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
Case Studies Ripped from the Headlines
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
- A new Catholic school opening this fall in Henderson, NV
- Flint's St. Pius X Catholic school to close
- Two Massachusetts Catholic schools to close
- A new independent Catholic high school opening this fall in northern Colorado
- From earlier this school year:
- Diocese of Cleveland to close a Catholic school in Akron; St. Thomas Aquinas saved from closure due to donors; Massachusetts Catholic high school to privatize; 3 Connecticut Catholic schools to consolidate; Catholic high school for Pensacola special needs teens opening this fall; 2 Pittsburgh Catholic schools will close and another 4 Catholic schools will merge into one school; Parents are rallying to save a Bethesda (MD) Catholic school; Our Lady of Mercy Catholic School on Long Island will close at the end of the year; The Archdiocese of Chicago announced 5 more Catholic schools will close; Small Erie Catholic school open since 1885 to close & two more to merge in regionalization plan; Small Maine Catholic school to close at end of year; Christ the King in Terrytown (LA) will close at end of year; Louisville (KY) Catholic school to close; Elgin (IL) Catholic School Consolidation plan announced; Marist HS (Bayonne, NY) to close at end of year; Plans are underway for new Stillwater (MN) Catholic high school; Diocese of Worchester to merge two Catholic high schools; Houma (LA) Catholic school to close; Canton (NY) Catholic school to close; Rolling Meadows (IL) Catholic school evaluated for closing; Two Diocese of Trenton schools scheduled to close; Rochester (NY) Catholic school to close at end of year; Diocese of Richmond HS scheduled to close at the end of the year; Archdiocese of Chicago announces consolidation of 3 Catholic schools on northwest side; Youngsville (LA) new school on hold
Teaching & Learning
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.
- 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:
- How Great Leaders Think: The Art of Reframing (2014) by Lee G. Bolman & Terrence E. Deal
The Leadership Paradox: Balancing Logic and Artistry (1994) by Terrence E. Deal & Kent D. Peterson
Models of the Church (2002) by Avery Cardinal Dulles
Leading Minds: An Anatomy of Leadership (2011) by Howard Gardner
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"