Monday, November 16, 2015

My Goals and Learning Through the Lens of the Catholic Leadership Framework

With Leadership Part 3 underway, I have been preparing for my first meeting with each of my mentors. We were given the opportunity to suggest names of administrators that we were interested in job shadowing. I knew that I wanted to shadow a relatively new VP and Principal. I also wanted to work with an administrator in a large school and one in a small to medium sized school. Fortunately, I have been assigned to the two administrators that I had asked to be paired with. I am excited to meet with them and to learn from them.

As I prepare for my initial meetings, I have been reflecting on my goals for this portion of the program. For my first meeting with my mentors, I have been thinking about my goals and my plan for continuous learning, growth, and improvement. Through the lens of the Catholic Leadership Framework, I am provided with direction on what I would like to learn more about and be exposed to. I'm also working through the idea of having certain goals with each administrator so that I can allow them to go deep in a particular area. 

Here is what I have so far in terms of my goals/learning around the Leadership Framework:

Improving the Instructional Program

  • Buffering staff from distractions to their work
    • Catholic school leaders: create and enforce consistent, school-wide discipline policies 
    • minimize daily disruptions to classroom instructional time 
    • implement a systematic procedure for deciding how best to respond to initiatives from outside the school 
    • develop, with staff, guidelines to govern the amount of time teachers spend on non-instructional and out-of-school activities
    • regularly assess the contribution of all out-of-classroom activities to the learning priorities of students 
Essentially, my goal around improving the instructional program is to learn how my mentors deal with the possible "distractions" to their staff/school. I have an idea but I want to see/hear what their best practice might be.

Securing Accountability
  • Building staff members’ sense of internal accountability Catholic school leaders
    • regularly engage staff in analyzing data on the learning progress of all students
    • insist on the use of data that is of high quality (reliable, valid, collected using systematic collection processes, available in its original form, and has been subjected to collaborative interpretation
    • promote collective responsibility and accountability for student achievement and well-being
    • help staff make connections between school goals and ministry goals in order to strengthen commitment to school improvement efforts
    • assess their own contributions to school achievements and take into account feedback from others on their performance
    • participate actively in their own performance appraisal and make adjustments to better meet expectations and goals
    • ensure ongoing adult faith formation that addresses internal faith development  
  • Meeting the demands for external accountability Catholic school leaders
    • clearly define accountability for individual staff in terms that are mutually understood and agreed to and that can be rigorously reviewed and evaluated
    • measure and monitor teacher and leader effectiveness using data about changes in student achievement
    • align school goals with board and provincial goals
    • provide an accurate and transparent account of the school’s performance to all school stakeholders (e.g., ministry, board, parents, and the Catholic community)
    • create an organizational structure that reflects the Catholic school’s values and enables management systems, structures and processes to work effectively within Catholic teachings and legal requirements
With respect to securing accountability, I am quite interested in learning more about how to build staff members sense of internal accountability. This is a big one for me so I really want to push myself to learn more about it and what my mentors perspective is on it. Moreover, meeting the demands for external accountability is also a big one for me and seems challenging, but from an entirely different perspective. 

I feel like I have a great starting point with respect to my initial learning goals that connect directly with the Leadership Framework. I also have some questions I would like to pose to my mentors that are more of a personal nature. They involve such things as work-family balance, hard conversations, and the ability to be flexible and open to whatever comes their way as leaders in schools. 

I'm sure I could find formal expectations in the Leadership Framework to address the topics I just mentioned, but for now, I'm going to keep things as they are. I will take time to reflect on what I have written today and be open to what comes my way when I connect with my mentors.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Leadership Part III - Growing in Leadership

Nearing the end of Leadership Part II, many of the participants (at least the ones that I spoke to) were pleased with the program but were left wanting more. Many of us expressed an interest in some type of job shadowing component. In particular, many of the elementary educators felt this way because there aren't many opportunities for formal leadership in the elementary panel as compared to the secondary panel. We don't have program heads and things of that nature in elementary. For us, the jump is straight from the classroom to the main office as a Vice Principal - without any buffer leadership opportunities.

Another want/need of many of the participants revolved around conflict resolution and difficult conversations. Conflict is going to occur, it is unavoidable. It is important that we know how to deal with it in ways that are effective and as positive as possible. For these reasons, the part III program incorporates sessions that are designed to help participants learn how to navigate conflict in ways that will build people up instead of break them down.

There is also a third component of the program, it involves professional reading and a meeting with a member of the Senior Administration team. The program provides us with a detailed list of possible book choices and how they connect to the Ontario Catholic Leadership Framework. The requirement is that we choose a book to read/study and then meet with a member of Senior Administration to discuss the book and our thoughts/opinions/growth. Another great opportunity to develop, share our learning, and connect with a tried and tested leader in our system. My only issue with this component is that there are so many good books that I will most likely read more than one!

