Thursday, 12 March 2020

Rome, Review, Regeneration leads to Faith, Hope and Innovation

Two incredibly deep and rich experiences in 2019 contributed to the regeneration of a leadership model enabling authentic growth of shared capability across our school in 2020.
Principals from across Melbourne connect at the Trevi Fountain
The first experience was a sponsored, residential formation program in Italy entitled Educating Head, Heart and Hands made available through a partnership between Catholic Education Melbourne (CEM) and Australian Catholic University (ACU). The intensive residential programme was taught through ACU's postgraduate unit Catholic Education - Mission, Culture and Spirituality. After three weeks of lectures, workshops and excursions to places of religious significance including an audience with Pope Francis, I attempted to capture my reflection in several ways. I presented a slideshow of photos and gifted artefacts to the staff, board and the children at my school. Yet, this was all at a superficial level. I remained dissatisfied with my efforts.
Eight months later, I realise that the breadth and depth of the Rome immersive learning experience was boundless.
The powerful experience still lingers within my very being and is subconsciously influencing my thoughts, decisions, interactions and dialogue with colleagues, family and friends.
Here is a brief snapshot of statements that reflect my experience in Rome:
  • Rome oozes Catholicity from every nook and cranny 
  • Rome is a vibrant city where social actions abound
  • Frescoes from the past tell stories that bring rich Catholic and interfaith traditions to life today
  • The Vatican offices shared strong messages about the need for an educational revolution focused on humanity (Global Compact on Education)
  • Encyclical "Laudato Si" is more than caring for the environment but about caring for the sacred dignity of humanity.
  • "Education is a matter of the heart.." St John Bosco
  • Be positive and celebrate our Catholic faith. Celebrate all of the good that Catholics from the past have done and Catholics from the present are doing now.
  • Celebrate the faith-filled God that is welcoming, forgiving and loving, not condescending or judging.
Wise words from CEM leaders during the post-program session continue to resound within my head, heart and hands: "tap into something rich and deep"; "it's a well to draw upon"; "our system will be richer for the experience" (Sharkey, Fumei & Lennon, 2019).

Immediately after Rome, I was immersed into the second experience, our four yearly school review. We were fortunate to be able to choose the style of the review. We chose a Specific Focus Review as a specialised challenge for improvement in specific, focused areas emanating from rigorous, evidence-based self-reflection.
The review was an authentic, deep inquiry into school wide practices led by an independent reviewer in conjunction with CEM. You can read about the review process at this link. As the review was a true inquiry, the outcome was unexpected, yet aligned with our school vision and core values and made perfect sense. You can read the full review report prepared by Mary Wilson, the Lead Reviewer at this link.
An outcome of the review was that staff developed a totally different leadership model to trial as a "practice field" for 2020. The process of developing this model and the way it is still evolving in practice is innovative for our unique school community. The model is inherently underpinned by the message from Rome:
We are all responsible together as teachers and leaders in our school to carry out the message from Vatican II - the mission of the Church ; to enable the full flourishing of humanity.

For the past two years, staff professional learning with the Schools That Deliver Network, is enabling our community to flourish. Every staff member has en equal voice in all decisions within our school. At the same time, we make space and time for every individual to share their gifts and talents and contribute to bringing our school wide shared vision to life not excluding students and parents.
For example:
  • "We seek opportunities for social justice connections.." Student-driven initiatives such as Hayden's Helping Hands led by the Palmer family is an outreach action from the heart.  
  • "St Patrick's school taps into the expertise and initiatives of our parents.." numerous parents are contributing their skills to workgroups including: Child Safety; Occupational Health and Safety; Inclusion and Diversity; Grants; Education ; Parents and Friends

Using a "Schools That Deliver mindset" where every voice is heard, staff reflected on the recommendations from the review (the "archaeological dig") and a new leadership model that encourages everyone to take ownership and contribute collectively emerged.
At the staff Consultative Meeting in October 2019, based on the review data, it was clear that school wide traditional Positions of Leadership (POL) needed to be revisited and recontextualised to align with the review outcomes and school vision narrative. The Consultative Committee agreed that the Leadership Team (8 teachers representative of all areas across the school) would work together and use the review data and staff voice collated from two post review staff meetings to develop a team based POL model. The outcome is a team based approach to growing leadership capacity and capability across our staff.

The team based approach is a shift from silos of learning led by independent leaders to collaborative learning teams. Every staff member is part of an equitable team and together take responsibility within three areas agreed on by staff: Faith and Community; Faith, Wellbeing and Diversity; Faith and Curriculum. 
Just as all schools include Child Safety on every meeting agenda, we agreed to include the word "faith" in all of our teams. We want to ensure that the Catholicity of our school is kept at the forefront of all that we do.
The first sentence of our shared school vision states: St Patrick's is a school where our Catholic identity underpins all we do. Our new School Improvement Plan reflects this innovative approach. Once a week after school, two POL leaders from within each team work alongside staff to achieve the annual actions developed by teams from the School Improvement Plan.

Four years ago, little did I know that the words inscribed on a thoughtful gift from a colleague; "For I know the plans I have for you declares the Lord, plans to prosper you and not harm you, plans to give you hope and a for a future "(Jeremiah 29:11) would inspire our whole school community.

