THE CHALLENGE OF LEADERSHIP IN THE CATHOLIC SCHOOL IN THE 21ST CENTURY
ADDRESS BY CARDINAL KEITH PATRICK O BRIEN
THURSDAY 5 MAY 2005
Welcome and thanks:
Today I am grateful for this opportunity to express thanks - on behalf of all the Bishops and of the Catholic community in Scotland - for all you do as Catholic Head Teachers to help our young people to grow into maturity and to lead lives of goodness and worth. Too often, public attention is only given to teachers at times of crisis, when we are looking to blame some one or some group for society s problems.
So today, let me say to you: Thank you for the commitment and dedication you have shown, for the wisdom you have demonstrated, for the skills you have deployed and for the faith to which you have witnessed throughout your teaching careers, but particularly in your posts as Head Teachers.
Return from Conclave “ a new Pope:
Having been asked to address you on the ˜Challenge of Leadership in the Catholic School in the 21st Century , I would like to think with you over the leadership already shown by Pope Benedict XVI quite literally as soon as his election as Pope was announced.
There were various stages as he accepted the challenge of leadership of approximately one billion Catholics throughout the world!
First of all, he readily accepted his appointment and indicated briefly why he had chosen the name Benedict. This was a first indication of the policy lines which he would follow:
He was taking the name Benedict because his predecessor was a Pope who worked for peace; Benedict is the name of one of the patron saints of Europe “ the new Benedict would try to bring Europe back to its Christian roots; and Benedict the Abbot wrote in his rule for monks: ˜Prefer nothing whatever to Christ “ the new Benedict would place Christ at the centre of all his endeavours.
It was the very next morning at Mass with his Cardinals in the Sistine Chapel at 9.00 am that he further elaborated his policy and made the following points: he would rely on Christ; he has a desire for collaboration; he would remain committed to the Second Vatican Council; he would seek his strength in the Eucharist and his regard for his closest collaborators, his priests; he would have a commitment to ecumenism; and his vocation would be centred on Christ. That policy was articulated within 12 hours of his election as Pope.
Then some two days later he had a further meeting with the Cardinals of the Church in which he thanked them for their support and added: I pray that your support for me will never fail! . Then he greeted each Cardinal individually by name.
On the occasion of his formal inauguration as Pope some further two days later, the Pope indicated: My real programme of governance is not to do my own will, not to pursue my own ideas, but to listen, together with the whole Church, to the word and will of God, to be guided by him, so that he himself will lead the Church at this hour of our history .
And then he went on to present a very simple pastoral homily on the two liturgical symbols which represented the inauguration of his ministry “ the pallium around his shoulders; and the fisherman s ring.
I am sure there is something for each head teacher to learn there about the clear way in which this particular Cardinal immediately asserted his leadership over the Church “ outlining clear policy statements to his Cardinals, while showing a very warm pastoral role to the faithful throughout the world.
Demands on Head Teachers:
When I reflect on all you have to contend with as Head Teachers, I am all the more grateful for your work. I am aware of the huge demands placed on you by your employers, the Education Authorities, and by the Scottish Executive as they strive to ensure continuous improvement in educational attainment and in achievement more broadly. I realise that you have to work within a framework of national priorities set by the Scottish Executive, and of local improvement objectives set by your education authority. I marvel at the skill you show in being able to graft on to these ˜external priorities, as it were, the ˜internal needs of your own school communities. And while all this detailed planning is expected of you, and all the extensive documentation that goes with it, not to mention the inevitable consultation with staff, pupils and parents, you are also expected to keep the ship steaming ahead.
So, you are expected to improve examination results, extend the curriculum, improve pupil behaviour, improve attendance, support, motivate and develop your staff, dismantle and re-build your structure of promoted posts, bid for new funds, specialise and innovate, be open to partnership working with other children s services. All of these tasks are seen as essential to the leading of a school providing 21st century learning and teaching. On top of all this, many of you are now being expected to provide your leadership expertise within the context of learning communities, or school clusters.
The Church s expectations of Head Teachers
And, of course, I have said nothing so far about the demands of providing Catholic education in your school. While some might say that these demands sit on top of all your other duties, I would suggest that they should underpin the whole enterprise of leading a Catholic school.
The Gospel of today, when we celebrate the Ascension of the Lord, makes clear what is expected of each of us as disciples of Christ:
Go therefore, make disciples of all nations; baptize them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teach them to observe all the commands I gave you. And know that I am with you always, yes to the end of time.
