Catholic School Matters

May 24, 2021

What Have You Learned?

To be a learning organization, we have to reflect and consolidate our learnings. We are, after all, schools. “4 Ways to Create a Learning Culture” can help you consider the importance. The HBR article on identifying and cultivating lifelong learners seems exceptionally relevant.

In the past year, we have all been challenged by unexpected quandaries and a disturbing level of collective anxiety. So what did we learn?

I challenge you to take some time to articulate what you have learned as a leader and what our schools have learned. Don’t wait for others to define this--what were your learnings? And then you need to proclaim that new reality. We can’t simply welcome the return of near-normality and close that chapter. We need to describe what we’ve learned.

Here’s mine:

  1. Video conferencing has a role in our schools. We can now bring in more guest speakers because they can Zoom. And our tolerance for video conferencing (and technical capacity) has increased. Imagine our world two years ago when someone recommended a Zoom presentation. The response would have been lukewarm at best and the attendance would have been spotty. Now we can bring more people together more often. For example, I’m going to invite our school pastors together for a short Zoom meeting. The impact of that meeting will be greater now as opposed to inviting them to a centralized meeting.

  2. Culture beats strategy. Was anyone prepared with the best strategies for dealing with pandemic? Remote learning? Cleaning protocols? Of course not. Even the most highly developed strategies were wanting. A culture which emphasized collaborative problem-solving and a mindset of problem-solving served us best. How can that shape our work going forward?

  3. Agency matters. We found students who flourished with the freedom to work independently. We found schools who thrived with the freedom to develop their best local strategies. How can we build agency into our classrooms and schools? We saw creativity and innovation that needs to be continued. Take a look at this article about creativity where Bill Watterson says, “It’s surprising how hard we’ll work when the work is for ourselves.”

  4. Centralized decision-making doesn’t work for complex problems. There were no successful one-size-fits-all solutions for districts and school systems. Never is that more clear than the current NY state regulations that children remain masked in school, inside or outside. Perhaps that makes sense in some densely-populated schools with small playgrounds. But it can’t make sense for our schools with large fields knowing that outdoor transmission is rare.

  5. Trust matters. Never have school leaders felt more disconnected from the learning process. And perhaps teachers, too. But when we trust teachers to be the professionals they aspire to be, great things happen. And when we trust school leaders to solve their problems in their communities, great things happen. Consider this article from Farnam Street about the Pygmalion Effect. Sometimes the reality which we believe in becomes our reality.

  6. Connecting with other school leaders lifts all boats. I sense that school leaders have relied on each other more frequently than in the past. Let’s hope that continues and school leaders can reach out for help and companionship on the sometimes difficult journey of leadership.

How can we bake these lessons into our practice going forward? As we move toward the return of normality, how can we use these lessons to form our work? It starts with reflecting on how different the past year has been and articulating our lessons learned.

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Dr. Tim Uhl

Deliberate Practice Section

As the principal at a high school, the yearbook faculty moderator approaches you to ask permission to photoshop the pictures of young women who are showing cleavage in their photos. You ask if any young men are in any inappropriate pictures to which she says, "Well, there's the speedos on the swim team...but that's part of the sport." She mentions that all the photoshopping will be done well and no one will notice. How do you proceed?

Sound familiar? Because this just happened in Florida. A question came to mind from Brene Brown's book, Dare to Lead. "What's the problem we're trying to solve?"

What I'm Up To

  • Mon: St. Stephen (Grand Island), St. Peter (Lewiston), and Sacred Heart Villa (Lewiston) tours; Road to Renewal meeting
  • Tues: Visits to St. Gregory (Williamsville) & St. Joseph University School (Buffalo)
  • Wed: Podcast with Kevin Kijewski released; Staff Meeting; Visit to Notre Dame Academy's two campuses in South Buffalo
  • Thurs: Visits to Southern Tier Catholic School (Olean), Northern Chataqua Catholic School (Dunkirk), and Southtowns Catholic School (Lake View)
  • Fri: Office Day

Catholic School Matters

Highlighting innovation and best practices in and for Catholic schools

Catholic School Links

Catholic Schools Closing & Opening

No new school closures were announced. Here is the curated list of Catholic schools closing at the end of the 2021 school year and new schools opening for the 2021-22 year.

Leadership Links

Teaching & Learning


Catholic School Matters podcast

As the Diocese of Buffalo engages in its "Road to Renewal" which will involve parish and school reorganizations, I have engaged school leaders from other dioceses who have embarked on governance reorganizations in order to hear what has worked, what has been changed, and best practices. Lincoln Snyder from the Diocese of Sacramento joined me to discuss their regional school board model; Mr. Michael Deegan joined me to discuss the Archdiocese of New York model; and Dr. Tom Chadzutko from the Diocese of Brooklyn joined me to discuss the academy model. This week, Kevin Kijewski from the Archdiocese of Detroit joins me to discuss the Family of Parishes model.

Check out the past episodes from this season:

What I'm Reading

    The Last 5 Books:

    1. Buffalo at the Crossroads: The Past, Present, and Future of American Urbanism (2020) Edited by Peter Christensen
    2. Restoring Trust in the Catholic Parish (2021) by Marijka Eeuwes Lampard

    3. Onward: Cultivating Resilience in Educators (2018) by Elena Aguilar

    4. A Promised Land (2020) Barack Obama

    5. Dare to Lead (2018) by Brene Brown

            Click this link for a full list of my professional reading

            Past Issues of Catholic School Matters

            May 17, 2021 "Connecting Post-Pandemic"

            May 10, 2021 "Wear Your Seatbelt"

            May 3, 2021 "We Need Each Other"

            Mar 22, 2021 "Big Shoulders Fund"

            Mar 15, 2021 "Researching Urban Catholic Schools"

            For previous newsletters, click this link

            Orchestrating Conflict

            A couple of years ago I set out to write a book which would explore the challenges of Catholic school leadership. My premise that there are no easy answers and that we have to learn from our (and other's) mistakes in order to form a mindset appropriate for orchestrating conflict proved prescient as we all faced completely new and unexpected challenges in 2020. The book,Orchestrating Conflict: Case Studies in Catholic Leadership is now available on Amazon or on the Barnes & Noble site in print or e-book formats. The book explores issues in Catholic school leadership and the tensions between building community and following Church policies and introduces deliberate practice as a method for leadership formation.