I’m a day late in sending my monthly message out but I did this purposely, since I wanted to complete our Team Continuous Improvement Plan Reviews first to able to share some of my perspective. Over the last two days, teams of three schools came to the St. Basil Catholic Education Centre to provide year-end reviews. We asked four guiding questions to focus the conversation.
- What are some ways that you know (beyond a list of activities) that your Catholic culture has grown this past year?
- What are you seeing in the classrooms that demonstrates that student learning has been impacted by improved instruction in literacy and numeracy?
- How has the work you’ve done in the First Nations, Metis and Inuit priority impacted student and staff learning?
- What might be some strategies you will be implementing next year to build on these priorities?
As senior administration reflected at the conclusion, all of us were first and foremost very proud of the work occurring in our schools. Shifts in language from my students to our students, intentional collaboration, reviewing data to improve instruction, support for Collaborative Response Model and extreme gratefulness for the work of our Learning Coaches were common themes. But something else was present which I might be most proud of; raw honesty of things that were not perfect and still needed work and the desire of our school administrators to look to their colleagues to collaborate for solutions. While we might believe that is the norm to be that open and honest in front of the superintendent and his senior team, it simply is not. This speaks to the trust that our administrators have and the willingness to share beauty marks and warts! I just cannot say enough about the work of our leaders and the dedication of our staff!
Speaking of dedication, it is always a great celebration at our Long Service Awards. This year we honoured over 80 individuals and close to 30 have 20+ years of experience. In my closing comments, I spoke about the loyalty of an organization to staff and the loyalty of staff to an organization. When the new norm is that people are changing careers around 7 times in their work life, we have employees who believe in Holy Spirit and remain for a long number of years. The Board’s desire to host these long service awards each year is a small token of appreciation for that loyalty. I’m personally grateful for the loyalty shown to me by staff throughout my tenure in Holy Spirit. As I said in my comments, I am blessed to feel so welcomed when I walk into our schools and will certainly miss that connection once retired.
Obviously the biggest news in April was the election. As I have said previously, I need to stay pretty apolitical as I must work with whatever government is in power. But, Catholic Education should be very excited with the naming of Adriana LaGrange as our new Education Minister. Mrs. LaGrange is a former board chair of Red Deer Catholic and prior to throwing her hat in the provincial ring was the President of the Alberta Catholic School Trustees Association. There have been a lot of rumours on what the budget will look like. Speculating on the budget, we are planning for a status quo budget with likely no enrolment growth and no classroom improvement funding. We will need to wait and see!
Many of you may not realize that I sign off on all international trips. Even though the planning for these trips are exemplary, I’m always looking forward to the daily texts (I request from the lead teacher) when at the end of each day, students are back in the hotel and tucked into bed. This year we had two trips to Europe and one to New York. I’m not sure the general public has any idea how much work goes into the planning and while it may be a holiday for students, it is plain intense for chaperones. This year we had some students and staff get sick right at the end of one of the trips. I watched with such pride how chaperones across the ocean worked closely with administration here and the tour company to look after sick students and colleagues. It was amazing the care and compassion shown by our staff. Being pretty blunt, it frustrates the hell out of me, when people with little to no knowledge of the situation take “pot shots” at our procedures. Our kids were well taken care of throughout their ordeal. I’m thankful and so should all parents for the organization, the work and the overall care our staff provides on international trips. Without that commitment, I wouldn’t be signing off on any international trips! Well done chaperones, past, present and future!
By the way, with Easter being so late, does everybody realize that there are only 8 more Mondays left in the school year! The remainder of the year will pass by quickly. With the naming of our new Deputy Superintendent, Ken Sampson, we will be interviewing for the Director of Learning position this coming Saturday. There are a couple of associate principal positions that will be finalized within a couple of weeks and Brian and I are reviewing overall staffing numbers tomorrow afternoon. Before we know it June will be here and then…2018-19 school year will be done!
As we get closer to the end of the school year, I want to remind all of our school staffs that some students’ behaviours may become increasingly negative. For some students, the thought of not being able to come to school where there exists a stable and safe environment is very difficult. It is in these times that we must show those students our greatest patience and give them our most love. Remember that you may be the only caring adult in the life of some of the children in our schools!
