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Ethical Leadership in Catholic Schooling


Image sourced from: http://ethics.efpa.au/

Please note this cavaet:

This post is a publication of a research originally drafted in 2004. It is offered as a starting point for debate and conversation only. Current research and perspectives should be explored if researching this same area.

  1. Introduction:

Larry Lashway, a senior researcher in educational management at the University of Oregon points our what has become a “truism” of modern ethical leadership by stating that: “Real leaders concentrate on doing the right thing, not on doing things right” (Lashway, 1996) . Such a statement certainly comes as no surprise to leaders at all levels within Australian Catholic schools. Concentrating upon doing the “right thing”, however, is a problematic art which forces leaders to face an onslaught of ethical dilemmas as part of their daily working life.

Every day educational leaders are faced with a host of competing injunctions such as how to spend their time, promote good learning in the school, respond to the competing needs in budget allocations, act justly in an experience of conflict between a teacher or student, enrolment policies. (Treston, 2004)

There is, on the other hand, a growing consensus in the literature regarding educational leadership. This broad agreement asserts that the way in which school leaders engage with ethical dilemmas is an essential element in the effective organisation and management of schools. In Catholic schools, an ethical approach to leadership furthers the central mission of the Church. Ethical behaviour lies at the heart of the “Jesus dream”. It is this central mission of Catholicism that challenges school leaders to live authentic lives. As Catholicism is by nature transformative, the importance of ethical transformation in individual lives is central to authentic ethical leadership in catholic schools.

Personal transformation is a calling to become more Christ-like in our relations with God, self, others and society… (the) central symbol of Christ’s message challenges both the church and its members to be agents of social change. (Trafford, 1993, p.39)

Shapiro and Stefkovich echo this sentiment emphasising that as a group, those involved in educational leadership have “a moral obligation to train prospective administrators to be able to apply the principles, rules, ideals and virtues associated with the development of ethical schools” (1997, p.10).

There can be discerned from the wider conversations regarding ethical leadership, a number of significant issues central to this paper. Firstly, the very meaning of “ethical leadership” as a term must be clarified. Secondly, ethical leadership must be contextualised as appropriate ethical leadership depends greatly upon a number of localised factors not least of which is the situation in which the leader finds themselves “at any point” in the organisational life of their institution (Trevino and Hartman 2004). Finally, the as the nature of ethical leadership needs description, this paper seeks to describe the exercise of ethics as a significant aspect of authentic leadership and administration.

  1. The meaning of ethical leadership:

In order to study the nature of ethical leadership, it is necessary to probe the central understandings of the term and to create a clear definition as a basis for discussion. This paper moves towards the creation of such a definition by exploring both ethics and leadership and then synthesising these understandings in to a working conceptualisation of ethical leadership itself.

2.1       Towards and Understanding and definition of ethics

Ethics is essentially a “contested concept” (Haynes, 1998, p.7) but perhaps can be most simply defined as a system of moral principles by which human actions may be judged right or wrong. Ethics are inherently personal and the decisions that flow from an individual’s ethical position can be decidedly subjective. The study of ethics, however, challenges post-modern ideas of relativism and draws upon Aristotelian thought to examine notions of ‘good” and “bad” from an objective standpoint (Haynes, 1998, p.7). This understanding of the study of ethics is of significant interest in a wide variety of disciplines beyond educational leadership and a broader academic conversation on the definition of ethics has informed modern understandings of the term. The diversity of discussion is highlighted when one considers that the worlds of philosophy, business, medicine, and law (among many others) routinely contribute to academic literature relating to ethics and moral philosophy.

The word “ethics”, derived from the Greek ethike or ethikos, has a rich heritage. Both the Treston (2004 p. 5.3)) and Future: The Aventis Magazine (in discussing the nature of medical ethics) emphasise this richness. Treston (2004) particularly emphasises the importance of Aristotelian philosophy while Aventis[1] draws their readers’ attention to other contributions also. Significant is Aventis’ explicit links to the Christian ethic central to Catholic schools.

Ethics or moral philosophy is a branch of philosophy concerned with the systematic study of human values. It involves the study of theories of conduct and goodness, and of the meanings of moral terms. The “Christian Ethic” is mainly a combination of New Testament moral teaching with ideas drawn from Plato and Aristotle, combining hedonism and rationalism. (Aventis)

Aristotle’s understanding of ethics centred upon the relationship between ethics and moral virtues. Talk about leading is often accompanied by strong notions of virtue (Maxcy, 1991, p.27). This notion of virtue has been linked to the understanding of educational leadership by authors such as Tyack and Hansot

David Tyack and Elisabeth Hansot (1982) point out that educational administrators operating as leaders have been seen as “managers of virtue” By this they have in mind that the moral dimension of educational leadership is displayed not only in the ways in which principals and superintendents got the job done but also how they lent moral certitude to the enterprise of education. (Maxcy, 1991, p.27)

Virtues, as described by Aristotle, are those “strengths of character that enable us to flourish”. Thus, the concepts of morality and virtue are almost inseparable from a detailed exploration of the meaning of ethics[2].

Ethics explores issues of right and wrong, good and bad, virtuous and sinful… Catholic anthropology is being challenged to clarify its ethical stances on an ever-widening series of moral concerns. The law of love and commitment to the common good are two touchstones for a vision of an ethical person. (Treston, 2001, p.20)

Thus the notions of morality, virtue and commitment to the common good emerge as trait of educational leaders central to any definition of ethical leadership applicable to the Catholic education context.

2.2       Towards an understanding and definition of leadership:

“It has been said that there are as many definitions of leadership as there are those that write about it” (Bass in Field, 2002). While a huge volume of literature has been produced exploring the both the concept of leadership generally and the more specific concept of leadership in an educational context there is yet to be developed a concise and comprehensive definition of the term leadership itself.  Even the most cursory survey of the extensive educational leadership reveals that any definition of authentic educational leadership is contested.  Perhaps most useful aspects to arise from the academic literature are descriptors of leadership qualities – often proposed in contrast to “managerial” qualities.

Managers and leaders are “differ fundamentally in their world views”. Dimensions for assessing these differences include the managers’ and leaders’ orientation to goals, work, human relations and to themselves (Zalenik in Fuller 2000, p. 216). Such orientations would certainly be based upon a system of moral principles by which actions may be judged right or wrong. Thus, in discussing the importance of orientations to self and others, Zalenik implicitly suggests that ethics form a central part of authentic leadership. Certainly, a variety of leadership theories maintain that the importance of alignment of personal values and ethics with the reality of actions performed is the central tenet of authenticity in leadership (Simons 1999, p. 95). Authentic leadership relates closely to values, virtues and ethics. Leadership is an essentially human phenomenon and is at its core about right relationships. In this aspect, authentic leadership is compatible with understanding of leadership in a Catholic schools context.

Dwyer states that Catholic leaders in educational contexts should embrace values which serve the “common good” and build a “certain ease in relationships” Relationships that are “characterised by mutual trust, an openness to new ideas, a tolerance of mistakes and an acceptance of an individual’s strengths and weaknesses” reflect this leadership style (Dwyer, 1993, p.53). As Treston points out, for authentic Catholic leaders, right relationships and the common good are inextricably linked in a Catholic school context.

The principle of common good is firmly embedded in a Catholic consciousness about human nature… Common good and justice are concerned with the restoration of harmony and right relationships… The pursuit of the common good reminds us that the question of ethics is a fundamental feature of views about human nature. (2001, pp.19-20)

Treston (2001, p.20) states that a “good Catholic school” assumes a whole hearted and sincere commitment to the broader common good because “quality and holistic education is a communal service”. Therefore, leadership in such a context must reflect this commitment.

H.R.G. Field’s broad survey of leadership literature offers the following as a description of leadership:

Leadership is about taking action and communicating values in the context of a relationship. It is not about reinforcing the status quo and the reliance on hierarchy. It is time to lay to rest the false confusion about leadership definitions and accept that leadership is different from management, that leadership applies to all kinds of people at all levels in organizations, and that leadership is about relationships. (Field 2002)

As if to emphasise the wisdom in seeing leadership as built upon ethical relationships, Kevin Treston (1995, p.42) identifies Christ’s challenge to build the reign of God as the central message of the Good News. “(I)t would seem that Jesus was proclaiming a new world order which was to be characterised by right relationships which are founded upon love peace and justice”. As Catholics there is an imperative in the creation of this reign of God now, thus any discussion of ethical educational leadership must be informed by this imperative.

2.3       Towards an understanding and definition of ethical leadership

For the purposes of this paper, ethical leadership is defined as a form of active, reflective and communicative leadership characterised by ensuring the decisions made and actions taken are guided by moral values consistent with the Good News. Ethical leadership is characterised as a style of leadership that is transformative, non-hierarchical and appropriate for people at all levels of the educational institution. It reflects a sense of justice, commitment to the common good, wisdom and virtue. It is in essence a form of leadership based upon, guided and governed by a system of moral principles.

Ethical leadership is characterised by a form of practical wisdom and the ability to know when and how to best apply moral perspectives (Pennsylvania State University). The moral perspectives to be applied would be those which best reflect the vision and mission of the educational and institutional context in which the leader operates. In a Catholic schooling context, it is envisaged that an authentic alignment between gospel values and the personal values of the leader exist.

