In support of Catholic Education

The following blog post was written for and published in the Lethbridge Herald on November 14, 2018.

In late October, the Public Schools’ Boards Association of Alberta (PSBAA) initiated a campaign to consolidate all education into one publicly funded system. In essence, they are desiring one system that would effectively provide parents with no choice in educating their children. For those of us in Catholic Education, this is certainly not new. The threat to Catholic Education is part of our history and can be traced back all the way to Egerton Ryerson. However, the attacks and the rhetoric around this cause are becoming increasingly alarming.

From a quick glance this might seem like a great idea. Proponents will tell you that this could be a means of saving money, which could serve students better.  The research, however, suggests that merging school districts could actually cost more to run. Remember when we moved to one health care board for the province? Money was certainly not saved and service was not impacted in the positive. Bigger does not necessarily mean better.

If you were to simply make judgments from what you read or hear in some media outlets, you would believe that the current education system is failing our students. The fact is that Canada still ranks as one of the best educational systems in the world and Alberta is leading in that charge. In the recent PISA (Programme for International Student Assessment) results, Canada appears in the top 10 for math, science and reading. But more impressive is that our high standing is offered almost exclusively through public education to one of the most diverse populations in the world.

Parental choice would be lost if we regressed to only one publicly funded system. Currently, parents in the Province of Alberta have the ability to choose (within some parameters) which publicly funded school system (Public, Separate or Francophone) they desire for their children. Parents wishing to access the Francophone system must meet the requirements set forth in section 23 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. For the Public or Separate (Catholic) systems, the parameter lies in residency, space and resource availability, as well as a desire for a faith based education or not. The opportunity to choose any of the three systems comes without the necessity of tuition fees, as is the case for private schooling. Parents desiring a faith based education rooted in the Gospel values for their children have the ability to access the Catholic system. This opportunity is provided to both Catholic and non-Catholic students. It is an option that continually motivates Public, Separate and Francophone divisions to provide an educational product that benefits students and the communities they live in, and also promotes system competition.

This healthy competition would be eliminated if only one system existed; and monopolies, even in education, are seldom beneficial to a population. Educational funding is based on student enrolment and therefore school divisions are continually seeking improvements to attract or simply maintain students. There is a natural competition that develops as each system strives to enhance programming and facilities. As each division seeks improvement, the bar is raised resulting in students and communities being the benefactors of this competition.

Just as important as the competition is the strong collaboration that develops through strong working relationships with neighbouring school divisions. These relationships create partnerships like dual credit opportunities, career planning and transportation that further enhance advantages for all students. The school divisions in Southwest Alberta have developed strong collegial relationships, as demonstrated by these partnership opportunities. Excellent practices have been shared, co-created and taught to one another to ensure that students in the area are receiving the highest quality of education available.

While some may view Catholic Education as an option it must also be recognized as a right since it is constitutionally protected. Catholic schools have been in existence for over 130 years in the province. It has and continues to serve the citizens of Alberta, both Catholic and non-Catholic, with high quality education. To lose this right, option or choice would not benefit our province and the students we educate and, in the end, that is what education is called to do!

Effective School Councils

A couple of weeks back, our school division invited a representative from the Alberta School Councils’ Association to provide a workshop on some of the functions of school councils. The presentation reminded me of the important work that should be done by this group but often gets lost because of well -intentioned volunteerism. I don’t believe that staffs will ever say no to the work that many of our parents do in schools today but, the true essence of their role is far more reaching than simple involvement.

One of the non-negotiable roles for school councils and parents in general, is being well-informed about school/division goals, results, and the strategies that are being implemented to enhance the quality of education for their children.  They should at the very least also have a general understanding of the state of education.

Pause: Look at your last school council meeting and see how much time was devoted to discussing the above.

Part of the issue is that most of us in education are quite content with the high level of involvement and volunteerism and shy away from the “meatier” topics. The flip side is that many parents don’t really want to be highly engaged in things like school plans and budgets because they just really want to help out. Neither of those are necessarily wrong but I think we can do better!

