I just came back from two days spent with my colleagues – members of our School Division’s “Lead Team”. Our Lead Team includes Principals, Assistant Principals, Learning Services Facilitators, Directors from our Finance, Transportation, Learning Services, Transportation, Human Resources and Communication Departments along with members of our Senior Executive. Gathering such a large, diverse group of School Division leaders together is no small feat. It meant that every individual who attended needed to leave the busy schedules of their day to day work behind and for those of us in schools, it meant trusting that our schools’ teacher leaders would “hold down the fort” during our absence. On behalf of our Senior Executive of Superintendents, it demonstrated that in spite of challenging financial times in the world of education, the importance they place on the value of our team’s professional growth and collaboration so that we can lead our schools effectively for our students will not be sacrificed. A few of us said we felt almost guilty for taking time away from our schools to head west to the beautiful mountain community of Canmore where we gathered for our learning.
Now that I am back home and have time to reflect on the experience – I can honestly say that I am grateful that our Senior Executive made the decision to provide all of us with this uninterrupted time together – away from the demands of our professional and personal lives back home. The Lead Team Retreat gave us an opportunity to learn from and with each other both formally during our scheduled meetings and presentations, but also informally as we shared best practices with each other, discussed some of our challenges, offered suggestions to each other and had long conversations on the road as we were encouraged to car pool with our colleagues. I have found that some of the best learning can come from the conversations that just happen when we spend time together talking about our students and our schools.
A few of the highlights for me were:
Mental Health Presentation
We were reminded of how significant an issue mental health is in the workplace. Research tells us that 1 in 5 Canadians between the ages of 18 – 65 will experience mental illness and that this will have an impact on their work. It was shared that of the people who face mental illness challenges, very few will be diagnosed and even fewer will receive successful treatment. We learned about the symptoms of mental illness and what to look for among our employees. We learned about what we can do to support those who are experiencing mental illness so that they can be successful in getting the help they need to improve their health. What stood out for me was how important it is to remove the negative stigma associated with mental illness so that our staff members know they have our non-judgemental support in order to seek treatment.
This is simply an organized, yet highly effective, way to ensure that we got the opportunity to listen to each other share some of the amazing things we all have going on in our schools. In small groups, we moved from table to table and heard all kinds of new ideas for things we may want to bring back to our own schools. What I will be bringing back to Greystone are some great suggestions around technology from a couple of schools. Muir Lake School shared experiences and insights around their one to one technology pilot project. Meridian Heights School shared how they “trained the troops” on the use of google docs by scheduling chunks of time for the students to be taught the process by the tech “expert” on staff.
The most important “take away” from this valuable time spent together with my colleagues was that I continue to feel non-stop support and the power of collaboration from our Lead Team. Knowing that we are in this together allows me to return to the challenges and opportunities that await back at the school with a huge boost of renewed energy. For me, this was time well spent and reminds me that our School Division really does put its people first!