Keep doing what you are doing because YOU ARE GREAT!
One of my core beliefs as a superintendent is to provide support and build the capacity of our school leaders. While somewhat of an over exaggeration, in many cases, “how goes the principal is how goes the school.” This doesn’t mean that everything good or bad needs to be laid on the lap of the school administrator but at the same time, without strong leadership at the helm, schools and ultimately students suffer. The only caveat I have here is that if you are in one of these schools without effective leadership, you might want to do a little self-reflection as most often toxic culture is bred within school staffs too!
A key consideration for building leadership capacity is to be visible in schools and available at the office. I remember the day-to-day frustrations of school administration and if you as a senior leader are not available when the times are tough…you are not much use. In working with leaders from across the province I hear about the “distance” self-imposed between senior and school administration. This is simply unacceptable! There is a hierarchy no doubt, and so it is essential for senior leaders to find ways to honor that hierarchy AND build strong relationships. My position requires me to have tough conversations and make difficult decisions but my school leaders are still my colleagues! The stronger the relationship, the more honesty you are going to get and the greater the ability to support.
While relationships are key, relationships in themselves are not enough. Senior leaders need to be able to support school leaders through issues and challenges, highs and lows and just plain struggles. It is not about solving problems but rather listening, questioning, causing reflection and ultimately building efficacy.
Listening- experienced leaders have a tendency to know the answer and want to just share their advice. It is easy and it is quick but it doesn’t necessarily stick and become part of the individual’s toolkit of strategies. Listening means that you just “shut up” and suspend judgment. You cannot get to the next stage of questioning if you are not fully aware of the context.
Questioning/Reflection- Most of our administrators are trained in the cognitive coaching model where asking the right questions is key to the process. To be honest, if you ask the right questions, reflective practice is enhanced and most often efficacy increases. Great questions are pluralistic in nature (i.e. What might be…) and are always open-ended. You won’t get much reflection from a yes or no question. The person doing the thinking is the person doing the learning, so make them think with reflective questions and ensure that you cast no judgment.
Efficacy- this has been a late learning for me but is proving to be the missing piece in the process. I like to tie situations back to when the individual was successful with a similar issue. For example, I might ask, “Looking back, what are some of the ways that you have been able to overcome a similar situation?” As you tweeze answers out, you can begin to place these successes front and center and looked for connections between past and future actions. It is powerful when people are able to see how they’ve been successful in the past and then build their own sense of efficacy.
I’ve never gotten it all right and the method I use works better with some leaders compared to others. However, when it works, leadership flourishes and staff and students excel. It is overdue for senior leaders to break down the positional barriers that exist, “get in the trenches” and support leadership development!
The following blog post was written for the Lethbridge Herald, April 03, 3019.
Sometimes it is very difficult to let go of the past. It is comfortable, even though we know that it is likely remembered far better than it was actually lived. Similarly, we often hold on to our traditional beliefs about schooling and education. Traditionalists like to say, “If it was good enough for us, it is good enough for them.” The truth is that in many cases the education of the past wasn’t good enough for most and, given the complexity of our society, we can no longer view the world through only our own eyes. We are simply failing our children if we chose to remain in that paradigm of thinking.
There was a time when power was held by those who had the knowledge. Students needed to be in school to learn that knowledge because it wasn’t universally accessible. But now knowledge is universally accessible. So where does that leave us in education? Smarter was defined as those who could score better, which meant those who could regurgitate the knowledge back in the form of some test. Google has recently stated that GPAs are worthless criteria for hiring, yet we continue to sort students based solely on their ability to give us back what we gave them in the first place. The ability to memorize, though not a bad skill in itself, was in high demand. The rewards we have provided have not been about the learning, but rather the grades received.
Research would say that the reward of grades or that type of external motivation for most students is quite dangerous. According to the Hechinger Report on intrinsic motivation in the classroom, “one of the consequences is that students stop challenging themselves for fear of trying something hard and failing at it.” The carrot and stick method of motivation is not only archaic in today’s society, but harmful in our schools, organizations and governments. We need to find ways to motivate students intrinsically because that leads to higher student engagement.
