Starting with Relationships, Focus on Learning

This was originally posted by J. Bevacqua on Figuring It Out

Yet another new beginning….

For those that have not heard – next school year brings a new and exciting job opportunity – this time as Principal of Vancouver College – a K-12 Catholic school in Vancouver.

Of course with a new beginning come thoughts of transition.  Lots of thoughts – coming at me at all hours of the day and night!  Needless to say, these past few months have been full of joy and self-reflection.

There have been no shortage of colleagues, family and friends who have expressed their congratulations and best wishes.  There have also been no shortage of questions, such as:

What is your plan?

What are you going to implement?

or the famous…..

What is your plan for technology at the school?

My response to each of these questions has been fairly consistent – my first order of business is to immerse myself in the community and establishing trust in relationships while maintaining a focus on learning.

Like I’ve said before – I believe that trust is the currency of leadership.  To earn and distribute trust I must immerse myself in relationships.

Of course what I’m actually saying is that I need to immerse myself in the culture of the school  – to become fully absorbed in its mission, vision and values.  I need to experience how the mission and values intersect with the underlying assumptions and actions of students, parents and teachers.

I need to hear, see and experience what students, parents and teachers are proud of.  I need to see and witness the successes of students and staff.  I need to bear witness to challenges and triumphs.

And throughout it all – maintain a focus on learning  –  my own learning but of course student, teacher and parent learning.

And so, the relationship building process begins in earnest.

I have already had to the pleasure meeting with a few teachers, parents, board members, trustees and students in casual and social settings.

In the near future I will formally meet each staff member (close to 80 people) for a short 15 minute conversation.

In preparation for these conversations I have distributed a short survey (using Google Drive) for each staff member to reflect upon and respond to.   Here are the questions:

  1. What do you like best about teaching/working at the school?
  2. What “learning” are you currently engaged in? Think about teaching and working in service of our students.   What do you want to learn more about?  What excites you?  What are you passionate about?
  3. How would you describe “learning” for teachers and staff at the school?  Secondary questions to think about: How is the school supporting your learning?  Is the learning relevant to your needs? Describe collaboration among staff members? 
  4. How would you describe “learning” for students at the school?  Some secondary questions: Think about the students you work with.  When it comes to “learning” –  what’s working?  What may not be working?   Predict how your students might respond to this question.  How are students making their learning visible to you, each other and the community? 

As next year progresses, I look forward to asking students and parents a variation of these same questions.

Needless to say, I am very excited to be joining such a dynamic, passionate, and faith filled community.  I am equally exciting to be working with teachers, staff  and parents in humble service of the students we serve.

Said another way – I am looking forward to “figuring it out” in a vibrant Catholic school community.


  1. How fortunate Vancouver College and Catholic education is to have you! As a fellow Catholic school principal, I share your philosophy on trust and staying focused on learning. I love your survey and think that, after 7 years as the principal, it might be a good time to re-survey my staff in a similar way. Thanks for the idea!

    June 25, 2014
  2. Dave Street said:

    As a principal moving schools, i could not have found a greater resource than ” Starting with Relationships, Focus on Learning”. So many want to put their own “stamp” on a new school. Not as important as building and maintaining trust with staff, students, parents, cupe….In the long run, school connectedness and climate will only be enhanced by taking time to build relationships. Research backs the notion that school connectedness impacts student success. Connectedness can only be built on a firm, solid foundation of relationships with a community that exsisted before you came along…and will still be there long after you are gone.

    July 2, 2014
  3. Michael Newman said:

    Relationships are so important for every school and every student. Relationships encourage and inspire students (and staff for that matter). I can’t think of a more important beginning point than diligently seeking to establish strong relationships. Best wishes for a great year.

    July 6, 2014

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