To begin with, schools need to communicate without using a bunch of “edubabble.” One of the courses I teach for Gonzaga University is Educational Leadership and School Improvement.” I constantly remind my students (and my own staff) to “keep it simple.” Ensure that the language you are providing makes sense and is easily understood by parents, the general population and your own staff. Fancy education terms may look great on paper but, if your parents don’t understand them, schools have lost a tremendous opportunity to engage. Schools must also be able to provide multiple types of results (i.e. not just large-scale standardized assessments) for parents to review and ask questions. One piece of data that schools have not leveraged well is that of improvement. The media tend to love to communicate low achievement results without any context.  For example, if you have a class where 50% of students writing a standardized assessment are not at grade level, why would you assume that they should suddenly be at grade level on the test? However, what a powerful and motivational message when schools communicate to parents the growth and the closing of the gap that occurred from one year to the next.

We recognize the importance of fostering a strong partnership between home and school and so school council questions, parent inquiries and/or teacher requests should never to accusatory in nature. I always ask our schools to review any results through an “autopsy without blame” lens. Pointing fingers or making excuses never leads to positive conversations. Instead, I would suggest pluralistic questions like the ones below. These questions might assist school council members and parents as a whole in gaining a better understanding of their child’s education, the school’s results and education as a whole.

  1. What might be some reasons for these results? (positive or negative)
  2. What trends are you seeing in the data?
  3. What are some key strategies that you will be focusing on in the coming year? What might be some results you’ll be hoping for with the implementation of these strategies?
  4. What are some of the school’s greatest strengths? What are some of the school’s greatest areas for growth?
  5. What are some ways that I might be able to assist in my own child’s learning?
  6. What are some of the trends in education? What are some of the things the school is doing to best prepare students for an ever-changing future?
  7. What types of professional learning is the staff engaging to impact their own practice?

This is certainly not an exhaustive list but it does provide for some focused discussion around the school council table. When we can get to this level, school councils are not simply involved but rather they are engaged and can contribute the effectiveness of schools themselves. In the end, we all want high quality learning for our students and school councils that are effective in their roles, can contribute to that goal!



Catholic Education Sunday- November 2018

The following message will be read at all masses this coming weekend in recognition and celebration of Catholic Education.

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.

Our Alberta Bishops have provided the theme for this Catholic Education Sunday as, “Rejoice and Be Glad,” and have linked their letter directly from the writings of Pope Francis. His Holiness acknowledges that Catholic schools play a critical role in helping children know Christ. For some of our students, their Catholic schools are an extension of the Church. But for many, their Catholic School is their only church. This may seem like a sad statement but it highlights the importance of Catholic schools in assisting students in their own faith journey.

While education quality, school improvement, program of studies and academics must always be part of a strong publicly funded education system, it is our division’s first goal that makes us unique: “Staff and students will grow in their faith and experience the richness of Catholic Education.” This is where our schools respond to the words of Pope Francis and nurture the call to holiness for our children and youth.

Holy Spirit is currently in the last year of our three year faith plan. Our year one theme, “Rooted in Christ,” called our staff and students to read and reflect on the weekly Gospels and increase the permeation of scripture into the program of studies, school programs and activities. In year 2, “Growing in Spirit,” we were called to know Jesus even better through scripture and to deepen our experience in prayer. Our faith theme for this year is, “Sharing our Bounty,” and it is one of gratitude.  Pope Francis says, “Wake up the world! Be witnesses of a different way of doing things, of acting, of living! It is possible to live differently in this world.” Schools will focus on the giving of their time, talents and treasures to the greater community since we understand that we serve God when we serve others.

What a wonderful gift Catholic Education provides for our staff, students, families and communities. Sadly, the threats to publicly funded Catholic Education continue to intensify. The Public School Boards’ Association of Alberta has recently begun a campaign that would see the amalgamation of public and Catholic school divisions into one. Some governments have called Catholic Education archaic and the secular world continues to see no value in faith based education or parental choice. This is not acceptable!

In today’s bulletin you will find an insert that showcases our school division’s work to bring Christ into the lives of our students and promote the richness of Catholic Education. You will also find information on GrACE, which is an advocacy group for Catholic Education. Please read these inserts and become involved in supporting the continuation of publicly funded Catholic Education in this province.

