Dec 01

Chris Smeaton

From the Desk of the Superintendent- Advent 2016

November has come and gone and now we enter the Advent season. On Monday at our opening prayer at St. Basil Catholic Education Centre, I began with this message from Creighton University Online Ministries:

As we begin Advent, we light one candle in the midst of all the darkness in our lives and in the world. It symbolizes our longing, our desire, our hope.

When we wake up, each day this week, we could light that candle, just by taking a few moments to focus. We could pause for a minute at the side of our bed, or while putting on our slippers or our robe and light an inner candle. Who among us doesn’t have time to pause for a moment? We could each find our way to pray something like this:

“Lord, the light I choose to let into my life today is based on my trust in you. It is a weak flame, but I so much desire that it dispel a bit more darkness today. Today, I just want to taste the longing I have for you as I go to the meeting this morning, carry out the responsibilities of my work, face the frustration of some difficult relationships. Let this candle be my reminder today of my hope in your coming.”

And every night this week, we can pause briefly, perhaps as we sit for a minute at the edge of the bed. We can be aware of how that one, small candle’s worth of desire brought light into this day. And we can give thanks. Going to bed each night this week with some gratitude is part of the preparation for growing anticipation and desire.

Come, Lord Jesus! Come and visit your people. We await your coming. Come, O Lord!

The season of Advent is a journey of preparation for the coming of the Christ child. And in that journey we are reminded to light our own candle that burns within each of us, but also to help light the candle of others who may be in need. Unfortunately, there are many in our Holy Spirit community whose light is dim because of tragedy or illness, broken relationships or just brokenness. As we journey together, I ask that we all strive to offer more compassion and patience, more love and support and to keep Christ in our hearts and prayer on our lips.

May God bless you during this season of Advent!

 

Nov 30

Chris Smeaton

Why Change Curriculum?

The following blog post was published in the Lethbridge Herald on November 30, 2016.

Alberta Education is undergoing the aggressive task of updating the curriculum currently being taught in our schools. While it may seem that curriculum changes are always occurring, the truth is that Alberta’s curriculum actually ranges in age from eight to thirty years old. That fact in itself should answer the “why” for curriculum review, but there are many other reasons to make the change.

There always seems to be a fear of what will be lost when a curriculum is revised. I like to take the approach of what will be gained and use the new definitions of literacy and numeracy to illustrate. Alberta Education now defines literacy as the ability, confidence and willingness to engage in language to acquire, construct and communicate meaning in all aspects of daily life. Numeracy is defined as the ability, confidence and willingness to engage in quantitative or spatial information to make informed decisions in all aspects of daily life. These definitions far exceed what we use to call reading, writing and arithmetic. They do not just rest in language arts and math classes and place sole responsibility on those teachers, but instead crossover into all subjects and grades. Holy Spirit Catholic School Division recognizes the importance of our students learning these foundational building blocks and has therefore set literacy and numeracy as priorities for the next three years.

But there are still more reasons to develop new curriculum beyond just age and the required focus on literacy and numeracy. In order to maintain our world class standards and give our students both local and global advantages, we must do things differently. Many of our older courses of study put a premium on rote learning and skills development in isolation. New curriculum needs to fit local context, show practicality, engage students’ desire to learn and build competencies that will serve our students well into an ever-evolving future.

All of us can remember attending our own classes and wondering why we had to learn a certain concept. What was the purpose of learning this isolated fact or formula and how would it serve us beyond our days of schooling? New curriculum must be flexible enough to show relevance in students’ lives. Our patent response to why students must learn something can’t simply be because it is in the curriculum. Future curriculum must allow students the opportunity to apply their knowledge and skills to their daily life. In other words, schools can’t only exist to prepare students for real life – schooling needs to be real life.

“Doing things differently” has been a focused direction for our school division for the last number of years and will continue to be into the future. That shift in practice, however, does not come without some trepidation. It is far easier to default to what we’ve always done or what we know. But what is easier isn’t always right. In order to build on exemplary practices and innovative approaches a new curriculum is required. Alberta students deserve the very best and part of the solution resides in a responsive curriculum that engages students and motivates them to become active lifelong learners.

