The 2020 Huether Lasallian Conference brought Lasallians together virtually, taking place as an online event November 19-21, 2020, themed “Great Things are Possible: Our Lasallian Mission Reimagined and Renewed.” With more than 500 Lasallians registered from around the world, the online gathering offered many highlights that would be available during an in-person gathering, such as time for prayer and building community by interacting with other Lasallians.
“During this time of isolation and distance learning, an opportunity to meet with and interact with Lasallians was deeply appreciated,” shared Brother Frederick Mueller, FSC, who has attended more than 35 previous Huether Conferences, including the inaugural gathering in 1973. “Although I missed meeting in person both Lasallians I have known over a long period of time and Lasallians new to the Huether Conference, the platform used enabled me to discuss with session leaders and colleagues, to ask questions of presenters, and to comment throughout the presentations (the chat feature was a real gift to see real-time reactions and comments to what was being said). I am grateful to the planning committee for their choice of topics, presenters, and break-out sessions.”
The Huether Conference opened with a panel discussion moderated by Maryann Donohue-Lynch, associate executive director for the District of Eastern North America’s Office for Mission and Ministry. Panelists unpacked Lasallian Reflection 5 in the context of the real experiences taking place in the COVID-19 pandemic and racial unrest.
“I admired the honesty and openness shared by the [panel] members. They shared great reminders on how to humanize education and promote restorative justice,” reflected Monique Cruz, a teacher at De La Salle Institute in Chicago, Illinois. “We so often depend on policy, but it is empathy that we need. We need to empathize with others and recognize the strengths and weaknesses of our humanity. To do so, I appreciated how the panel brought to light how communication needs to be reshaped. As Lasallians, we need to create a safe community in our ministries where we break down the walls of judgement and bias opinions to form relationships with all people.”
Friday’s keynote speaker, Dr. Nekeshia Hammond, past president of Florida Psychological Association, discussed the importance of prioritizing the mental health of young people, especially in today’s world. She used examples from the “Declaration on the Lasallian Educational Mission” to show how Lasallians are already responding to this need, and she offered advice and resources on mental health.
“Dr. Hammond reminded us that while a number of our students have labeled disabilities or mental health issues, all of our students face some trauma through national or local events,” shared Marian Demarest, assistant principal for academic life at Saint John Paul II Academy in Boca Raton, Florida. “Our students face natural disasters yearly and currently all are dealing with the effects of COVID. We must give our students a voice. We must provide them with a way to discuss these issues whether it’s talking to someone going through the same experiences or with providing them with support systems developed from research and the myriad of resources available.”
In Saturday’s keynote address, motivational speaker Jeff Yalden talked about the importance of having relationships with students and paying attention to their mental health. He told Lasallians, “You touch the heart, the mind will follow.” Lisa Pollock, guidance counselor at De La Salle College “Oaklands” in Toronto, Ontario, described the presentation as inspiring and motivational.
“I really valued his honesty and courage to be vulnerable with his audience. As educators, this is extremely important, but in particular, as a guidance counselor, this is especially poignant. He reminded us all of how ‘vulnerability can be our strength’ and that we should lead by example,” shared Pollock. “Jeff also expressed how important it is for educators to practice self-care, as this will show in the work we do every day. In the busyness of our work day, it can be easy to forget this or put this off. He shared that we must allow ourselves to learn to be ‘persons of grace.’ We can do this by reminding ourselves, and others (colleagues, students, family members) to ‘forget the mistake and remember the lesson.’ It can be very difficult to forgive ourselves but it’s so important to model and share the gift of reconciliation with others around us.”
Each day of the conference featured a round of concurrent breakout sessions that addressed topics including racial justice, mental health, vocation promotion, Lasallian spirituality and more. The online platform allowed for participants to share discussion in the breakout sessions, along with opportunities to connect directly with fellow attendees through networking and chat features. They could also interact directly with the Huether sponsors/exhibitors, BioShield, Br. David Darst Center, La Salle Manor and Retreat Center and La Salle University.
Mark Villaluz, a teacher at St. Michael’s High School in Santa Fe, New Mexico, took a lot out of his first Huether experience.
“[I registered because] I wanted to remind myself that God is central in my life,” said Villaluz. “I will take back the idea of being emotionally safe and check if my students feel this way. From the breakout sessions, I was reminded of the power of silence, gratitude, and staying touch with the divine.”
The online format offered the opportunity for more Lasallians from around the world to participate, including Brother Waseem Shamoun, FSC, who is from Pakistan and is studying in New Zealand.
“I am so happy that I did not miss the chance to interact with Lasallians across the world,” shared Brother Waseem. “It has been a wonderful experience, very informative, productive and encouraging. Something which really struck me [Friday] was ‘The spirit of this community is first, a spirit of faith.’ While attending this 2020 Huether Lasallian Conference and experiencing such a big Lasallian family and its great faith, it made me proud to be who we are and what we do.”
Sarah Laitinen, director of Lasallian programs for the Office for Lasallian Education at Christian Brothers Conference, explained that the one goal of the virtual Huether gathering was to provide the opportunity to bring Lasallians together.
“During this global pandemic, we have realized the essential role of community and the importance of remaining connected through these difficult and unprecedented times,” explained Laitinen. “We are grateful for the support of the Districts and chief administrators in inviting Lasallians to attend Huether. I believe Lasallians responded in large numbers because we realize the importance of the Lasallian community and remaining connected with the greater Lasallian family. Following Huether each year, we hope attendees share best practices learned in the keynote and breakout sessions with colleagues at their ministries. This year, I hope attendees feel renewed in their vocation and connected to our shared mission while we continue to navigate the challenges of the pandemic. Even though we are apart, we remain united by our commitment to our mission.”
The virtual gathering was made possible through a partnership with Eduscape and the Procedo Project, which Mark Freund, executive director for the Office for Lasallian Education, explained was selected for a few reasons.
“First, the platform offered the features we had identified as being critical to the success of a conference such as Huether. Secondly, the sponsorship commitment of the CEO, Alex Urrea, and the director of the Procedo Project, Andrea Chavez-Kopp, was critical both in allowing us to offer the Huether Conference at no cost to participants while also supporting us with additional technology personnel for the course of the three day event,” said Freund. “I see incredible opportunity to include more Lasallians both from around the Region and around the world in similar events in the future. From simple interactive technologies like Teams and Zoom to more complex solutions, such as what is provided by Eduscape, there are a wealth of opportunities that can be built with creativity and our shared commitment to innovation.”
Registered participants will have access to recordings of the opening panel, keynote addresses and certain breakout sessions for 60 days after the conference.
Huether is hosted by the Office for Lasallian Education at Christian Brothers Conference in Washington, D.C. See more highlights on Twitter by searching #Huether2020. The conference is scheduled to take place in Baltimore, Maryland, in 2021 and 2022.