Tuesday, April 30, 2013

The Law

We have certain non-negotiable rules that Elizabeth must follow:

-Look both ways before crossing the street (which for now is also coupled with having to hold either my or Emily's hand).
-Give Catherine another toy if you take one from her.
-Hold our hand in a parking lot.
-Pray before going to bed.
My brother and I (above) recently completed a Tough Mudder mud run. The race has certain non-negotiables, too. They make participants recite and abide by the following pledge: "I understand that the Tough Mudder is not a race but a challenge. I put teamwork and camaraderie before my course time. I do not whine - kids whine. I help my fellow Mudders complete the course. I overcome all fears."
Also recently, I had the opportunity to visit one of Elizabeth's toddler classes at a local Christian church. Attached to a school, the teacher in charge of the program did a wonderful job engaging both the students and the parents. As such, we engaged in a conversation about what I did for a living. After finding out that I was a principal of a Catholic school, she asked what our law was regarding teachers. 
Law? I immediately thought of certification laws, and safe environment mandates, and Level II background screenings. Confused, I asked her to clarify. 
She stated that all of the teachers in the schools attached to this particular sect of Christianity come from the same college. In this way, all of the people that work in their schools and for their churches have the same formation. 
"How do you know that your teachers follow the philosophy as you or the Catholic Church?" she asked.
I was at a loss to respond. The question continues to resonate with me almost one month later. How do principals of Catholic schools know that teachers they hire / employ are quality in both an educational and Catholic sense? Only so much can be gleaned from an interview. Reputation lives in the unsteady hands of other people. Even direct observations are corrupted by the the observer effect. Teachers within our Catholic schools have various backgrounds, experience, knowledge levels and faith lives. 
We must have faith in things unable to be seen.
So, this question about the law of Catholic school teachers lead my leadership-oriented mind to think about it from a broader perspective - what is the law of a Catholic school?
In looking for answers, I came across some great resources. First, Archbishop Miller writes:
A Catholic school should be inspired by a supernatural vision, founded on Christian anthropology, animated by communion and community, imbued with a Catholic worldview throughout its curriculum, and sustained by gospel witness. These benchmarks help to answer the critical question: Is this a Catholic school according to the mind of the Church (http://www.catholiceducation.org/articles/education/ed0395.htm)?
The Pastoral Council on the Church in the Modern World states, "the Catholic school sets out to be a school for the human person and of human persons." 
Finally, the Center for Catholic School Effectiveness (School of Education, Loyola University Chicago), in partnership with the Roche Center for Catholic Education (School of Education, Boston College) compiled an entire set of defining characteristics, domains, standards and benchmarks to help Catholic schools determine their Catholicity, viability, academic excellence and success. The defining characteristics are as follows:
Catholic schools must be centered in the person of Jesus Christ.
Catholic schools must contribute to the evangelizing mission of the Church.
Catholic schools must be distinguished by excellence.
Catholic schools must be committed to educate the whole child.
Catholic schools must be steeped in a Catholic worldview.
Catholic schools must be sustained by Gospel witness.
Catholic schools must be shaped by Communion and community.
Catholic schools must be accessible to all students.
Catholic schools must be established by the expressed authority of the Bishop.
Miss any one of these and you miss one of the defining characteristics of a Catholic school. Many dioceses across the country are moving to using this set of criteria to conduct school accreditations. Catholic schools everywhere would be wise to use them as a self-assessment to help them more closely live out the mission of Catholic education. 
It may not be the law (yet), but it helps to level the playing field across the broad range of Catholic schools and provides concrete goals for bearing the title Catholic. 
As for me and my school, it will act as a set of non-negotiables (like ensuring that I write at least one blog post a month), as we strive to serve the Lord.