In years past we’ve always asked for your prayers for all those involved in Catholic Education. But today, we also ask for your vigilance in standing up and informing those around you of the importance of Catholic Education. Let us not lose the gift of Catholic Education because of external forces or apathy, but rather be committed to passionately supporting a system that places Christ, the witness of faith and the teachings of the Catholic Church at the center of all that we do! Have a wonderful Catholic Education Sunday and God Bless!

From the Desk of the Superintendent- November 2018

November 1st! If you are reading my monthly message this day, I’m sure you have (especially in the elementary grades) a whole bunch of “sugared up” kids! Happy day after Halloween.

I want to begin this month’s message with a look back at some important events that occurred in October. The Board of Trustees held their annual organizational meeting on October 24th and I’m pleased to announce that both Judy Lane (Chair) and Bob Spitzig (Vice Chair) were acclaimed in their positions. This will be their second term and both continue to exemplify the tradition of strong board leaders that has been evident for my entire tenure at Holy Spirit. Anita Lethbridge-Gross provided the trustees with a short presentation on “Mental Health Literacy” which was well received and potentially a stronger priority in years to come. I provided the Board with a review of our Accountability Pillar Summary including our exam results. We continue to show great improvements overall in the division and in fact, this pillar report is one of the best in the last ten years. These results can only be attributed to the excellent leaders, teachers and support staff throughout the division. Continuous improvement, innovative practice and looking outside the box are characteristics of our system and they provide the necessary drive toward excellence. Well done everyone! For more information on the rest of the board meeting, click here.

On that topic, I want to talk a little about our process for school continuous improvement plans. Over the years, these meetings have become far more intentional as schools discuss what they will actually be doing to meet goals rather than simply providing a compliance document. We’ve really been able to focus on a multitude of data (provincial and local) to guide our improvement work. Each school was asked the following five questions:

  1. Tell us about your data story? What information have you reviewed in preparation for this meeting and what is it telling you? Based on the data, what are your school’s greatest strengths and greatest areas for growth?
  2. When you think about your school’s work on the Board’s faith goal, what are some strategies that you will initiate this year that are different from the previous years? What data, information or evidence has led you to those adjustments?
  3. When you think about your school’s work on the Board’s literacy/numeracy goal, what are some strategies that you will initiate this year that are different from the previous years? What data, information or evidence has led you to those adjustments?
  4. When you think about your school’s work on the Board’s First Nations, Metis and Inuit goal, what are some strategies that you will initiate this year that are different from the previous years? What data, information or evidence has led you to those adjustments?
  5. At the end of this school year, what will you accept that you were successful in achieving the Board’s three priorities?

The data story is probably the most important part of the review and one that must be told to our parent communities. It provides a context to the results without making excuses and allows schools to look for opportunities for growth. Since this is the last year of our current 3-Year Education and Faith Plan it is important for us to look forward and have a sense of what success looks like in June 2019. Many schools engaged in pre-mortem exercises at the beginning of the year to identify potential barriers and then made adjustments to address priorities. When done well the cycle for continuous improvement is a powerful tool and one that Holy Spirit never ceases to refine.

This coming weekend we celebrate Catholic Education Sunday. Given the increasing threat to publicly funded Catholic Education it is important that we recognize the gift we have in Alberta and openly stand up  for our continued existence. I will be providing my message to you later this week and would ask that you read it, reflect and respond accordingly. Be proud when you receive your blessing this coming weekend at mass, as all of us, no matter our roles have a part to play.

Finally I want to express my excitement of our upcoming Division Professional Learning Day. The strength of our schools lies in the strength of our division. With a focus on collaboration throughout the system (grade or subject level) we are building lateral capacity. We have long known that we have expertise throughout the division that needs to be shared so that all students benefit. I’m looking forward to the various opportunities for collaboration on November 13th.

This message is longer than my usual and so I’ll sign off by extending my gratitude to all in our division. Thank you for the work you do to support student success. You do great work! Enjoy your November and God Bless!

Preparing for a very different future!

