Administrators’ conference – a time to bond, learn

Clarion Herald, Contributing writer

The Archdiocese of New Orleans’ Office of Catholic Schools hosted the 52nd annual Administrators’ Conference last week on the Gulf Coast of Mississippi. 

The conference is hosted each year for our own administrators, as well as for other Catholic school administrators in Louisiana, Alabama, Mississippi and other states, providing time to connect with colleagues who face similar challenges and to share in each other’s joys.

The theme this year was “Proactive Leadership: Initiating Climate Change,” which allowed us to explore a variety of timely topics. Our two keynote speakers spoke on different subjects but both connected to the imperative that “climate” change should occur in today’s Catholic school communities.

Dr. Tyrone C. Howard, a professor in the Graduate School of Education and Information Students at the University of California, spoke about being honest when we talk to students about race.

Using story-telling, he taught administrators how necessary it is to be courageous and to be willing to discuss race with students honestly, no matter their age.

He reminded us to be mindful about what we’re saying, or not saying, about racial issues and concerns in front of our students. He also reminded us that, as educators, we’re changing the lives of those we teach and therefore impacting generations to come. 

Through his keynote, administrators recognized the need to be equipped to have those crucial discussions and address the fears and anxieties of our students, because we can’t successfully educate if students are anxious, tense or fearful. Howard suggested looking for and utilizing teachable moments to emphasize that while we are all different and unique, we are all made in the image and likeness of Christ. 

Howard also stressed the need to ensure that our messages are age-appropriate. Lastly, we must arm ourselves with knowledge because we cannot teach what we do not know. His message was clear: as school leaders we must set the tone for transformation, and we must be unyielding. 

Our purpose is to improve students’ lives, and to love and respect all children. We can demonstrate this by exhibiting a powerful persistence in their lives, even when they’ve lost hope in themselves. It was a powerful message that left me thinking and recognizing that we need to have these conversations more often. I realize that the Office of Catholic Schools must support school leaders and communities in doing their part. 

Leading digitally

The second keynote speaker, Eric Sheninger, a senior fellow and thought leader on digital leadership with the International Center for Leadership in Education, addressed “Digital Leadership: Changing Paradigms for Changing Times.” 

He explored the many educational shifts occurring with the power of technology and the importance of social media. Though this topic may be easy for some, others may be hesitant or fearful. It’s evident to all school administrators that change in education is constantly occurring, and technology is a tool we must embrace. 

However, it also became obvious to administrators that, perhaps, we are not utilizing the technological tools we already have at our disposal, or perhaps we do not even realize we have them.

Technology is sometimes viewed as the enemy by those who are unfamiliar with it; but, in reality, if our instructional design is right, then technology can only accelerate learning. 

Aside from learning how to utilize technology in the classroom, administrators learned about the importance of taking advantage of free public relations opportunities through social media and blogging. Sheninger emphasized the importance of creating a brand for our schools and using social media to convey that brand. I was blown away by the success Sheninger and his team achieved when he was a principal in New Jersey.

Breakout sessions explored different aspects of creating “climate” change in our schools. Topics included fundraising, building a culture of growth and equitable services programs.

During one of the breakout sessions, Father Tony Ricard introduced St. Augustine High School’s campus ministry student team, who led a session on recognizing the inherit dignity of all. It was awesome to see them as a representation of our schools and to hear them speak from their personal perspectives. Their sharing affirmed that the subject of climate change is critically important. 

Archbishop Aymond and Father Daniel Green, Blessed Trinity pastor, celebrated Mass during the conference. Archbishop Aymond delivered an insightful homily, reminding us that we are called to this ministry and we are called to be reconcilers. In Mark 4:35-41, we are reminded that despite the “storm” we are facing, God is always with us. We must nurture our faith and trust in God’s love for us.

Father Green spoke about the life of St. Katharine Drexel and how we should strive to exemplify the characteristics of her life – her love for the Eucharist and her desire for the unity of all people. She was courageous in her initiatives to address social inequality and was passionate about quality education for all. Like St. Katharine, we should strive to serve selflessly.

It was evident that the Lord was in our presence during each Mass, and we walked away with a renewed commitment to be bold and courageous servants in our ministry as Catholic school leaders. 

Dr. RaeNell Houston is superintendent of Catholic schools for the Archdiocese of New Orleans.

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