Aside from the mentorship component, in class sessions, and the professional reading/discussion with Senior Administration, I am really happy that +Lorrie Temple will be facilitating the part III program. She is most certainly a wonderful role model to help us along our learning journey.

I am looking forward to participating in the opportunity that Board is providing. For me, it is helping me become a brighter individual for the people who surround me.

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Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Experience 3.0 - New School, New Grade, New Culture

The new school year is underway and for me the key work is "new"! I've transferred schools and teaching a grade I have never taught before. I'm also learning about the culture of my new workplace. Each school is unique - they all have their own charm and needs. My colleagues have been very helpful and friendly. I'm enjoying my students and they seem to be in good spirits.

I'm doing a lot of observation and I'm listening to what people have to say. I'm very aware of the fact that I have just arrived and that it is important that I find my place, how I fit in this new culture, and how I can use my knowledge/skills/gifts to support my class, colleagues, and the school community. As I reflect on my first month in my new environment, I realize that I have not been as passive as I thought I was being. Using the Catholic Leadership Framework to assist with my reflection and preparation for the upcoming months, I realize that I have been engaged in the following expectations/look fors in my day to day interactions at school:

  • encouraging my colleagues to be innovative in helping students meet expectations (setting directions)

This past week I was talking to a few colleagues about what my students were doing using Google Drawing during a science activity. They viewed the work my students were doing as over the top but my response to them was that my students were doing common things in a new and exciting ways and that their students could do the same things. I encouraged them to try something similar and mentioned that I would be happy to assist them in trying something innovative to help their students meet a learning goal.

  • making my expectations known through words and actions (setting directions)
In my day to day interactions with my students, parents, and colleagues I communicate my expectations in what I say and what I do. This is not to say that I am inflexible - I operate from a set of beliefs that I value and I allow those beliefs to guide my day to day interactions. I have standards, and they are subject to change based upon meaningful conversations and when I learn new things and unlearn old things. 

  • acknowledge and celebrate the accomplishments of others (building relationships and developing people)
This has been a lot of fun over the past month. There have been many laughs and "small" victories where I have acknowledge the accomplishments of the people around me. It is in celebration that I have been able to connect with my colleagues and get to know them a bit better.

  • demonstrating respect for the ideas of my colleagues, students, and parents by listening to their ideas and considering them as valuable/viable options (building relationships and developing people)
I met with several parents (some before school started) who wanted to meet me and talk about their child's strengths and needs. Meeting with them and listening to their experiences and ideas on how to help their child succeed has been quite valuable as it has allowed me to build trust and rapport with all involved. With respect to my colleagues, we have already met twice to help build our School Improvement Plan. Each of us comes to the table with a variety of ideas/experience and we all speak from those perspectives. Again, listening to them and taking their perspectives into consideration has been nothing but helpful.

  • encouraging a willingness to compromise among collaborators (developing the organization to support desired practices)
Along the same lines as above, we quickly realize that not all ideas presented to help make our school a better place will fit into the vision and mission of the school. As a new staff member my perspective come from other schools I have worked at. My new colleagues were willing to compromise and I demonstrated the same in return. 

  • creating a classroom environment where parents are welcomed, respected, and valued, as partners in their children's learning (developing the organization to support desired practices)
Meeting with parents before the start of the school year really demonstrated that they are welcome in my classroom community and that I want to hear what they have to say. I do believe that education is a partnership and that we all provide a piece to the puzzle that will lead to student success. Aside from the regular modes of communication with my parents, I use Twitter and Remind to post photos and information in "real time" so that they can feel like they are actually in the room with their child. Parents are really enjoying this and feel like they are being respected and welcomed because of all the sharing.

  • ensuring that the Ontario Catholic Schools Graduate Expectations are incorporated throughout the curriculum (improving the instructional program)
This is something that I have been very focused on this school year. As we gather for whole group instruction I have been taking the time to explicitly talk about the OCGE's and which one is being addressed in what we are doing/working on. I feel that it is raising awareness with the students which is helping them reflect on the OCGE's as they live their lives.

  • collaborating with my colleagues during meetings involving data interpretation (improving the instructional program
As I mentioned earlier, I have had several opportunities to collaborate with my colleagues during meetings to look at data, make interpretations, and plan accordingly. It is never easy to find time throughout the school day to meet and do this kind of work so when it happens it is a real treat because it is what helps make our school a better place for our students.

It has been quite a busy month and it doesn't look like it is going to ease up before our first natural break - Thanksgiving - the perfect time to reflect on what we do and why we do it.

Friday, May 8, 2015

To Infinity and Beyond!

