching teaching more like a profession than a calling and what do you think they miss out on when they approach it that way?
Stacy Kok: I do think that. It’s a career. It’s a vocation where you go in and you teach and you come back. And I think if you don’t see teaching as a calling, you miss the investment that you have with your students and with your school community. Teaching in a private Christian school has given me a community that I did not have before I started teaching at the Christian school. And it’s more than just a job where I go to work and come home. It’s my investment. And I think if you approach teaching just as a job, it becomes a nine-to-five job where you check off the checklist and you go home and then you start over the next day. So if you see it as more of a calling, then it is an investment for yourself, for your students.
Michael Arnold: Can you think of a story or an example of a teacher who has approached this profession of teaching as a calling? What sets them apart? What made them memorable? How did their students respond to them?
Stacy Kok: I didn’t go to a Christian elementary school or high school. I grew up in the Bible Belt in Tennessee, so there were many Christian teachers and you could tell the difference between those who were doing a job and those teachers, Christian or not, that were just doing the job or investing in their students– teachers that would take time to enrich the curriculum, teachers that would take time to interact with the students on a more personal basis. How was your day? What did you do over the weekend? And just showing that investment with students makes a difference.
In the end, the academic piece is important and it will happen. But if the students don’t feel like they are known and seen and valued by their teacher, then school becomes for them a dreaded thing that they have to go and do. It doesn’t become all that it could be for students.
For myself personally, it would be a teacher when I was in grade six. I was part of our newspaper for the school and she stayed after school to work with about seven of us to develop the newspaper past her work hours. She invested in us. It was more conversation about what we liked, what we did, what we enjoyed, rather than, this has to be done for the newspaper. We got the work done, but she invested in us..
Educators as Metaphors and Reflections to Guide Us In Our Journey
Michael Arnold: As a product of that course through ICS, you wrote a paper, just a small 38-page paper, single-spaced, a few pictures and some spaces and stuff for sure, but it wasn’t a last minute project. It sounds like it was a major project. I think it’s entitled “Educators as Metaphors: Reflections to Guide Us In Our Journey.” So what brought that paper about? What were you assigned to do?
Stacy Kok: So the assignment at the end of the course is pretty open. Edith is very good at saying that she wants our project to be something we can take away and continue to use in our class, in our vocation with our colleagues. And there are options, like you could write a paper. You could create curriculum for another course of hers that I’ve taken. At first I wanted to take what we were doing from our class and use it as professional development for my colleagues. And then I thought the timing is not great because this course ended in September. With the beginning of the school year in September and all the professional development and meetings, no one’s going to want or have the time to sit and listen to what I’ve learned in this class.
So I opted not to do that. And then I was talking with my husband Albert and he’s been watching and listening to some of the things that I’ve been discussing with my peers in this class. And one of the books is focused a lot on metaphors. And then he actually said, “Why don’t you write devotions on this?”
So I ended up taking 10 of the 12 or 13 different metaphors that were listed in the different readings and breaking them down. A lot of what I have written is taken from my comments and my reflections on the readings throughout the semester. That’s how it began.
We agreed together that sometimes it’s hard to find devotionals as teachers or reflections for yourself and for your peers as teachers that aren’t– for lack of better words– aren’t cheesy. It’s going to be a tough day and your kids are going to make it hard, but you can do it.
And that’s good, but something a little bit meatier, like we wanted something that would be inspiring and encouraging and right where we’re at in the classroom.
Michael Arnold: So when you submitted it to our blog, the first thing I noticed was your writing is very inviting and accessible. I think you’re drawing from your experiences as a kindergarten teacher and as a mom and as a ministry coordinator and all those things to say, Hey, I just want to speak to you in a conversational way.
It’s certainly not an academic paper from the stance of, I’m going to write to my professor. It’s very accessible. I like that approach to devotions, but I also noticed how practical it was in that as you focus on these 10 metaphors, you speak to the teacher first, but then give practical ideas of how they can apply it to their classroom. I love that kind of dual approach.
Stacy Kok: I thought if I were to receive these, how could I use them? And part of the project is that it becomes something that you can use later on. Definitely the reflections and the devotionals by themselves are inspiring and encouraging, I think, but there’s no practical use to them, right? You can reflect on it and then try to use it in your classroom. And I thought, if I could just give suggestions and ideas of how to use this in the classroom, how would I use this in the classroom at different grade levels then that might be beneficial to teachers as well?