The key features of an ethical leader in this context grow from the transcendent values central to the Jesus Dream. These can be broadly clumped around three values: life, love and service. An authentic ethical leader in a Catholic educational context would live and project an inner reality built upon self-knowledge and reflection, honesty and sincerity, compassion and empathy, inner strength and courage. This leader would be focused upon both the process and the result, rejecting the temptations of a more utilitarian approach to leadership and embracing more deontological approaches to decision making[3]. The ethical leader in a Catholic school would be characterised by traits reflecting an ethical approach to the teaching profession consistent such as “justice, critique and care” (Shapiro and Stefkovich 2001 p.10), and an understanding of the role of Catholic schools. “The promotion of the human person is the goal of the Catholic school” (Congregation for Catholic Education, 1997)

  1. A discussion on the nature of issues and the exercise of ethical leadership in the leadership and administration of Catholic schools:

Conflicting ethical choices and conflict over values in education seem to be central issues in modern education however there is generally little consensus on what might constitute a paradigm or universal code of ethical competencies for educational leadership and administration (Shapiro and Stefkovich, 2001, p.18). It has been postulated that such a set of competencies may help educators to navigate the difficult decisions they invariably face each day but the development of these paradigms or code of ethics must be intensely personal if they are to be authentic. There are, however, no “universal laws” or “simple rules” governing the exercise of ethics in Catholic school leadership. The exercise of ethical decisions cannot be reduce to formula, rather they are by nature human and subjective. For Catholic school leaders and administrators, ethical consistency can only come from a desire to build the “Jesus dream” based upon an individual leader’s inner reality, self-knowledge, reflection, integrity, sincerity, compassion, empathy, and courage.

Underlying the exercise of ethical leadership is an understanding of oneself as well as others” (Shapiro and Stefkovich, 2001, p 21). This exercise, Shapiro and Stefkovich argue, will almost inevitably entail clashes over values and viewpoints. In fact a recent international study conducted by Griffith University found that most surveyed school leaders were increasingly “troubled by ethical dilemmas… (and) most reported an increase in the frequency with which they have been confronted with difficult (ethical) situations in recent years” (Dempster, 2001, p.11).

Value conflicts now seem to have become a defining characteristic of the school leadership role.  The work of educational leaders has become more complex, much less predictable, less structured, and more conflict-laden.  For example, in many sectors of the world there is considerable social pressure for greater stake-holder involvement in significant decision making within school organizations (Begley, 2004).

In a field where so many acknowledge the difficulty of ethical action for school leaders, it is surprising how little of the literature directly deals with the day-to-day ethical issues confronting school leaders in a Catholic context. Perhaps reflecting this reality is Neil Dempster’s finding that as little as 10 – 14% of Queensland school principals had formal training in ethical decision making (2001, p.12).

When examining the nature of ethical issues confronting school leadership and administration, it is senior research analyst and writer on Educational Management at the University of Oregon, Larry Lashway who deals with a broad range of the key issues most directly. In his survey of largely American literature, Lashway raises numerous significant issues. An in-depth treatment of Lashway’s observations regarding the nature of ethical issues facing school leaders is therefore warranted.

William Greenfield correctly observes that school leaders experience uniquely difficult ethical dilemmas on a daily basis (in Lashway1996)[4]. The scale of these day-to-day ethical issues and dilemmas may range from small to large. They may have a small emotional impact or a large. They may be time consuming or reasonably straight forward for leaders to deal with. However, school leaders and administrators face, not only these more overt day-to-day ethical dilemmas, but also numerous seemingly routine policies and structures that may have hidden ethical implications. The ethical issues confronting school leaders are highly contextual and defy formulaic solutions. Lashway (1996) points out: “Although something is known about the (ethical) problems currently confronting schools, nobody can predict with any degree of certainty the nature of future school leadership beyond the certainty that there will be more problems to solve and new dilemmas to confront”. By having legal and moral obligations to a variety of groups such as students, parents, the teaching profession, government authorities, past students, religious orders, Church hierarchies and to society at large, many school leeaders find that “it often is not clear what is right or wrong, or what one ought to do, or which perspective is right in moral terms” (Lashway 1996). American teacher educator, Larry Lashway, emphasises this difficulty drawing upon Robert Starrat to observe: “every social arrangement benefits some people at the expense of others; simply to assume that schools embody desirable standards is “ethically naive, if not culpable.” Thus, the school leader[5] must not only behave responsibly as an individual, but must create an ethical institution”.

To state that authentic leaders concentrate on doing the right thing, not on doing things right becomes a most difficult proposition at this point as “the right thing” may be unclear and few school leaders have formal training in dealing with the messiness entailed in difficult ethical choices and dilemmas. It has only been in recent years that ethical issues have become part of formal courses in school leadership. According to Kidder (in Lashway 1996), “an ethical dilemma is not a choice between right and wrong, but a choice between two rights[6]. As Lashway observes, “dilemmas arise when cherished values conflict” (1996). These dilemmas prove to be all the more difficult for the large numbers of competing interests and constituencies that make demands upon the school leader.  To be an ethical school leader “is not a matter of following a few simple rules. The leader’s responsibility is complex and multi-dimensional, rooted less in technical expertise than in simple human integrity” (Lashway, 1996). While various models are proposed that may assist leaders in the exercise of ethical leadership within their schools[7], all models have their shortcomings for those who make decisions without a firm grounding in faith and practical wisdom.

Interestingly, most Queensland (state school) principals surveyed by Griffith University failed to recognise wisdom and personal ethical reflection and clarification as personal attributes important in making ethical decisions, many (66%) placing a great deal of trust in external guidance when making ethical decisions[8]. The search for what Lashway (1996) describes as a mythical “cookbook” for ethical decision-making in the exercise of educational leadership seems strong.

A perspective such as that provided by this study is significant in any study of how ethical leadership may actually be exercised by school leaders and administrators in schools. A fine reading of the study does reveal however that a significant number of the participants recognised the importance of courage in the process of ethical leadership (Dempter 2001, p.12. See also Footnote 7).  Ethical decisions on significant issues may carry with them great trepidation as decision-making school leaders are forced to confront the likely consequences of their decisions, not only for themselves but for others. Thus, the ethical leadership of Catholic schools requires reflection, self-knowledge, wisdom in practice and a clear understanding of the purpose of schools in the mission of the Church. Ethical leadership in Catholic schools must, therefore, also be an exercise in courage.

Courageous leadership faces fear within oneself and is prepared to be a prophetic voice, even in the face of contradiction. Courage is stepping out into risky situations because one feels that such an action is fidelity to core personal values. (Treston, 2001, p.55)

Lashway (1996) correctly points out that “moral philosophers generally agree there is no ethical “cookbook” that provides easy answers to complex dilemmas”. Rather, in the exercise of ethical leadership, school administrators and leaders “should have—and be willing to act on—a definite sense of ethical standards”. In a Catholic school, it is important that these personal ethical standards align with those challenges of the gospel and the mission of working towards the fulfilment of the Jesus dream. Lashway points out that these ethical standards will reflect a number of themes identified by Starratt. Starratt (1991), like Rebore (2001) and Shapiro and Stefkovich (2001), argues that a “fully informed ethical consciousness will contain themes of caring (What do our relationships demand of us?); justice (How can we govern ourselves fairly?); and critique (Where do we fall short of our own ideals?)”. As such these views align closely with a Catholic school leader’s mission to work for the common good and to promote “the human person” as is the goal of the Catholic school as stated by Congregation for Catholic Education in 1997.

Ethical leaders in Catholic schools must become truly reflective practitioners and live authentic lives in order to effectively exercise “ethical leadership” in schools. Such an approach to leadership requires an inner courage and an acknowledgement of the messiness of relationships with others.

  1. Conclusion:

Ethical leaders, in reality, focus their efforts upon doing the right thing, and upon doing things right. Unfortunately, in the context of Australian Catholic schools, such a perspective is problematic as leaders at all levels in the school hierarchy face an onslaught of ethical dilemmas as part of their daily working life. School leaders are faced with an ever growing list of competing pressures regarding as how to spend their time, to promote effective learning, respond to the competing financial strains, and to “act justly in an experience of conflict” whether it be interpersonal or another form (Treston, 2004). It has become clear that the way in which school leaders engage with these dilemmas is an essential element in the effective organisation and management of schools.

While a “cookbook of ethical solutions” does not exist, in Catholic schools, ethical leadership draws upon an anthropology that goes to the heart of the mission of the Church. Ethical behaviour is central to the fulfilment of the “Jesus dream”. Catholicism challenges school leaders to live authentic and ethical lives that are consistent with gospel values. Further, as Catholicism is by nature transformative, the importance of ethical transformation in individual lives is central to authentic ethical leadership in Catholic schools. Authentic transformation grows from a wide range of characteristics significant in the study of ethical leadership reflection. Central among these traits are wisdom, courage and action.

This paper, drawing upon wider conversations regarding ethical leadership, has sought to espouse an understanding meaning of “ethical leadership”. Secondly, ethical leadership was explored as a concept which is highly contextualised. Ethical leadership depends greatly upon a number of localised factors not least of which is the situation in which the leader finds themselves “at any point” in the organisational life of their institution (Trevino and Hartman). Finally, this paper has explored the issues surrounding the exercise of ethical leadership in Catholic schools.