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THIS is exactly how I am feeling at the moment. I am currently at the Teacher Learning and Leadership Program's "Leadership Skills for the Classroom Teacher" training where I am wearing two hats: participant and presenter. My focus for this blog post is to address my role here as a presenter. 

I remember my first time at this training several years ago. I was the only member of my team to attend the training and was quite frightened. Today, I am not feeling the same fear that I experienced then, even though I am by myself. In fact, I am feeling quite comfortable in my role because of the leadership experiences I have been part of at the schools I have worked at and the leadership opportunities that the Board and others has provided me with.

As I prepare to speak to my colleagues about "Learning from Experience: What I know now that I wish I knew then" and "Preparing for your final report" I am reflecting on my experiences and the Leadership framework expectations and how they have brought me to where I am today.

I think about the leadership opportunities and support I have been provided with as I have taken on a variety of opportunities to grow as a leader (Developing the Organization to Support Desired Practices). I also think about the connections I have established and developed with other schools, my board, and provincial leaders in the educational research community (Developing the Organization to Support Desired Practices) and the effect those connections/relationships have had on increasing my capacity for leadership.

My reflections lead me to believe that the opportunities and scaffolding I have been provided with have allowed me to grow as a leader so that I can provide similar support to others. In the same light, the connections and relationships I have established around the province provide others with the opportunity to reach out to me so that they can build relationships just like I have. I can see the leadership cycle and all that it entails: risk taking, a passion for learning, collaboration, etc.

As I continue to flow through the leadership cycle I am reminded that the learning and growth never ends. The quote "To infinity and beyond" fits perfectly with how I am feeling at this very moment. As I reflect on the leadership foundation that has brought me here I am inspired to ask the people around me about their leadership journeys and whether they share my perspective. Whether they do or they don't, learning will occur and hopefully benefit me so that I may go out and benefit others.

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Instructional Rounds = Instructional and Leadership Opportunities

My colleagues and I recently experienced what is known as instructional rounds, which is a process adapted from the medical rounds model that doctors use in hospitals. Instructional Rounds help educators look closely at what is happening in classrooms in a systematic, purposeful, and focused way. The classroom observation is viewed through the lens of the school's problem of practice and is often framed as a question around which a site wants to gather some data. 

Almost all of the teachers, as well as the administrator, participate in the rounds. In small groups, teachers visit their colleague's classrooms for 30 minutes each, looking for evidence related to the problem of practice. One of the most challenging aspects with Rounds is that evidence being collected must be observational and non-judgmental. When visiting classes, we took notes on what the students and teacher were doing with respect to the information provided in the lesson plan posted in and out of the room for our reference. Below is an example of what my teaching partner and I provided to the team that observed our classes.

Can Observers speak to students (during the task)?     Yes     

Big Idea/Inquiry Questions
Making Connections
Learning Goal and Success Criteria
Learning Goal:  Students will provide evidence from the text to support their connection

Success Criteria:
  • Identify key words/phrases from the text that help make their connection.
  • Orally communicate their connection to peer/teacher
  • Integrate evidence from the text and their own experience.
Learning Task
Make deep connections to non-fiction text using evidence from the text and their schema.
(For, As, Of Learning)
“Of Learning” -  Examine how well the students were able to meet the success criteria by reviewing their graphic organizer and conferencing with them.

At the end of the day, the observation team gathered to talk about our observations with the ultimate goal of recommending what we believe should continue to occur at our school, what should stop occurring, and what we could start doing as a school in order to address our problem of practice.

The two and a half days that we spent working on this was time well spent. My favourite part has been the time spent after school debriefing teachers after the days observations and all the rich talk and action that has come from the two and a half days of instructional rounds. 

Throughout this process, I have been paying attention to the instructional and leadership perspectives that have presented themselves. From an instructional perspective, I have been paying attention to and focusing on the amazing things my colleagues are doing with their students and what I can take from my observations to improve my practice. From a leadership perspective, I am aware of the Catholic Leadership Framework and expectations that connect to what I am doing as a member of my school community. 

Upon reflection of my role in the instructional rounds process, and its aftermath, here are the some expectations that I find myself engaged in:

  • building understanding of the specific implications of the school’s vision for its programs and the nature of classroom instruction (Setting Directions)
  • regularly encouraging staff (and them encouraging me) to evaluate their progress toward achieving the school’s goals (Setting Directions)
  • encouraging staff to be innovative in helping students meet those expectations (Setting Directions)
  • encouraging staff to reflect on what they are trying to achieve with students and how they are doing it (Building Relationships and Developing People)
  •  suggesting new ideas for staff learning (Building Relationships and Developing People)
  •  encouraging staff to try new practices that are consistent with both their interests and school goals (Building Relationships and Developing People)
  • model collaboration in my own work (Developing the Organization to Support Desired Practices)
  • collecting and using data about the status of those classroom and school conditions that are the focus of the school improvement efforts (Improving the Instructional Program)
From my perspective, my colleagues are as engaged in the leadership expectations listed above as I am. Perhaps they don't see it the same way that I do but due to the nature of the instructional rounds the culture is changing at the school and people seem to have a heightened awareness around collaboration and innovation in order to positively impact teaching and learning. 