Michael Arnold: What I thought I’d do as we kind of wrap this up today is, instead of working through all 10 of those metaphors, I thought I would just ask you which one is your favorite, which one you resonated with the most and then give you a chance to summarize it. And I would tell you which one has leaped out at me and you can summarize that one, share your thoughts, and then we’ll let our audience look for the rest and read them as they are posted on the Curriculum Trak blog.
Stacy Kok: I think one of my favorites or the one that really speaks to me is an educator’s place on the ladder. And that’s towards the end of the document. It goes back to when we were talking about how first, second, third year teachers and even veteran teachers are so busy. The metaphor actually comes from the story of Jacob’s ladder in the Bible when Jacob is resting and he sees in his vision or his dream, the ladder and on the ladder angels are ascending and descending, but Jacob isn’t on the ladder.He’s not working hard to climb. He’s resting at the foot of the ladder. For me, it’s just a reminder that there’s always going to be more things as a teacher that I can do. Like I can leave my classroom at six o’clock in the evening and still have so many more things I could do. But that’s not healthy and that’s not allowing me to rest.
So it’s a reminder for me that I need to rest at the foot of the ladder. I need to rest at the foot of the cross and allow Jesus to minister to me. The way the angels were ascending and descending to Jacob, they were ministering to him. That was God ministering to Jacob. And I need to stop and take time and allow God to minister to me so that I do have my best to give to my students, that I am able to invest in them.
Where do we belong on the ladder? It’s at the foot of the ladder, waiting and resting. The academic pieces will happen. For us, the teaching will happen. The curriculum will happen. But if we’re not rested and allowing God to minister to us throughout the busyness, then we don’t have a whole lot to give. That’s one of my favorites.
Michael Arnold: Yeah, that is powerful. Maybe that’s my favorite now too. But the one that popped out to me as I scanned through your list and read the pieces is the Educator as a Delighter in Great Things. That’s number four. So tell us about that one and what the basic message of that one is.
Stacy Kok: God’s world is full of amazing things. We want our students to see God’s amazing world and to see the amazing things in it from the smallest ant to the smile on a person that you see walking down the street. They’re all great things, but we have to, as educators ourselves, delight in those things as well. We teach by modeling most often, especially in the younger primary grades. Modeling becomes how we teach, how the students learn the most, so if they see me getting excited about a leaf, their excitement doubles.
So let the great things be the teacher. Put the leaf on the table and circle around the leaf with your students and explore it together. Instead of us being the teacher that is giving all the information, become the teacher that learns with your students, and then you’re the delighter as well.
And they learn to learn, and they learn to be curious, and they learn to ask questions, and they learn to see God’s amazing world for what it is, not just another thing that the teacher has told me about. If we become the delighter in great things, our students become that as well.
Michael Arnold: I’m just going to pick one practical note that you give to the classroom. You say observe and notice with a clipboard and paper in hand, give students opportunities, but not requirements to draw what they see, to write about what they see on the clipboard and paper. Just inviting your students to make observations and share those observations can be a huge step towards delighting.
Stacy Kok: There’s no wrong answer, right? It’s what they see. They’re safe to explore. They’re safe to try. There’s no wrong answer because everybody sees things from a different perspective.
Michael Arnold: Thanks for sharing these. I’m so honored and grateful to be able to share your thoughts in this context with our community. On The Teacher’s Lounge, I’m trying to give my guests the last word.
And so I just invite you to think about a colleague, a friend, someone that you would like to encourage and to equip. What would you share with them? What would you tell a fellow teacher in terms of embracing their calling and finding the joy in teaching?
Stacy Kok: I would say that we’re always going to be challenged. We’re always going to be inspired to do more, to do something else. Just start with something small, just start with investing in your students by conversation. There’s always going to be curriculum development. There’s always going to be new pedagogy to learn. But I think for teachers to find that joy, start by being at the foot of the ladder, at the foot of the cross. Let God minister to you. And then just start small. Even these 10 devotions and all the practical things that I’ve listed, it would be too much to start and do all 10 things. Just pick one and hone in on it and learn it and use it and develop it. And then pick another, maybe in January, right? Just slowly start until it becomes the culture of your classroom and the nature of your teaching.
The joy that we have from teaching doesn’t come from what we do. It comes from what God is doing through us. So we need to be allowing God to work through us, starting small and being willing to try something new.