The key words which relate to your own particular role are, of course, teach them to observe all the commands I gave you . You are asked by the Church to ensure that your students learn what Jesus taught and understand how they can observe these teachings in the reality of their daily lives. In other words, your job is to help students to know, love and serve God.
I do not underestimate the challenge that this presents to you in the context of today s world. I am well aware that many of your students are not participating in the faith community that is their local parish. Some have not learned at home even the basics of our faith. Others have been endowed with values which are opposed to those of Christ. All young people are growing up in a world which is hostile to religious faith and suspicious of anyone who attempts to articulate a religious insight into life.
On the day before the election of our new Holy Father, the then Cardinal Ratzinger preached a homily in which he spoke with great insight of the dictatorship of relativism in modern times, when people s lives seem to be driven by an obsession with the self and its desires. Such relativism is understandable, perhaps, in children who are easily swayed by fashion and peer pressure. The challenge for you is to play a part in bringing these young people to an adult mature faith which is rooted firmly in friendship with Christ.
Ways to fulfil the role of Head Teacher in Catholic Secondary School:
I wish to offer you a handful of thoughts about particular ways in which you might be able to do this. You may find some of these thoughts challenging but I offer them to you in a spirit of genuine affection and with a deep pastoral concern for yourselves as leaders in our Church.
1. My first thought is this. We all know that leaders are only followed when they are regarded as authentic - ie when they have credibility for being faithful to their creed, for walking the walk as well as talking the talk . In the community of faith and learning which you are leading, how authentic are you in terms of being a witness to your faith? Reflect on how your personal faith experience impacts on the ways in which you run your school. How does your own prayer life manifest itself in the life of the school? Would staff and pupils recognise you as a ˜spiritual person, as someone who sets aside time to nourish a personal relationship with God? Do you feel comfortable in leading others in prayer or do you prefer to delegate that task to others - the Chaplain, perhaps? Do you ensure that pupils and staff are given opportunities to experience prayer in meaningful ways? The personal witness of the Catholic Head Teacher is, I would suggest, central to the school s capacity to function as an authentic community of faith and learning. You need to nourish your own personal spirituality if you are to offer nourishment to others.
2. Secondly, I wonder - how confident are you in your knowledge of the faith? While you will have had the benefits of a fairly sound education in faith, through a traditional form of catechesis perhaps, have you been able to develop your knowledge and understanding of the Church s teaching? Are you familiar with Church documents, not only on education, but on moral, ethical and social issues? Are you able to develop your knowledge and understanding by reading Catholic journals, textbooks, even newspapers? Are such publications available in your school? Do you regard this as a priority for your own professional development? I am not suggesting that you undertake a degree in Theology - although there are worse ways to spend your time. However, I would suggest some planned reading would provide you with the capacity and the confidence to articulate a Christian vision to underpin many of your school policy documents and to influence some of the responses you make to various consultation exercises.
3. My third thought relates to one particularly demanding aspect of the challenge which faces you as leaders of Catholic schools. How confident are you that your overall school community takes seriously its mission to be at the heart of the Church ? This phrase is used in the document ˜The Catholic School on the Threshold of the Third Millennium , issued by the Congregation for Catholic Education in 1998. The document asks you to ensure that this mission can be seen as:
a distinctive characteristic which penetrates and informs every moment of its educational activity, a fundamental part of its very identity and the focus of its mission .
In this context, I commend to you the Charter for Catholic Schools in Scotland which illustrates the key characteristics which the Bishops would expect to find in any Catholic school which is taking its mission seriously. I urge you to ensure that you use this document in your school not merely as yet another school document but, rather, as your main reference point for evaluating your school s success in offering effective Catholic education. In this way you will be able to verify to your own satisfaction, and to that of your Bishop, that the focus of your school s mission is distinctively Christian.
Among other things, this will require detailed consideration of how your school provides an inclusive ethos which honours the life, dignity and voice of each person . This gets to the heart of relationships in your school community and reflects the values and attitudes displayed by all staff, by students and by parents. It will also involve you in articulating how the school shows a commitment to the search for wisdom in life . In an age when success is often measured in material terms, when schools can be expected to meet various targets and to ensure various forms of output , how is your school able to demonstrate that the search for wisdom is a worthwhile aim in the educational project?
4. My fourth thought relates to another strand from the Charter, which indicates that the Catholic school will help young people to develop their understanding of Gospel values and of how to apply them to life . How are the values of the Gospel understood, taught and lived in your school community? Where are they articulated in your school policies? How much do they influence the daily practice of teachers? To what extent are they evident in all classrooms? How are your pupils helped to appreciate the need for values which are at odds with those which prevail in today s society? How are they led to understand the importance of absolute truths in an era when everything seems to be relative, when the way things are has come to be accepted as the way things ought to be , when personal convenience has displaced moral understanding as the guiding principle in many people s lives?