  1. Aspin, D. (2002), An Ontology of Values and the Humanisation of Education. In Pascoe, S. (ed.), Values in Education: College Year Book, Australian College of Educators: ACT, pp. 12-24.
  2. Aventis, Glossary to Online Materials, Available at: http://www.aventis.com/future/en/fut0201/function/glossary.htm#Ethics, Accessed: October 7th, 2004.
  3. Begley, P. (2004) The Ethical Dimensions of School Leadership, Values and Ethics in Education, CSLE: Pennsylvania States University, (Online), Available at: http://www.ed.psu.edu/uceacsle/intro.htm, Accessed: October 21st , 2004.
  4. Brisbane Catholic Education (1997), Guidelines for Religious Education: Curriculum Perspectives, BCE: Brisbane.
  5. Caron, J. (1995) A practical method for ethical decision making, Christian Ethics: Shaping Values, Vision, Decisions, Twenty-Third Publications: Mystic CT,
  6. Congregation for Catholic Education (1997), The Catholic School on the Threshold of the Third Millennium (Online), Available at: http://www.vatican.va/roman_curia/congregations/ccatheduc/documents/rc_con_ccatheduc_doc_27041998_school2000_en.html, Accessed: July 16th , 2004.
  7. Crabb, A., Guerrera, O., PM queries values of state schools, The Age, January 20, 2004 (Online), Available at: http://www.theage.com.au/articles/2004/01/19/1074360697635.html, Accessed: August 10th , 2004.
  8. Dempster, N. (2001) Professional Development of School Principals: Professorial Lecture, Griffith University Public Lecture Series, Available: http://www.griffith.edu.au/centre/clme/publications/extrafiles/proflecture.pdf, Accessed: September 14th 2004.
  9. Dempster, N., Freakley, M., Parry, L. (1998) A Study Of The Ethical Decision-Making Of School Principals, (Online), A paper presented at the annual conference of the Australian Association for Educational Research: Adelaide, Available at: http://www.aare.edu.au/98pap/fre98168.htm Accessed: August 13th,  2004.
  10. Duncan, D.J. (1990) Leadership and the Catholic School Culture. Visions and Directions, 3(3), 1-8 ACU.
  11. Field, R.H.G. (2002), Leadership Defined: Web Images Reveal the Differences between Leadership and Management, Submission to the Administrative Sciences Association of Canada 2002. Available at: http://www.bus.ualberta.ca/rfield/papers/LeadershipDefined.htm Accessed: October 10th, 2004.
  12. Fuller, T. (ed) (2000) Leading and Leadership, University of Notre Dame Press: Indiana.
  13. Hall, B.P. (1995). Values and the Quality of Daily life, Values Shift: How Individuals and Learners Develop, Twin Lights: Rockport MA.
  14. Haynes, F. (1998) The Ethical School, Routledge: New York.
  15. Lashway, L. (1996), Ethical Leadership (Online), Available at: http://eric.uoregon.edu/publications/digests/digest107.html, Accessed: August 12th, 2004.
  16. Maxcy, S. (1991) Educational leadership: A Critical pragmatic Perspective, Bergin and Garvey: New York.
  17. Moran, G. (1995). Trustworthy knowledge: finding what’s good in our culture, The Catholic World, 238, pp. 28-33.
  18. O’Neill, G. (1996), The Values Dimension of the National Curriculum: Moral and Social Dilemmas of Our Time, Catholic School Studies, 69(1), pp. 20-25.
  19. Pennsylvania State University (2004) Ethical theories, Available at: http://www.engr.psu.edu/ethics/theories.asp Accessed: October 30th, 2004.
  20. Shapiro, J.P. and Stefkovich, J.A. (1997), The Ethics of Justice, Critique and Care. In Beck, L.G. and Murphy, J, (eds), Ethics in Educational Leadership programs: Emerging Models, Colombia, MO: The University Council for Educational Administration, pp.109-139.
  21. Simons, T. (1999) Behavioural Integrity as a Critical Ingredient for Transformational Leadership, Journal of Organisational Change Management, 12 (2), pp.89-104.
  22. Treston, K. (1995) Five Paths of Teaching, Creation Enterprises: Brisbane.
  23. Treston, K. (2001) Wisdom Schools: Seven Pillars of Wisdom for Catholic Schools, Creation Enterprises: Brisbane.
  24. Treston, K. (2001), The Teacher – A Class Act: Learning Experiences in Catholic Anthropology, Creation Enterprises: Brisbane.
  25. Treston, K. (2004), EDLE620: Values and Ethics for Leadership Study Guide, Faculty of Education, School of Educational leadership, ACUQ: Brisbane.
  26. Trevino, L. and Hartman, L.P. in Styles of Ethical Leadership, Available at: http://www.ethicaledge.com/appendix2.html, Accessed: September 8th, 2004.
  27. Warren, M. (1988) The Electronically Imagined World and Religious Education, Religious Education, 83 (3), pp.367-383.
  28. Webster’s Online Dictionary (Online), Available at: http://www.webster-dictionary.org/definition/values, Accessed: July 28th, 2004.



[1] Aventis is a European based pharmaceutical company with close links to groups such as Medécins Sans Frontières/Doctors Without Borders and other medical practitioners.

[2] For further discussion on these relationships see Haynes, 1998 and Maxcy 1991.

[3] See Pennsylvania State University 2004 for a brief explanation of these varying approaches.

[4] An intriguing exploration of the type of ethical dilemmas facing Queensland school principals is explored in Dempster, Freakley and Parry (1998).

[5] Lashway referred only to the principal in his paper regarding school leadership. The use of school leader in this context represents this authors use of terminology.

[6] Or perhaps an even less palatable choice of between what, at least in the shorter term may seem to be two wrongs!

[7] See Caron (1995).

[8] Dempter’s article featured the following graphical display of findings from the survey titled: Principals’ ranking of the attributes involved in their ethical decision-making.




Nurturing Values in Catholic Education


Please note this cavaet:

This post is a publication of a research originally drafted in 2004. It is offered as a starting point for debate and conversation only. Current research and perspectives should be explored if researching this same area.

  1. Introduction:

The so-called “values debate” in Australian education was recently reignited as a variety of political figures, in the context of pre-election posturing, sought to promote, and differentiate, their ideas on the importance of values education for Australians[1]. While some recently made political comments accurately reflect a concern with a post-modern relativism suspicious “of claimants to absolute values and universal value systems” (EDLE620: Values and Ethics for Leadership Study Guide, 2004, p.2.1), such populist debates, often played out in the mainstream media and tailored for sound bites, reflect an “undisciplined flow of opinion” (Moran, 1995, p.29) and fail to reflect deeply upon the pivotal issues raised by a wider conversation in the educational community as to the importance of values in education. David Aspin (2002) explores some of the history of this conversation and raises the point that it is important for educators to continue to attempt to discern what are the most important values in our society and to our schools and education systems. Rather than being “values neutral”, schooling in Australia has become increasingly aware of the centrality of values in education. Aspin (2002, p.13) contends that “value matters and concerns are now so important for our community’s life” that schools have a special responsibility to further address values as “vital elements” in education.

There can be discerned from the wider conversations regarding values in education, three key issues of significance to this paper. Firstly, the very meaning of “values” as a term must be explored. Secondly, the issue of what may constitute core values for education requires examination. Modern Australian society is riven by competing values. In a culture that at its heart may be regarded as, sceptical and possibly hostile to religious based values, this issue is crucial for Catholic educators (Moran, 1995, p.28-30) and as such has been raised in significant Vatican documents[2]. Finally, as values require nurturing for there to exist an actualisation of them as a lived experience, strategies must be developed in Catholic schools. Such strategies must be grounded in a particular understanding of the nature of Catholic schooling. As Dwyer (1993, p. 52) states: “The Catholic school is not just a place where parents send their children for a good formal education plus instruction in the beliefs and practices of the Catholic faith. It is really so much more. Because it shares in the work and the life of the Church, the Catholic school must exist within a community of faith”. A survey of some possibly strategies helpful in nurturing the values in such an environment will be explored in this paper.

  1. The meaning of values:

valuesbeliefs of a person or social group in which they have an emotional investment (either for or against something); “he has very conservatives values (Webster’s Online Dictionary)

In some respects helpful, common definitions of values, such as the one above, need careful exploration and nuancing in an academic paper. In a social context in which Moran (1995, p.29) identifies a trend to blithely dismiss “expert” knowledge an in which “what may look like knowledge can be an undisciplined flow of opinion with no sifting out of clear solid ideas from absurd and idiosyncratic offerings”, it is important to offer a more precise definition of the term “values”. Common to more sophisticated definitions and explorations of values as a concept is the understanding that values are “more than” beliefs and convey an imperative of such importance to us that guide our actions and behaviours.

While there exists “philosophical debate” over a clear definition of the term values, O’Neill (1996, p.21) contends that values can be described as “those beliefs, ideas, norms and conventions that are consciously chosen, highly prized and are used as benchmarks for people’s behaviours”. He adds that values act as “guiding principles for the way we live our lives and the way in which we interact with others”. Such a view is reminiscent of Treston (in EDLE620: Values and Ethics for Leadership Study Guide, 2004, p.1.5) who identifies a number of similar components / descriptors of values (Refer to Table 1). Hall (1995), also exploring definitions of values, further emphasised the relationship between values and a person’s lived experience. Hall defined values as “the ideals that give significance to our lives, that are reflected through the priorities that we choose, and that we act on consistently and repeatedly” (1995, p. 21). Thus, values have a significant linkage to an individual’s dominant worldview. All three scholars both implicitly and explicitly link values to actions or behaviour. Thus, it can be surmised that values are the basis for action in the real world and that a clear consistency between core values held by individuals and/or groups and the behaviours performed should be established.

