Family Day 2019
The strength of the family lies in its capacity to love and to teach how to love.
~Pope Francis, Amoris Laetitia, 53~
The family plays a special role in our faith. When God sent us the Messiah, Jesus Christ, he sent him as an infant to be part of a family. It is within our family that we are nurtured, learn, and grow, eventually moving on to start our own families. They are a beautiful experience of love, hope, and mercy. In the spring of 2016, Pope Francis wrote the Apostolic Exhortation Amoris Laetitia on love in the family. He begins with the statement that “The joy of love experienced by families is also the joy of the Church (1).” It is a reminder for us that family life is a vocation, and although it has its challenges, it offers great rewards.
As we approach Family Day, it is my great wish for all of your that you enjoy a special day with the people who fill your hearts with the joy of love
Teams, Robots, and Solving Problems
This past weekend saw 6 of our schools competing in the FIRST LEGO League Robotics Edmonton region competition. This event, which is held each January at NAIT is always such fun for our students. They take their knowledge in robotics and use that to compete in various challenges. It is the perfect example of translating learning into real life contexts. Those incredibly valuable skills of teamwork, respect, communication, time management, and problem solving are critical to student success, and, in fact, to adult success as well!
The competition is a wonderful opportunity to increase interest and understanding in STEM and is very popular. This year, approximately 500 students formed over 50 teams; they were supported by over 300 volunteers and 2100 spectators. If you are interested in participating next year or would like more information, please contact John Korassa, who volunteers as the Edmonton Director of FIRST LEGO League or Floriana Bruni-Bossio, who volunteers as the Tournament Registration Co-ordinator. I know that they will be so happy to share their passion for providing this excellent STEM opportunity to students with you.
Congratulations to St. Jerome, Sister Annata Brockman, Monsignor Fee Otterson, and St. Gabriel for winning awards and to all our ECSD teams for your great work this weekend!
Praying for each other: Week of Prayer for Christian Unity
In communities, we always fare far better when members find a place of commonality and then build on those shared values as they move forward and take responsibility for building a more just world. This holds true for communities of all sizes, ranging from the family to the parish to the world.
Each year, from January 18-25, Christians from around the world join together as believers in Christ to pray for unity using a relevant global theme. This year’s theme, Justice and only justice shall you pursue (Deuteronomy 16:18-20), was prepared by Christians from Indonesia. Here is an excerpt from the resources from the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity that sets the context for this year’s theme:
With a population of 265 million, 86% of whom are reckoned to be Muslim, Indonesia is well known as having the largest Muslim population of any country. However, about 10% of Indonesians are Christian from various traditions. In terms of both population and the vast extension of the country Indonesia is the biggest nation in South East Asia. It has more than 17,000 islands, 1,340 different ethnic groups and over 740 local languages and yet is united in its plurality by one national language Bahasa Indonesia. The nation is founded on five principles called Pancasila, with the motto Bhineka Tunggal Ika (Unity in Diversity). Across the diversity of ethnicity, language and religion, Indonesians have lived by the principle of gotong royong which is to live in solidarity and by collaboration. This means sharing in all aspects of life, work, grief and festivities, and regarding all Indonesians as brothers and sisters.
This always fragile harmony is today threatened in new ways. Much of the economic growth that Indonesia has experienced in recent decades has been built on a system that has competition at its heart. This is in stark contrast to the collaboration of gotong royong. Corruption is experienced in many forms. It infects politics and business, often with devastating consequences for the environment. In particular, corruption undermines justice and the implementation of law. Too often those who are supposed to promote justice and protect the weak do the opposite. As a consequence, the gap between the rich and the poor has widened; and so a country rich in resources has the scandal of many people living in poverty. As a traditional Indonesian saying goes, “A mouse dies of hunger in the barn full of rice.” (http://www.vatican.va/roman_curia/pontifical_councils/chrstuni/weeks-prayer-doc/rc_pc_chrstuni_doc_20180621_week-prayer-2019_en.html)
One of the aspects of this week that I find most focusing is that each day is marked by a piece of scripture that challenges us to look at various aspects of our lives through the lens of the theme. Our own Canadian Council of Churches has also created resources for our schools and parishes that reflect our context. Whether you use the Canadian or international resources to guide you in your reflection and prayer this year, I hope that you get a deep sense of that commonality of the belief in justice that we share not only with other Christians, but with so many other faiths in our common home.