According to Gallup, student engagement continues to fall as students become less interested in what they are learning. In the 2016 Gallup Student Poll, 74% of grade 5 students were engaged with school, while only 34% were in grade 12. Why is this important? Because there is a link between engagement and academic growth and post-secondary readiness. Even more important is that those disengaged students are almost 7.5 times more likely to feel discouraged about the future and students without hope often don’t have a successful future!
During my 10-year tenure as Superintendent of Schools for Holy Spirit, we’ve tried to focus less on simply remembering the dots and more about connecting the dots. Our high schools, through the redesign process, have looked at flex opportunities and course design to engage students through more hands-on problem solving activities. We are being creative in what we offer to students in terms of investigative options at the junior high level and more STEM and STEAM programming at the elementary level. The freedom to do things differently within our schools has produced some great student engagement growth and our achievement has not suffered.
We live in an area that has one of the highest rates of child poverty in Alberta. One in five students are not ready for kindergarten. Yet, as seen in our last Accountability Pillar survey, our division’s three-year averages outperform the province’s in 13 out of 16 categories. This demonstrates that we don’t have to do what’s always been done and compromise excellence. Today’s students deserve a freshness in their schooling and parents deserve assurances of high quality learning. But that freshness and that assurance won’t come without the continual shift in our beliefs in education and our practices in schools.
Usually, I begin my monthly message a couple of days before the end of the month. However, my ideas began to percolate after listening to Sarah Hart at our annual Spiritual Development Day and continued while attending the Religious Education Congress. Therefore, most of this blog post was written much earlier than usual and can be sent out today.
As I said in my brief comments, I didn’t always appreciate these types of days. Part of the reason was that my faith journey was fairly new or maybe more truthfully, my own faith was pretty immature. Now, truly knowing the gift that we have in Catholic Education, I’ve begun to really look forward to these days, in which gather us as one large faith community. I also feel most blessed when we all come together to celebrate mass at the conclusion of the day. The entire day from opening comments to our closing mass allows all of us to grow a little more in our own faith. This one was probably a little more special as I realized it is my last Spiritual Development Day as Superintendent of Schools.
But there are a couple more reasons why I often came away from any professional development largely disappointed. The first and I’m sure you’ll find this hard to believe (HA! HA!), was my own ego. Being pretty successful in most endeavours throughout my youth and early adulthood, I think the saying might have been something like, “I already know that! or What is he/she going to teach me?” When you believe you won’t learn anything at a session, guess what, you won’t! The second reason I often came away feeling indifferent was that I put a higher value on entertainment compared to the key messages. Now don’t get me wrong, speakers should certainly be engaging but, sometimes entertainment and learning value may not necessarily align. So while I still desire someone who can touch my heart and mind, I’m more apt to be open to hearing the nuggets that I can apply to my own practice. There are very few speakers who don’t have at least something to offer regardless of the delivery.
And so I’ll circle back to our Spiritual Development Day and Sarah Hart. The quick feedback I received throughout the day was extremely positive. It is not easy to find speakers and plan days like this for the wide scope of employees we have. But I want to commend Joann Bartley, Lorelie Lenaour and Michelle MacKinnon (and their supports) who typically are largely responsible for our division days for trying to always find the right fit. The resources allocated and the high quality of professional learning offered in Holy Spirit has little to do with me. If you didn’t get anything out of one of our division days, I would challenge you (nicely) to be reflective on your own mindset. Is it your ego or attitude or something else that is holding you back from finding the learning?
Well, it is election time and together with our ATA locals, Holy Spirit and Lethbridge School Division are hosting two election forums focusing on education. The first for Lethbridge West will be held on April 2nd at Chinook High School. St. Francis will be hosting the forum for Lethbridge East on April 8th. Both forums are scheduled for 6:30 PM – 8:30 PM. Education is and always should be a high priority for any government and so I would invite all who are able to attend, to come out and hear candidates’ thoughts and party platforms. In my role as Superintendent, I need to be apolitical. However, Alberta Education officials know me well enough that I’m their biggest supporter when they make good decisions and their toughest critic when they make poor ones. Let’s hope that I can be supportive after the votes are counted!