The following blog post was written for the Lethbridge Herald on October 3, 2018.

Last week, Holy Spirit hosted an event with Apple Canada entitled, “Preparing students for today’s mobile workplace.” Our division was well supported through the attendance of board members, senior and school leaders and students. The conversation about preparing students for the future is of critical importance, not just for educators but business and industry and the general public at large. So it was refreshing that some of our local leaders were able to be present.

Why is it so important for business and industry to be present and, more importantly, involved in this conversation? In the just released report, Humans Wanted – How Canadian youth can thrive in the age of disruption, RBC predicts that, “more than 25% of Canadian jobs will be heavily disrupted by technology in the coming decade. Fully half will go through a significant overhaul of the skills required.” Disruption most commonly means automation and a significant overhaul of skills is complete re-training.

Even with the Canadian economy expected to grow by 2.4 million jobs over the next four years, much different skills will be required for workers to stay employed and employers to remain competitive in the global market. Unfortunately, the paper suggests that, “Canada’s education system, training programs and labour market initiatives are inadequately designed to help Canadian youth navigate this new skills economy.” Arguably, Canada (when you factor in that most students access publicly funded education and we educate one of the most diverse populations) has the best K-12 education system in the world and our post-secondary system ranks well too! But even with these strong supports, our youth will be left unable to transition from one career to another without a more concentrated effort on skill development. And it doesn’t get better as the report further suggests that, “Canadian employers are generally not prepared, through hiring, training or retraining, to recruit and develop the skills needed to make their organizations more competitive in a digital economy.”

Canada is a small country and, with the speed of technological change occurring, we must get ahead of the curve to stay globally competitive. That means that our students need digital fluency at a level that is far more in depth than simply searching for something on Google or interacting with the latest social media tool. We need students and youth to be critical thinkers in cross disciplines with the ability to see interconnections. Future jobs will require employees who can think outside the box, are resilient and adaptable. We must be constantly and collectively building for tomorrow.

Our solutions must revolve around collaborative partnerships between education, business and industry. We can ill-afford to fall into an “if only” mentality or the blame game. Rather, we must begin having productive discussions on how we can eliminate our silo thinking and look at learning through life instead of just learning in school. They say the youth is our future and, if we want to demonstrate our belief in that statement, we need to invest in them now at all levels and in all areas.

From the Desk of the Superintendent- October 2018

On Friday, like so many of our schools, we honored Orange Shirt Day at St. Basil Catholic Education Centre. As part of the day, we engaged all of our central office staff in the Blanket Exercise. It was powerful learning for all! This is my second time through the exercise and I was struck by my new learning. I’ve long spoken about my own perspective on the impacts of Residential Schools and while that was not new for me, this time it hit home even deeper. I cannot imagine as a father and grandfather being forced to give up the opportunity to raise my own children/grandchildren and knowing that all of my family traditions, language and culture would be seen and taught as evil! But my new learning came around the subject that I would call “white arrogance.”  We assume like our European ancestors, that our ways of living and/or governing are the correct way and all other forms are less suitable or worse unacceptable. Our indigenous peoples had strong societal norms when Europeans came to their country. They governed well, shared better than any previous culture and lived a whole life. But because it was different from the monarchy driven society the first immigrants came from, it was seen as “savage.” What a mess we’ve created by arrogantly believing that what we do or how we act is the only right way! This is our time, especially as a Catholic School Division to right the wrongs, to act with compassion and to commit to social justice not half way around the world but in our own backyard.   

We started the year on a great note, beginning with our opening mass and carrying on with various professional learning opportunities. Unfortunately, our enrollment projections didn’t quite get to where we had hoped, although we still had a slight increase overall from last year. We had over 100 families move out of the area to different parts of Alberta or Canada, which likely signifies that we have places within our boundaries that the economy is not particularly strong. This migration out certainly impacts our smaller rural schools but it has a negative net effect as well. This is not to say that we didn’t have some strong growth areas, like west Lethbridge, but without the announcement of a new school soon, we won’t be able to accommodate any further growth.