Giving Light to All in the House
One of my favorite things to do is to visit schools, sites, and programs to witness first hand how we are meeting diverse student needs. I had just such an opportunity earlier this week when I visited the WestJet hangar with Board Chair Thibert, Education Minister Eggen and students from our new dual credit Aviation Program. It was amazing to witness the possibilities that this type of program creates for students. The Minister shared on Twitter that “This is one of the coolest programs I’ve had the chance to tour!” (12/10/18)
We know that our children and youth have things in their lives that they are passionate about, that they devote endless hours of their personal time exploring, learning about, and practicing. Our ability to offer students a formal educational experience that allows them to take those passions and nurture and develop their abilities in those areas is at the heart of our new foundation statement of Christ-Centred, Competency Based Learning in Edmonton Catholic Schools. In part, that statement says that “Every facet of our learning system is aligned to offer an excellent Catholic education that inspires students to develop the conceptual and procedural understanding needed for successful learning, living, and working in Alberta and beyond.”
The diversity of programs that we offer enables students to capitalize on their God-given gifts and talents, and to reach the fullness of their potential. These programs allow them to be the best that they can be, and to translate their learning to real life application. And isn’t that what we are called to do as Catholics, to nurture our gifts as a tribute to God’s glory: “No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house.” (Mt 5:15) Our programs help students ignite their lamps, and everyone benefits from their light!
The Beauty of the Liturgical Year
As November draws to a close, so does our liturgical year. This special time draws my thoughts to the beauty of our liturgical year and the deep meaning behind our liturgical calendar.
Much like the yearly calendar, we have seasons for celebration, and each of them has its own special character and tone. Advent is our beginning where we wait patiently for our Messiah. Christmas is filled with the joy and wonder of Christ’s birth. There is comfort and rhythm to be found in Ordinary Time. Lent and the Triduum are solemn and deeply reflective; and, of course, the Easter season is one of triumph and joy!
There is also such majesty in the language. Our days are marked by Feasts, Solemnities, and Memorials. The days bring a time to honor and learn about Saints and significant events like the Epiphany, the Baptism of the Lord, the Annunciation, Pentecost, the Assumption of Mary, and so much more. We find such rich theology to explore as we celebrate the Holy Family, the Immaculate Conception, the Passion of Christ, Corpus Christi, Christ the King, and Mary, Mother of God.
And, of course, there is the special significance of color in our liturgical calendar: white and gold for purity and joy, red for sacrifice and charity, green for hope and life, violet for expectation and penance, rose for anticipatory joy, and black for mourning and sorrow.
The rhythm of the liturgical year adds so much to the learning and to ethos of our schools and District. Whether through the color of the cloths on our classroom prayer tables or through the celebration of our namesake feast days, our students, staff, and families see and experience symbols of our faith everywhere, and that is glorious!
This is an exciting week for Edmonton Catholic Schools as we all prepare to celebrate our 130th Anniversary Liturgy of the Word in our schools and sites. It presents us with such an excellent opportunity to think about how much our District has grown and changed over the years, but it also presents us with an excellent opportunity to reflect upon how much education has changed.
We have moved from small schoolhouses to virtual classrooms, from slates to digital tablets, and from reading, writing, and arithmetic to a vast array of subjects for study. Teaching and learning are now all about innovation, inquiry, and unlocking every aspect of a student’s potential as a child of God.
We were so fortunate to have 3 Sisters of the Faithful Companions of Jesus as our founders, but as our District has grown and religious orders have used their members in so many other vital roles, we have also been blessed to have so many lay Catholics embrace their vocation to help our students come to know and love Jesus.
I could really write for hours on all of the ways that education has changed in the past 130 years, but there is one point that I think is of greatest importance. Through God’s grace and the passion, commitment, and perseverance of our staff and families, one thing has remained constant in the 130 years of Edmonton Catholic Schools – Catholic education is publicly funded in the Province of Alberta. Let us use every opportunity to share the great news of our work so that this gift remains for generations to come!
