COLD LAKE – An award with Holy Cross Elementary School’s Principal Michelle Kaminski’s name on it, is on its way from the Alberta Teachers Assocation (ATA) to Cold Lake.
At the end of June, Kaminski was informed that she had received the 2020-2021 Distinguished Leadership Award after a colleague spent upwards of four hours filling out the lengthy and comprehensive nomination form over multiple days.
The leadership awards are given out annually by the Council for School Leadership of the ATA to those “who are looking to challenge the status quo, improve learning in their contexts, and be equipped for higher levels of leadership. These individuals are considered role models in a vibrant network of educational leaders with the confidence and capabilities to lead innovative change for 21st century learning.”
St. Dominic Elementary School teacher Scott MacDonald, who spent years working with Kaminski while they were both teachers and following her transition to principalship, was the one who submitted the nomination.
“When I read it, I'm thinking man, Michelle should be recognized for this. I know that she's recognized in our circles, but I just wanted people to see what a great person and what a great principal that she is,” MacDonald tells Lakeland This Week.
When MacDonald first brought the award to Kaminski’s attention, she told him not to waste his time. But he persisted, following up with the superintendent to ask if he could nominate her. MacDonald was given the OK and encouragement to do so.
“Michelle was my principal for five years. I learned a lot under her and a lot from the stuff that she did," he says. “If I ever become a principal someday, she's the perfect role model for who I would like to be like.”
When MacDonald tells stories of his former principal, he highlights qualities that distinguishes Kaminski as a vibrant leader.
He describes her as an expert teacher in the classroom. Someone who goes beyond talking about solutions and walks the walk. An individual who builds genuine relationships with students, teachers and parents alike. A leader who can recognize and name all her students and their parents.
“It’s one thing to know the children at the school, but to know the parents too and to have that relationship with them. For them to know that they can call up and talk to her and Michelle will be there for them – that’s Michelle,” he says. “She's been a leader and a role model in our district for quite some time.”
Speaking with Lakeland This Week, Kaminski says, “When people say I'm going to nominate you for this award, it is always a bit of a surprise, but it was very humbling, and I guess affirming that they thought I was doing a good job.”
Hesitant to talk of her own feats as an educator, she describes her approach to her work, “I think the key to success is always really getting to know your staff and your parents on a personal level and trying to understand them and making sure that you are helping them and removing any obstacles that might be in their way for succeeding.”
She adds, “I have always seen my job here as how do I help staff get over a hurdle somewhere along the line. My job is to help them remove obstacles so that they can do what they need to do, which is teach kids.”
Over a 21-year career, Kaminski says the biggest obstacle she has faced so far has been dealing with the pandemic.
“COVID – and I know that might be over overplayed now, but I think when COVID first came and we had to look at different ways of teaching, different ways of reaching kids, and just helping teachers cope with the changing landscape – I think for me, that seriously has been the biggest hurdle,” she says.
Kaminski explains the effects of COVID have been felt by all, “students too and the parents, it's affected everybody. It really has. So, it is about looking for the best pathways through it and how we can best support each other in the meantime, thinking positively about it and doing everything you can in the moment.”
Reflecting on what led her down a career path as an educator, she says, “I love school and I had lots of relatives and my own dad who was an educator and I just saw how passionate they were and how much they love the work. It made me think that I could do that too.”
Carrying on a strong legacy of passion and education, Kaminski will soon receive her Distinguished Leadership Award through the mail in the coming weeks.
“You go about it because you love the job, and you want you want kids to learn and you want staff to be successful. That is why you do it. It is a great honour and I just feel blessed that Scott filled in this application and took the time to do that. I am definitely honoured. It's an affirmation that your hard work is appreciated, but you definitely don't set out to try and win an award,” she adds.
Kaminski has spent the last 10 years of her 21-year career as a principal, first at St. Dominic Elementary School before transferring to Holy Cross Elementary at the beginning of this school year.