Table 1: Common elements of values as identified by O’Neill and Treston:

VW Table 1 2004

Emeritus Professor in education, values and ethics at Murdoch University, Brian Hall, developing this understanding of the concept of values further, extended his conceptualisation of values beyond the individual level and explored values as essentially “units of information”. Drawing upon the studies of the Values Clarification Movement, Kohlberg, Maslow and Rokeach, Hall gives numerous valuable insights into values suggesting that an inventory of universal core values can be identified across a range of individuals[3] and that values play a significant part in the construction of our lived reality[4]. Such an understanding and the development of inventories provides a useful tool for identifying what may be core values for Catholic Schools and in identifying strategies for nurturing such values.

This paper will draw upon the contributions of these writers in order to clarify the meaning of values. For the purposes of the remainder of this paper, however, values will be defined as: Those significant and highly-prized guiding principles, ideals and beliefs which provide for us standards by which we can determine our priorities, choose and undertake action, and judge and reflect upon our behaviour. Values reflect our worldview, provide for us a predisposition to future actions and carry with them an implied imperative that they become an integral part of our live reality.

  1. Core values for Catholic Education:

Any attempt to specify core values in Catholic Education must be embedded in recognition of existing Church structures, traditions, teaching and systems. Catholic schools and educational systems do not exist in a vacuum. Catholic education exists within and is an expression of the life of the Christ’s church. As such, it plays a key role in the fulfilment of the Jesus Dream and the establishment of the Kingdom[5]. Therefore, Catholic Church is an evangelising church and its faith tradition clearly articulates values that lie at the heart of its mission. Catholic schooling as part of this wider faith movement is underpinned by broader Church teachings espoused in documents such as The Catholic School on the Threshold of the Third Millennium which clearly articulates a vision, and reference point, for the development of an authentic values framework for Catholic schools.

  • Some Key Characteristics of Catholic Education as explored by “The Catholic School on the Threshold of the Third Millennium”:

Numerous aspects within Vatican document, The Catholic School on the Threshold of the Third Millennium, are significant when attempting to specify core values which should underpin Catholic Education as they set an agenda by which the characteristics of a truly Catholic school can be identified. Among many points, the document clearly articulates the following:

  • A Personal Dimension[6]: The need for Catholic schools to be life-enhancing communities “for the human person and of human persons” where all can build a living and vibrant relationship with Christ. “The person of each individual human being, in his or her material and spiritual needs, is at the heart of Christ’s teaching: this is why the promotion of the human person is the goal of the Catholic school“.
  • A Cosmic Dimension: A strong belief that Catholic schools move beyond the purely “technical and practical” aspects and to embrace the essential unity of creation based upon the “deeply meaningful values and vision” drawn from the Gospel. Central to any understanding of Gospel teachings is an engagement with the divine and the Jesus dream of building the Kingdom.
  • A Social Dimension: An “ecclesial identity” for Catholic schools based upon the concept of Christ based community of outreach. This ecclesial identity places upon Catholic education an uncompromising call to be an “organic” part of the authentic pastoral mission of the Church. (Looking Ahead, The Catholic School on the Threshold of the Third Millennium)

Clearly, the central Vatican document underpinning Catholic Education places a central emphasis upon building the reign of God by meeting the spiritual and material needs of the human person, and enhancing humanity through an ecclesial approach which reflect the teachings of Christ. Thus, what is core in the values of Catholic Education must be what is essential in enhancing humanity. Such a view is supported in Brisbane Catholic Education documents such as the 1997 Guidelines for Religious Education which states:

The Catholic faith tradition gives prominence to life enhancing attitudes and values based upon the Good News of Jesus Christ. The cultivation of such attitudes aims to nurture Christian values in students. These values are expressed in efforts to live a truly Christian life in which love off God, self and neighbour are given daily expression, so that the individual, the Christian community and society at large can be transformed. (BCE, 1997, p15)

Such a view, supported by Vatican documents, has also been articulated by other scholarly writings. Canadian author and Catholic educator Larry Trafford (1993, p.49) states that the “salient features of what makes education Catholic” lie at the heart of the Good News teachings of Jesus Christ. Trafford (1993, p.49), echoing Vatican emphasis upon ecclesial identity, rightly characterises Catholic education as one in which the faith is lived and experienced in human relationships, where vocation is lived out through service to others in works of justice and peace, where the Jesus dream is evoked and aspired to and one in which the meta-narrative of Christian tradition is told. Thus, recognisable in the mission of the church, are the cosmic, social and personal dimensions entwining in the work of building the Kingdom of God. At the heart of all attempts to specify core values for Catholic Education must be the recognition of the values required for the creation this day of the central message of Jesus, the reign of God.

Utilising the three dimensions outlined above (and a deep understanding of the notion of ecclesiality) can assist in building a model for organising and conceptualising the core values of Catholic Education which serve the aim of building the Kingdom of God. Catholic schools have much in common with the notion of Church. Catholic schools are challenged to be communities of Christ’s followers called to perform a specific educational task in which they proclaim Christ’s message, serve others, give witness to the gospel in their actions and celebrate the Good News.

The central message of Jesus, the reign of God, offers a context for understanding church and its mission. The word ‘church’ is from the Greek ekklesia meaning a group of people called out to perform some task. The church is a community of followers who are gathered to proclaim (kergygma), serve (diakonia), witness to the values of relationships (koinonia or commuio) and celebrate (leitourgia) the Good News of the reign of God. (Treston, 2000, p.69)

It is a model based upon the Church’s ecclesial identity that will be utilised in the next section of this paper.

  • Specifying Core Values:

While commonly viewed by some sections of society as a monolithic institutionalised religion, Catholicism in the modern era should be seen as a faith tradition that “seems to embrace a plethora of coexisting beliefs and religious practices” (Treston, 1997, p.10). Therefore, attempting to specify “the character of modern Catholicism is no easy task”(Treston, 1997, p.10). Likewise, Catholicism embraces a wide range of values which are valuable in the building of the Kingdom. Such values, by definition, are difficult to limit to an exclusive set of core values unique to Catholicism. To specify a conclusive set of core values which should underpin Catholic Education would invariably lead to problems of omission and exclusivity[7]. Further it would reflect a misunderstanding of the way in which modern Catholics tend to live out their faith.

From my pastoral experiences in many countries, I can identify and specify a number of differing religious cultural stances and theologies emerging within the church. The previous façade in the post-Tridentine church of a coherent sub-group called “Catholic” has been well and truly shattered. I observe and encounter clusters of Catholics with dominant worldviews… (That may vary as adherents move through) various stages of their lives… according to how they choose to engage in living their Catholic faith. (Treston, 2000, pp 15-16)

Identifying a common set of Catholic core values, therefore, while a worthy objective, is a most challenging objective to achieve.

While numerous reputable and reflective authors[8] have sought to articulate lists of core values, these lists are often at variance while seeking to describe similar, if not identical, aims. Significant overlap can, and should exist between, lists of core values for Catholic schooling.

Figure 1:         The relationships between core values in Catholic education.

VW Figure 2004

Therefore, the model below is proffered as a means of developing an understanding of the core values which should underpin Catholic Education. In essence, this diagrammatic model recognises the broad nature of the values underpinning Catholic Education and the difficulty entailed in expressing and classifying the wide range of values that are essential elements in the Church’s mission of pursuing the Jesus Dream.

In the broadest sense we are all called to evangelise our culture, to identify and celebrate the humanising and enabling elements within it, and to offer the Gospel’s alternatives to those definitions of reality that oppress and enslave the human spirit. (Dwyer in Treston, 1997, p. 11)

Smith (1990), in her exploration of the kingdom theology in the modern world (“kingdom-spotting”), suggests that ultimately Christians – including Catholics – are working towards a sense of personal, social and cosmic unity (p.31)[9]. These three headings provide a useful tool for a diagrammatic model identifying core values for Catholic Education. Figure 1 indicates the relationship between the three major dimensions of core values.

When examining Figure 1, it is important to note the areas of overlap and connection between each dimension. The values identified within this space will be referred to as transcendent values as these values are of such importance to Catholicism that they transcend all divisions and reflect the sense of unity that the diagram seeks to describe. “Life” and “love” would be examples of two such “transcendent values” that move between, pervade, all dimensions and lie deep embedded within the core of the Catholic world view. Table 2 indicates core values typical of each dimension.

As Catholicism is essentially transformative in nature, so too are the values underpinning Catholic Education. As a result of this there is significant fluidity in the classification of core values by dimensions. Trafford discusses this fluidity between the personal and social values of Catholicism:

Transformation in Catholic education is both personal and social. Personal transformation is a calling to become more Christ-like in our relations with God, self, others and society. Social transformation is a calling to work for the reign of God. This central symbol of Christ’s message challenges both the church and its members to be agents of social change. (Trafford, 1993, p.39)

Likewise there are strong links between the personal and the social to the cosmic. Social transformation must acknowledge the importance of the divine. “One’s labour is a continuation of divine creativity and encourages resistance to economic and cultural oppression” (Trafford, 1993, p.40).

Through its message, community formation and language of ministry the distinctive framework of Catholic education begins to take shape. Its purpose is to direct the learner to the person of Jesus Christ as the centre from which relationships with the primordial community of being unfold. It provides learning that is holistic and links moral and spiritual development to the life experiences of the learner. And finally it promotes a way of life rooted in the Christian call to discipleship and service. (Trafford, 1993, p.40)

Table 2:          Core values of Catholic Education.