We Are a Responsive Learning Organization
It goes without saying that a school district is all about learning, but there are depths to that learning that aren’t immediately apparent. Certainly, we focus significant attention on the learning of our students in the classroom and our staff as professionals, but we also focus significant attention on our learning and growth as an organization.
At our Public Meeting of the Board last night, we presented our Student Learning Accountability Report. This report provides an overview of the various measures of our performance from Alberta Education, including the Accountability Pillar, October 2018, and our Provincial Achievement Tests and Diploma Examination Results.
Much like assessment and feedback in the classroom inform teacher practice, so will we use the results from those measures to plan our next steps in improving our performance. District and school staff are now looking at our results in the many areas that are presented in the accountability report and are setting goals for growth. This affects how we provide services, allocate resources, and determine professional learning, among other things.
In fact, results and feedback such as we presented in the Student Learning Accountability Report drive our planning for continuous growth at the District and school levels. We have great information at our fingertips, and we are constantly looking at how we can strategically go from good to better to best. Learning doesn’t just occur at the student level; it is at the heart of what we do as a responsive learning organization!
My journey to the role of Superintendent started many years ago when I was a classroom teacher. Becoming a Catholic teacher was a dream because it allowed me to combine several of my passions – faith, children, learning, and literacy – into living out a vocation. Now, many years later those foundations are still integral to my work. I will focus on literacy for this blog.
This past week was Read-In Week. It is one of my favorite times of the year because I get to return to the classroom to be with students and to foster a love of reading. Literacy is fundamental for life. It is incredibly difficult for people who struggle with reading and writing to navigate our world which is so rooted in text. How can you apply for a job if you can’t read the application or write about yourself?
I am really proud of all of the amazing work that Edmonton Catholic Schools does in the realm of literacy for all ages. We haves strategies in place to identify and support struggling readers from a very young age, and our teachers across the District work on planning for literacy in their subject areas in order to build competency and confidence for all. As our language programs expand, our teachers implement best practices in literacy into learning the target language of their program.
We also have tremendous programs in place to help newcomers to Canada. Our junior and senior high school students benefit from our Newcomers Program, which the Edmonton Journal featured in an article earlier this year. Edmonton Catholic Schools also has one of the largest Language Instruction for Newcomers to Canada (LINC) programs in the city.
Our One World…One Centre (OWOC) is another outstanding example of the innovative work that we do in ensuring that everyone has access to the best possible literacy and learning opportunities. During the month of August, OWOC welcomed 273 students to Edmonton Catholic Schools. This included completing the registration documents with families and fulfilling the funding requirements for Alberta Education. In addition, assessments were completed on 247 of these students so that they would meet the ESL funding requirements. During the month of September, OWOC welcomed an additional 122 students and 97 assessments were completed. It makes all the difference to a student and to a school when that child arrives to class with their literacy needs already having been identified!
I am always excited to see where our journey to promoting literacy for all takes us. Our work in this area is so very empowering to our students, and we continue to be so innovative in this area.
One of the most loved authors of all time, Dr. Seuss, offered us what is, perhaps, the best explanation of why literacy is so important to us:
“The more that you read, the more things you will know. The more that you learn, the more places you'll go.” (I Can Read With My Eyes Shut)
Leadership thoughts… and we are all leaders
Kouzes and Posner, who have spent over thirty years doing research on the topic, identify what they term truths about leadership, in their book with the name, Truth About Leadership. In discussing fundamental principles of leadership, they identify one of the truths as being that “leadership is an affair of the heart.”
They expand on this belief in the following statement: “Leaders are in love with what they do and the mission they are serving. Leaders make others feel important and are gracious in showing appreciation. Love is the motivation that energizes leaders to give so much.”
Parker Palmer, a highly respected author, lecturer, activist and teacher, writes that “the power of authentic leadership is found not externally but in the human heart.” He goes on to states that “there is no integrity and honor without heart, no hope or faith, no persistence or courage, no learning or risk taking. Nothing important ever gets done without heart.”
Richard Wagamese in his book called Embers says: “When we see each other through the eyes of wonder, all barriers, all differences disappear. We are alive. We are joined. We are everything.”
