Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Cohort Superintendency: A New Model of Catholic Educational Leadership

Leadership and Strategic Vision

Diocesan leadership must inspire confidence and be Mission Driven.

 “A family once rented a small room. The family went to the owners of the small room and complained that the room was too small. The owner, angered by the comment, asked the family to leave the small room. Now, the room is empty but it’s still too small.”  by Kenneth Willers

How does diocesan leadership transform an educational institution or system? Today, those involved in Catholic Educational Leadership must listen, reflect and inspire the entire educational community to effect change by living their mission. 

In partnership with the Church and those dedicated to Catholic education, the main ministry or role of the Catholic educational leaders is to unify the voices and the vision of those being served. To achieve unity the educational leaders must inspire students, families, colleagues and the greater community about the mission and dream of Catholic Education at both the local or diocesan levels of education. 

In the 21st Century, collaboration will be key to the success of diocesan educational leadership. School Departments must abandon the 'vertical' power structure of titled leadership and adopt the 'horizontal' expertise model of empowered action. Effectiveness at this level requires a cohort-model of superintendency made up of exceptional Catholic leaders, committed experts and innovative practitioners with a track record of success. 

In the cohort model educational leaders own a specific aspect of the shared Mission of Catholic education.  Expertise in the following areas must drive the selection or the appointment of members who will make up the cohort superintendency: 1) leadership development; 2) educational pedagogy and curriculum; 3) Catholic identity and religious formation;  4) educational law; and 5) institutional advancement and finances. 

In addition to the above areas of expertise, a cohort superintendency must be comprised of those who are able to collaborate with colleagues and other professionals to deepen the spiritual and professional lives of those serving within Catholic education. A cohort superintendency thrives on collaboration, while each member focuses on his/her area of expertise, and therefore the cohort is better positioned to partner with school leaders committed to Catholic education. In this model, one can see that, an effective cohort will be able to partner with visionary business leaders to explore innovative educational structures for learning. A collaborative cohort will be able to create a professional climate for growth and change and as a result inspire institutional expansion as well as safeguard that the Mission of Catholic education be sustainable for the future of the Church.

Diocesan leadership adopting a cohort superintendency will appoint leaders based on the needs and requirements of the positions identified above. Expertise in leadership, pedagogy, Catholic identity, law and finances must drive the selection process.  Degrees, years of experience or one's affiliation with a religious order or clerical state can no longer be the sole criteria for any one appointed to the superintendency level as it has been in the past. Furthermore, diocesan leadership will need to move away from the vertical chain of command and will have to view the cohort as the acting superintendency and relate to cohort as co-stewards of the Mission of education by being present and available to the cohort on regular basis. 

Finally, in the 21st Century, a cohort superintendency does not need to be tethered to a location. Cohort leaders could actually reside in the field and be easily available to colleagues that spread across a large geographic territory. Cohort members can communicate electronically and meet as needed, but most importantly, cohort members will be able respond to the needs of their colleagues more effectively because they will be present to them in a way a 'central' office never allowed. 

A cohort superintendency is reflective of the Gospel's message of One Body and Many Parts. To achieve this vision, Diocesan leadership needs to remove the vertical 'walls' of the 'Small Room' referred to as the superintendency and expand them to embrace the 21st Century model of collaboration and innovative expertise. Only with the conviction that it is God’s work being done with the assistance of Divine Providence can we as Catholic educators see the future of Catholic schools: a future, filled with hope and a mission filled with purpose.

Kenneth J. Willers,

Principal at the School of the Madeleine