Nov 27

Chris Smeaton

TRUST

Last week, my good friend and colleague Michael Chechile, Director General for Lester B. Pearson School Board sent out a tweet that asked Michael Fullan to summarize his day/ presentation/ approach/ strategy/ deep learning/ in one word to make it happen. It really should come as no surprise that Fullan’s one word was TRUST. One word, so simple yet so powerful for education or business organizations. James O’Toole suggests that trust:

  1. Is the most elusive and fragile aspect of leadership.
  2. Is the glue that binds people together in groups.
  3. Must be earned. It is hard to earn, easy to lose, and once lost, almost impossible to regain.

Trust is essential in fostering effective and authentic relationships both inside and outside of an organization. You cannot have a strong relationship without trust…period! In organizations where teamwork is crucial, trust must be alive and well. Patrick Lencioni in his book The Five Dysfunctions of Team lists absence of trust as the first dysfunction.

Image result for 5 dysfunctions of a team

If there is an absence of trust, then fear of conflict, lack of commitment, avoidance of accountability and inattention to results prevails. From effective relationships to organizational change, trust is the key ingredient.

When I’m working with new or perspective administrators around the quality standard of “Fostering Effective Relationships” I always begin with trust. Just as literacy and numeracy are foundational for student learning, so too is trust to leadership. Knowing about the importance of trust is not enough, it must be put into practice. But how?

Stephen M. R. Covey, author of The Speed of Trust, articulates 13 behaviors of high trust in this short video. And while I would never disagree with his list, I would also place the characteristic of vulnerability as a pre-requisite for building high levels of trust. Old style leadership training would categorize this trait as a major weakness. Vulnerability however, doesn’t naturally imply weakness or losing your thick skin (believe me, leaders still need a thick skin) rather it means not losing your compassionate heart. Being vulnerable as a leader requires great confidence in oneself and a willingness to put yourself out there. It is more about strength of character than authority of position. Trust and vulnerability work hand in hand and in any successful organization, great leaders demonstrate both.

 

Nov 12

Chris Smeaton

Alignment counts!

This week our senior administration completed our school continuous improvement plan reviews with all of our school leaders. The process is fairly simple in that each school administration team comes into the board office and shares their plan with our senior education leaders. While I understand that it can a little intimidating for our newer leaders, it is meant to be an opportunity to share the great work occurring in each school, ask some questions and engage in conversations around continuous improvement. While it may cause some reflection from our school leaders (I tend to nudge & challenge a bit), it is important to all of our senior education leaders to come away with a greater understanding of individual schools.

In reviewing our meetings, it was the consensus of our senior leaders that this round of continuous improvement plan reviews was our best. The alignment around our board strategic priorities was tight. Part of the reason for such tight alignment is that our priorities have grown out of the work that we’ve been doing as a school division for the last number of years. While they are board priorities, they were not established from a purely top down model. Our foray into being data informed and far more reflective on professional practice has led us to this place. Being reflective in our practice and being guided by data are where significant improvement breeds.

There’s something else about our priorities that makes alignment easier to attain…they’re written in plain English, not educational babble and they can be formed into SMART goals so improvement can be measured. It sounds simple but if there is not common understanding with staff, how are we going to engage parents in helping to achieve our priorities if they don’t understand the meaning. My graduate level students from Gonzaga University hear me say often to utilize the KIS Principle, “Keep It Simple.”

But our success is not only around our alignment in priorities. We have created an alignment in our language of questioning. It is not only accepted that we use the question, “How do you know?” it is expected; Senior administration to school administration and visa versa, school administration to teachers and it is surfacing in our classrooms too from teacher to student. We’ve created alignment around instructional practice and ensured that our professional learning is supportive.

I’d be naïve if I didn’t believe there are some outliers in our division. Not everybody believes in our priorities or our methods or even our PD, but the tipping point has long since passed and those who choose not to keep up unfortunately fall farther and farther behind. Continuous improvement is difficult in education period but when your ideals and practices, your actions and understanding and your support and desires are aligned, it occurs! Holy Spirit is a school division not a division of schools because alignment counts!

