Saturday, March 28, 2015

Cultivating a Servant's Habits and Sharing our Catholic Vision

After our last leadership session, I took the time to reflect upon the two following expectations from the Catholic Leadership Framework:

Building Relationships and Developing People
Building trusting relationships with and among staff, students and parents Catholic school leaders:
• create and sustain a caring Catholic school culture

Setting Directions
Communicating the vision and goals Catholic school leaders:
• ensure that a Catholic vision is clearly articulated, shared, understood, and acted upon

One of our readings for the session was highlighted in a reflective activity about 'cultivating a servant's habits'. The activity proved to be quite thought provoking for me. We have no better model than Jesus Christ when it comes to servant leadership and living a life that is God-centered. I may never be as focused and selfless as Jesus but I can certainly work towards moving closer to the ideal He gave to us. In our course text, Phelps provides us with nine habits that will help us refocus, recalibrate, and recommit ourselves on a daily basis in order to move closer to the ideal that Jesus provided us with:

  • Practice solitude.
  • Pray daily.
  • Read Scripture.
  • Worship and receive the sacraments regularly.
  • Explore the lives and reflections of saints and Christian scholars.
  • Consider sacramentals and devotions that flourish in the Church.
  • Accept and model unconditional love.
  • Serve others.
  • Build community. 

For me, the nine habits mentioned above provide wonderful opportunities to create and sustain a caring Catholic school and ensure that our Catholic vision is clearly articulated, shared, understood and acted upon. As Catholic educators, we weave in and out of the habits that Phelps refers to. The key, as I understand it, is to make them part of our everyday lives. This is no small task, but like any other habit it takes time and commitment to build in routines.

Now that I have a good grip on what the habits are and why they are useful/powerful in helping me cultivate a servant's habits, I reflect on what I am currently doing and what I could start doing in order to benefit my school community. How can I further assist (because there are many amazing things in place already) my school community (staff, students, parents) in sustaining a caring environment with a Catholic vision that is understood and acted upon?

The first thing I think of is the Pastoral team at my school. I can check in with them to see if I can assist - if I can serve in a way that will encourage others to participate and possibly serve as well. For many years, at different schools, I have been a member of the Pastoral team. I feel like the experience I am going through right now is a call to return to that type of service in my current school.

The second thing I thought of is our school's social networking website (Edmodo) that we use to communicate announcements to our staff and students. It would be a great way to provide scripture that is relevant to what we are doing and links to Christian scholars and Saints. It is a small step that I can build into my life while providing staff and students an opportunity to adopt into their lives.

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The third thing I thought of is the use of Twitter as a tool used to communicate to the masses. With the proliferation of technology, specifically mobile technologies, many people have access to such a simple yet powerful software that can keep them informed of our caring and Catholic vision through the use of photos, video, and text. I currently use Twitter 1) personally and professionally for my own sharing and learning, 2) I have an account for my class to keep parents informed of the real time learning that their children are experiencing, and 3) I tweet food for thought to help staff and students reflect on their faith journey from @WCDSBFaith. Our Catholic school system is valuable and I have found Twitter to be an excellent way to spread our unique and amazing vision of inclusion and achievement.


I have spoken to my Principal about the creation of a school account in order to share the wonderful things happening in our school and to be a model for others who are weary to adopt this type of practice. I'm pleased that he is interested and has it on his radar as he moves forward on his personal journey at our school.

I am always appreciative of the spark provided by the leadership program that ignites my reflection around my journey as a leader. This blog post reflection has offered me some great insight about what I am doing and what I can do in order to in order to align my practice with the Catholic leadership expectations. As we enter into Holy Week I see no better time than to focus in on how I can be more like Jesus by serve the people around me and shining His light on them.


Friday, March 6, 2015

Tough Conversations

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I recently reflected on conflict and ideas on how to whether its ill effects. By no means am I anywhere near comfortable with conflict, but I think that awareness provides me with an opportunity to learn more about what I can do to deal with it effectively when it pops up.

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Our last leadership session focused on having hard coaching conversations - which can come from or lead to conflict. It's a heavy duty topic in my opinion but an important one to address and discuss. One of the first things that was established was a point of view that can provide clarity and comfort around having tough conversations. If tough conversations are perceived as opportunities to foster growth and develop cognitive capacity then who wouldn't want to engage in such practices? The trick to all of this (if I can call it that) is/are the relationships we have with our colleagues and our students. A good relationship will certainly allow for a tough conversation to be interpreted as a caring or 'tough love' conversation that is meant to assist. A weak relationship leaves people feeling defensive and hurt. Again, we are reminded that building positive relationships is a key ingredient to any of our pursuits in life.

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The key learning I take away from this portion of the leadership program revolves around what are referred to as "Tools for Coaching" - four ingredients (purpose, presence, rapport, pausing-paraphrasing) that can assist with hard conversations by reminding us that 1) all people have dignity and giftedness that allow them to make valuable contributions to their community; 2) we are made to exist in relationship with one another and that relationships require learning and growth; 3) institutions should serve people and not the other way around; and 4) lasting change comes from encouraging growth in others.

With this new learning we were encouraged to seek out opportunities to practice the skills, notice the how our interactions begin to change, refine our skills based on our reflections, and extend our skills.

Through the lens of the Catholic Leadership Framework, the following expectations stand out to me as I engage in building trusting relationships where tough conversations would be perceived as beneficial rather than harmful:

  • encourage staff to be innovative in helping students meet expectations (setting directions)
  • acknowledge and celebrate the accomplishments of individuals and teams (building relationships and developing people) 
  • build upon and respond to individual staff members’ unique needs and expertise (building relationships and developing people) 
  • foster mutual respect and trust among those involved in collaboration (developing the organization to support desired practices)
  • encourage the collaborative development of group processes and outcomes (developing the organization to support desired practices)
  • provide advice to teachers about how to solve classroom problems by supporting a solution-focused learning environment based on Catholic values (improving the instructional program)
  • assess their own contributions to school achievements and take into account feedback from others on their performance (securing accountability)

The "Tools for Coaching" and the above mentioned expectations have been at the forefront of many of my interactions with my close colleagues. There have been some tough conversations - initiated by me and initiated by others towards me. I have found that having an understanding and awareness around this topic to be quite valuable. Combined with good working relationships, there is a lot of growth that seems to be benefiting everyone involved.

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I have also been involved in difficult interactions where I didn't feel valued as a colleague. In those circumstances I initially felt upset and defensive. I found myself engaged in self talk about what I could do to lessen the ill effects of a tough conversation where  rapport and presence did not seem to be part of the equation. Interestingly enough, I found myself falling back on the habits of a servant and how I could salvage the situation. Luckily, I haven't found myself in too many of these situations but I have spent time reflecting on them and the positive that I could extract from them.