A Priest, A Superintendent and a Gospel Writer Enter a Room…

No this is not the intro to a bad, and probably inappropriate joke, but a synopsis of the learning I have done this week. I had three separate encounters this week that really had an impact on me. The first was at my first Secondary Principals Meeting today. We started with a mass which was celebrated by the new TCDSB “chaplain” Fr. Obinna Ifeanyi. He is an amazing speaker and his confidence and humour is what draw you in and I found myself then captivated by some of his messages of HOPE and family. 

The main line that stuck with me was from a Nigerian philosopher.

I am because We are.

This just hit me like a tonne of bricks and really put into clarity what leadership in education is all about. No one can do it alone and so the collective efforts are the ones that are needed to get things done. The issues that face educators on a daily basis are far too complex for one person to even think about figuring out, much less the simple execution of the everyday is too much to even attempt. “I am because We are.” This rings in my head as the anthem of all leadership but another thought that Father put to us was the other edge to that piercing homily. He said, “Jesus must be the fulcrum of our leadership” You might as well stop reading now because there is really not much more to say about that. IF every leader (and we will talk about who that includes in a second), were to hold that statement close to their hearts, then everything would be fine.

Now as for the title, we get to the Gospel Writer. On the weekend the gospel was Luke’s Prodigal Son and The Lost Sheep. Two of the more famous parables in the Bible and as I listened to them for the 1000th time I started to apply this to my role and to reflect on the particular line, “there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent.” This is such a tough line to reconcile because we as administrators feel the need to reward the kids that succeed and so often the reflex reaction is to punish those that make it so easy to do so. One may even apply that to teachers as you tend to heap praise on those that are constantly involved in things and looking for new and innovative pedagogy, and try your best to avoid the critics that seem hell bent on making your day tougher. Perhaps though the proper approach is to find the joy in the relationship and realize that truly we are all needed to make a difference in the lives of those that need us. Particularly those that students that make helping them so hard. We need to see each other’s opinions, ideas and visions as legitimate and even seek out those voices that differ from ours.

I want to take a step back here though and say that this is not only true of administration. It must also be true of the “critic”. Honestly I am not naturally drawn to the person that spends most of their time looking for the “why not” instead of trying to figure out the “how”. I tend to get my back up with the critic, especially if they do not offer a suggestion, a solution or even effort to reach one. I know that I have to work on that as a leader of any community but I would challenge those critics to reflect on themselves as well. To ask why are they being critical and to guard against the practice of being critical more as a reflex than for a reason. This is the essence of Jesus as well, as his example was to not judge, but to work with others to find solutions and to serve the common good. We ALL need to strive for this.

I know what you are thinking: “It is easy to link a priest and a gospel writer, but where on earth are you going to fit a superintendent?” Stay with me though on this. I had a few encounters with our superintendents this week. Some at our principal meetings today and last night through our boards, Succession Series, designed to assist new administrators with support and networking opportunities. In all these cases it was very refreshing to see the professionalism and work that these people do, and how these opportunities can show what an amazing network of people we have in educational leadership in our board. IT was so comforting to sit around a table and talk with all new principals last night to share our challenges and to know that others are in the same boat. Then, the very next day to sit around a larger table and learn from people that have been in the same boat for a longer amount of time. These opportunities are the result of the work of these superintendents who are trying to create situations that support the needs of administrators across the board. It may feel like we are being pulled in a million different directions at times, and being pulled out of our schools too much, but that sounds a bit too much like the critic. After an exhausting couple of days, I can reflect back on the truth of that statement, “I am because We are” and it makes so much sense.

I will have this slogan put up on my wall in my office and as I see the critics coming I will keep it in mind but I will make it very visible as well so that they can see it and remember that we are all in it for the same reason. If we keep “Jesus as the fulcrum of our leadership” opportunities then we will remember that and then there is really no telling what we can accomplish.

PS. Below is a documentary entitled “I Am Because We Are”. Interesting resource just for people’s consideration.

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