A Conversation with...
Name: Maria Varlet
Position: Deputy Chair | CSA National Council
CSA: Thanks so much for taking the time to share your leadership journey with us. How long have you been involved with CSA?
Maria: I have been a National Council Member since 2017 and previously worked as State Executive Officer for 7 years.
CSA: What work did you do prior to working with CSA?
Maria: I was working in Executive Leadership in schools.
CSA: What do you see are the current major leadership issues in Christian education?
Maria: I think one of the major issues currently is the lack of suitable applicants for key leadership roles in schools. Retiring principals are doing a great job in our schools. However, the next generation require a different and evolving expertise for 21st C school leadership. There needs to be greater focus on being an educational, rather than operational, school leader. While not bad in and of itself, there is a predominance of older men in leadership in our schools. There is also a lack of diversity in leadership and, moreover, a lack of women around the table is still a big issue, but also racial diversity. Another current issue is the lack of solid training for middle leaders and those aspiring for leadership, though this is now being addressed. And, finally, other challenge for schools is to ensure that they have really robust recruitment practices.
Know your strengths, play to your strengths and build your strengths."
CSA: Describe some of the best supports in your own leadership journey.
Maria: Probably some of the best supports were leaders who had a 'go for it' attitude and gave me opportunity to try things; male champions who made a place at the table for me. Also, one of the best things I did was to invest in myself by completing further study, doing leadership training, and building solid networks around me of people who I could learn from. Of particular help were colleagues who supported me during difficult times.
CSA: What's one piece of advice you might give to emerging leaders in education?
Maria: Know your strengths, play to your strengths and build your strengths. I think so often young leaders (and often women in particular) have the misconception that good leadership needs to look a certain way. It is easy to get caught up in trying to change oneself in order to fit a particular leadership mould or construct. I think a better pathway is to firstly develop self-awareness (there are various tools that can assist with this as can having a mentor) and know your own strengths. Then, rather than trying to be someone you are not, learn to lead within your strengths. So often we over-focus on what we cannot do or gifts we do not have. I think a better place to start is to take the gifts you do have and be intentional and strategic in the way that you develop these. The parable of the talents has always been a great reminder for me – what is it that you have in your hand and what can you do with it?
CSA: What role has faith played in your leadership journey?
Maria: My faith has played a significant part in my journey and I would like to think that my values as a leader and the kind of leader I aspire to be, are shaped by my beliefs. I believe that understanding who you are, and who you are in Christ, is crucial in order to be able to realise the purposes and plans that God has for you. My faith has also helped me to navigate those parts of the journey that have been especially challenging. Being able to process and manage difficulties through a biblical lens has helped me to stay confident and resilient.
CSA: What is your favourite CSA Resource or Tool and why?
Maria: To be honest, it is probably the people. But there are a number of really useful resources. I have found the Flourish resource enormously helpful. We have used it as part of the process of inducting new staff into our organisation. The materials are professionally produced and have served to facilitate really rich discussion enabling our new staff to think deeply about the purpose of Christian education and the vocation they are stepping into. I also love the online community The CSA Collective because it enables us to tap into the collective wisdom of member schools. I have never been one for re-inventing the wheel, and so being able to quickly get feedback, advice or resources from other schools has been great. It is really encouraging to see the way that staff across schools are supporting each other. I’m excited at the potential of this platform going forward. Finally, I think the new Governance Course also looks really excellent. Given the enormous legal and regulatory responsibilities of boards, it is vital that they are expertly trained. I really like the way that this initiative allows for board members to be trained together and that there is some flexibility around which modules are chosen and in what order.