VW Table 2 2004


  • The Cosmic Dimension:

The values, identified as core, reflect an understanding that Catholic Education is challenged to embrace notions of unity in creation meaningful engage with the divine, the cosmic unity nature of creation. Catholic education challenges teachers to provide for students a way of learning that acknowledges what has been expressed as the “profundity and mystery of one’s life journey” (Treston, 1995, p.9). Such a view reflects the imperatives identified by Vatican documents relating to Catholic education such as Looking Ahead, The Catholic School on the Threshold of the Third Millennium.

The core values of Catholic Education identified in this dimension recognise the missioning and visionary aspects of the Jesus dream and emphasise the need to schools to be universal communities of faith and learning. “Roman Catholicism can also be understood in terms of its distinctive vision. This vision recognises that the divine is at work in all that surrounds us and attention to this sacred order is critical to the Catholic ethos” (Trafford, 1993, p.35). In pursuing these values Catholic schools would place a central importance upon proclamation of the gospel and liturgical celebration.

A Catholic school, as a community of faith which recognises the unity of creation, which proclaims and celebrates the Jesus Dream and which recognises that the divine is at work in all that surrounds it “would have religious focus. Prayer would be extremely important, as would the celebration of liturgy generally and an experience of a living faith” (Dwyer, 1993, p.52). The living and life-giving aspects of the Catholic school as a faith community represent one aspect in which the transcendent value of life is represented within this dimension. Such a sense of life is at the heart of Jesus’ work. Teachers in such communities of faith can:

Be strengthened in their work if their teaching emanates from a world view which is in accord with the dream of Jesus: “I have come so that they may have life and have it to the full” (John 10:10) (Treston, 1995, p.9)

  • The Personal Dimension:

The core Catholic values identified in what this paper describes as the personal dimension, reflect the centrality of humanity in all its diversity and brokenness within the Jesus dream. Looking Ahead, The Catholic School on the Threshold of the Third Millennium reinforces the centrality of such values in recognising need for Catholic schools to be life-enhancing communities “for the human person and of human persons”. Catholic communities are challenges do be places where all can build a living and vibrant relationship with Christ. “The person of each individual human being, in his or her material and spiritual needs, is at the heart of Christ’s teaching: this is why the promotion of the human person is the goal of the Catholic school” (1997). Treston (1995), rightly, places great emphasis upon the importance of these personal values while Trafford connect such an emphasis with Catholicism vision of humanity.

A Roman Catholic vision understands that humanity is created in the image of God, created with dignity and freedom and yet capable of choosing contrary to God’s design. And so, the celebration of life and its bodiliness and sensuality is balanced by recognition of human sinfulness and the need for forgiveness. (Trafford, 1993, p.35)

It is necessary for Catholic educators to identify a set of values which embrace this understanding of humanity and its personal nature, to model a way of living the Jesus dream that emphasis values supportive of “life” and “love” of both self and others. Typical of such an understanding, Dwyer states that Catholic education should embrace values which build a “certain ease in relationships” and that are “characterised by mutual trust, an openness to new ideas, a tolerance of mistakes and an acceptance of an individual’s strengths and weaknesses” (Dwyer, 1993, p.53). Such an approach to the human person is consistent with the central and transcendent gospel values of life and love.

Whoever is without love does not know God, for God is love. In this way the love of God was revealed to us: God sent his only Son into the world so that we might have life through him. (John 1: 8-11)

  • The Social Dimension:

The understanding provided by the social dimension identified in this paper describes the nature of Catholic schools as community of outreach. This, self-identified, ecclesial identity provides for Catholic education an uncompromising challenge to be an “organic” and vital part of the authentic pastoral mission of the Church (Looking Ahead, The Catholic School on the Threshold of the Third Millennium). Catholic education is called to embrace values which underpin the outward looking tradition of wider Catholicism.

Roman Catholicism’s deep sense of community allows for the affirmation of different races, nations, and cultures in relation to its historical foundations. It recognises that to be Catholic is to be open to truth and grace wherever it may be found. (Trafford, 1993, p.35)

The social dimension to Catholic education value systems provides for and it based upon a deep sense of justice “and in the spirit of the Gospel, would reach out to those who are struggling to cope, who don’t feel as if they fully belong and who find involvement difficult for whatever reason” (Dwyer, 1993, p. 53). Perhaps it is in the social dimension of Catholic values where some extremely overt actions to pursue the Jesus dream are expressed by educators. The Catholic education system that embraced fully these values may be described as one that is “characterised by collaboration and partnership (the opposite to petty proprietorship) where home, parish and school work in harmony, and where parents, teachers, pastors, students and all others who are part of the life of the school, strive towards the achievement of a common vision” (Dwyer, 1993, pp. 52-53). This vision is the Jesus dream.

  1. Strategies for nurturing Core Values in Catholic Education:
  • The importance of a normative paradigm in building the Jesus Dream.

In order to actively and effectively pursue the Jesus dream within Catholic education it is crucial to identify strategies by which these values can be nurtured, internalised by all within the faith learning community and brought to fruition in the life of the community. These strategies can perhaps be best described as “carriers of meaning”. The ultimate effectiveness of all such strategies / carriers rest upon the creation and selection of appropriate normative paradigms which support the core values of Catholicism.

Carriers of meaning, therefore in a Catholic educational system as in all educational systems are always set within a paradigm. Which paradigm most adequately incarnates the Body of Christ is critical to the discussion of what makes education Catholic and the answer to that question largely depends on what the Catholic educational community believes the purpose of its educational system to be (Trafford 1993, p.46)

Perhaps ultimately the solution to creating effective strategies to underpin Catholic values is the creation of normative paradigms within communities that address the identification of core values themselves. Trafford (1993) defines normative paradigms as those that “provide a context from which commonalities for learning a common way of life can be identified and intentionally included as carriers”. These, almost dogmatic, normative paradigms act as a secure reference point from which individual Catholic schools in all their diversity can interact with the many differing, possibly opposing and even hostile world views, value systems or paradigms which confront it each day. The secure paradigm that underpins a Catholic education provides a base from which the Church may interact with the wider culture. The Catholic Church is, and has been traditionally, “involved with the culture of people, even when the culture has many elements in conflict with a Christian outlook” (Moran, 1995, p.29). Developing such a normative paradigm in itself however is challenging given the broad “plurality of paradigms regarding the perceived purpose of Catholic education” (Trafford, 1993, p.44). The construction of a broad normative paradigm of vales underpinning structures and strategies challenges educational leaders within the Catholic system to be both process and outcome oriented. The values underpinning developing paradigms themselves must be considered and liberal and conservative worldviews and understandings of Catholic education confronted. The journey towards the creation of a normative paradigm is of equal importance as the destination.

Leadership towards institutionalising a common set of normative Catholic values in education would require leadership that acts in manner that stresses genuine “ministry and service”, recognises “legitimate authority”, consults and highly values “consensus”. “Power would be shared and delegated where appropriate” (Dwyer, 1993, p.53). Once such a set of normative values is created within a community, structures can be set in place that are “characterised by collaboration and partnership (the opposite to petty proprietorship)” in order to create communities of faith and learning “where home, parish and school work in harmony, and where parents, teachers, pastors, students and all others who are part of the life of the school, strive towards the achievement of a common vision” (Dwyer, 1993, pp. 52-53).

  • Institutionalising the paradigms.

The core values of Catholic education must be institutionalised if they are to be resilient and effective. Perhaps the most significant organisational steps that may ensure the institutionalisation of values is an effective process of creating and reflecting upon school policies and documents that govern the institutional behaviours of the school or educational system.

The values that describe or underpin an organisation’s management system, the way it conducts it’s day-to-day business, actually become internalised in the personal value systems of the people who work in that organisation. This is the phenomenon  we came to call the Genesis Effect. (Hall, 1995, p.36)

As values are institutionalised and internalised both the Genesis Effect and a process of mimesis combine to nurture and encourage the strength and resilience of the values within the community.

The Greek word, mimesis, gets at the imitative feature in life, by which people tend to reproduce in themselves patterns of behaviour they have beheld in others. (Warren, 1988, p. 368)

Key documents that may need to be developed in order to institutionalise core values (perhaps utilising the Genesis Effect) include the Mission Statement and key policy and procedural documents. Some of these documents are listed in Table 3. These documents should endeavour to reflect upon the key transcendent values of Catholicism, the Jesus dream and the way in which values may be explored through cosmic, social and personal dimensions. It is in the way the values are described and articulate in language that creates and further develops the desired vision.

At the heart of the Genesis Effect is the way in which the values mediate the internal and external realities through the medium of language… what we communicate through the language of written words, such as personal letters, newspapers, is the ongoingness of the created order. It is language – the naming of things – that gives our inner vision outer life… There is something inherent within written and spoken languages that can alter a person’s consciousness. This something is values (Hall, 1995, pp37-39).

Thus in the communications of Catholic schools, the written documents have a direct impact upon supporting and nurturing the core values of not only Catholic education but of the Jesus dream itself. The Genesis Effect coupled with the widely accepted centrality of mimesis in “the lives of all persons” that provide the most promising avenues for affectively nurturing core Catholic values in schools.

Table 3:

VW Table 3 2004

5. Conclusion:

The Catholic school is cannot be seen as merely a place where parents send their children for a “good formal education” with some development of the Catholic faith as an “added extra”. The effective Catholic school is challenged to be much more than this rather limited understanding of Catholic education. Catholic schools are challenged to be and integral part of the Church’s mission in building the Jesus dream. Catholic schools are challenged to become authentic faith learning communities. To this end it is appropriate for schools to focus upon what truly are the specific core values which underpin their existence.

