The Answer is in the Room

By Ray Hendriks  |  February 25th

When I first took on the mantel of leadership over 30 years ago, I was advised by the outgoing principal that if I did nothing else for my self preservation as a leader, I should never, I repeat, never, miss a regional principals' meeting.

As I settled into my new role in August of that year, I received calls from principals in the region inviting me to meet with them and offering insight and support. I was blessed also to have a board chair who understood the need for this kind of collaborative and supportive activity and encouraged me to attend.

During my first year as principal, I taught four grades with only one afternoon per week of administration time. To spend one of those blocks going to a gathering of principals would mean a loss of precious time. However, I acquiesced to the wise advice of those more experienced than I and faithfully began to attend the gatherings.

Those gatherings were a lifeline for me. In the midst of the myriad of experiences of principalship, this was a safe place: a place of learning, collegiality, humour, shared experiences, and support. I learned quickly that my principal colleagues wanted the best for me and that we were stronger as a group and individually when we took the time to gather together.

This past January, I had the pleasure of witnessing the continued importance of these gatherings. On a cold, wintry Wednesday, representatives from four leadership cohorts gathered at the Google headquarters in Kitchener to interact with Googlers and tour their very unique workplace. The following Tuesday, two cohort groups in eastern Ontario met to learn about how their leadership style is affected by their character traits and how that plays out in their leadership. At the end of that week, I was privileged to spend some time with the high school cohort at a retreat centre in Mississauga to reflect on spiritual care and the modeling spiritual leadership. We also had time to engage in a discussion with a knowledgeable lawyer, Albertos Polizogopolous, on the legal implications around sexual orientation and gender identity issues in our schools.

Each of those meetings included a time of learning and innovative ideas which will help to strengthen the leadership and deepen the competency of those in attendance. However, as I reflected on each meeting in its entirely, the time before and after the formal learning—the informal times of gathering—were a valuable part of the day, just as they always have been. I saw people gathered in conversations, exuding care and concern for each other.

My heart was warmed, and my spirit encouraged, to know that what was of such deep value to me as new leader so many years ago continues to be valuable to leaders today. These gatherings can be a lifeline for you as a leader. My encouragement to you is to continue to participate in these gatherings, and if it is not in your habit to do so, start to attend. I saw in these January gatherings what I have known to be true for over thirty years: in these places and moments, we strengthen each other, encourage each other, celebrate each other, learn with each other, and if necessary, grieve with each other. You are not alone; a community of Christ-like leaders awaits you.