Q&A with Patricia Amos, outgoing Catholic school board director

The director of education of Hamilton-Wentworth Catholic District School Board calls the modern teacher "a connected educator" who needs to allow students to question what they are learning and facilitate learning as opposed to giving knowledge.

Amos, set to retire after 43 years with board, says she knows what it takes to be a modern teacher

Patricia Amos, Hamilton-Wentworth Catholic District School Board’s director of education, is retiring after 43 years on the job. She shares some advice and wisdom she picked up along the way during a decades-long tenure as an educator.

What kind of changes have you seen at HWCDSB over the past 43 years?

The major change is the impact on education as we entered the digital age. I believe that emerging digital technologies, when used properly, offer substantial educational benefits. However the benefits have not been without risks.

It has been a great opportunity for me personally to work on policies and procedures that provide guidance on the moral and ethical use of these tools to support student learning and enhance student achievement.

Cloud computing, increased network storage and 24/7 access to resources for staff and students has significantly increased digital collaborative learning spaces.

What's the biggest challenge facing Catholic education?

Catholic Education has to be able to clearly articulate the mission and value of Catholic education to the broader community – that our schools are rooted in the faith traditions of our church and that our students are guided by gospel values and that they view the secular world through the lens of their faith. We have to demonstrate that Catholic education is not a duplication and that it is cost efficient.

Some perceive education to be merely an instrument for the acquisition of information that will improve the chances of worldly success and a more comfortable standard of living. Catholic schools emphasize the inalienable dignity of the human person and our mission to form our students to be good citizens of the world, loving God and neighbour, thus enriching society with the leaven of the gospel.

Our schools are not institutions but rather genuine communities of faith. Our goal is to promote “overcoming individualistic self-promotion, solidarity instead of competition, assisting the weak instead of marginalization and responsible participation rather than indifference.” As a catholic school system we must ensure that the spirit of Catholicism permeates the entire curriculum, not only in our religious education courses.

What's a memorable moment in your 43 years working with students?

I had the opportunity to participate in the DREAMS (Dominican Republic Education and Medical Support) experience in 2012 with 34 students from St. Mary Catholic Secondary School. Participating in this transformative experience with these Grade 12 students affirmed for me that our future is in good hands. Each day the students worked for more than 10 hours, digging, mixing cement and carrying blocks to build a home for the family that worked alongside of us each day.

As I prepare to end my 43 year career in Catholic education, I want to do so participating in another service project, I plan to spend my last week building another home in OCOA — and working alongside our future leaders — another group of Grade 12 students, who will really see how one person can have a significant impact on the lives of others. I know I will leave my career filled with hope and optimism, as our Catholic students give witness to their faith through their caring modelling the gospel values of Jesus Christ.

Why should the Catholic school board remain publicly funded?

Catholic schools make a distinct contribution to the well-being of our province and our communities.

Education in faith is similar to education in general – in that it is a lifelong process.

Our students go forward as effective communicators who use and integrate the Catholic faith tradition, in the critical analysis of the arts, media, technology and information systems to enhance the quality of life for members of our society. They are reflective and creative thinkers who manage and constructively influence change in a discerning manner; as self-directed, responsible, lifelong learners who examine, evaluate and apply knowledge of interdependent systems (physical, political, ethical, socio-economic and ecological) for the development of a just and compassionate society.

What's your advice for educators?

The learning environment must change as technology helps define a new way of teaching and learning. The days of the “sage on the stage” are over! It will be important for teachers to help students to develop higher order thinking skills, become effective communicators, who think critically, and enhance opportunities for students to learn through collaborative inquiry. The learning environment should be student-centric and teachers should take the role of facilitators and guides rather than being mere providers of knowledge.

A modern teacher — a connected educator — will need to allow students to question what they are learning and facilitate learning as opposed to giving knowledge. They must be tech savvy. They have to understand the value of social media and implement self-regulation strategies for students. The modern teacher must be able to explore, integrate and utilize Web 2.0 learning tools to support the learning environment for students.

What's your advice for students to succeed in today's world?

The interdisciplinary nature of the modern classroom is very different from the 20th century classroom. Today collaboration is the thread for all student learning. Students must take an active role in their learning. Today’s students should seek improved learning options and choices based on their preferred learning styles.

Take responsibility for your learning and be an active participant in all that you do. Be resilient. Seek support as needed. Be open about your needs. Surround yourself with good, positive and successful role models. Ask for feedback. Listen with an open mind. Support the leadership of others. Be a mentor. Be a risk- taker. Do not see failure as a fault, but rather see it as an opportunity for continued growth and future success. Don’t blame others for your short-comings. Act justly. Speak up against wrong-doings. Volunteer. Think outside the box and don’t be afraid to see life through various perspectives. Don’t burn bridges but most of all, be a person of integrity, trust and honesty. You hold the future in your hands. Embrace yourself. Have pride in all that you accomplish. Be a life-long learner and always take time to celebrate your successes.

What's your plan for retirement?

I am most blessed to have a husband of 43 years. I got married and started my teaching career that very same year. We have 2 married children and 3 beautiful granddaughters. We will be travelling together as an extended family and I also plan to travel with friends who have anxiously awaited my time to join them in retirement. I have my wonderful mother who successfully raised 6 children, who now needs more support. I am eager to share more time with her.

I intend to volunteer at the St. Helen Community Centre. I hope to work closely with the City to have a community kitchen built in the centre where we can teach the families how to prepare nutritious meals in a very cost effective way.

I have lived my career guided by the words of the Prophet Micha:

To act justly

To love tenderly and

To walk humbly with my Lord


To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.