Values can be defined as those significant and highly-prized guiding principles, ideals and beliefs which provide for us standards by which we can determine our priorities, choose and undertake action, and judge and reflect upon our behaviour. Values reflect our worldview, provide for us a predisposition to future actions and carry with them an implied imperative that they become an integral part of our live reality.

It is significant for schools to recognise that while there are many “core” Catholic values, the transcendent values of “Life” and “Love” underpin all others. The Catholic school as part of a wider church is therefore challenged, as the Church itself is, to find a means of effectively expressing of a wide range of values supportive of Christ’s central liberating message. It is perhaps in part by careful discernment of the core values accepted by Catholic communities and by utilising the Genesis Effect that such values can be nurtured in Catholic schools.


  1. Aspin, D. (2002), An Ontology of Values and the Humanisation of Education. In Pascoe, S. (ed.), Values in Education: College Year Book, Australian College of Educators: ACT, pp. 12-24.
  2. Brisbane Catholic Education (1997), Guidelines for Religious Education: Curriculum Perspectives, BCE: Brisbane.
  3. Congregation for Catholic Education (1997), The Catholic School on the Threshold of the Third Millennium (Online), Available at: http://www.vatican.va/roman_curia/congregations/ccatheduc/documents/rc_con_ccatheduc_doc_27041998_school2000_en.html, Accessed: July 16th , 2004.
  4. Crabb, A., Guerrera, O., PM queries values of state schools, The Age, January 20, 2004 (Online), Available at: http://www.theage.com.au/articles/2004/01/19/1074360697635.html, Accessed: August 10th , 2004.
  5. Duncan, D.J. (1990) Leadership and the Catholic School Culture. Visions and Directions, 3(3), 1-8 ACU.
  6. Hall, B.P. (1995). Values and the Quality of Daily life, Values Shift: How Individuals and Learners Develop, Twin Lights: Rockport MA.
  7. Moran, G. (1995). Trustworthy knowledge: finding what’s good in our culture, The Catholic World, 238, pp. 28-33.
  8. O’Neill, G. (1996), The Values Dimension of the National Curriculum: Moral and Social Dilemmas of Our Time, Catholic School Studies, 69(1), pp. 20-25.
  9. Treston, K. (1995) Five Paths of Teaching, Creation Enterprises: Brisbane.
  10. Treston, K. (1997) Ethos and Identity: foundational concerns for Catholic Schools. In Keane, R. and Riley, D. (Eds.), Quality Catholic Schools: Challenges for Leadership as Catholic Education Approaches the Third Millennium, (pp. 9-18), BCE: Brisbane.
  11. Treston, K. (2000) Visioning a Future Church, Creation Enterprises: Brisbane.
  12. Warren, M. (1988) The Electronically Imagined World and Religious Education, Religious Education, 83 (3), pp.367-383.
  13. Webster’s Online Dictionary (Online), Available at: http://www.webster-dictionary.org/definition/values, Accessed: July 28th, 2004.

[1] The Age newspaper reported the Prime Minister as claiming that parents were moving their children out of government schools because the existing system of state schooling is “too politically correct and too values-neutral”. Treston (EDLE620: Values and Ethics for Leadership Study Guide, 2004, p.1.5) rightly points out that “there is no such thing as neutral values because everything we do or say is permeated with values”.  O’Neill (1996, p.20) echoes this sentiment.

The Prime Minister’s comments were explicitly linked to budgetary considerations and come “at the beginning of an election year in which the Government is planning to introduce legislation expected to inject tens of billions of dollars into the coffers of private schools, while Labor campaigns to strengthen the public system”. The Prime Minister suggested that the recent growth in non-government school enrolments could be partly attributed to parental frustration with “the lack of traditional values in public schools” and an “incredibly antiseptic view taken about a whole range of things”. (Crabb, and Guerrera, 2004)

[2] “On the threshold of the third millennium education faces new challenges which are the result of a new socio-political and cultural context. First and foremost, we have a crisis of values which, in highly developed societies in particular, assumes the form, often exalted by the media, of subjectivism, moral relativism and nihilism”. (Introduction, The Catholic School on the Threshold of the Third Millennium)

[3] See the Hall-Tonna Inventory in Hall, 1995, pp. 31- 34.

[4] Values are the ideals that give significance to our lives, that are reflected through the priorities that we choose, and that we act on consistently and repeatedly. They are designated by special code words in the spoken and written language, and experienced through our feelings and imagination, and they are experienced in individuals, institutions, and in the products of human effort… Values are units of information that mediate our inner reality into full expression in our everyday lives… Values stand as a brokerage unit that assesses information and enables the brain to synthesise it into everyday decision-making”. (Hall, 1995, p.39-40)

[5] Treston (1995, p.42) identifies the Jesus dream / reign of God as the central message of Christ’s teaching. “The theme… is used over 100 times in the gospels… (I)t would seem that Jesus was proclaiming a new world order which was to be characterised by right relationships which are founded upon love peace and justice”. There is a priority in the creation of this reign of God in our own time, thus any discussion of core values in Catholic education must be constantly focused upon this priority.

[6] Smith’s (1990, p. 30) three headings of Personal, Social and Cosmic Unity used to explore the Kingdom of God have been utlised in this section as useful integrating devices.

[7] Indeed the very word “Catholic” challenges us to move beyond exclusivity and omission as its etymology reveals that it grows from the Middle English catholik, (universally accepted), from Old French catholique, from Latin catholicus, (universal), from Greek katholikos, from katholou, (in general).

[8] Including the Edmund Rice Centre, Treston, and Hall.

[9] While beyond the scope of this paper, Duncan’s discussion of the underlying assumptions that may impact upon this model is quite informative. See Duncan, 1990, pp.3-4.

A Cultivation Metaphor for School Leadership?


Please note this cavaet:

This post is a publication of a research originally drafted in 2003. It is offered as a starting point for debate and conversation only. Current research and perspectives should be explored if researching this same area.


“There is nothing more practical than a good theory” (James C. Maxwell)

Any articulation of a theory of practice of educational administration that is congruent with trends in contemporary organisational theory, educational administration and theology needs to take place in the context of a survey of the broad sweep of these theories. This paper will articulate a theory of educational organisation (organised around a “Cultivation Metaphor”), it will ground the theory in the context of current Catholic theology and finally it will outline the significant trends in organisational and educational administration theories upon which the theory is based.

The notion of metaphor is central to this paper. Metaphors have been a significant aspect in literature that seeks to articulate organisational and leadership theory and they provide a useful framework by which a new model of educational administration can be understood. The articulation of a theory of practice of educational administration that is congruent with trends in contemporary organisational theory, educational administration and theology should clearly reflect the movement in educational administrative and organisational theory away from a Taylorist “machine metaphor” and towards a more contemporary view of organisations as systems of great complexity that can be guided and cultivated rather than mechanically controlled. Thus, this paper will describe a view of educational administration that articulates an agricultural (Cultivation) metaphor rather than a machine metaphor. While this theory will then be applied to critique an example of educational administration within a current school situation, it is important to note that the theory articulated in this paper implicitly and explicitly connects with and critiques a broad range of current schools approaches and situations as it is progressively articulated. Footnotes will be regularly utilised as the theory is explained in order to critique examples of educational administration.

Articulating a “Cultivation Metaphor”: A Rationale.

“A sower went out to sow his seed. Some seed fell on good soil, and, when it grew, it produced fruit a hundredfold” (Luke 8: 5-8)

Agricultural metaphors provide a powerful method of articulating ideas. In communities that have a strong rural heritage, such metaphors provide a vehicle for the transmission of simple, yet powerful, wisdom that reflects an understanding of both human society and the natural world. In some senses, it can be claimed that, as industrialised societies frenetically focus upon “progress”, such agricultural ways of expressing profound understandings have become (incorrectly) seen as outmoded, anachronistic or simplistic. Therefore, this paper seeks to, in some small way, redress this inaccurate perception by drawing upon understandings from the natural world, rather than from the industrial world, in order to explore a new model of understanding the relationships between educational administration, organisational structure and leadership. The model draws upon themes of creation, co-creation and complexity[1].

Complexity… explains the evolution of biological forms in terms of “fitness landscapes”… (P)art of the interactive process involves an understanding of … how (people) see their world (Lewis, 1994, p.17). [2]

Any understanding of educational organisations and administration must be informed by a world-view. “Where there is no vision, the people perish” (Proverbs, 29:18). In Catholic theology, images of new life and co-creation are drawn from the scriptures and articulated as integral parts of the administrative process in Catholic schooling. Thus authentic educational administrative theory in Catholic educational institutions must be informed by a specifically Catholic vision of leadership, Kingdom and co-creation. Further, a coherent theory of practice in Catholic educational administration that is congruent with contemporary Catholic theology would entail, at least to some extent, a rejection of the excesses of scientism and rationalism that are implicit in any articulation of a Taylorist “machine metaphor” theory of education administration.