Nov 06

Chris Smeaton

From the Desk of the Superintendent- Catholic Education Sunday 2016

The following message will be read at all parishes within the boundary of Holy Spirit Catholic School Division. during the weekend of November 5 and 6 to celebrate Catholic Education Sunday!

Holy Spirit is a regional division that serves students in Bow Island, Coaldale, Lethbridge, Picture Butte, Pincher Creek, Taber, and surrounding communities.  Today, we celebrate Catholic Education Sunday, a special day that recognizes the gift of publicly funded Catholic Education here in the province of Alberta.

Many of us sitting in the pews today probably think that Catholic Education has changed dramatically since we attended a Catholic School – and there’s some truth to that. We don’t have priests and nuns teaching in our schools anymore, not all of our students are Catholic, and many of our students and their families don’t attend Mass on a regular basis. And while that may be frightening or alarming to some, it is important to remember that the essence of Catholic Education has not changed. We are still an integral part of the Church, called to minister and evangelize, to spread and deepen our faith, and to develop our students to become the best versions of themselves. Our methods or structures may have evolved, but our lead has and will always come from Jesus, himself!

With this in mind, the first theme of our three year faith plan, Growing In Faith Together, is “Rooted in Christ.” Pope Francis invites, “all Christians, everywhere, at this very moment, to a renewed personal encounter with Jesus Christ, or at least an openness to letting him encounter them.” To aid this call to action, the schools across our division have committed to:

  • Reading and pondering the Gospels, especially prior to each Sunday
  • Increasing the permeation of the Gospel in our program of studies, our school activities, our community messaging, and in all that we do.

Catholic Education will likely continue to be a target from outside forces advocating for the elimination of Catholic schools and internal forces of apathy. But in Holy Spirit, Catholic Education continues to grow and prosper. This year we opened a brand new elementary school in north Lethbridge, St. Teresa of Calcutta; we are in the final year of a major renovation at St. Michael’s in Pincher Creek; and we are in the design phase of a modernization project at St. Patrick’s in Taber. During the last five years our student population has grown by roughly 500, nearly 12%, to a total of over 5000 students.

Even with our strength, it is imperative that we recognize the gift of Catholic Education in our area and in our province and continually pray for our staff and students, our families and communities, who flourish in a system that is faith filled and committed to letting the words and actions of Jesus shape and form ourselves and our ways!

Have a wonderful Catholic Education Sunday and God Bless!

Oct 31

Chris Smeaton

From the Desk of the Superintendent- November 2016

Two months into the school year already and what an eventful two months! I want to begin with a bit of a reflection on our Division Wide Professional Day. Our school leaders would be the first to admit that I “got” literacy and numeracy at the elementary level, but was less confident about how they fit for our junior and senior high schools. The definitions by Alberta Education in the Literacy and Numeracy Progressions document assisted me, but it was  the keynote presentations from Dr. David Slomp and Dr. Richelle Marynowski that really solidified my understanding.

Literacy is the ability, confidence and willingness to engage in language to acquire, construct and communicate meaning in all aspects of daily life.

Numeracy is the ability, confidence and willingness to engage with quantitative or spatial information to make informed decisions in all aspects of daily life.

As I mentioned in my opening remarks, “the ability, confidence and willingness to engage” and “in all aspects of daily life’ really struck a chord with me. Literacy and numeracy are far more than just reading, writing and arithmetic, even though that is how we generally measure them. It requires all of us to be more thoughtful in highlighting literate and numerate skills and competencies to our students. In my morning Q & A session with the Superintendent, this was widely discussed. Our concerted effort in this will assist the general public in a better understanding of the wide scope of literacy and numeracy. Over the next three years, I’m excited about the growth of literacy and numeracy in our staff and in our students.

