Twenty-two percent of OACS schools have a new principal or administrative team at the helm for the 2016-2017 school year. That’s almost one in every four schools.
“It became clear over the course of the past school year that there was going to be a higher than average number of leadership shoes to fill before the end of the summer,” shared OACS Director of School Quality Ray Hendriks, “and very few trained, experienced principals looking for work.”
In conversations with other organizational leaders, Mr. Hendriks recognized that across the OACS membership, concerns about leadership were similar. “This past year I have wondered often—sometimes silently, sometimes in conversation with other organizational leaders, and most often in my conversations with God—about how these leadership positions would be filled.”
While exiting principals along with their school communities wondered the same thing, God had already begun to do a work in the hearts of those who would be filling those empty spaces. As several of the new principals and administrative team leaders have begun to share their story about how they found themselves in their new leadership roles, there is a remarkable thread to the statements that weave the stories together:
“A few years ago I felt prompted by the Spirit to start thinking about…”
“Late winter, I started to feel the Lord nudging my heart…”
“I was led to start a conversation…”
“I realized I was being called….”
God was already at work, raising up a new generation of leaders. However, not in the conventional way that it has normally happened in the past. With the exception of only a few schools, the vast majority of the administrative roles were filled by teachers who felt called to step into the role of leadership within the community that they were already serving.
“There has been a significant change in how principals and leaders are entering into the position of leadership in Christian schools today in comparison with the process a number of years ago. We are heading into a new era of leadership,” observed Mr. Hendriks. “Five or six years ago, communities focused much more intently on a person’s level of training—a Master’s degree was viewed as essential. But,” continued Mr. Hendriks, “that didn’t always guarantee that they were a good fit in the school communities where they were hired.”
“Christian school communities are beginning to recognize that, in the cases where internal leaders have stepped up to roles of leadership—either as part of an administrative team, or by appointment as principal—these leaders already have a passion for their communities that is often hard to match when you bring in someone from the outside. They know the community. They love the community. And they want the community to flourish.”
“It’s not always about having all your education first and then being ready to lead,” shared Mrs. Koornneef, former principal of Dunnville Christian School, who has recently taken on a new position as principal of Covenant Christian School in Smithville. “God does not call the equipped… He equips the called! If God calls someone into the position of leadership, He will equip them.”
“The reality is,” she continued, “that these are God’s schools. He is in control, and He sets things in motion. We are just his instruments, and we have to rely on God to teach us what we need to know in those moments that we don’t have the answers.”
Rita Bergsma echoes that dependence on trust when taking on a role of leadership. Ms. Bergsma has taught several different grades over the course of her career, and has recently taken on the interim principal role at Community Christian School in Metcalf. “I’m excited about this new role,” she shared. “Although it is not one that I have prepared for, I have been challenged by God to step out in faith, and I pray that He gives me the wisdom and grace needed for others to see Christ working in me.”
New principal Rob MacDonald has spent the last 22 years teaching math in a public high school in community of Charlottetown, and has been hired as the new principal of Immanuel Christian School in PEI this year. He agrees that sometimes it’s all about having faith in the calling.
“It wasn’t always clear to me, from the beginning, that God was leading me in this way. I’ve always felt like I could see one or two steps ahead, but didn’t always know where it would lead. Yet I knew in my heart that I just needed to be obedient and follow along to see what God’s plan was.” Mr. MacDonald added, with a laugh, “I usually like to plan things out really well, so this has been a real learning curve for me!”
Although the newly hired principals demonstrate a deep passion for the communities in which they have been hired to serve, they are quick to admit that they are looking for every possible opportunity to receive support, both in the areas of continued education and also through connections with other leaders who have more experience. George VanKampen, an experienced principal who came out of retirement to take a position as principal at John Knox Christian School in Brampton this year, is a firm believer in both professional development for new principals and mentorship.
“To me, mentorship is probably of equal value to a new leader as is education and training,” he related. Having spent two years mentoring a new principal in a school in Montreal, Mr. VanKampen shared the benefits of working alongside of a new leader and giving them support along the way. “At the leadership level in Ontario, we need to have that mentorship and that support for the young leaders that are stepping up to become principals in schools.”
Along with the traditional way that mentoring has been practiced in the past, the OACS edCommons website has provided new opportunities for ongoing mentorship between principals, particularly within the InSight group. “What I love about this platform is that it represents something unique and different from the traditional, ‘one-to-many’ way that we view mentoring,” shared OACS Communications Director Chris van Donkelaar. “It is not only the most popular group on the site, but the breadth of conversations that principals are having, and also the vulnerability that the principals demonstrate with one another, is outstanding.”
He continued by pointing out some of the advantages for principals being able to connect in a private group, noting that the forum allows for new ideas and perspectives to be included in the mix. It is also a scalable solution for mentorship, which can be a sizable commitment both financially and time-wise, as the mentoring happens synchronously—principals can jump into the conversations, to listen or to participate—whenever it works within their daily schedules.
While mentorship plays a key role in helping new principals grow into their role as leaders, professional development continues to provide the tools they need to feel equipped for their new positions. “Professional development is so important,” Mrs. Koornneef emphasized, “not just to learn about the things we need to know, but also to connect with others and to build relationships with them.”
Several of this year’s new principals attended the Educators Leadership Development Institute (ELDI) this past summer in Orillia, or the Introduction to Christian School Leadership course in Bowmanville. “If there are others who are working in Christian schools that are considering whether they are being called into positions of leadership, I would highly recommend going to these courses,” shared Mr. MacDonald. “ELDI was amazing for me as a beginning administrator—the way the sessions were conducted, the room for interactions and opportunities to discuss with each other and bat ideas around, the time to build up our network of people and exchange ideas, the fact that I have a list of people to contact that I can call at any time to ask for advice or encouragement—the whole thing was a huge benefit and I can’t imagine coming into this job if I hadn’t had that experience.”
“More important than the content is the encouragement that new leaders receive from experienced ones, and the understanding that they are a part of organizations that are here to support them. ELDI, OCSAA, EDIFIDE, and the OACS—we’re all players in the room, and we’re all going to, in one way or another, support the work of these new leaders,” Mr. Hendriks added.
“The excitement for me is that people have stepped up to a calling in our schools,” Mr. Hendriks shared. “God has done it! He has raised up a new generation of leaders—leaders with a passion for Christian education and for their communities, who are mature in faith and who understand the importance of Christian schooling for the next generation of children. And that has filled me, once again, with hope.”
Unanimously, the new principals have expressed that they have felt an overwhelming amount of support from parents, teachers, and their wider communities as they have stepped into their new leadership roles. For each of them, this is a confirmation of the calling that they felt from the beginning—the prompting, the nudging of their hearts to take a step of faith. “I’ve compared myself to Abraham a little bit, on this journey,” shared Mr. MacDonald. “You’re called to go somewhere, and you don’t know exactly where you’re going, but you know that God’s going to go with you.”