The gift is the centrepiece of the meeting table in my office and has remained in view for those gathering around the table for numerous meetings over the past three years.
When our 2020 Leadership Team met before the new school year began, the theme of hope emerged in light of a summer of devastating bushfires and ongoing challenges for colleagues, family members and friends and the more recent Coronavirus (COVID -19) pandemic.
As a principal representative on the Victorian Association of Catholic Primary School Principals (VACPSP) conference committee, all members agreed that the theme for the 2021 conference will be Hope - Hope for now and whatever lies ahead. I was pleased to be able to share aspects of my Rome experience to underpin my contribution in supporting the hope theme for the VACPSP conference.

We have commenced 2020 with a renewed focus on who we are as teachers and leaders in a Catholic school today within a plural context. We have hope for our community and each other.

We are hopeful that our planned approach to build staff capability will "create autonomy for staff to drive innovation for things that matter to them " (Edwards 2018). Being innovative is not about jumping in at the deep end and trying the latest fad. Innovation means "stretching our learning and going beyond what we already know ; moving beyond the safety of competence" ( Edwards 2018). Innovation is about being purposeful about understanding the needs of a context and taking brave actions for improvement based on an in depth analysis of data.
The focus of the 2018 Schools That Deliver Conference was a powerful Innovation Model designed by Edwards and Witten-Hannah. You can read my reflection at this link and watch the short video I created. The Innovation Model has a proven record of delivering significant results in business, sporting and educational institutions.
Edwards and Witten-Hannah Innovation Model
I can liken our regeneration and recontextualisation experience to the Edwards and Witten-Hannah Innovation Model:
  • Phase One of Innovation: The Understanding Phase The strong, deep and effective self-review process led by Mary Wilson, enabled us to deeply understand our needs with the one resounding recommendation that came for all parties: To embrace, embed and embody in all we do.... "St Patrick's is a school where our Catholic identity underpins all we do".
  • Phase Two of Innovation: The Design Phase The post review engagement activities with staff and leadership enabled an opportunity to present multiple solutions and identify the strongest leadership model to test in 2020.
  • Phase Three of Innovation: The Implementation Phase The team leadership model is now being tested as a practice field for 2020 and six weeks into the school year response from staff so far include: "We are all learning together";"Authentic staff voice is guiding our decisions";"We are all hands on now, problem solving together. We are no longer reliant on one person's knowledge"; "We have to remind each other of the Senge mental models we follow as a staff - "slower is faster" and "less is more"; "the knowledge is in the room".
  • Phase Four of Innovation: The Refine Phase Weekly cadence review meetings focus on feedback and invite rich, open and honest dialogue enabling ongoing refinement of the model.
As recommended in our review report: "Teachers and leaders are all taking responsibility with the powerful voice of classroom practitioners guiding the pace, peeling back complex layers and aiming to do less and do it well, enabling the Catholic identity to authentically underpin all that we do at St Patrick's."
Pope Francis reminds us that he is still learning. We are all learning and we are responsible for deepening our faith together. Our diversity is a gift and contributes to our ability to enrich the head, hearts and minds of each other and the diversity of our community. We are fortunate to work in a system that allows freedom to innovate and places trust in school leaders to understand the unique needs of their school communities.
Purposeful and continuous iterations of our leadership model will contribute to the regeneration and growth of shared capability across our school and provide agency for our community to flourish.

Catholic Education Melbourne for sponsoring the Educating, Head, Hearts and Hands formation program for Principals and Leaders 2019.
Dr Paul Sharkey, Paul Fumei and Chris Lennon (wise CEM leaders quoted above).
Professor Sr Peta Goldburg rsm (LIC), Professor Br David Hall fms and Fr Anthony Casamento csma from ACU & CUA Campus Garibaldi 28, Rome
Mary Wilson from BATS Your vision your future
William Martin, John Edwards, Mary Wilson, Teresa Edwards from Schools That Deliver
Annie Nelson, Principal, St Mary's Gore, New Zealand (thank you for your gift of hope x)

Research for the above blogpost began in 2019 during a time when Rome was untouched by COVID-19. Today, on the 26th March 2020, only two weeks after publishing this post, Italy and many countries around the world including Australia and New Zealand have gone into lock down to enable humanity to survive the fatal virus. I recently read that although silence abounds in the deserted streets of Rome, the church bells continue to ring out. With heartfelt prayers for healthcare workers and essential service personnel at the forefront of this pandemic may we hold tight to the sacred dignity of humanity with a profound sense of hope and a renewed future.

I wish to acknowledge Laura Kelly Fanucci, the author of this poem published on 18 March 2020:

When this is over, may we never again take for granted
A handshake with a stranger, Full shelves at the store, Conversations with neighbours, 
A crowded theatre, Friday night out, The taste of communion
A routine checkup, The school rush each morning, Coffee with a friend, The stadium roaring
Each deep breath, A boring Tuesday,
Life itself.
When this ends, may we find that we have become more like the people 
we wanted to be, we were called to be, we hoped to be and may we stay that way — better for each other because of the worst.