Catholic School Matters

January 13, 2019

What's Your Story?

One of the my joys over Christmas break was discovering the work of Thomas Sergiovanni, specifically the great little book Moral Leadership published in 1992. Sergiovanni provides a recipe for creating and reinforcing school communities based on morality—as opposed to bureaucracy. It’s holding up the caring community model as opposed to the dreaded factory model based on rules (and compliance!).

He suggests that strong communities have norms which undergird their culture and it is the responsibility of community leaders to tell stories to reinforce these norms. In Catholic schools, we uphold the values of community but we often think our “brand” as Catholic schools is enough. People understand who we are, right? Wrong. We need to remind ourselves of who we are, let alone prospective parents, donors, and the wider community.

We should all have a toolbox of relevant stories to tell in our newsletters and to share with teachers, parents, alumni, etc. Notice that I didn’t recommend identifying the norms first.

Most of us share the same norms (including all, caring for everyone, working hard, excellence) and the stories you recount will also reveal your norms. Find a way to identify the most relevant stories and start telling these stories to share the value of your school community. Based on Sergiovanni’s recommendations, here are story prompts.

1. Crisis: Has your school ever faced a crisis such as a natural disaster? Or a financial crisis? How did the school overcome?

2. Pulling Together: Has the school ever come together to help a family in need?

3. Alumni Success: Do you have an alum in a competitive high school? Selective college? Running a successful business?

4. Hardship: Can you think of a student who overcame incredible hardship to succeed?

5. Programs of Excellence: Do you a co-curricular program that has met with success?

6. Programs (cont): Do you any innovative curricular programs? Even if it involves a regular class—is there anything remarkable like dissections or designing new buildings?

7. Faculty Commitment: We often talk about the commitment to mission of our teachers. Any examples of long-term commitment?

8. Alumni Teachers: How many alumni teachers do you have? That is usually viewed favorably.

9. Alumni Commitment: How can you measure the commitment of your alumni? Annual Fund? Reunions? Legacy students?

10. Famous Alumni: Has your school produced vocations? Doctors? Athletes? Find the alumni you can spotlight.

11. Sportsmanship: Any examples of remarkable kindness?

12. Inclusion: Students of diverse needs can find success or recognition. How?

Find your stories, identify your norms, build your community.

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Dr. Tim Uhl

Big picture

Community Engagement

  1. I'm putting together a collection of scenarios of Catholic leadership as a means to teach Catholic leaders how to develop their own moral leadership compass. I'll preview a scenario each month and ask you to submit any ideas of Catholic school leadership moral dilemmas to This month's example:
  2. After noticing an increasing patterns of student absences around holidays and vacations, you have made it clear that you are tightening up attendance procedures. In fact, you have made accountability part of your theme for the year and have asked teachers to enforce homework and discipline policies. You have also made it clear that you will not allow any student to pass a grade with more than 10 unexcused absences per semester. One of your most supportive parent couples, however, is now contacting you with a request. At last year’s auction, they purchased a week at Disney World for $3,000. The father, a busy surgeon at the local hospital, serves on the Advisory Council. The mother, a social worker at the Catholic Charities service center, is a frequent volunteer. Their 7th grade son plays travel soccer and has missed 6 days this semester due to his soccer. Your school policy is that out of school activities are unexcused absences. Now the family is asking for a five day vacation for the only week they could arrange between both parents’ work schedules.

American Catholic News

Catholic Schools Opening & Closing

  1. St. Louis-area schools looking at consolidation model
  2. Two Long Island Catholic schools to close due to enrollment
  3. Dr. RaeNell Houston's statement on the closing of St. Peter Claver Catholic school in New Orleans
  4. Hawaii Catholic school to close some grades
  5. Two Diocese of Trenton schools to merge to form Mother Seton Academy

Leadership Links

CAPE's January Outlook

Teaching & Learning


What I'm Up To

Last week, I was able to visit Mother Teresa of Calcutta Catholic School in Tampa with principal Johnnathan Combs (pictured at right). What a great school!

This week, I'll be in Montana for the first part of the week attending a few meetings in Great Falls and then will head to Albuquerque for the Intermountain Superintendent Meeting. Special thanks for Dr. Michael Boyle of the Greeley Center for joining us and helping advance the cause of inclusion in Catholic schools.

On this week's podcast, I have a great episode on a special little school in Jacksonville. Guardian Catholic School was a consolidation of two urban Catholic schools. It has mission to serve African-Americans, has benefited from Florida's scholarship program, and raised money to build an entirely new facilty a few years ago. Last fall I was able to tour the school and record podcasts with former superintendent Pat Tierney, the current president, a panel of teachers, and a panel of students. It's a great episode highlighting the great work in Catholic schools.

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

  • Monday: Office (Helena) & meeting in Great Falls
  • Tuesday: Meetings in Great Falls
  • Wednesday: Office (Helena) & travel to Aluquerque
  • Thursday: Intermountain Superintendent Meeting (Albuquerque)
  • Friday: Intermountain Superintendent Meeting (Albuquerque)

Miles this week: 245 driving miles; 1,788 air miles

Miles travelled in 2018-19: 20,872 road miles; 36,745 air miles

Last 5 Books

  1. Difficult Conversations: How to Discuss What Matters Most (1999) by Douglas Stone, Bruce Patton, & Sheila Heen
  2. Moral Leadership: Getting to the Heart of School Improvement (1992) by Thomas J. Sergiovanni
  3. Habits of the Heart: Individualism & Commitment in American Life (1985) by Robert Bellah, Richard Madsen, William Sullivan, Ann Swidler, and Steven Tipton
  4. Making Disciples: A Handbook of Christian Moral Formation (1998) by Timothy E. O'Connell
  5. Rethinking Leadership: A Collection of Articles (2007) by Thomas J. Sergiovanni

Click this link for a full list of my professional reading

For Montana Administrators & Teachers

  • Here is the slideshow from the January 8th Virtual Admin Meeting
  • Administrator letters of intent can be found here
  • Information here on the Diocese of Great Falls-Billings Safe Environment education program for students (and deadlines)
  • We are currently looking for a principal for Holy Spirit Catholic School in Great Falls and for a president of Missoula Catholic Schools

Past Issues of Catholic School Matters

January 6, 2018 "Happy New Year"

December 2, 2018 "Building Community"

November 18, 2018 "Reframing Enrollment"

November 4, 2018 "Looking at Disaffiliation"

October 21, 2018 "Getting out of the Ditch"

October 7, 2018 "Truth, Mercy, and the Synod"

September 23, 2018 "Native American Experience"

September 16, 2018 "How Are We Forming our Leaders?"

September 9, 2018 "Where is Your Attention?"