Lent provides an opportunity for reflection and preparation, leading us to gain insight and perspective in our lives. Ash Wednesday marked my first 40 days as the new Principal at Marian Catholic College Kenthurst, giving a unique opportunity to reflect on what has transpired so far.
In 40 days, I have needed to navigate a frequently changing landscape in response to COVID, provide guidance and support to my community impacted by the recent floods and respond innovatively to current workforce shortages facing the teaching profession. Yet the opportunity to reflect has highlighted the honour and privilege it is to be a school Principal.
Previous leadership experience and completing a PhD as the father of four young children provided some insight into the complexities of such a key role in a community. Yet I have found myself schooled by the realities of the role and the lessons I take from this each day.
To be welcomed into the life of my community and have the opportunity to inspire students to recognise their talents and empower them to continually strive to be the best people they can be is a gift. The key messages to my students so far have been of grit, perseverance and resilience in facing adversity.
Now I realise I am practising what I preach!
As I reflect on my journey there have been three key areas that have helped me build connection and respond to these extraordinary times: presence, principles and partnerships.
Critical in the first 40 days of leadership has been establishing a visible presence. This not only lets students know who you are, but also allows you to understand all the intricacies of your community. I have always been a leader who rolls up my sleeves and leads by example.
However, the opportunity to be present in the classroom or playground and talk to students and staff has allowed me to ask genuine questions of why we do things and gain a valuable insight into our school culture. Without realising, I have accelerated my understanding of the school community, and this allowed me to respond appropriately to the challenges faced so far.
The opportunity to think about and communicate your key messages through communications across social media, letters to the community, assemblies and in professional learning have been a crucial component of making a positive start to the first 40 days.
The constant articulation of the values that underpin my vision have also supported my decision-making as a leader and fostered greater collective buy-in from staff, students and parents. I have found the use of stories a significant asset in helping people share the vision and then make connections to their lives and how they can be agents for change.
In faith, we are never alone – I feel truly blessed in the support of our Catholic community. Whether through the pastoral leadership of our Parish Priest Fr Vincent Savarimuthu or walking with parents and carers, this companionship makes for a better journey.
The passionate and inspiring staff that I work with each day who are responsible for supporting the growth of all students are a source of constant support and partnership. I am constantly amazed at their dedication, professionalism and community spirit.
I am always amazed at the generosity of my fellow Principals in providing time, support and advice. In the midst of responding to their own complex environments and facing the same challenges in their communities they are always willing to reach out, connect and ensure that I feel supported.
As people of faith, we live in hope. Hope is a powerful force that keeps us striving for each other and ourselves. It is the notion that what we experience in the now, even how overwhelming, always leads to a better tomorrow.
Dr Gavin Hays PhD is the Principal of Marian Catholic College, Kenthurst. Prior to commencing in this role, Gavin previously worked as Head of Contemporary Learning and Research at Catholic Education Diocese of Parramatta and served as Assistant Principal at Parramatta Marist High.
This article was originally published in the 2022 Lent and Easter/Autumn 2022 edition of the Catholic Outlook Magazine. You can read the magazine here.