The announcement of the continuation of the Classroom Improvement Fund (CIF) from last year with the sole target of staffing will assist in supporting schools. Our proposal to the government calls for an increase of 2-3 FTE teaching staff and between 7-10 FTE support staff to assist students with the most complex needs. Last year’s CIF report has been sent into the government as well. The $636,000 of funding was allocated as follows:

  • Teachers- $247,143
  • Support Staff- $77,077
  •  PD (Registrations, Travel, etc)- $58,499
  • Substitute costs $112,127
  • Resources/Technology- $141,430

Last year, were able to leverage these funds very well, especially in supporting our literacy and numeracy priority. Our elementary schools have a great baseline with Fountas & Pinnell materials and our literacy/numeracy interventions are becoming stronger and more effective with this support. With the first continuous improvement plan reviews just around the corner, I’m excited to hear about the great work occurring in our schools in this final year of our 3-Year Education Plan.

We are living in a very different world and unfortunately are experiencing more litigious paranoia. That doesn’t mean however,  that new legislation is necessarily bad or risky practices should not be eliminated. And so on September 20th, all staff received an email with your first personal list of Health and Safety Courses required to be completed by December 31st. I have 14 on my to do list and recognize that this is now, just part of a “new professional responsibility.” I believe that health and safety has always been in the forefront for our school division but with the legislation now in effect, it takes on a more compliant priority. October 17th is going to be a big day as well because on that day, cannabis becomes legal. And legal, is how we are going to have to maneuver through it. On Tuesday this week, I’ll be sharing the legal opinion and newest administrative procedure being developed. Not why I became an educator but is now part of our world!

But let’s get back to celebrating the “good” stuff. I was headhunted earlier this September for a superintendent job out of the province. And while there were significant advantages, namely monetary, the bottom line is that I love my job, the people I work with and I know that I’m blessed to be part of Holy Spirit Catholic School Division.  Each of you contribute, in your own way, to making the lives of our students and their families better. That’s a blessing and why I am always to proud to call Holy Spirit, home!

Have a great year everyone and God Bless!


A Mobile, Skilled Workforce

This morning, I read the RBC document, Humans Wanted- How Canadian youth can thrive in the age of disruption. It is a fascinating read for politicians, business and industry leaders, post-secondary and K-12 educators. I would suggest that it is important for the general public to understand this skill crisis  facing our Canadian youth. However, it is especially critical that the “back to the basic pundits” (who want to have schools teach how they were taught and content they are familiar with) are knowledgeable that “Canada’s education system, training programs and labour market initiatives are inadequately designed to help Canadian youth navigate this new skills economy.” (pg 3)

Interesting enough, our school division is hosting an Apple event this coming Wednesday entitled, Preparing Students for Today’s Mobile Workforce.  While a small conversation will be had, the topic needs to be highlighted with more intention and greater intensity, if we want our youth to be gainfully employed into the future rather than being automated out! But what does that look like for the 2.4 million forecasted job openings between 2018-2021?

First of all, the top five projected skills demand for all occupations are: Active Listening, Speaking, Critical Thinking, Reading Comprehension and Monitoring. (pg 12) Communication and critical thinking, two of the big three C’s are crucial in all occupations. And breadth of skills is said to be more critical than proficiency. As Montreal IT conglomerate CGI says, “We look for people who can go wide and then go deep.” (pg 35)

Among cross-functional skills, which help us perform more complicated tasks, our research shows that social skills such as co-ordination and social perceptiveness will be nearly as important across all occupations, followed by analytical skills such as judgment and decision-making. (pg 16)

Social skills, imagine that!

In the report, a decision is made to  group occupations into six broad clusters: Solvers, Providers, Facilitators, Technicians, Crafters and Doers and provide their vulnerability for technology disruption. Technology is not going away and the future of work in Canada and throughout the world is changing. They provide six things that you need to know about the future of work which supports the shift to these new skills while still recognizing the importance of education traditions. (pg 26-27)

  1. Analytics are trending
  2. Math is a big plus
  3. Firms want flexibility
  4. Digital is non-negotiable
  5. The three C’s are crucial
  6. Mobility is a thing

I’ve always contended that the learning of foundational skills, literacy and numeracy are non-negotiable in any education system. But they need to be taught in such a way to enhance other skills that are becoming increasingly important in today’s world. “We need to build resilient, persevering young people who are fluent in cultural diversity” says Paul Davidson from Universities Canada.