Before I move on to upcoming events, I would like to highlight the October Board meeting. Both Bryan Kranzler as Board Chair and Pat Bremner as Vice Chair were acclaimed to their positions for 2016-17. I would suggest that this speaks to the confidence that the Board has in both of these individuals but also in the overall strength of our trustees. Earlier this month I had a staff member talk about how, my ability to “stick my neck out” was liberating and how it role modelled what I wanted our schools and individual teachers to do, take a chance and go deeper in order to really engage students in high quality and meaning learning. While getting closer to retirement age always provides greater ability to “stick your neck out” it is the Board of Trustees who must also take some of this credit. They have supported my leadership in seeking continuous improvement for our system, our staff and our students. There is a distinct line between governance and administration and our Board understands that distinction better than most. This understanding allows me to administer with the freedom to implement the wishes of the Board as set out in the Board’s Strategic Priorities. It seems simple because it works well but when it doesn’t… Congratulations to and many thanks for the leadership of our Board of Trustees!

The first Sunday in November is always set aside to celebrate Catholic Education Sunday. We have sent out a letter to all of our local parishes and provided some examples of how to ensure this special day is highlighted. As in the past, I have prepared a short message to be read at all masses on that weekend. I will include this message as a blog post that day. In the bulletin, our first Holy Spirit Catholic Schools insert will be placed as well as a letter from the Bishops of Alberta, that speaks to the importance of Catholic Education. It is the first paragraph of the letter that articulates our unique difference.

Catholic education takes its lead from Jesus Himself: “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you.” (Mt 28.19-20) Simply, this means announcing the Good News of Jesus Christ and helping one another to become His disciples. Bishops of Alberta

To paraphrase St. Teresa of Avila, all of us in Catholic Education are the “eyes, feet and hands of Christ.” May God continue to bless each of you in your vocation of Catholic Education!

Have a great month!!!

 

Oct 23

Chris Smeaton

Issue + Gift = Change

The following article was published in the Lethbridge Herald on October 19, 2016.

Last week I attended the Education Research Development and Innovation (ERDI) Conference in Banff. ERDI, on a semi-annual basis, brings together 50 Canadian superintendents to discuss educational trends with corporate partners from across North America. As part of the conference, a plenary session is held with a well-known keynote followed by a panel discussion. This year we were treated to hearing from two keynote presenters. The first was Janet Kennedy, the president of Microsoft Canada, who provided some excellent commentary on leveraging technology to enhance the educational experience of our students. However, it was the second keynote that I want to highlight in this week’s column. Her name was Hannah Alper and, if you look up her website (callmehannah.ca), you will see descriptions like “Kindraiser,” “Activist,” “Eco-Warrior,” “Motivational Speaker,” and “Ambassador” for Free the Children. You will also note that she is just 13 years old!

Hannah’s message focused on the equation: Issue + Gift = Change. She explained that in our world today there are an abundance of issues to be tackled. Often we look at the enormity of these issues and then back off. Her contention is that there are many smaller issues that anyone of us can and should address. I like to connect her viewpoint with a quote from St. Teresa of Calcutta, “Not all of us can do great things. But we can do small things with great love.” Small or large, we all have a duty to address issues that diminish, disenfranchise or prejudice one another. How we address those issues comes from our gifts and strengths. She reminded us very clearly that, no matter our age, we all have gifts to offer to overcome issues. It is in the combining of the issue and the gift that change, positive change, happens. What a powerful message from a young 13 year old.

There is no doubt that Hannah Alper is an amazing young leader with a tremendous understanding of social justice. But there are many other Hannahs (albeit not as famous) that live in our schools today. This generation, maybe because of technology, has a better awareness of the world’s social injustices and are far more apt to stand up. I was reminded of this with Catholic Central High School’s Interact Club, who will be receiving an Inspiring Philanthropy Award later this month for their social justice work last year.

Often we want to believe that our students are too young to be able to make a difference. But the truth is that when they see an issue and use their gifts, change does occur. We, as adults, need to guide and support these initiatives – not act as a barrier to their greatness.

