Superintendent of Holy Spirit Catholic School Division

Tag: Lethbridge Herald

What Will Remain After Our COVID-19 Anguish?

There is absolutely no question that our current reality is a now normal. One month ago, nobody would have ever thought that we would have to physically distance ourselves from family, friends and colleagues; that we would have to be super vigilant with handwashing and sanitizing frequently touched surfaces to the extent that medical experts are now requiring. Every bit of broadcasted and written news is focused on the Coronavirus (COVID-19) Global Pandemic and how it is wreaking havoc on every community around the world. 

Although not all citizens are taking this deadly illness as seriously as they ought to be, most people are. Self-isolation and adhering to the recommendations and directions from Alberta Health and other government authorities needs to be everyone’s number one priority. These people are the experts in the field, going to all ends of the earth to provide us the safest and healthiest environment, and we need to follow their direction. 

While this pandemic crisis is a temporary and worrisome scenario, we will undoubtedly get through it all. It is through stressful situations and unfortunate experiences that our resilience is built, moving us to become a stronger people. I suspect that for many of us, when we look back on all of this turmoil and commotion, we might not even give it much thought, or even remember specific details about COVID-19. 

We don’t need to look far to see the number of beautiful and uplifting stories and random acts of kindness that we have witnessed amidst this crisis. People are volunteering to make care packages for affected citizens and providing donations to charitable organizations. Offering to shop and run errands for neighbours or shut-ins and finding creative and innovative ways of reaching out to friends and families. All of this clearly speaks to our calling to be our brother’s keeper. 

It is well known that strong faith is a significant coping mechanism and can assist people in adapting their lives after a highly stressful life event. Faith helps us better understand these stressors and utilizing our faith assists in the management of the stress itself. There is no question that when we turn to prayer, God is there with us.

Once all the anxiety, worry and uncertainty settle from this world pandemic and things return to a relative degree of normalcy, trust and hope will remain. Where there is life, hope abides – hope in and for the future. We must trust in this new way of being, with a watchful eye to always do the right thing simply because it is the right thing to do. In general, we will have learned a great deal from this turmoil but perhaps most specifically that we will be educating our students with profoundly different approaches and pedagogies. Regardless, let us move forward with our collective wisdom; holding our heads high and looking to tomorrow with optimism, trust and hope.

Written for the Lethbridge Herald’s “Eye on Education” – April 1, 2020

Catholic Education: A Precious Gift

Many families new to Canada in general, and specifically to the province of Alberta, are not aware that Catholic education is publicly funded in Alberta.  Those who come to us from abroad know that, in many cases in their home country, Catholic education or any faith-based education for that matter, comes with very high tuition fee rates in order to access a private education, making it virtually impossible to enroll in any such school system unless one is very wealthy.

Alberta, Saskatchewan and Ontario are the only Canadian provinces where publicly funded taxpayer dollars provide K-12 Catholic education at no costs to families whose children qualify to be educated in our province, whether Catholic or non-Catholic.  Established by the Grey Nuns in 1859, Catholic education began in Lac St. Anne, Alberta more than 160 years ago.  This rich, vibrant tradition has continued to this day. 

Not unlike our public school neighbours, we pride ourselves in providing welcoming, caring, safe and respectful schools as well as a place where literacy, numeracy and critical thinking, amongst other skills, are taught and reinforced on a daily basis.  What distinguishes our Catholic schools from those of the public systems is that our Catholic faith is permeated throughout all curricula and programs.  In so doing, we are not only sharing knowledge, skills and attitudes with our children and students, but more importantly, we are developing and fostering the whole person in terms of body, mind and spirit. 

In our system, and other Catholic jurisdictions across the province, we are guided by Five Marks of a Catholic School.  These fundamental understandings provide the basis of our very existence, beginning with the first, where we believe that each person was created in the image and likeness of God.  As such, we view each and every individual with inherent dignity as a precious child of God.  Our schools have visibly and intentionally marked spaces that allow for prayer and liturgical celebrations.   Our faith is permeated or infused into the academic curriculum within the learner outcomes and teaching strategies.  We view staff as those who provide witness to the Gospel and live as intentional disciples of Jesus Christ.  Further, we recognize that each stakeholder is responsible for the common good.

After 29 years in various Catholic Education divisions, both within Alberta and abroad, I moved to the public system for four years with a small jurisdiction that was very progressive and innovative.  While I truly enjoyed this experience, there was one very noticeable void for me – the ability to practice and declare my faith in schools.   Returning to Holy Spirit Catholic Schools provided the opportunity to share my beliefs about our faith, primarily through the gift of prayer.  When individuals within our community are experiencing troubles and hardships, we collectively turn to God and offer intentions and prayer for them.  How better to support one in need than to offer up a prayer?  What a beautiful and faith-filled gift that Catholic education provides. 

Written for the Lethbridge Herald’s “Eye on Education” –
February 19, 2020

With a Grateful Heart

More so than ever before, educators are called to personalize educational experiences for each and every student in their care.  To the extent that each student is uniquely different, instruction must be differentiated and tailored so as to support each individual student.  In this light, the needs of struggling, average and high-flying academically-oriented students are being addressed.  This diversity provides unique opportunities for teachers and staff who are supporting these children.  However, with all of this, comes a tremendously busy schedule and often an unpredictable set of circumstances and outcomes.

The negative effects of this uncertainty can most definitely be mitigated.  Fostering and nurturing strong interpersonal relationships with students is arguably the single most important responsibility of any educator.  Perhaps equally important to knowing the content material in a given subject area is the importance of developing fundamental relationships.  Once these important relationships are established, then effective pedagogy and instructional practices can be employed to maximize student learning.  In these environments, the initial focus is on the student rather than on the material. As the old adage goes, “Teachers who love teaching teach children to love learning.”

Through all of this, we must constantly reflect upon the many gifts and blessings that have been bestowed upon us.  How very fortunate educators are to be responsible for programming and support to all of these children and youth in our schools.  For many of these students, school is the one secure place that they feel consistently safe, cared for and loved.  This alone is the predominant reason why so many enter this profession; it is a rewarding vocation and something to feel grateful to be called towards.  One of the greatest gifts any educator can receive is for students to willingly share thoughts, stories, interests and goals with them.  Because we are relational by nature, we want our students to keep coming around, asking questions, seeking advice and sharing laughs. All of this is really music to our ears. 

Henry Adams, a famous American historian and educator, tells us that, “A teacher affects eternity; he can never tell where his influence stops.”  As we reflect on our own experiences in school, we are all aware of the influence that a great teacher or support staff has had on us.  As educators, let us take a moment each day to be thankful for the many gifts and blessings that we have received.  I challenge teachers and support staff to express this gift of gratitude to one another regularly and see what kind of a different world we can create together.

Written for the Lethbridge Herald’s “Eye on Education” – January 8, 2020

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