Instead of training people for the certainties of the past, we need to help them prepare for the ambiguities of the future. Which means preparing youth to work with knowledge that doesn’t yet exist, using practices that haven’t been developed and thinking about jobs that have yet to be created. (pg 35)

Our current provincial/national assessment practices can somewhat provide politicians and the general public with accountability in meeting standards of reading, writing and arithmetic. But, so many of the other skills that are necessary for future success are less able to be formally assessed. School systems need some flexibility in accountability procedures to allow for richer and more authentic learning opportunities. “The Canadian economy is expected to add 2.4 million jobs over the next four years, all of which will require this new mix of skills.” (pg 3) School systems, simply must be allowed to prepare for this realization… NOW!

Grandparents and early learning

Last week, I was able to spend a day with our two grandchildren, Carter, a little over 2 1/2 years old and his sister Emerson who is now 3 1/2 months old. While I played with our own two children when they were that age, my body of knowledge (even as a teacher at the time) of early learning was limited. Being high school trained, early learning was never part of my education. You might say, that I was even a little uppity (as most high school teachers were at  that time) to “those teachers” who taught kindergarten or even elementary grades.

I’ve always been very comfortable around young ones. In other words babies don’t scare me. People that I work with know my baby rule, which states, “When babies come to central office, my office is their first stop.” But being comfortable around young ones is not enough when it comes to the importance of early learning. I’ve only become better informed since our Division started working with the likes of Dr. Robbin Gibb from the University of Lethbridge and the Palix Foundation. Their work with the Alberta Family Wellness Initiative has provided some of the best resources for parents, grandparents and dare I say community leaders throughout. How Brains are Built: The Core Story of Brain Development is a must introductory watch for all.

But now let’s get back to grandparents and early learning. One thing for sure, I certainly have more dedicated time to spend with our grandchildren than I did as a parent with our own children. And, for some reason, I have more patience and don’t get nearly as stressed out about non-perfect behaviour. Two-year olds are going to be two-year olds because that is part of how they develop. They don’t wake up every morning and think, “How am I going to annoy mommy, daddy, caregiver today?” I know that is hard for parents to understand when it is their child who is screaming at the top of his/her lungs wanting that toy, etc. And worse, are the looks from those who believe that their own children never behaved that way or the insinuation that if the parents were only more strict those tantrums wouldn’t occur! Yeah right!!! Shame on any of you who judge parents in those situations!

As a grandparent I can simply be more present. I get to play and teach at the same time with far greater patience with not an expectation of rules but rather fun, laughter and learning. When I play with Play-Doh with my grandson, I get to ask, “How many planes did we make and let’s count them” or “What color is that car?” or “What sound does the train make?” When I hold my granddaughter in my lap, I gaze into her eyes and ask her to tell me a story or play peek-a-boo or just cuddle her so she knows that she is safe. And it goes without saying that story time is a must!

I know that our society has put such burdens on parents these days that just being present to their children in natural play is very difficult. While I hope that desire of parents to be present to their children and to be their child’s first educators is never ignored or omitted, grandparents have a great ability to impact early learning by getting involved and supporting the toughest and most important job of parenting. It is a great gift and I can’t wait for the next time to interact with our two grandchildren.


Leading and Learning

Leaders do! They lead by doing! Take a look at their work plans and it is evident that they work diligently in leading their organizations. For many years now, I’ve met with our school and system leaders to review their professional growth plans. Invariably, I get a great plan from them, carefully outlining the work they would be pursuing in the coming year to improve their school or department. It took a fair amount of effort for me to refocus their plans from what they were going to do or lead to what they were going to learn.  That effort has not been lost on me as I try to communicate a growth plan rather than a work plan to my own Board of Trustees.