Oct 21

Chris Smeaton

From the Desk of the Superintendent- Opening Comments for our Literacy & Numeracy Day

Good Morning. I’m always grateful for our Division PD days where we all come together as one Catholic School Division to learn. But I know that we don’t have days like this without some tremendous work in the background. And so I would like to thank our Director Learning, Lorelie Lenaour and her support at central office and our PD committee for setting up a great day of learning.

A school division must be a learning organization and we, all of us in this room must always be learners, looking at our own methods, reflecting on our own practices, sharing our insights with one another, and ultimately being the best version of ourselves.  It is why we have days like this for the system and within our schools…to be the best versions of ourselves.

Over the next three years, we have set our focus, our learning on three strategic priorities: Our faith, which is always a constant, literacy and numeracy and First Nations, Metis and Inuit learning. Every time we gather as individual schools or as a Division, we should not deviate our learning from those three priorities. Today our focus will be on literacy and numeracy.

So what are literacy and numeracy? As part of our registration, we were asked what those terms meant. To most people out there literacy and numeracy are likely funnelled down to reading, writing and arithmetic. In many ways, there is truth to that because that is how literacy and numeracy are measured most often. And while those foundational skills are essential, we need to go beyond those simple definitions of literacy and numeracy.

In a just recently released document from Alberta Education, literacy is defined as, “the ability, confidence and willingness to engage with language to acquire, construct and communicate meaning in all aspects of daily life.” And numeracy is defined as, “the ability, confidence and willingness to engage with quantitative and spatial information to make informed decisions in all aspects of daily living.”

When I read those definitions, I was struck by the consistency of both. Each started with “the ability, confidence and willingness to engage” and finished with “in all aspects of daily life.” Why is this important? Because if we only keep literacy and numeracy as reading, writing and arithmetic, then only are Language Arts and Math teachers are responsible. “The ability, confidence and willingness to engage…in all aspects of daily life” is for all of us. It is our collective responsibility and with that broadened definition, we can all play a part in helping our students become strong, confident and willing to engage in literacy and numeracy.

As you participate in the day, I would ask that you reflect on how you, personally can assist in developing literacy and numeracy in our students and children. What learning will you take away that will impact literacy and numeracy in our schools? All of us play a part in this journey in these next three years. So enjoy the day and enjoy the learning. God Bless!

Oct 05

Chris Smeaton

World Teachers Day 2016

When I speak to our new teachers, I often make the following comment with my palms held out, “We hold the future of our students in the palms of our hands, what a great responsibility and what a great honour.” I think that most teachers get this statement very well. But as we celebrate World Teachers Day, I’m wondering whether many of the public understand both the responsibility and honour that teachers feel throughout their teaching career. My guess is that most of the public don’t reflect deeply on that statement and that may be one reason why teachers are not as highly respected and recognized as they deserve to be.

It always saddens me when I’m asked as an educator if I tried to persuade my daughter away from the teaching profession. Why would I want to do that? I am pleased that is the decision she has made because I think so highly of the teaching profession. I know the position will be filled with hard work and frustration and many more difficult times. But I also know that at the end of the day, she, like all teachers will be able to say that she had an impact on a child’s life. Does everybody understand how important that statement is? Even in my role as superintendent, I know that each day I too, can make that difference and when I don’t believe that anymore it will certainly be the time for me to retire.

If you really think about the impact that a teacher can have on a child, why would you bad mouth them? Just because someone went to school doesn’t mean they have any concept of what a teacher really does each day. It is very easy to criticize from the outside and I wish that more people would recognize the importance of teachers in our society today.

Growing up, I had some instrumental teachers in my life and our children also experienced wonderful interactions with very caring and compassionate individuals. World Teachers Day reminds us to be thankful to those individuals who have made a difference in our lives. And so I would ask that you take some time today to make a phone call or send a text, post a Facebook message or just make a personal visit to say thanks. Your gratitude will be greatly appreciated!

Which leads me to our own school division. There are many reasons why Holy Spirit Catholic School Division continues to be a leading division in the province but it always starts with the interaction that occurs between the teacher and the student. Nothing is ever perfect, but I count myself as blessed to be the Chief Educational Officer of our Division because of the commitment of our teachers. They do great work and understand they fully understand that, “We hold the future of our students in the palms of our hands, what a great responsibility and what a great honour.”

