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 (, 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.

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!

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!

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!



In support of common assessments

Last year our Division took a giant leap forward when our own teachers developed common math assessments for grades 1-9. Through grade level meetings supported by our Director of Learning, teachers met and created these assessments. The assessments were given near the end of the school year. During the next couple of weeks, our grade level meetings will be reviewing the results, refining the assessment and engaging in high quality conversation on teacher practice!

I’m extremely proud of our ability to engage our teachers and develop a common assessment with them and not to them. And I’m most grateful for the effort of our teachers and leaders. It speaks well to the culture that continues to develop in our schools and throughout our Division. But what is most important is what is now occurring in these follow up meetings.

  1. Reviewing the results: Whether you want to believe in accountability to the government or assurance to parents, results count! While everything in education can’t be measured, there are things that can and should be measured. Systems, whether in education or business need some data to objectively understand current state and then utilize it to drive forward improvement. One might get some push back with the argument that the assessment didn’t provide any new information. Good… it shouldn’t for great teachers and therefore the assessment should confirm their beliefs. But I’ve also learned that sometimes are own perceptions (call it professional judgment) and our reality may not be as aligned as we want to admit. I’ve learned a great quote from the world of business that I use in these situations; “Trust and verify.”
  2. Refining the assessment: There is no perfect assessment. While some companies may try to sell you the “perfect assessment”, there is none! Assessment creation should be an ongoing process. Did we ask the right question here? Did the students understand what we really wanted to know? What might have been an improved method of questioning? Every assessment should be reviewed to ensure high quality. The beauty of the common assessment is that we are engaging in the review in collaboration and with collective professional judgment. The dialogue challenges are own thoughts and leads to what I believe is the most critical reason for employing common assessments- improving teacher practice.
  3. Teacher practice: Common assessments allows for common language. We now can engage with a common understanding of the same data. This is where (in a trusting environment) we begin to ask each other about our practice. “Your students did well in this area, what were some of the strategies you used.” It is no longer acceptable and highly irregular to go into our classrooms, shut the door and teach in isolation. Teaching is far too complex even for the best of the best! Teachers as professionals are constantly improving their practice and being cocooned in their own classroom is not the most effective way of developing. Gathering around common assessments (especially those that are teacher created) and confronting the brutal facts, the highs and the lows will impact pedagogy in the classrooms.

It has taken years for our school division to get to a point where developing teacher common assessments was accepted and encouraged. I’d be a fool to believe that every one of our teachers is on the same page. But when I step into our grade level meetings and listen to the conversations around pedagogy, I know that we are on the right path. Because in truth, unless individual teachers and then groups of teachers engage in honest dialogue around their own teaching practice with common assessments large scale improvements will never occur. And when you hear that statement and you remember back to why you became a teacher, that is just not acceptable to the kids coming into our classrooms today or tomorrow. Embrace common assessments and challenge your teaching practices…it is just the right thing to do!

Opening Address to Staff

Good morning everyone and welcome back. Before I begin my opening comments, I would like to take this opportunity to thank the entire staff of Ecole St. Mary, Dan, and Lise for organizing our opening mass today, to the administration and staff of CCH for always being so welcoming to us and a big shout out to our music ministry. Thank you to Joann Bartley, our Director of Religious Education for her leadership of this day. And finally, a special thanks to Bishop Henry for leading our Eucharistic Celebration and to all our clergy and religious for attending and sharing in our day.

On Monday, we met as a Learning Leadership Team and I provided my opening presentation that spoke of our three goals and the need to be focused in our work. I’ve provided my presentation to our LLT and they have the ability to share it, all or in part with their own staffs. Like last year’s address, I will focus on our faith component and leave the education comments to our administrators and through my monthly blog posts.

I want to begin with a quote that I read yesterday from Fr. Richard Rohr: “We cannot attain the presence of God because we’re already totally in the presence of God. What’s absent is awareness.” Let me repeat that once more. “We cannot attain the presence of God because we’re already totally in the presence of God. What’s absent is awareness.” Whether we want to call it our job, our work, our vocation, bringing the awareness of the presence of God to our students is what we do. In that one quote, is the essence of our work in Catholic education, in Holy Spirit Catholic Schools. This is why we exist as a separate school division; it is what makes us unique and different. Bringing that awareness requires us to be passionate about our faith understanding that our first priority must be God. Education prepares for future society and society can ill afford to have more people who are apathetic to the presence of God in the world and concerned more about personal success and wealth. Be passionate and committed to the right priority, which is faith.

This year we begin our new 3-Year Faith Plan, GIFT Growing In Faith Together. It was developed in a collaborative environment which involved staff, students, clergy, trustees and community. It builds on our previous faith plans but challenges us even more to find hope in others and recognize it in ourselves.

St. Paul tells us that hope has a name. Hope is Jesus and he renews everything. But we also know that in order to have hope we must have a relationship with Christ. Our relationship with Christ begins with increasing our knowledge of the spiritual and social teachings of Jesus. Our Year 1 theme, Rooted in Christ invites all of us to explore the Gospels to get to know Jesus and bring awareness of the presence of God into our own lives and the lives of our students.

