Principal Jodi Smith of Ecole Mother Teresa School was recently awarded the Council for School Leadership (CSL) Distinguished Leadership Award.
The Council for School Leadership is a group run by the Alberta Teacher’s Association (ATA), which awards educators who “are considered role models in a vibrant network of educational leaders with the confidence and capabilities to lead innovative change for 21st century learning,” according to an email from CSL committee member Jeff Johnson.
Smith was nominated by her Mother Teresa Vice Principal Ken Meraw, who has personally benefited from Smith’s guidance.
“After reading the criteria, I thought it was a perfect fit for Jodi,” Meraw said. “She has really made a difference for our school and our community since she has been here. She has instituted policies and a framework that has really moved our staff ahead.”
Smith, who was aware of the nomination through the ATA, was very gracious for the recognition from her peers as a leader.
“I was humbled and touched to be recognized for my leadership ability,” she said. “I absolutely love what I do. My job is to lead the staff, who in turn lead the students. The better I am at my job, the better they are at their jobs. I take the role very seriously.”
Smith began her time at Mother Teresa by focusing on building a consistent message for her staff.
“For me, the first process I went through was building a staff that has a really strong growth mindset – looking at where they see possibilities and talk about solutions,” she said. “That trickles down to the students. Even when they would come in after they have made poor choices, which they sometimes do, they come with a solution. Once you start thinking positive – you become positive and you see all the possibilities. We have students and they are our future. We want them to see all the possibilities.”
For Smith, keeping her staff informed, aware and active is how she ensures her colleagues and students are excelling.
“I work with such amazing professionals and they are so gifted,” she said. “I wanted them to recognize ‘you are great at this, and I am here to support you.’ The biggest piece of being a leader is to be as transparent as possible and not hold all the cards close to your chest. It is important for teachers and staff to know what is going on, what the solutions are and how are we getting there. We need everyone on board. What we have seen at this school has been phenomenal and we really explain the ‘why.’ People always want to know the ‘why.’”
Meraw agrees that Smith’s transparency has been an asset to the staff at Mother Teresa, and added that Smith has added many more helpful tools.
“Jodi used the word transparency. I want to add clarity and consistency in the messaging has been key for our staff,” Meraw said. “If you want to make an impact for our students, which is our goal, as leaders we need to impact staff to impact students. If the message is transparent, clear and consistent then we get people on board which makes the big difference in the school community.”
Smith added that ensuring everyone has a voice is very important to her.
“We talk a lot about teaching to the edges, so ensuring that you are reaching all the kids and not just to the middle,” she said. “I think it is important that I lead to the edges. Everyone has a voice and everyone wants to be heard. Sometimes I am the one who makes the decision in the end, but it is important they know they have been heard.”
Meraw feels that Smith’s ability to allow for people to have a voice has helped him grow his own career.
“My growth, personally and professionally, has been in a large part due to Jodi’s influence,” he said. “I attribute a lot my growth to the leadership Jodi has shown me, and I am grateful for that.”
Smith is very thankful that she was recognized by other educators as a leader.
“It has been wonderful and it has been humbling,” she said. “It has been overwhelming at times, because I am reasonably new at my career, but it reinforces that I am doing a good job and am on the right path. To continue where I am headed and get that recognition is always a good thing.”