Heather Gross comes to us by way of education. Whether in a museum, a park, a university or a high school, she’s always looking to help people find value and make meaning from what they’re learning. She is a lover of choral singing as a way to connect with others, and as a way to help people work through the hard stuff. With her ability to foster collaboration, productive engagement, and belonging, Heather opens people up to their potential like no other.
How did you end up aligning with Roy Group?
Working at Pearson College UWC, I remember sitting in our dining hall with the head of maintenance, head of finance and two teachers at a table ready to learn about coaching from Ian Chisholm. There was some trepidation, as this kind of all-staff experience was not our norm, but that was replaced by story and engagement, and in seeing ourselves in the ongoing conversation. Ian was on the board of directors, too. I had met him and Anne-Marie in trainings like this one, but also in the many board meetings and related conversations. I feel lucky to have seen the evolution of practice and purpose with Roy Group over the last 14 years and am keen to contribute.
Share a little nutshell of your background. What stands out as having positioned you to climb inside the Roy Group Land Rover?
Well, though I drive a hybrid now, I have worked in the parks service. I am always ready to climb into any moving vehicle, help re-stock a trout pond or stand back during a bear tag!
I am keen to engage in experiences like that, and to facilitate these for others. Working as an interpreter with parks and in museums really honed my ability to meet people where they are and discern what they want to learn. From working in formal education — at a university and later an independent school — I quickly see organizational systems at work and I understand how to build relationships across structures.
What’s your superpower? And how does working with Roy Group position you to use it?
I convene inclusive engagement for belonging and productive collaboration. Often this starts with tea. Creating space and time for reflection and conversation is something I have done as a school leader, and I am keen to offer that for other leaders going forward. Colleagues have said that I can listen attentively, sense the needs of a group and hold space with generous authority.
In addition to the deep-tissue learning experiences and coaching work that Roy Group does, I am keen to bring my practice of facilitation to the schools and colleges we serve to help them with the projects that will transform their futures.
What do you fiercely believe in, and how does this sense of purpose inform your career?
I care about reawakening wonder — in the world around us, in people, in potential. And while sometimes this is an individual process, often it comes from bringing ideas, people and opportunities together.
This ties to one of your magazine headers. As you see it, what is education really about?
We learn from other people, from experiences and from reflection. The formalization of this process in education can be really engaging and affirming. And sometimes it can frankly get in the way. As a student and a recruiter and a teacher, I was always very excited about education as opportunity. As the former deputy head at Pearson College UWC, I started to also see the role education can play in rebalancing historic wrongs and in being a force for good, and for change.
This connects with your vision of unfolding better stories in the world.
It does: supporting students in accessing education and aligning their choices to their interests, as well as to the deep needs of the planet. Just like everyone in an organization needs to embrace leadership, young people can really flourish with the reassuring presence of others to support their next steps. Travelling with UWC gave me a window to the common challenges facing youth and families, and also the particular barriers that so often are present (related to socioeconomics, politics, race, sexual orientation and gender identity, neurodiversity) that need defined solutions to overcome.
Have you always oriented toward building community? How does it show up in your life?
Until Grade 6 I attended a school that dipped beeswax candles every year. But in Grade 7 that changed, so I convinced my parents to host a party. A candle-dipping party! It’s a tradition that continues today. I firmly believe that it’s not just the gathering that counts, it’s the purpose…and the shared attention to something.
When did a Mentor run you up against a hard bit of learning?
My thesis supervisor in my master’s program questioned whether a thesis could be written in the leftover moments between flights, after a string of emails or before breakfast. I finished — but I appreciated the call for using time and energy deliberately for tasks at hand.
You married your wife twice. This is cool. What’s that all about?
We first met at an interpretation workshop when I was working at a park and she at an historic site. Some time later, a friend re-introduced us. When we decided to get married, we figured “it would never be legal in Alberta”. Family and celebration was important, though, so we gathered a crowd and had a wonderful celebration. Then the next year, long-fought-for political changes arrived, and we got to marry legally, this time in the house of Alexander Rutherford, the first premier of Alberta.
How does choral music fill you up?
I learned German so that I could study choral conducting, but ended up studying geography in Germany instead! I still love to sing. Music can bring people together through creation and breathing at the same time. It really helps navigate the hard stuff.
When you’re not at work, what would we find you doing?
In the garden, walking our dog, in a forest, exploring a new street or waterway. We love to host in our home and when that’s not possible, I’m keen to set up a tea station (in the office, the hotel lobby, a park). I have a reputation for trying any food offered to me, and that brings me lots of joy too!
I hear you bake great bread—very apt for working with Roy Group—but is there something that’s off-the-charts esoteric? Like Yolanda, who can stand calmly inside a box while a magician fills it full of swords?
I can sleep anywhere.