Science cannot solve the ultimate mystery of nature. And it is because, in the last analysis, we ourselves are part of the mystery we are trying to solve. (Planck in O’Murchu, 1997, p.78)

 A Catholic perspective of organisational theory and educational administration would encourage a sense of life-giving and creativity that is in stark contrast to a “scientific management” approach to administration in which “the machinery operates the workers” (Harramlambos, Van Krieken, Smith and Holburn, 1996 p 337). One who subscribes to an “agricultural metaphor” of educational administration would be entirely comfortable with such a notion and would tend to embrace the broad understanding of both the complexity theorist and the farmer:

We are co-creators of our world and our “reality”. Our world is not a reality of things… but a world of relationships, and the quality of those relationships will determine the quality of our reality. The world of the complex adaptive system is one of becoming. (Keene, 2000, p.16)

In the machine metaphor of Taylorism, control and predictability were important. The “old Newtonian paradigm” was one in which the world and organisations were seen in a mechanistic way. Control was associated with order (Keene, 2000, p.16). Such a metaphor encourages the practitioner of educational administration to “seek to control (the) environment” (Keene, 2000, p.16). According to Keene, many administrators, experience frustration when that same environment demonstrates it’s resilience to control when it “behaves in a way that is incongruent” with their expectations (2000, p.16). Thus, the machine metaphor demonstrates its limitations. So often in the day-to-day operations of a school, it is precisely this frustration that is expressed by staff who seek certainty and closure to issues of the workplace[3]. Educational institutions, as organisations active in an age of complexity, need to understood as more closely approximating the living organism (perhaps as a plant, rather than a machine) and theories that seek to express an understanding of these organisations would be better served by a metaphor of cultivation rather than of machinery.

Articulating a “Cultivation Metaphor”: Organisations as natural systems.

“Then the Lord God planted a garden in Eden, in the east, and he placed there within it,  the man whom he had formed… The Lord God then took the man and settled him in the garden to cultivate and care for it. ”  (Genesis, 2: 8- 15)

Leadership theorist and writer, Margaret Wheatley suggests that students of organisational theory and practising administrators need to experience a shift in their “worldview” in order to have develop a realistic understanding of the very nature of organisations and their place within them. Identifying problems with what she believes is an ingrained acceptance of the machine metaphor, Wheatley states:

Those of us educated in Western culture learned to think and manage a world that was anything but systemic or interconnected. It was a world of separations and clear boundaries: boxes described jobs, lines charted relationships and accountabilities, roles and policies described the limits of what each individual did and who we wanted them to be. Western culture became very skilled at describing the world with these strange, unnatural separations. (Wheatley, 1999, Bringing Schools back to Life: Schools as Living Systems)[4]

In life, she argues, all systems are naturally occurring phenomenon that transcend accurate description by “machine metaphor”. All systems are natural networks of relationships “not neat boxes or hierarchies”, they are “always incredibly messy, dense, tangled and extraordinarily effective at creating greater sustainability for all who participate in them” (Wheatley, 1999, Bringing Schools back to Life: Schools as Living Systems). Educational administrators, leaders and managers[5] act within such natural environments. Characterising true organisational life (and therefore school life) as being understood through a recognition of “unending processes of collaboration and symbiosis”, Wheatley urges organisational understandings to be informed by a view of the natural world (Wheatley, 1999, Bringing Schools back to Life: Schools as Living Systems). Signalling a rejection of the machine metaphor, Wheatley suggests that school administrators, managers and leaders need to recognise the true nature of organisations as living organisms and to embrace “life’s change dynamics”, by being watchful and patient (like a farmer who awaits growth and the change of season), and by focusing upon the processes of organisations rather than rigid and inflexible execution of structured and ordered plans[6].

Such views resonate closely with a numerous contemporary organisational and leadership theorists. Firstly, complexity theorists, such as Angelique Keene, would recognise the natural allusions between complexity theory and Wheatley’s imagery. Second, Wheatley’s identification of “messes and tangles” mirrors aspects of a “problematic” braiding in educational administration as discussed by Beavis (1997, p.299). Finally, her natural imagery of density and complexity has a clear alignment with writers such as Sergiovanni et al (1999, p. 66-70) who identify “internal integration and external adaptation” as two significant functions of administration.

In Wheatley’s writing, as well as that of other theorists, the monitoring, guiding and shaping role of educational administration and leadership is consistently articulated. Such articulations are clearly consistent with an organic understanding of organisational life, an understanding in which organisations can be developed, nurtured, and cultivated but exist as parts of broader integrated networks that include all participants. This notion requires an acceptance that the educational administrator, manager and leader play roles as connected parts of the system – not as external controllers of it. Administrators, managers and leaders form but one important part of the process of organisational life within educational institutions. They are not external to it. They are part of the garden, cultivating it, caring for it, nurturing it and helping it to grow. They do not exist beyond it nor are expelled from it.

Reflecting this desire for theories that emphasise the interconnectivity and rich braiding inherent in leadership, administration and management there have been in recent years calls for “more holistic explanations of the school and administrative leadership within it” (Spry, 1998, p.103). A model based upon complexity theory and utilising a cultivation metaphor may offer some satisfaction to those who raise such concerns.

Oneness or unity has been an ideal of the Church of Christ from the beginning… Jesus envisaged a kingdom where all of God’s creation and all God’s children could be restored to the unity that God intended (Hill, 1995, p. 231)

Theological concepts of Kingdom and wholeness must be part of any theory of practice in educational administration articulated for a Catholic school or system.

Articulating a “Cultivation Metaphor”: A New Model.

“I am the true vine, and my Father is the vine grower…  Remain in me, as I remain in you. Just as a branch cannot bear fruit on its own unless it remains on the vine  so neither can you unless you remain in me. I am the vine, you are the branches. Whoever remains in me and I in him will bear much fruit.” (John 15: 1-5)

Starratt (2003), drawing upon Joseph Murphy’s work, suggests that a sense of “organic” cultivation is a central notion to new perspectives of educational administration both in theory and in practice. Referring to Louis, Toole and Hargreaves (1999), Starrat states that a cultivation metaphor is apt when exploring the true nature of educational administration, management and leadership.

The agricultural metaphor of cultivation suggests the work of the gardener: Planning, fertilizing, weeding, watering, pruning. That is the work of someone who works with nature, with what nature provides. It involves understanding the qualities of soil and terrain, the chemistry of acids and alkaloids, the virtues of sun and shade, and the peculiar energies of winter and spring as metaphors of schooling realities (Starrat, 2003, pp. 11-12)

As such, the model espoused in this paper draws upon this organic metaphor in order to capture the essence of the interactions that are central to understanding the complex relationships that make up a Catholic educational institution. It attempts to integrate the issues of the “inextricably plaited” yet “problematic” braid of governance, leadership and management identified by Allan Beavis (1997, pp.288-9)[7]. It focuses upon the importance of the Catholic ethos and visions that should inform every aspect and relationship that characterises the institution and, finally, it attempts to draw due attention to crucial point that it is the growth in spiritual, intellectual, physical, cultural and other learning outcomes of students that should be recognised as the “fruit” of a Catholic educational institution, and, by extension, the Church of which it is a part.

To continue his work of salvation, Jesus Christ founded the Church as a visible organism living by the power of the Spirit… She (the Church) establishes her own schools because she considers them to be the privileged means of promoting the formation of the whole man (sic)… (Sacred Congregation for Catholic Education in Spry, 1998, p.104)

In such a way, the ethos and mission of the Catholic school plays a pivotal role in building Christ’s kingdom as by helping students to become active members of their communities allows them to discover and share their own giftedness. As a result of the discovery of their giftedness, young people are more fully able to respond to the promptings of the Holy Spirit “in the ordinary events of daily life” (Spry, 1998, p.104).

Articulating a “Cultivation Metaphor”: The Anchoring Roots.

“Some seed fell on rocky ground, and when it grew, it withered for lack of moisture” (Luke 8: 6)

Any model of educational administration should recognise the way in which the Catholic school seeks to draw its meaning, ongoing nourishment, and life from the mission and shared vision that underpins the Catholic faith. It is this vision which gives a “firm commitment to an ideal” and which “enables leaders to respond on several levels to the multidimensional quality of situations” (Starratt, 2003, p.15).

The vision underpinning Catholic education provides both a sense of direction and a link to the spiritual ethos of the Catholic Church. Identifying another braiding in the educational administration model, Scott (1994) correctly observes that authentic “leadership and spirituality are closely intertwined” (in Duignan and Bhindi, 1998, p.97). Like the sap of a plant, spirituality is the life-force (“ruah”) of the Catholic school. A distinct Catholic mission and set of articulated values provides the grounding and a sense of purpose and identity at the base of the Catholic school. This “ruah” flows to every part of that organism[8]. “Authentic leaders breathe the “ruah” (the life-force) into the workplace and keep the people energised and focussed” (Duignan and Bhindi, 1998, p.99).

The Spirit is life, ruah, breath, wind. To be spiritual is to be alive, filled with ruah, breathing deeply, in touch with the wind (Fox in Duignan and Bhindi, 1998, p.99)

Such relationships within the organism of the Catholic school can be depicted in the cultivation metaphor of this paper through the use of a diagrammatic model in which the Catholic mission and vision form the roots of a plant, feeding nourishment and life-force upwards via school leaders and, thence, throughout every part of the institution like sap through the organism of a plant (See Figure 1).

Figure 1: “The Roots” and Ruah (Note: Figure 1 is but one segment of a three part model [9])

Figure 1

At its best, the mission provides a stable spiritual base from which the institution can grow as the work of a Catholic school “without an anchoring spirituality opens the way to exploitation, greed and… injustice” (Treston in Duignan and Bhindi, 1998, p.98). It provides an ideal touchstone by which the institution may measure its authenticity.