Have a wonderful World Teachers Day!

Sep 30

Chris Smeaton

From the Desk of the Superintendent- October 2016

It is hard to imagine that September is about to be seen in the rear view mirror. What a quick month, busy and exciting! We opened our new school St. Teresa of Calcutta and welcomed close to 100 new students into the system. With today being the final count day, it would appear that we will exceed the 5000 student/child mark for the first time as a division. That is something to celebrate and it illustrates the continued confidence our communities have in our system.

In my opening address to staff, I spoke only of faith. I do this purposely since without a focus on faith we cannot exist as a Catholic school division. It would be irresponsible for me to tell our new teachers that their three priorities in this order are, “faith, family, job” and then start by talking about the job. By addressing faith I hope that I’m not viewed as one of those “holy rollers” that I despised in my youth but rather I’m seen as one who continues to struggle and grow in my faith understanding that there is still much to learn and many missteps that will occur. One of my daily practices is reading daily reflections from Fr. Richard Rohr. I must confess that often his language is very difficult for me to relate to but there always seems to be a quote that sticks out and causes me to reflect. Below is one that I hope will cause you to reflect upon as well.

Imagine you are part of a water wheel. Water flows into one bucket and pours out and into a lower bucket. In the act of lowering and emptying yourself, you make room for more water to fill you. This self-giving flow creates energy and power; it can literally change our relationships, our politics, and our world.- Fr. Richard Rohr 

Late last year, our Board of Trustees set the direction of our work in the Division by articulating their strategic priorities. The priorities set were unique in that they were not just for one year but for a three year period. I have long contended to Alberta Education officials that 3-Year Plans should be just that and not re-done annually. There is always need to tweak our work, strategies and measures but these priorities are too important to simply change every year. The Board’s Continuous Improvement Plan (2016-19) illustrates this shift in practice. When you review it, you will note it is concise (not naming every strategy), at a high level and where possible is evidenced through the use of SMART goals. It should be a living document with ongoing reviews to ensure what we’ve said is what we’re doing. The same should be said for school’s continuous improvement plans. It must be a living document and rest not only in the hands of the administration but in the hands of all staff. I’ve always maintained that system improvement will not occur without school improvement and school improvement will not occur until there is individual classroom improvement. The CIP in the hands of our teachers focuses on the essential practices in our classrooms. As an aside, senior administration has changed the way we review schools’ CIPs based on feedback from our Learning Leadership Team and I’m looking forward to our first meetings in early November.

Before I end this longer than usual “From the Desk of the Superintendent” I want to re-focus your attention on the priority, First Nations, Metis and Inuit students will achieve equitable educational outcomes. It is well known and documented that there exists an achievement gap (and in many cases an opportunity gap) between First Nations, Metis and Inuit students and non First Nations, Metis and Inuit students. At first brush, it would appear that this priority is only focused on achievement and only impacts schools with an indigenous population. Nothing could be farther from the truth! One of the goals under this priority reads as follows: “By the end of 2019, First Nations, Métis, and Inuit students will feel a better sense of belonging and all students and staff will have a greater understanding of culture, traditions and ceremonies.”  This goal aligns well with the upcoming quality standards (which will become law in the near future) that will require teachers, school and system leaders to “develop and apply foundational knowledge about First Nations, Metis and Inuit culture and traditions for the benefit of all students.”  This is not a negotiable goal for any of our schools or staffs and is one, that more than any other goal, is just morally right! The achievement of this goal will require many small steps forward. The continued work with our Elders at the Wisdom and Visioning Circle, the Board’s new Truth and Reconciliation Committee and the acknowledgement at public gatherings of being on the traditional territories of the Blackfoot nations and the people of the Treaty 7 region in southern Alberta are just the beginnings. We must continue to be vigilant and it begins with a very public commitment in our continuous improvement plans.

I wish you well this upcoming school year. Enjoy the weekend and welcome to October!

 

 

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