I enjoy engaging my colleagues in dialogue around the purpose of the work we are doing, suggesting new and exciting ways to do the work (e.g. technology integration), and to get things done in a safe and collaborative fashion. The instructional rounds experience has helped put me on a path where the discussions and work I find myself having and doing comes from a common goal that my colleagues and I are working toward. As we continue to work toward our school's vision/goals I will continue to look for and engage in instructional and leadership opportunities that will assist in my personal and professional development.  

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. 

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Conflict: Buffering the Ill Effects and Highlighting the Positives

Whether you like it or not, conflict exists all over the place. Big, small, near, far, long lasting, short lasting, between friends, co-workers, family members, strangers, and within yourself. It seems to be unavoidable. Some people like it and some people hate it. Conflict can bring about positive change and it can also destroy productive change. No matter what your preference is for it, it is a constant in life.

I have been meaning to write about conflict for some time now as it relates to leadership, particularly in the context of Education. Once I realized that I wanted to move forward in this direction I referred to the Catholic Leadership Framework to look at how it deals with/addresses conflict. After some time reviewing the Framework I learned that it doesn't overtly talk about conflict. Rather, it provides leaders and aspiring leaders with ingredients for peace and harmony. As I stated above, conflict is everywhere and will arise even when working for peace, but I believe the Framework's focus on collaborative leadership would benefit stakeholders when working through a conflict and I would go as far to say that its supportive focus would lead to creating environments where many conflicts would be avoided.  

Here is some of the language I read in the Framework that supports peace and harmony:  
  • "in collaboration"
  • "build understanding"
  • "encourage"
  • "facilitate"
  • "include"
  • "demonstrate respect" 
  • "model"
  • "actively engage"
  • "be highly visible"
  • "easily accessible"
  • "acknowledge and celebrate"
  • "consider opinions"
  • "treat staff equitably"
  • "foster mutual respect and trust"
  • "willingness to compromise" 
  • "distribute leadership"
  • "maintain partnerships/connections"
  • "communicate"
  • "develop with staff"
  • "regularly assess"
  • "use multiple sources of evidence"
  • "observe"
  • "participate with..."
  • "recruit & select educators" & "retain skilled educators"
  • "promote collective responsibility" 

The list is lengthy, but the more the merrier. The Framework is full of "gold nuggets" that can provide school leaders with a perspective that is inclusive and positive. Leadership is not without its struggles but an optimistic, open, and proactive focus lends itself to successful outcomes for all stakeholders. 

As an aspiring school leader I am appreciative of having such a document to refer to as a guide to assist me in becoming a better Catholic educator and community member. I once viewed the Framework as a daunting text but now that I have had time to reflect on the language used in it to support such things as balance and coordination I am much more open to its intention and core values, which can be applied to anything I do professionally and personally.

I recognize that it is not enough to simply read a text and become aware of what I should be doing. I really wanted to find out what it is like to actually be a school leader and have to deal with conflict so I reached out to some current and former leaders in my system to ask them about their perspective on dealing with conflict. 

They were gracious in providing me with their perspective and "real time" experience. What they had to say was really neat because they all basically said the same things but with their own "twist" added on. All of them talked about being open, engaged, prepared, and appreciative. They recognize that conflict exists and will pop up, and although conflict is not fun (unless in a sporting contest) it is important to deal with it from a positive perspective and a willingness for peaceful win/win solutions (as much as possible). 

Having worked with the majority of these people I can speak from experience when I say that they are not "push overs". They have high expectations and want the best for their school communities but they know that they can't get their on their own, which brings me back to the Catholic Leadership Framework. After reading their perspectives and reflecting on my time working with them I went back to the language I mentioned above and wasn't surprised when I realized that they fit with and operate from a perspective of peace and harmony. It's no wonder that I respect them and seek their counsel. They are outstanding models for me and it is key that I continue to learn from them and seek out people like them to learn from and converse with. 

As I journey toward becoming a better learner and leader I will continue to strive to, and work toward, being an open minded, faith filled, and appreciative Catholic educator working from a foundation of peace and harmony. Conflict is inevitable, but building positive relationships and establishing myself as an open and appreciative team player can buffer the ill effects and heighten the benefits.