Recently the Office of Catholic Schools held our first ever virtual principals’ retreat.
In the past this has been held in Coury House on the beautiful and serene grounds of Subiaco Academy. The principals would arrive greeting each other with hugs and sharing stories of how their previous school year was and what they are doing to prepare for the upcoming school year. They would converse about their families and their vacations, and chatter about the simple snacks that would be set up for them to nibble on throughout the next few days.
But this year was quite different with one face at a time popping in on the computer screen, making sure that their cameras were adjusted just right and their microphones were on. Some were in their school offices and while others were in the comfort of their own homes. There wasn’t the loud cheerful talking, but very quiet “hellos.” But once everyone arrived we began as we always have with prayer.
Sister Deborah Troillett, RSM, led our retreat providing us with spiritual guidance and reaffirming the principals that they are the hope for their staff, the students, the parents and their entire school and church community. They are the anchor that leads and gives comfort to their people. But for the people to have hope for the future, it has to begin with each one of us in the present time and it has to begin and include our prayer life. Sister Deborah asked us to look at our spiritual practices whether it is in our prayers, our works or our actions and to offer this up to God. She also challenged us during these uncertain times to become more comfortable in silent prayer. To let our thoughts come and go and allow the Holy Spirit to work within us. It was a beautiful way to begin the Zoom meeting together.
Following the spiritual part of our time together, Suzanne Krumpelman, a Catholic school counselor in Fayetteville, shared with us the social emotional issues that will most likely be encountered especially this school year and how principals can support the heart and the mind of the students, staff and parents. Everyone has been impacted by the Coronavirus and in different ways. Communication is key since all have to adjust to new procedures including wearing masks, limiting visitors in the school, keeping the physical distance and other protocols to be safe. Suzanne stressed the importance of empowering the staff and students to support each other and celebrate our resilience.
After a business session, the principals met through Zoom with other principals in their regions. They discussed with each other how they will maintain Catholicity in the schools and shared how their students will continue to be able to attend Mass following the guidelines in the church, many rotating the classes that attend and live-streaming to the other students. They expressed to their colleagues the creative ways that open houses would be held to welcome their families to the school year. The principals shared ways they will be supporting their staff and the difficult decisions of what fundraising events would take place.
As always, we concluded our principals’ retreat with Mass. It was a YouTube Mass we all watched at the same time. The Gospel reading for the day was John 15:1-8, the vine and the branches. Msgr. Jack Harris’ homily compared the principals as the vine and the students as the branches. By the leadership of the principals and the teachers and the examples in which they live, they guide the students to be children of hope for the future.
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