Catholic School Matters

February 16, 2020

Catholic But Not Christian

In the past few weeks, I’ve had a few school leaders share their disappointment in their school communities. They have felt attacked and abused. Having given so much effort into building community, they are perplexed at the vitriol which has emerged. Then a school leader shared with me that he was being let go from his school in an abrupt manner and another leader shared her disappointment that she was abruptly told not to apply to her dream job. For all, the common theme was being treated in an un-Christian manner in a Catholic school environment.


It brought me back to the most difficult year in my professional life. Ten years ago, my wife and I decided to return to Seattle after our sojourn to Louisiana. We made this decision amid an active campaign to get rid of me mostly conducted through the online comments pages of the local newspaper. At that time, the paper allowed anonymous comments and a few members of the community took advantage of this opportunity to attack me in often very un-Christian words. I certainly made mistakes and was by no means a perfect principal. But no one deserves to be attacked and smeared while doing their best work for the Church.


When we announced we were moving back to Seattle, I began to apply for administrative jobs in Seattle Catholic schools. But those hiring committees read those online comments and believed me to be a toxic, unpopular leader. They wouldn’t hire me for any position, convinced that I was running away from a dumpster fire that I had lit. Members of my Catholic school commiunity were not only destroying my present, they were also short circuiting my future. So we moved to Seattle (with two kids in diapers) without jobs and I was unemployed until October when I secured an interim principal position.


I questioned my place in Catholic schools and wondered whether it was time to change careers. But I kept coming back to my great experiences in Catholic schools growing up and the great schools I had been part of like Bishop Lynch, Creighton Prep, and Bishop Blanchet. I knew I had something to offer and was falling victim to the horrible actions of a few. Unfortunately, un-Christian behavior can be a major component of Catholic school environments.


When faced with un-Christian behavior in your school, I recommend first looking at your school norms. Norms, after all, are what is accepted as normal. If it’s normal for parents to gossip about teachers on social media, someone needs to challenge that norm. If it’s normal for parents or board members to denigrate teachers or coaches in public forums, someone needs to challenge that norm. If you’re the school leader, you are the obvious one to challenge those norms and establish new ones.


As school leaders we shouldn’t be afraid, however, to be vulnerable and admit how ad hominem attacks can take a toll. Teachers can especially benefit by hearing how un-Christian attacks impact your life since many teachers deal with these attacks frequently. Imagine if vulnerability were our leadership paradigm—rather than power or being right. Then perhaps people would stop attacking people in power and treat others like humans. Or at the very least we could establish new norms.


If you need some inspiration, watch this 2014 Brené Brown talk. “Why Your Critics Aren’t the Ones Who Count” talks about how to respond when critics attack. If you’re not in the arena struggling for truth, she says, your feedback shouldn’t matter.


Ultimately as school leaders we are called to love our enemies. “For if you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners love those who love them.” (Luke 6:32) We often talk about creating communities centered on Gospel values. Is love of enemies one of those values? Imagine what our schools would look like if that were true.


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Dr. Tim Uhl

Big picture

Case Studies Ripped from the Headlines

In this section, I present a Catholic school controversy in the headlines. I don't mean to single out one school or criticize its leaders. I want to present the story and offer you a few questions to consider in case this controversy lands on your desk this year. I encourage you to look at the particulars of the situation to understand the intricacies of the controversy.


You might be aware that there have been instances of football players at high school comitting acts of hazing on younger players that involve sexual assaults. Last fall, there were these types of allegations at a Catholic high school. The allegations also involve a "culture of silence" and the school's response drew widespread attention. Do you talk to your coaches about the dangers of hazing? Do you have safeguards in place to protect students?

American Catholic School News

Catholic Schools Opening & Closing

Leadership Links

Brené Brown: Why Your Critics Aren't The Ones Who Count

Teaching & Learning

Miscellany

One of the most epic engineering feats in history - Alex Gendler

What I'm Up To

This week I'll be in the office finishing up my presentation for next week's LASSCA (Lasallian Association of Secondary School Chief Administrators) in Houston as well as working on my Discerning Catholic Worldviews project with Dr. Jorge Peña. I'll be in Missoula, Great Falls, and Butte on Tuesday and Wednesday for meetings.


This week on the .Catholic School Matters podcast I welcome two outstanding guests. Kathleen Porter-Magee of the Partnership Schools in NYC joins the podcast to describe her recent writings on Catholic school culture. Then long-time principal Kathy House of Little Rock joins me to discuss the secrets to her success!


In case you missed it, on last week's Catholic School Matters podcast I welcomed two interesting guests. Tim Bopp, the president of Holy Trinity HS in Chicago, explains his schools' unique mission and history as well as his leadership pathway. Then Dr. Quentin Wodon of the World Bank joins me to discuss his work supporting Catholic schools.


Here is the link to the podcast. Here are videos showing you how to download and subscribe to a podcast on Apple podcasts and how to download and subscribe a podcast on Android.


  • Tuesday: Visit to Missoula Catholic Schools; Great Falls board meeting
  • Wednesday: Great Falls meetings
  • Thursday: Office (Helena)
  • Friday: Great Falls meetings


Miles this week: 613 road miles

Miles travelled in 2019-20: 21,635 road miles; 28,265 air miles

What I'm Reading

    The Last 5 Books:

    1. How Great Leaders Think: The Art of Reframing (2014) by Lee G. Bolman & Terrence E. Deal
    2. The Leadership Paradox: Balancing Logic and Artistry (1994) by Terrence E. Deal & Kent D. Peterson

    3. Models of the Church (2002) by Avery Cardinal Dulles

    4. Leading Minds: An Anatomy of Leadership (2011) by Howard Gardner

    5. The Great Commission: Models of Evangelization in American Catholicism (2008) by Timothy Byerley

            Click this link for a full list of my professional reading

            For Montana Administrators & Teachers

            • Here is a link from the Feb 4th Virtual Admin meeting.
            • For the March 3rd meeting, school leaders are challenged to come up with a 1-minute story about a parent who went from oppositional to supportive
            • Here is a link for the Letter of Intent for Administrators due February 28th. Schools should be administering their own letters of intent for school personnel.

            Past Issues of Catholic School Matters

            Feb 9, 2020 R.I.P. Archbishop Brunett

            Feb 2, 2020 "The Nashville Exchange"

            Jan 26, 2020 "Learning from our Elders"

            Jan 12, 2020 "Shaping School Culture"

            Jan 5, 2020 "Timelessness"

            Nov 24, 2019 "Best of the Fall"

            Nov 17, 2019 "Synodality"

            Nov 3, 2019 "Finance Best Practices"

            Oct 27, 2019 "Blaine Amendments"

            Oct 20, 2019 "Community & Belongingness"

            Oct 13, 2019 Sr. Angie's Lawlapalooza

            Oct 6, 2019 "River of Fire"

            Sep 29, 2019 "Male and Female He Created Them"

            Sep 22, 2019 "Surveying Catholic Culture"

            Sep 15, 2019 "New Catholic Schools"

            Sep 8, 2019 "The Mustard Seed Project"

            The Nashville Exchange

            Join this first annual conference for Diocesan high school presidents. Presented by the Greeley Center, the conference promises to provide great professional development to presidents/heads of schools for diocesan Catholic schools. However, all are welcome! Special thanks to the Diocese of Nashville for hosting. Here is a link to the Nashville Exchange flyer, here is the link to the schedule. Go to this link to register. Please go to www.thecatholicexchange.com for more information and to register.

            Orchestrating Conflict

            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. This is my first book and has been an ongoing project for the past couple of years.