School leadership, in modern times, is faced with challenges from every corner. Social, economic, religious and political. Catholic school leadership is facing these challenges but with the extra weight of keeping to the mission of the school and that of Catholic education especially when they continue to “receive significant support from public funds”(Grace, 2002) and are heavily driven by market values just like any other school. The Catholic schools are also varied in their identity, their multi faiths and multi ethnic populations and yet are still committed to uphold to the mission of their schools. The question is why and for how long can they maintain this?
Firstly, let’s define mission integrity. Mission integrity is a “fidelity in practice and not just in public rhetoric to the distinctive and authentic principles of Catholic education” (Grace, 2002). There is something clearly romantic about this definition but at the same time it appears to have stripped away the layers that are often associated with “exposed education” that is, the public expectations of schooling and the public “naming and shaming” of schools in testing systems. Mission Integrity is the “conscience of Catholic education” (Finlay, 2015) and the compass which constantly directs and redirects our leaders and staff to the purpose of the existence of Catholic education and the reason for its continual work for the “common good of any society”.
Our leaders in schools find it difficult to be focused on this mission because of the persistent expectation of many stakeholders i.e. parents, politicians, local business etc for schools to perform but the realisation that Catholic schools were created for the poor and the marginalised and the Catholic community. Mission integrity realigns the need to stay focused on this particular intention in modern schools. That is not to say that Catholic Education has any less moral responsibility to academic performance but it does suggest that our purpose goes far beyond statistics and self gain.
As leaders in Catholic schools, our school mission is a visual, spiritiual and religious reminder of what it is that makes our Catholic schools distinctive. For these schools, it is a reminder that “intelligence, talents and skills and command of knowledge are to be developed to the highest possible degree but always with a religious and moral understanding that such personal empowerment is to be used for the benefit of others. Academic education can not be a means to an end in itself. “(Grace, 2002). But when we have social systems that are comparing schools, regardless of demographics, then the challenge is for leaders of these schools to deliver without losing the integrity of their existence. Without losing the real intention of Catholic schooling. The school leader becomes the “propagator” of Catholic identity, Catholic purpose and Catholic connection. This is a mammoth request but one which brings with it a key responsibility in leading in a Catholic schools.
Interestingly, I believe that mission integrity is being “super powered” by the emergence of our new Pope, Pope Francis. There is a social connection, religious or not, with a man who has given the world a new visual to Catholicism and the “preferential treatment of the poor”. It appears that this mission, which has been upheld in Catholic education for decades, is now “modern” and “trendy” in a world wide social audience. Social justice is taking centre stage in social media and this has ignited the thoughts of many youth to the reasons for their faith commitment. What was a struggle of exponential significance twenty years ago,in my experience, is starting to become less stronghold and more explicit in the overall spiritual directing of our school systems. I believe we are no longer holding on by our fingertips but finding a new expression of our mission. This does not mean less management, as this is the reality of leading a school, but more explicitness and accountability for decision making within the walls of Catholic consensus. Our school mission is enlightening our choices and our moral and ethical decision making.
I believe we need to stop thinking of education in an “either / or” way and suggest that there can be other options which allows us to integrate in an economic and political arena as well as maintain the structure of our Catholic mission. Mission integrity is not an “add-on” but a vital, purposeful and ethically responsible form of educating our children. If we are to be “witnesses of Christ and as workers of justice an peace” (Grace, 2002) then keeping our mission integrity in the foreground of our everyday is fundamental.
Grace, Gerald. (2002). Catholic schools: mission, markets and morality. London: Routledge/Falmer. Chapter1.
Grace, G. (2010). Mission Integrity: Contemporary challenges for Catholic school leaders. Paper presented at the Fifth International Conference on Catholic Educational Leadership, Sydney, Australia. (August 2010)