I want to begin my comments by welcoming everybody back. I hope that everybody had a great summer and you are excited about the upcoming year. I’m also very pleased to introduce the newest members of our Learning Leadership Team, Chris Sumner from St. Michael’s Bow Island, Anthony Vercillo at CCH and Kristy Ruaben at St. Catherine’s in Picture Butte. Each of you are joining a very talented group of leaders sitting here today and ones who will indeed support you in your journey with Holy Spirit Catholic Schools. I’m also pleased to welcome back Sheri Thomas from maternity leave. We also have a brand new principal in our group who I would like to recognize, Randy Spenrath at St. Mary’s in Taber.
My opening comments today are going to revolve around three themes- Pope Francis’ leadership, our faith theme, Walking Together and finally, our continued journey in Inspired Education and being a high performing school division. During the summer, I read the book presented to principals last year about Pope Francis’ leadership style (Pope Francis: Why He Leads the Way He Leads by Chris Lowney). Last week at the SALT retreat, we used parts of this book to frame our leadership and guide our practice for the coming year. Although we did do some business at the retreat, the most significant part of our two days was spent on building our own leadership capacity through the lens of Pope Francis and our own mission, vision and values. While I’m hopeful that this book will guide our leadership learning around this table, that will be a decision that is made beyond me. But, I would still like to share some of my insights from the book.
The first insight that I would like to share is his leadership bundle: (1) I am flawed, (2) I am gifted and fundamentally good and (3) I am called to lead. It is difficult to believe that His Holiness believes that he is flawed but given the humbleness of his actions, it is actually not hard to understand. As humans we are all sinners, and always prone to making mistakes. Regardless of our position, be it Pope or administrator, we are vulnerable to sin. Perfection will never be achieved here on earth because we are all flawed. However, even with our flaws we are inherently good and we have many gifts to share. As leaders in Holy Spirit Catholic Schools, we have many gifts to share with our staff, students, community and with each other. Finally, as leaders in a Catholic school division, we are called to lead, called to action. Our giftedness does no good if we do not use it, if we do not share it. We are not perfect but we have gifts and those gifts must be used for the good of others.
The second insight is best described in the book by the phrase “smell like sheep.” His seminarians were expected to get out of the safe havens of the seminary and into the fields and villages with the people, hence, smelling like sheep. For us it signifies knowing the people we serve, our staff, our students and our communities. The only way that we can teach them is if we learn from them first and the only way to learn from them is to be with them. For senior administration, that means getting out of this office and into the schools. For school administrators, it means getting out of your offices and into classrooms. I travelled a considerable amount last year and while my travel schedule is not going to get any lighter this coming year I’m making a commitment to getting into our schools, all 14 of them much more!
Last year, our faith theme was “Taking Our Place at the Table.” From the beginning with David Wells, we were called to come to the table and see who was at our table and even more important, who was not at our table. Too often in education we have a focus for one year and then it passes. Been there!Ddone that! This cannot be the case with last year’s theme because before we can fully address this year’s theme “Walking Together” we must ensure that everyone is at our table. We must ensure that our most vulnerable, our disenfranchised are together with us at the table.
While we have many positives with our FNMI community, we still need to invite them and bring them to our table. We cannot walk together with parts of our community not feeling a sense of belonging, not connecting with us and not connecting with them. I ask you again this year to make a difference in our FNMI students’ lives. We must continue to reach out and close an opportunity gap that currently exists in order to eliminate a cycle of poverty that haunts our First Nations communities. The lesson from Pope Francis is clear- “You must learn from the people before you can teach them.”
Walking together also means supporting each other in all things and at all times through our greatest strength, our faith. This past week I attended funeral services for former teacher Elaine Schmidt and grade 5 student Kennady Clarke from St. Joseph. And as I’ve learned, there are many other sad situations that are impacting our community. But what I witnessed in both services was our staff walking together, providing support to families, students, and each other. While the passing of a former teacher and a student are never a good way to start a school year, I’m always amazed at how we can come together even in our grief to support, to pray and to love- in other words, how we walk together. While often taken for granted, it is what we are called to do as a Catholic school division and within a faith community.
Finally, I want to address our continued journey in Inspiring Education. We all know we are a high performing school division. Being selected as 1 of 5 divisions to travel to China in November and share our leadership practices around Inspiring Education is just another example. However, as we learned last year when we looked for evidence of a high performing school division, our narrative was very strong. But, the data beyond the narrative was weak. Given the work of other high-flying school divisions and the research of John Hattie, we need to find more evidence of the impact of learning. We need to be able to qualify and quantify in order to assure our publics that the highest quality of Catholic education is being offered in all of our schools and every one of our classrooms. We must be committed to making the biggest impact we can and then be able to clearly demonstrate that impact!
This past summer I had the opportunity to have conversations with both Education Minister Johnson and Deputy Minister Bass. Both expressed their appreciation of what we do as a school division, what we do in our schools and most of all, how we continue to transform our educational practice to make an even greater impact on student learning. They are both very aware of my mantra to break the pedagogical traditions that don’t serve students well, to focus our teaching on the “need to knows” and thin the curriculum and they applaud our endeavor to do education different. It is a message that I will again highlight on Wednesday but it must be one that you carry into your schools each and every day. Innovative teaching and creative endeavors will only abound in our schools if our staffs fully believe that they have far more freedom than ever before to try different things, to risk take and to embrace a fail forward attitude!
I’m extremely excited about this coming year. I continue to love what I do because I’m surrounded in this room by great talent and high quality leadership. We are all flawed and we will make errors along the way but we are all good and gifted and have much to offer. And what we have, we must share because as leaders of Holy Spirit Catholic Schools, we are called to lead, we are called to action.
May God bless each of you in your ministry of Catholic leadership.