I often believe that we get so busy leading that we forget to learn. We work so hard at implementing ideas, building collaborative environments and searching for innovative practices that we forget the importance of learning ourselves. It is not because we have become satisfied with being learned, it is that we are typically too damn busy leading! But wait, aren’t we constantly asking our staffs to be learners and if that is our request, then shouldn’t we be role models of learning?

This visual came across my Twitter feed this morning and speaks exactly to what I mean. Leaders, the very best leaders need to be learners at all times and in all occasions. Simply “doing” is not good enough and even more frightening is an ego based belief that we don’t need to know anything more. No matter your talent, you will hit a plateau (and sometimes a pretty low plateau) if you are not constantly learning to be a better leader.

“In times of change, learners inherit the earth while the learned find themselves beautifully equipped to deal with a world that no longer exists.” – Eric Hoffer


Leadership practice has changed considerably over the last number decades. The days of intimidation, threats and unilateral decision making “should be” almost extinct, even if a certain president continues that practice. Just as coaches have a different athlete today, leaders have different employees who will not or should not follow simply because they’ve been told. What we may have done years ago (learned) may not be overly successful in our current environments. The result is that leaders must strike the balance in the work they do (leading) and their own personal growth (learning).

This year, we’ve been able to utilize a Practice Profile based on competencies for both our school and system leaders. A set of indicators has been provided and individual leaders are also able to add indicators based on their own practice. An indicator in our standards document is defined as, “actions that are likely to lead to the achievement of a competency and which, together with the competency, are measurable and observable.” (Alberta Education Leadership Quality Standard) From there, they are able to be reflective on their own evidence in practice leading to potential areas of growth that are generally self selected.

Leading and learning are intertwined for leaders and without equal focus on both, neither will be exceptional. Excellent organizations require excellent leaders and excellent leaders need to be committed learners.


Eliminating Excuses- Pre-Mortem Activity

Let’s be honest, we all make excuses. It is really difficult to accept our own failures and much easier to lay blame on something or someone else. This is especially prevalent in team environments. In her book, Teach Your Team to Fish, Laurie Beth Jones states, “Fewer than 15% of team blockages are caused by external factors- or ‘them.’ Yet these are the variables that consumes 90% of the team’s vital thought time.”

We want to believe that the problem is out there and it is someone else’s job to solve it. Left unbridled, we fall into the trap of employing “if only” strategies or simply making excuses. Don’t get me wrong, there are valid excuses, but we are in trouble if that is our default position. Leaders need to find ways to eliminate or at the very least, minimize excuses for not achieving goals and priorities.

An interesting and proactive approach to eliminating excuses is an activity that I led my leaders through last week called Pre-Mortem. The activity begins by listing the goals you want to achieve in a given time frame on the top of a T-chart. Groups brainstorm and respond to the following question, “What might be some reasons why at the end of year (or whatever time frame) we have not achieved this goal?”  Each possible reason is recorded on the left side of the chart. Then groups are asked to come up with at least one strategy to address each of the reasons for not achieving the intended goal and write them on the right side of the chart. The premise is if you know the barriers of achieving your goals to begin with you can initiate strategies to address them early.  The listed strategies now become part of your plan and provide a more targeted approach for success.

The last piece of the activity that I employed with my leaders was to review the chart below and have them define whether the reasons for not succeeding were problems or conditions? This is an important part of the exercise because too often we get stuck in trying to find solutions that are simply beyond our influence or are really not that much of an issue.

These are issues…

  • Within our sphere of influence or control.
  • That we want to spend time and resources on.
  • That can be resolved.
These are issues…

  • Over which we have not influence or control.
  • That we do not have enough resources to change.
  • That we do not want to change at this time.
Barth, R., Darnell, B., Lipton, LO. and Wellman, B. (2003) Guide for Instructional Leaders, Guide 1: An ASCD Action Tool

The main purpose of this activity is to really hone in on effective strategies that will see your goals better met and many of your excuses eliminated. It is not full proof, nothing ever is but it does bring attention to what you can do as opposed to what you can’t.

Finally, I would like to say that I invented this activity but the truth is I was led through it myself working with a provincial group on Adverse Childhood Experiences. The beauty is that it can be utilized in any sector, business, education or non-profit. Give it a try and see what happens to your end results!!!