Voices of lay principals: Promoting a Catholic character and culture in schools in an era of change

Year: 2006

Author: Belmonte, Angelo, Cranston, Neil, Limerick, Brigid

Type of paper: Refereed paper

This paper reports a qualitative study of the practice of leadership in Catholic schools to ascertain the perceptions of lay principals, who as positional leaders play a critical role in embracing and creatively rebuilding the Catholic vision of life within the reality that the Catholic school principalship is now a ministry of the laity. The methodology included semi-structured interviews, field notes, reflexive journals, direct observation, and document analysis. The study examined both individual human behaviour and the structure of the social order in Catholic schools.

The findings point towards successful leadership in Catholic schools being highly influenced by the cultural and spiritual capital that a principal brings to a school signifying a fundamental importance of appointing principals who are not only professionally competent but spiritually as well. In an era of unprecedented social, educational and ecclesial change, and with an ever widening role description, lay principals are challenged to redefine and re-articulate their Catholic character and identity, and will need to look for new ways to make this explicit. Embracing a new leadership paradigm of shared leadership, the preparation and on-going formation of lay principals were identified as critical for the continuance of the Catholic school's distinctive mission in the future.