“I wasn’t necessarily looking for positions of leadership, but I wasn’t afraid to jump in when leadership was required or asked of me,” says Matthew Bekkering (BSc’06; BEd’08; MEd’17).
The former University of Lethbridge Pronghorns Basketball captain returned to the UofL to pursue a master’s in educational leadership after serving in roles as an informal school leader for seven years. “I wanted a more clear-eyed understanding of what leadership could be,” he says.
That understanding was challenged when Covid-19 broke out six months following Bekkering’s appointment as principal of Immanuel Christian Secondary School in Lethbridge. Suddenly, his responsibility to ensure quality education and foster personal and professional well-being took on new meaning as 300+ students, teachers and staff looked to him for support and guidance under dramatically adverse circumstances.
As a school leader you set the tone,” he says, “and you’re holding space for a lot of people with differing opinions. Building capacity for empathy, being as collaborative and transparent as possible, showing patience, and trying to communicate graciously are really important, but so is realizing that at some point you need to make decisions that you feel are best for the common good.”
It was a steep learning curve for the first-time administrator, but an inherent adaptability and tremendous collegial support resulted in silver linings. “It was a powerful time for growth, because we had to reimagine what school is,” says Bekkering. Some changes, such as improved assessment practices, were positive and will be maintained. Teachers became more comfortable with technology as they learned to use it in impactful new ways. Collaborative ties with other schools strengthened as administrators met virtually to design best practices, share resources, and combine students for at-home learning. “There was a real desire to build equity among the schools of what online schooling would look like,” he says. “That support, and being able to have those open conversations, was a real gift.”
Bekkering likens his first year of administration to shooting an arrow in the dark, not knowing if it would hit its target. “Leadership humbles you, and makes you not rely only on yourself. There was what I thought administration would be, and then there was the reality of it. The extra layer of the pandemic just added a whole other level of … I’ll call it excitement,” he says with a smile.
Writer: Elizabeth McLachlan
Photo: Courtesy of Matthew Bekkering
Related story links to Faculty of Education Graduate Studies and Research:
• The Creativity of Curriculum and 36 Years with the Faculty of Education: Dr. Richard Butt
• Coping with COVID-19: Harnessing our Natural Stress Response
• Coping with COVID-19: Loneliness
• How Students Can Get Screen Time Break During COVID-19: Experts
• The Intersectionality of Faith, Mental Health and Wellness for Racialized Populations During the Pandemic
• Bridging Neuroscience and Education: Riley Kostek (BSc’09/BEd’11)
• Teaching and Assessing for Life Beyond the Classroom: Dr. David Slomp
• Five questions with Shining Graduate Rita Lal (BSc/BEd '01, MEd '20)
• Teaching Multiple Literacies in Canadian Classrooms: Sarah Gagnon (BSc/BEd’11, MEd candidate)
• Wellness is About Writing: Teri Hartman (BA/BEd '02, current MEd student)
• Leadership in Education: The Power of Generative Dialogue
• A Generative Approach to Leadership for All Educators
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