Story and Photos By Christine Bordelon, Clarion Herald
School leaders from Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama gathered for faith formation and leadership building Oct. 9-11 at the 53rd annual Administrators’ Conference, “Navigating the Waters of Leadership,” in Baton Rouge.
“It’s important for us to do this so we can hone our leadership skills and gain fellowship with our colleagues,” said Dr. RaeNell Houston, superintendent of the Office of Catholic Schools in the Archdiocese of New Orleans. Her office coordinated the conference with the National Catholic Educational Association.
“One of the most valuable takeaways for those who attend are the relationships,” Houston said. “Being a school leader is a lonely job. You are often making decisions with a small leadership team or in collaboration with your pastor. Having this opportunity to be with your colleagues to grow in faith and leadership skills is an opportunity they all value.”
Building leadership skills
Jesuit Father John Belmonte, Ph.D., keynote speaker, opened the conference Oct. 9 emphasizing the mission of Catholic schools – introducing people to Jesus.
“A day can’t go by that we are not reminding each other about our mission,” he said.
He quoted a favorite church hero of his, the late Chicago Cardinal Francis George: “The mission of the church in every generation is to introduce the world to its savior.”
“The world of Catholic educators is our school and classroom,” Father Belmonte said. “For parents, the world is their family. There is no better mission (for educators), and if you don’t believe that to your bones, you are in the wrong room. You need to know it, communicate it, keep it clear, not only for ourselves but for everyone else. Introduce the world to our savior; not only introduce them to who he is, but also who they are in relationship to him.”
Having served for 15 years as a high school teacher, for six years as a principal and now as superintendent of Catholic schools in the Diocese of Joliet, Illinois, he has learned much dealing with different personality types.
He emphasized the pastor-principal relationship and how to cultivate that relationship by recognizing their own personality type and that of their pastor, categorizing those types by color.
“Red” is someone who is a strong leader, decisive and in control; an “orange” personality wants to get along with others, and is a peacemaker, caregiver and good listener; “yellow” is similar to red in getting things done but also is concerned about the outcome being right, is great at solving problems and not afraid to take on challenges; and a “green” type has a vivid imagination, is innovative, wants to flourish and thrive by experiencing it all and is intuitive but can be emotional.
Once personality traits are recognized, the smart leader works with them, he said.
Since the principal can’t change the pastor, it is vital to communicate clearly with the pastor, set clear expectations and, most importantly, communicate the Catholic faith. The pastor, parents and students must be on board with the primary mission of Catholic schools – to spread a love for Jesus.
Father Belmonte also invited leaders to take an individual educational philosophy inventory.
He discussed Catholic schools with strong Catholic culture as being vibrant and dynamic, places no one wants to leave. Leaders must advocate for this type of culture, he said.
St. Charles Borromeo principal Rachel Hafford gained insights and ideas to bring back to her school.
Her mother, the Visitation of Our Lady principal Carolyn Levet, agreed, saying being with her colleagues allows “them to share faith and celebrate Mass together.”
Society is different today
Father Belmonte commiserated with educators about the difficulty of being in Catholic education today because American culture has devolved into “anything goes, nothing matters.”
Many parents today have a “post-modern” mentality where there is unrestricted choice, and feelings trump truth and values. Social media has also created a coarseness in behavior from parents and students that is shocking.
He quoted Pope Benedict XVI who said there is a crisis in education: “Education tends to be reduced to the transmission of specific abilities or capacities whose only goal is a career or profession.”
But, he said, remember the Catholic mission.
“The best way that the church lives out her mission is in Catholic schools,” he said.
While it can be a difficult mission, leaders also have opportunities to excel.
“We have the greatest mission ever conceived,” he said. “It is our solemn vocation to help students ascend (to heaven).”