Magazine article Momentum

Ensuring a Catholic Approach to Principal Preparation

Magazine article Momentum

Ensuring a Catholic Approach to Principal Preparation

Article excerpt

Leading a Catholic school is one of the most demanding and daring vocations in the Catholic Church today. There is good reason for this. Fundamentally, our principals are working to foster the transformative and countercultural nature of Catholic education with limited resources, in environments designed for isolation, within systems reluctant to change, in an increasingly secular society. Confounding matters further, most principals rely on preparation programs developed for public school administrators. In response, institutions of Catholic higher education and dioceses have, for the most part, tried to address this concern with supplemental course work and certificate programs in theology, Catholic school leadership, and/or formation around the hallmarks of Catholic schools. As this trend continues, let us consider its effects.

Aspiring Catholic school principals choose from a variety of educational leadership degree programs. Variations are created in the programs' balance between educational theory (i.e., philosophy of education) and practice (i.e., interpreting student data). Required coursework is aligned to licensure standards maintained by state departments of education. These standards change as expectations of the public school leader shift. For example, 15 years ago the principal was expected to strengthen and tighten school discipline and order; today, effective principals are those who excel at implementing reform (Darling-Hammond, et al., 2010). What are the competencies Catholic school principals need and are the state standards for principal licensure aligned to them?

While those preparing for Catholic school leadership are able to benefit from the state licensure standards, there are additional competencies and understandings required to lead effective Catholic schools. Today, leadership coursework in Catholic theology and education is available to those enrolled in preparation programs at Catholic colleges and universities, though most are offered as electives. WTiile proriding some value, this marginalized approach to Catholic school principal preparation weakens the Catholic vitality of future school leaders, and subsequently, the schools they lead.

Model of Catholic Vitality

At the risk of seeming overly nostalgic, let's recall the time when all Catholic school leaders were prepared by their religious orders. Historical accounts of Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton document conferences she offered to the sisters that transmitted more than subject knowledge, but a "zeal for religious instruction" that animated the mission of Catholic schools (Burns, 1908). Here, preparation of the person happened with the preparation of the role, transmitting a Catholic understanding direcdy to the aspiring school leaders. This formádon intentionally incorporated three foundational qualities of leadership preparation that need to be reclaimed to advance the mission of Catholic schools.

1. Spiritual Capital

Separating theology from educational theory and practice compromises school leaders' formational experience and spiritual fluency as ministers of the Church, thus limiting their resources to shape the Catholic culture of the school. Unified approaches enhance leaders' access to something Gerald Grace (2010) terms "spiritual capital," which he defines as "the sustaining resource for everyday leadership in Christian living and working" which promotes "a personal witness to faith in practice, action and relationships" (p. 120). Spiritual capital is strengthened when faith formation coincides with role preparation and leaders develop Catholic understandings to inform vocational responsibilities. …

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