The paperwork is in for the new superintendent but, with the election being called, it is unlikely that the individual will be publicly named until a new government is formed. Given that, and in consultation with the Learning Leadership Team, I made the suggestion to the Board of Trustees (and they’ve agreed) that rather than initiate a new three-year education plan under my direction, the Board extend our current plan an additional year and allow the new superintendent to guide the process beginning in 2020. We will implement our new 3 Year Faith Plan but continue with the priorities of literacy, numeracy and First Nations, Metis and Inuit learning. The beauty is that these priorities still align well with new curriculum and the Leadership/Teacher Quality Standards being implemented in September 2019.
For the past two years we’ve partnered with the U of L (thanks Valerie) to offer some phenomenal STEM/STEAM opportunities for students and staff. We are formalizing this partnership for next year again as it is evident that many of our classrooms/schools are taking advantage of this PD and providing some great learning experiences. One such experience, at St. Patrick School in Taber was provided to the Board of Trustees at the regular meeting in March. Associate Principal Sean Ethier and grade 2/3 teacher Nicole Caputo demonstrated their work with technology integration. For complete highlights of the board meeting please click here.
We are about to begin the fourth week of Lent. I hope that your Lenten journey has been spiritually fulfilling. It is not easy to be committed to increased prayer, fasting and almsgiving for any amount of time, let alone 40 days. However, I do pray that you make each day an opportunity to invest in your own spiritual growth as we all prepare for the Easter Season and the ultimate resurrection of Jesus Christ.
May God Bless you throughout this Lenten Season and into the season of the risen Lord.
A couple of weeks ago, I wrote a fairly harsh blog post entitled, “If you can’t get along with people…don’t be a leader!” Demonstrating honesty, integrity and trust are all key characteristics for getting along with people. But what else? No matter where you are in your leadership journey, improvement or honing your skills should always be at the forefront of your development. Even if you are well-known as a relational leader, these snippets of advice are still great reminders.
- There is good reason why God gave us two ears and only one mouth.
- Matthew Kelly provides this powerful quote, “To be a great listener requires patience, focus, awareness, and most of all it requires us to set aside our own agenda.”
- Please don’t interrupt even though you may have the right answer. People need to be heard and if you are constantly interrupting, when they tell their story and you won’t know it.
- Lead with questions:
- The person doing the thinking is likely the person doing the learning. Start with questions that ask them to think about the situation to provide you perspective. “What do you think you know about…?
- Advice should only be given when there is no other option or someone is going to get hurt without the advice.
- Use pluralistic questions. “What might be some ways…?” This gives options to the person not to get stuck on only one answer.
- Show you care and are interested:
- This really begins with simply listening but you can’t be relational without showing an interest in the other person.
- Please don’t pull out your phone when they are talking to anything else that distracts you. They deserve your full attention not partial!
- There is always a story…find out what it is!
Being a relational leader is never easy. It calls us to go beyond the superficial but then again, what great leadership doesn’t require that!
I’ve always been a strong believer in the importance of fostering effective relationships in the workplace. There is good reason why it is the first competency stated in all three standards; Superintendent, Leadership and Teacher. But some of the best lessons regarding the importance of relationship building have come from the business world. In other words, the importance of effective relationships are not “siloed” in education only. Effective organizations anywhere, are only as effective as the relationships contained within and those relationships must always begin from the leader out. So, if you can’t get along with people, please don’t take on a leadership role!
Maybe it is because I’m approaching retirement and getting a little “cranky in my old age” but leaders need to be relationally focused. This is especially true in education where our bottom line is students and our business is people. You would think that is such a common sense statement and yet, we still have leaders within the education world who “just don’t get it.” Don’t laugh business world, because you have them too!
There is an old saying that goes something like this, “Do you want to be right or do you want to be happy?” Non-relational leaders typically just want to be right! It is good for their ego- they get to prove to others how smart, etc they are! Being right is not necessarily evil, it is just that it can’t be used as the only leverage as a leader. “Right” leaders make excuses and point fingers. Sadly, I’m not sure whether “right leaders’ even know what happiness is, since it truly comes from serving others and helping people find the right solutions.