5. It is this context which provides my final thought which relates to what is becoming a very significant testing ground for our claims to provide a distinctive form of education. I refer to the developing Sexual Health agenda. You will recall the build-up to the publication of the Scottish Executive s strategy to improve the nation s sexual health. The Church had responded quite robustly to the draft strategy document, offering a vision of human sexuality which was much more ennobling of the human person and less obsessed with issues of sexual identity. But we took part in the debate in a measured manner and responded constructively.
Ahead of publication of the final strategy, the Media were suggesting that the Church would opt schools out of sex education altogether and they predicted a might fall-out. When the document ˜Respect & Responsibility was published and we responded by welcoming many of the revisions to the draft document, the Media suggested a conspiracy and that the Executive had submitted to Church pressure and watered down its proposals.
Thereafter there were voices which called for a withdrawal of funding from Catholic schools if we didn t deliver exactly the same services as every other school . Of course this showed ignorance of the recommendations of the McCabe Report and the subsequent guidance which governs the conduct of sex education in schools. From this it is clear that:
a) the Church has the right to provide guidance to schools on the teaching of sex
b) the Head Teacher is responsible for determining the content and delivery of sex
education, in accord with the values of the school community.
These are important guarantees which ensure that you have control over the approaches taken in your school to deliver appropriate Relationships and Moral Education for young people. To that end I am pleased at the progress being made by SCES in negotiations with various agencies to develop further support for teachers and schools.
However, it is clear to me that, as a Church, we need to remain vigilant in this area. I fear that this will be particularly vital where Health Boards or local Councils may be pushing an agenda which fails to take into account our own Christian understanding of the human person and of human sexuality. It appears that some agencies, in their legitimate determination to reduce teenage pregnancies and sexually transmitted infections, appear only to be treating the symptoms of the problem rather than addressing its root causes. Whereas, what we need to do is to change behaviour, to challenge young people to respect themselves and others, and to teach them how to consider the moral consequences of their actions.
There are already signs that some agencies are determined to promote a ˜safe sex message to all young people, irrespective of their age, schooling or religious belief. This will impact on your school to some extent or another, particularly through the increased use of multi-agency working in schools. Again I commend to you the brochure recently published by SCES on ˜Understanding Relationships and Moral Education . This provides clear guidance on how you can agree protocols with various agencies who are asked to respect our values in the provision of any information or advice to young people. The document also makes clear the vital role which you and your staff need to play in guiding young people appropriately. I urge you to ensure that your staff are familiar with this document and that they take the various CPD opportunities which will be provided by SCES and by the Dioceses to support and develop their own understanding.
This is a very important issue which will affect the lives of our young people and the welfare of families. We need to show that the Catholic school is offering them an alternative vision to what is on offer elsewhere. We need to explain the Church s teaching positively and we need to provide full and accurate information with a view to developing fully informed consciences in our students. Your personal contribution to this task will be vital. I promise you my personal support and the further support of the Church in the way of resources and staff development.
I began by thanking you, not only on my own behalf, but on behalf of the whole Catholic Community for all that you are managing to accomplish within our Catholic Secondary Schools.
I have also outlined to you some of the ways in which I think you can even better fulfil your role with regard to your own witness to our shared faith and your confidence in your knowledge of the faith. Something of the way you are and of the way you live must be handed on to those for whom you are responsible, especially your colleagues in the teaching profession and the young people in your schools.
Ours is indeed a high ideal in living the Gospel of Jesus Christ and in handing it on. And like Pope Benedict XVI we must never shirk from showing our love as well as our authority.
At the conclusion of his sermon during his Inaugural Mass as Pope, Pope Benedict XVI concluded with the words: The purpose of our lives is to reveal God to men. And only where God is seen does life truly begin. Only when we meet the living God in Christ do we know what life is. We are not some casual and meaningless produce of evolution. Each of us is the result of a thought of God. Each of us is willed, each of us is loved, each of us is necessary .
As Catholic Head Teachers you must believe this of yourself “ and you must also believe it of each and every person entrusted to your care in your vitally important role. And some final words from the Pope on receiving the pallium and the ring: The task of the shepherd, the task of the fisher of men, can often seem wearisome. But it is beautiful and wonderful because it is truly a service to joy, to God s joy, which longs to break into the world .
May God indeed bless you all in our shared vocation.