Working in a Catholic education system is a great honor but it also comes with great responsibility. Each day, remind yourself of the honor and responsibility you carry into every interaction with your students, the parents, guardians and caregivers, and each other. Be passionate about your faith in order to bring that awareness to our students. You carry a torch- pass it on to bring a bright light of hope to all.

May God bless you in your work this year and on behalf of myself and all the children you will bring awareness to, I offer sincere thanks. God Bless & Thank You!

Leadership- aligning words with actions

I’m sitting in my office this afternoon getting ready for the week ahead. Tomorrow we have all of our school leaders in and I always start with an opening presentation to our Learning Leadership Team. Later in the week, we will gather as a division and I will address our entire staff. Even though I’m well known in our Division, comfortable in presenting to large groups and speaking in public, there is a certain amount of nervousness that I feel. I embrace that nervous feeling because it reminds me how important my words are in relationship to my actions, that will follow. It is essential that there is alignment between what the leader says and what the leader does.

Credibility is one of the byproducts of that alignment. Kouzes and Posner (2011) noted in their book, Credibility: How Leaders Gain and Lose It, Why People Demand It, “According to our empirical data, the majority of people look for (and) admire leaders who are honest, forward-thinking, inspiring, and competent…While the exact order might vary from country to country, these same four qualities remain at the top of the list of what people everywhere want from their leaders.” (p. 7) Just achieving these four qualities, honesty, forward-thinking, inspiring and competent is a tall task and if you think differently, you are either ignorant or arrogant. Credibility is certainly foundational for leadership success and is enhanced through alignment.

The alignment of words and action also builds a culture of trust. For organizations to achieve greatness, a high level of trust must exist. While there will always be decisions made and actions taken that impact organizational trust, it needs to be one of the leader’s non-negotiable goals. Great organizations exude professional trust which Douglas Reeves (2016) reminds us is a “two-way street.” It manifests itself throughout the organization- bottom up and top down. High levels of trust in an organization allows for vulnerability for all but especially the leader. Leaders cannot come across as all knowing robots without any human touch! Being vulnerable makes leaders real. Leaders will make errors and it is far easier to face the music when the organization knows the leader’s true value from the heart and the head.

Finally, aligning words and actions makes the leader (and all of us) far more accountable. And by the way, accountability is not necessarily a swear word in education or business. Personally as a leader, my stock goes down when I over promise and under deliver, when I say one thing and do another and when I shirk my accountability to those I lead. My accountability standard should be very high because in truth, our staff, students and communities deserve nothing less!

Leadership is a complex task and a very difficult role-if it wasn’t, the world would have an abundance of great leaders. There are so many nuances that non-leaders or poor leaders usually don’t understand or can’t comprehend. The fact is that leadership counts and it should be taken with great seriousness. As I continue my preparation now and into the future, I should always be slightly nervous when I’m addressing staff because the tone at the top will set the either the right or wrong direction. Align your words and actions to set the right direction!


Blame, Complain or Find a Solution

The next time you are in a conversation about something that isn’t quite right, ask yourself if you are blaming, complaining or trying to find a solution. While we would like to believe that we operate in the “glass half full” mentality, we may be surprised at how often we exude negativity. Finger pointing in our world is becoming more commonplace. Because (in part) of a lack of personal and system accountability, blaming and complaining flourishes in our world. We’ve adopted a learned helplessness approach to life.

It saddens me knowing that in many ways education and educators have been seduced into this way of thought as well. Rather than rise above and lead society, we too have become comfortable with the “if only” statement. If only we had more money, or time, or better professional development or better students. The list can become endless! While I fully understand there are issues in education, I’m confident that consistently blaming or complaining is not going to make those issues go away.

In trying to find a solution we are forced to move from perceptions to reality. A great example of this comes from a study by Douglas Reeves. In his book, “From Leading to Succeeding” Reeves asked teachers about their perceptions on decision making. The perception was that teacher discretion and collaborative decision making accounted for only 26% of the decision making, the actual was 73%. Almost 50% of teachers were misguided in their perceptions leading I’m sure, to an environment of both blame and complaint. This is not a singular poke at teachers because I believe the results would be similar to school and system leaders. In fact, the difference between perception and reality would be similar throughout many elements in our world.

Unfortunately the blame/complain world impacts our own efficacy. Efficacy is our own belief that we can make and do make a difference. While there will always be things beyond our control, trying to find a solution works with what we can control. It instills personal accountability onto our own self. We all need to be more accountable and as illustrated in the Serenity Prayer.


Trying to find a solution requires us to inherit a growth mindset and be change accepting.

“The world as we have created it is a process of our thinking. It cannot be changed without changing our thinking.” Albert Einstein

Education has such great potential to create the world we want to live in but it will always begin with one seeking to find a solution. As you begin this new school year, I would ask that you always try to find a solution, be open to possibilities and look for opportunities. Making excuses, casting blame or simply complaining just solidifies the problem. Change, what the world really needs requires us to begin by each of us being solution focused. We are the change!