The expectations of our leaders to get along with people has to be higher than it currently is in society. Just because you are good at “X” doesn’t mean you have leadership capacity. Leaders need to be relational and not just with the people who have similar personalities or like them. You see it is up to the leader to try to forge relationships with all…even the ones you don’t really like! And sometimes that’s extremely difficult because there are some miserable people out there and even in your own organization. Don’t get hung up on the relationships that are sour (you won’t please everybody), but also don’t quit trying to build better ones with those individuals. That’s part of the responsibility of a leader, to foster effective relationships with all not just some!
Leaders set the tone for their organization or department. Without the ability to build high quality relationships, compliance rather than commitment breeds. Compliance has never served innovation well and quite simply it is unhealthy for any organization. Commitment to an organization will always start with leaders who value their people and strive to foster effective relationships throughout the organization.
Coming soon… Tips for relational leadership.
February is the shortest month of the year…right? Given this nonstop cold snap, it has felt like the longest month of the year. I know that when Donna and I eventually move to Red Deer, I’ll expect a longer and colder winter but until then, I’m still looking for the break that comes from a good old chinook! Hopefully warmer weather is right around the corner.
I’m finishing up this message from my hotel room in Vancouver where I’ve been the past couple of days attending my C21 Canada winter meetings. Surrey Schools hosted the event and as always the ability to visit schools and meet with superintendents from across Canada is a tremendous learning experience. I know our senior team at the board office often fears when I return from these meetings rubbing my hands together with always some great ideas to be shared.
We finished off the afternoon yesterday with a presentation on social and emotional learning and the impact on student achievement. Wanting to reflect on that information and given the temperature of 6 degrees Celsius, I decided to go for a run along the ocean. I was pretty impressed with my pace as I was even passing a few of my fellow joggers on the boardwalk. However, that didn’t last long and my running ego was crushed as a race walker passed me, not once but twice!!! So if you hear me say that I’m going for a run, it is probably a much better visual to think of a plodder and not an actual runner…more Clydesdale than Thoroughbred!
One of the bright lights this past February was some tremendous professional learning. Teachers’ Convention had keynote presentations from Michael Landsberg and Sarah Prevette and our support staff had the pleasure of hearing a no-nonsense full day presentation from Dr. Jody Carrington. Additionally, many staff, students, parents and community members heard a very powerful talk from Holocaust survivor, Dr. Eva Olsson. When we are immersed in the education system, we sometimes take for granted all the wonderful learning opportunities provided compared to the non-educational world. It truly is a blessing to be within a learning community.
Superintendent interviews were held by the Board earlier this week and a motion was made at Wednesday meeting. The process will now be offering the position to the successful candidate and negotiating a contract within the new compensation regulations and then sending the request to appoint a superintendent to the Minister of Education. As I’ve stated in various communications, the timeline for Ministerial approval can take up to 4 weeks once submitted. A public announcement cannot occur until this approval is received. Let’s keep our fingers crossed for a quick turnaround.
The February Board meeting had information provided on brain research, enrolment projections and a report on the status of our Board Continuous Improvement Plan. Planning also occurred for the upcoming Council of School Council Chairs meeting and discussion on the upcoming election. The board brief is available here.
Finally, we begin the season of Lent on Ash Wednesday which is March 6th. Joann Bartley has provided all staff some great resources to assist in making your Lenten journey one of great significance. Please take advantage of these resources not only from a personal but also a family and community basis to make the season of Lent a focal point in your life. May God guide you along your Lenten journey!
This is the first Lethbridge Herald article I’ve written since I officially announced my retirement for the end of December 2019. The new Superintendent of Schools for Holy Spirit Catholic School Division will take over the reins on January 5, 2020. It may seem odd to many that my announcement has come so early in the year, and even more strange that the advertisement for the position closed on February 15th with interviews to be held on February 25th. However, the reasoning is quite sound given that there are two additional senior administrative staff, Deputy Superintendent Brian Macauley and Director of Learning Lorelie Lenaour, retiring at the end of June.