Everybody, Always by Bob Goff is a beautiful book about loving like Jesus did. Here are some of his thoughts that fit beautifully with our theme, Walking Together in God’s Love. “God has written things on our hearts like love and grace and patience and compassion so we can write them on the hearts of our friends. We are God’s calligraphy. God knows that without risk we cannot grow. God didn’t promise us a safe life……look how far we have come. …. God doesn’t give us a recipe for living as a community but gives us the greatest ingredient. He gives us everybody, always……Knowing that the journey you and I are on never really ends, we can ask people we love one of the most important questions conceived. Where do you want to go?”
I discovered a beautiful children’s book that was written in the spirit of healing and reconciliation called You Hold Me Up by Monique Gray Smith and Danielle Daniel – it’s a story about the “simplicity of love, the importance of respect and the cultivation of compassion”. Its basic premise is that ‘you hold me up’
- are kind to me
- share with me
- learn with me
- play with me
- sing with me
- comfort me
- listen to me
- respect me
…ending with I hold you up, we hold each other up.
There is also a marvelous little book authored by a retired teacher of ECS, Marcel Graves, called La Paz meaning peace in Spanish speaks about being “right with ourselves, others and God” and finding peace of mind in who we are and what we do. He says: “if Jesus’ first commandment is to love God with all the strength you can muster, then the second commandment is pure logic: I must also love you and myself. We are all one. Simple is best.”
WALKING TOGETHER IN GOD'S LOVE REFLECTED IN THE LIVES OF PEOPLE
As I was reflecting on our theme, Walking Together in God's Love, I thought of three people, well known to all of us, individuals who were engaged in our mission, individuals whose lives exemplified our theme. I am thinking about Archbishop Joseph MacNeil, Sister Annata Brockman and Father Michael Mireau. I knew them well and considered each to be a personal friend. Each in their own way was a mentor to me and I learned so much from them. I often wonder what they would tell me now, when they know so much more. I would like to reflect on our theme in light of their lives of faithful service.
Father Michael Mireau – Our beloved late District Chaplain had as his personal motto 'God is Love'. How often he wanted to make us aware of this theme as he invited us to participate in this mystery; he ended every homily by saying 'God is Love'. He would comment: "God abides in love. Expressed in the life of the Trinity, love is the nature of God; it is what God is."
Simply stated that as Catholic educators committed to a ministry of love, we must firstly be loving people. Sharing in our life of grace, our life as Jesus in the world, our actions are devoted to helping teachers, staff, students and parents awaken to and share in the vision of God's love.
We must recognize that the greatest resources we have in Edmonton Catholic Schools are the people who work with us in our schools and offices. They grace our district with their wisdom, talents, strengths and gifts; we are so blessed to have each one sharing their gifts with students, colleagues and parents, each bringing their "heart" commitment to serving our communities in whatever role they have.
Archbishop Joseph MacNeil
Archbishop MacNeil helped us understand how we can live in intimacy with God sharing in this divine love. It is captured in his motto "Let us Grow into Christ". He knew that the more we grow into Christ, the more we enter into the divine love available to us. The essence of his mission was to gather everyone into the life of Jesus Christ. He was the perfect example of inclusivity. He increased the role of lay people in the Church, the role of women in the Church. In the words of Father Ron Rolheiser, omi "he was a Prince of the Church…not because the Church anointed him as such, but because he had the intelligence, grace and heart of a leader." He gathered us together in Christ.
Sister Annata Brockman
Sister Annata was a model for us in living the life of our theme. She knew that God was love and that love was personal for each of us. In her many years of work with the school district and St. Joseph Basilica parish, Sister Annata devoted herself to bringing this message to the people she encountered. Her school would later recall: "Her messages would ensure that every student know how much God loved them and that his love was unconditional. She would say that every child was important and precious in God's eyes as they were in hers."
Her comment about her work was: "Every day was a special day because I knew that Jesus was touching the hearts of many people, changing and giving them new life."
We are so blessed in our work each day to be with students, colleagues, parents and faith communities where we are able to express our relationship with Jesus – becoming models of his Gospel teachings and sharing the love of God with others. If we have this understanding our work in our schools and offices is to be truly treasured in all that we do.
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