“Change will not come if we wait for some other person, or if we wait for some other time. We are the ones we’ve been waiting for. We are the change that we seek.” – Barack Obama

Collaboration amongst divisions

The following article was submitted and published in the Lethbridge Herald on June 1, 2016.

In 2013, the Lethbridge Herald began the practice of allowing local superintendents to provide a weekly message on a rotating basis. That initiative in itself should be recognized as extremely forward thinking. In the beginning, I think most of my colleagues and I believed that this was simply a golden opportunity to showcase our own divisions. There is no doubt that each column provides some local school division recognition, but more often the musings of the superintendents are more global. Even though the Herald has provided each superintendent an excellent PR opportunity, the majority of the columns speak to our overall education system and the changes that will be required to prepare our students as future citizens. What this demonstrates is an overall commitment by the superintendents to work together for all students, not just their own.

Superintendents in this area meet with each other as a group a minimum of four times a year. The sharing of successes and the openness around issues and concerns illustrates the trust that exists in this zone. While we are all hired by boards to improve our own system, we also fully understand that, in the complex world of education, working collaboratively is far more effective. It is not that there isn’t competition between the divisions, but it isn’t cutthroat in nature. Instead the competition is about learning from each other and making sure we offer the best possible educational experience to the students we serve.

Alberta continues to be one of the pre-eminent jurisdictions in the world and parental choice is certainly one of the reasons for that. But an equally important factor is the existence of competition and collaboration between divisions and senior administrators. All of us are teachers first with an innate desire for students to be successful. Most of us recognize that, though we want our own students to experience the best opportunities (remember who pays our salaries), we still believe that all students deserve the same high level of education.

In this ever-changing world and given the complexity of education as a whole, collaboration amongst divisions is less of a choice and more a non-negotiable reality. Students are far too important for our future to hoard strategies that work and programs that succeed. It is a comfort to be able to turn to many of my colleagues in the area and discuss a “how” or “why” in their system and know that I will receive an honest and forthright response. I guess that also speaks to the relationship that many of us have with each other and the admiration we hold.

So, on behalf of my colleagues, I would like to thank the Lethbridge Herald for this great opportunity to not only to highlight our own divisions, but further the important aspect of collaboration that exists between our zone 6 divisions.

From the Desk of the Superintendent- June 2016

The end of the school year is right around the corner with the last official day for staff and students on June 24th. It is always hard for me to fathom just how quickly a school year passes. I’m sure that is the same feeling, no matter what profession you are in, if you truly enjoy what you do. Enjoyment for me, is not the absence of issues (we all have many stressors) but the belief that I can and will be able to make a difference. On June 14th at the annual Board’s Retirement Evening, this is a message that I will hear from our retirees again and again. Over their careers, they have made a difference in the lives of students, parents and colleagues. I want to congratulate all of our retirees as they begin a new journey and thank them again for their commitment to Holy Spirit and ultimately Catholic Education. Doing what we really do in education and making a difference in the life of a child may not be fully understood or even shown appropriate gratitude by the general public but it is what great educators do, day in and day out!

Although I’m looking at taking some time off in the summer and working on my golf game, I may be a little quirky in already being excited for 2016-17. Each year since becoming superintendent in 2009, I’ve watched our system, our schools and individual teachers and staff, make necessary tweaks in planning and practice to ensure continuous improvement. 2016-17should be another great year of innovation balanced with a concentrated effort to ensure literacy and numeracy, the foundational skills for student success, are focused upon. The development of our Three Year Education Plan (which I’m hoping will be a 3-Year Plan and not a 1-Year Plan done 3 years in a row), is focusing on SMART Goals and strong pieces of evidence to inform our practice. This year during our Continuous Improvement Plan meetings with school administration we focused on the question, “How do you know?” That question alone has shifted our thinking on classroom, school and system practice and forced us (in a positive way) to be more reflective in all that we do.

This past year has been consuming on the capital front. Schematic design for the modernization of St. Patrick’s Taber continues, our modernization at St. Michael’s in Pincher Creek is proceeding well and we’re excited about the opening of Blessed Mother Teresa for the fall. Each project is being designed to enhance the learning environments for the future instead of just making them “new” from the past. This is an important statement since we should always be looking into the future in our designs and recognizing how students will be learning tomorrow. With growth expected to exceed 2% for next year, these capital projects are needed and certainly well appreciated.

On the faith front (which is why we exist), we are completing our three year faith plan and this year’s theme of “Horizon of Hope.” It was a great pleasure witnessing the many examples of our students and staff creating horizons of hope in their classrooms, their schools and their community. The words of Pope Francis will always ring loudly,

Today amid so much darkness, we need to see the light of hope and be men and women that bring hope to others. To protect creation, to protect every man and woman, to look upon them with tenderness and love, is to open up a horizon of hope.

Together, with the Year of Mercy, we have opened our doors and provided hope to refugees, the displaced and disenfranchised and focused our actions on the corporal and spiritual works of mercy.

So, as we gear up for the last month of school I want to wish our students the best of luck in their final exams and projects and hope they have a wonderful and safe summer. And to our staff and Board of Trustees, I want to extend my gratitude for another positive year. Enjoy a well deserved rest and I’m looking forward to an exciting 2016-17. God Bless!