One of my great advantages coming into my position almost 10 years ago was the ability to choose my own people early in my tenure. As people retired or left for other opportunities, I was able to select my own team to lead the school division. I believe there are less than six individuals in the system that I didn’t have the responsibility of hiring into their current administrative positions. I’m hopeful that the new superintendent will have the same advantage, and so the sooner she/he is named the sooner those senior positions can be filled. We are also about to embark on our next three year education plan and, while I have some great ideas about where we can go as a division, it is important that the new superintendent is well involved in the process.
How often have you heard that timing is everything? Since the superintendent is the Board of Trustees’ only employee, the selection of a new superintendent is clearly one of the Board’s most important responsibilities. Nonetheless, once the Board makes their selection and outlines contract, terms and conditions, it is the Minister of Education who provides final approval for the appointment. The review process by the Ministry can take up to four weeks and so this is why I say timing is everything. The Board is hopeful that this can occur prior to the calling of an election because, once called, the public naming of the new superintendent will be significantly delayed.
Probably the most important factor in my early announcement and quick search process is to ensure an effective transition for the school division. In a perfect world, the incoming superintendent will take on the role of deputy superintendent by August 1st, and I would be able to work with the individual for five months. The deputy role in the school division is highly concentrated in human resources. This initial placement would enable the successful candidate to better understand division practices and procedures and, more importantly, get to know the people. Since all systems have a resident culture, those five months will also allow the individual to become fully immersed before taking over in 2020.
There have only been three superintendents since Holy Spirit became a regional division in 1995. It is not a common occurrence for boards to hire superintendents, but ensuring the right one is chosen is essential. I’ve had a great run during these past 10 years, but it is now time for another person to take on this exciting leadership role. Fingers crossed, the transition plan established will empower the new leader to, not only build on the division’s current strengths, but to enhance and bring new life into the system, as required.
It still amazes me there are leaders who don’t believe in the importance of fostering effective relationships with their people. And when I say people, I just don’t mean their direct reports but as many as possible within the organization. While I understand that may be impossible in larger corporations or school divisions, it should always be a priority.
Michael Fullan talks about “loving your employees” and I think that in order to love them, you must know them and they must know you. Let’s begin with the second part of that equation, “and they must know you!” Wait, wait, here comes that word…VULNERABILITY! Oh, Brene Brown would be so proud! In order to get to a point where you can really know someone, their hopes and their dreams, they need to know your authentic self. They need to know who you really are and what you stand for. I’m not talking about sharing your inner most secrets or your personal demons but quite honestly, they need to know you! While I may hold the leadership position of Superintendent of Schools, I’m also a son, husband, father and very proud grandpa of two amazing grandchildren. My staff and I would suggest a good portion of my network knows more about me than just simply being a superintendent. And that is where it must start, the beginning of an effective relationship, with trust and vulnerability extended from the leader!
For the past six years I’ve held future plan meetings with every administrator (central office and school) in our division. In someone who believes in moving people around, it provides me with some great insights for possible transfers and so it is extremely helpful for the organization. Getting people not only on the right bus but the right seat on the bus is essential. But the power of the exercise is the knowledge of your people’s plans and then seeing how you as a leader might assist them in fulfilling those plans. Simple questions that ask about future plans, growth areas, opportunities and barriers and successes and challenges all allow the leader to know their employees better. While my meetings are fairly structured, the idea is to portray the conversations as simply “fireside chats.” The more honest they are with you, the more you are able to support their development and sometimes, just get them “unstuck.”
I’m reminded that these types of chats don’t arise without a significant investment in trust building by the leader. You can’t get to that rawness without it! It is the rawness that you need in order to truly know your people and assist them in their own growth. And please don’t confuse “rawness” with the need to become a counsellor. You are coaching at best and listening at the very least, which is often what is just required.
The vulnerability scale for your people is on a continuum. Sometimes, employees are so tight-lipped (and for many reasons) that your ability to coach and sometimes just listen are limited. Sad and very frustrating but the building of trusting relationships is unique for every person, with some it requires a little more flexibility and a lot more skill. No matter, keep trying to know your people…they deserve it!