The ideal provides an interpretive lens for seeing into the deeper dimensions of present situations… Without a communal vision of who they are and where they want to go, the school functions as a shopping mall, with each classroom reflecting the idiosyncratic preferences of each teacher. (Starratt, 2003, p.15)

In a mechanistic model, theorists might suggest that the mission of a Catholic school is in essence an “input” into the machine of the institution (similar to the fuel of a motor vehicle). Such characterisation, while helpful in building one level of understanding of a model such as this, essentially misses the point that the roots of a plant do more than provide nourishment. They are an essential part of the entire set of relationships that make up the complete plant. Lamenting the way in which the issues of spirituality and leadership are often separated, Scott (in Duignan and Bhindi, 1998, p.97) states that demarcations such as these are tacitly encouraged by mechanistic models that “rob” leaders of “a view of the whole”. The life of other parts of the “plant” impact upon a Catholic school’s mission as does the wider environment in which the institution is grounded. Broader external influences impact upon every aspect of the plant. While the “roots” provide an anchoring for the entire institution, they are not, however, immune from growth or change in their own right. “Everything is created out of relatedness, sustained through relationships, and thrives on interdependence” (O’Murchu, 1997, p.80). Just as the sap of  plant influences the health and growth of the whole organism, so to does the mission have a role in generating and sustaining a regenerative and creative ruah that flows throughout the entire school.

Articulating a “Cultivation Metaphor”: The Branching Stem.

“He takes away every branch that does not bear fruit,  and everyone that does he prunes so that it bears more fruit. Whoever remains in me and I in him will bear much fruit, because without me you can do nothing.” (John 15:2-5)

Every stakeholder within the Catholic educational institution acting together forms the  stem or trunk of the organism (See Figure 2). It is within this section of the cultivation model that the inclusive braiding of administration, management, leadership and governance can be most easily identified. All members of the community of a Catholic school have roles in administration, management, leadership and governance. The Catholic school, just like the broader Church to which it belongs, can be described as an inclusive organism that manifests the Spirit at work in the world in order to build the Kingdom (reign) of God.

The reign of God was “new” in that it implied the transformation of the “old” world order which was one of power, control and dominance… This reign of God impacts upon the whole world as there is no longer a chosen people because everyone in the new order is equally precious and sacred and is included (Mark 2:15). The reign of God is about people and the quality of relationships that exist among members of the community. (Spry, 1998, p.104)

Figure 2: The Stem and the “Problematic Braiding” of Management, Leadership, Administration and Governance.

Figure 2

When examining the section of the Cultivation Metaphor model depicted in Figure 2, it is important to be conscious that this section of the organism, while important, is no more independent or able to thrive on its own than any other. Given the multiplicity of elements that combine and interact in this section of the model, it is understandable that it would be the stem of this model that would usually be the focus of a more mechanistic, scientific or rational model of educational administration. It is important, at this point, to once again stress the Figure 2 forms only two parts of a three part diagram and that this diagram itself is part of an interconnected and complex relationship with other organisations and individuals.

The central circle of the model is a diagrammatic representation of the place of all stakeholders in the inclusive Catholic school or educational institution. Stakeholders include the students, teaching staff, ancillary staff, managers and administrators and their families. It also includes the wide variety of other members of community who, to a greater or lesser extent, are truly a part of the “community”, as have a personal, professional or other form of “stake” invested in the success or otherwise of the institution. “As suggested by the Beatitudes (Matthew 5: 1-12), Jesus saw such relationships as being characterised by inclusiveness… and above all the equality of all people” (Spry, 1998, pp.104-5). Regardless of the official roles that may be occupied by these stakeholders, all stakeholders may move in and out of the various central” strands of the M-L-A[10] braid represented by the three interlinked ellipses within the stakeholder circle. An individual’s position at any given time is dependant upon the relationship that they are functioning within at any given moment.

Groups can form which are fluid and network with one another while an issue is salient… Organisations can utilise this energy and commitment in a creative way enabling activity to take place rather than trying to overlay it or eradicate it by formal structures… (M)embership is self-participating, self-empowering, self-regulating and self-destructing (Gunter, 1995, p.17).

Garmston and Wellman reflect this aspect in the model when they suggest that within an adaptive school “all the players” (stakeholders) have the opportunity to “wear all the hats” in the Management-Leadership-Administration braid (Garmston and Wellman, 1995). It would be a mistake to overly attempt to separate out the functions of leader, manager and administrator from that of other stakeholders for all roles are intrinsically, necessarily and organically braided together distinct only in situations where it is important for a person to function in a particular mode. To categorise a member of an organisation as solely manager, leader or administrator, is a machine model separation such as warned against by Wheatley (1999)[11].

Within this diagram, leadership is described as a largely proactive and planning mode of action within organisations, management is described as a largely reactive and reflective mode of action within organisations and administration is described as largely a mode characterised by an active and largely functionalist role within the organisation[12]. All modes of operation are entirely appropriate depending largely upon the context. This model does not suggest the primacy of any one mode of operation but rather seeks to suggest the importance of all and within the organisation. The relationship between the three ellipses and (i) the mission and (ii) the remainder of the stakeholders needs to be explored further but in part can be explained by models and theories in “systems thinking” such as those espoused by Johanssen, Olaisen and Olsen (1999, p.38). These authors suggest that in knowledge based organisations such as schools “ideas emanate from various parts of the system” and emphasise the need for co-operation and a “will to create the future” in stakeholders (p.38). Together all stakeholders, but especially leaders, managers and administrators work together in order to operationalise and institutionalise (through practices, policies and procedures) the values and mission that underpin the school or educational institution.

All organisations have a “two-way” relationship with the communities in which they exist. Organisation both shape and are shaped by their environment. This relationship is explored by the branch arrows and the external influences arrows in Figure 2. These influences and connections provide the context for which all stakeholders, especially those who are acting in a management, leadership or administrative role, operate. All stakeholders naturally create and continue to create links to the wider community, “branches”. Some of these links thrive others whither. Some are valuable to the ongoing growth of the organisation, others can cause it great harm. John 15 provides a useful insight then into a cultivation model of educational administration leadership and organisation. Those branches that do not bear fruit are pruned while others are cultivated. These choices must be informed by constant reference to mission and alignment of the values and mission of the Catholic school with its activities.

Often seen as acting upon the school or educational system from the peripheries of the stakeholder’s circle, external influences (such as funding issues, changes in demographics, curriculum, pedagogy, law and so on) can impact right to the heart of the organism at every level.

The (Catholic) school cannot be considered separately from other educational institutions and administered as an entity apart, but must be related to the world of politics, economy, culture and society as a whole (Congregation for Catholic Education, 1998, pp. 6 and 19)

A model for understanding this aspect of the Cultivation Metaphor might be found in that describing a complex adaptive system (CAS).

Complexity theory attempts to explore the way in which such natural systems operate somewhere on the edge between chaos and order. Researchers in complexity theory explore and struggle with understanding how systems, such as schools, best adapt in order to survive in rapidly changing environments. What most accept is that this adaptation takes place most effectively at the peripheries of an organisation or system. “Adaptation in biological usage, is the process by which an organism fits itself to its environment” (McElroy, 2000, p.203). McElroy (2000, p.197) explores this relationship between the peripheries of an organisation and what he refers to as the “external world” in his CAS diagram. His model, specifically exploring issues in knowledge management, raises interesting points regarding the acceptance, filtration, manipulation and expulsion of influences that takes place at this surface of organic systems. Like the elements on the life and growth of a plant, external influences upon the school are essential to its continued life and growth. The absence of external influences is as dangerous to the health of the institution as are the extremes of these influences. A plant cannot continue to grow and thrive without the external forces of sun and rain acting upon it. On the other hand, extreme heat or drought however may mean the death of the organism.

Those running an organisation, if they want maximum learning and growth, have a very fine line to tread… If there is too much change and freedom, then their system can tip over into chaos… Too little innovation, and systems become too rigid… Governing an organisation is therefore an art, and there needs to be constant monitoring of the system to check which way it is heading (Lewis, 1994, p.16).

The model articulated in this paper has to some extent extracted governance from its common braiding with leadership and management. Beavis (1997, p.288) highlights that governance has “not received the same scholarly attention as the other two” and this is linked to a conceptual confusion among those with responsibilities as board members. In the context of Catholic schooling, especially independent Catholic schools, this model seeks to separate the governance bodies such as schools boards from the main organism of the school. Beavis notes with concern that councils were becoming “more intrusive in the daily management of their schools” and that numerous Australian principals experienced “frustration” in the “relationships between themselves and their governing bodies” (Beavis, 1997, p.289).

(There exists a) lack of clear conceptual understanding by those involved in the various components of the administrative process, and how they interrelate and weave together within the administrative braid… Cameron (1997) goes so far as to describe… “the Australian disease” which manifests itself in the “incapacity of councils or other governing bodies to grasp what their proper function is and to carry out that function in the proper manner” (Beavis, 1997, p.290).

Agreeing with Beavis (1997, p.291), this paper notes the conceptual confusion associated with Carver’s threefold braid of governance, leadership and management The model proposed by this paper suggests that, in a cultivation metaphor, conceptually, governance is certainly braided into the rich web of interactions and relationships that are part of the life of the educational institution but rather than being implicitly linked to leadership, management and administration processes, governance should more correctly be seen as a function linked most closely to the mission, values and ethos of the institution. To paraphrase Beavis (1997, p.297), governance in the context of Catholic schooling is about self-renewal but not about “stultifying procedures”.

Most important in the role of governing bodies is the link between their ability to hold the stakeholders of the institution accountable for their actions and to have an input into leadership issues (which are clearly braided into management and administrative functions). Accountability to the governing body of a Catholic school should be primarily with reference to the mission, values and ethos of the institution. Carver (1990 in Beavis, 1997, p.292) also makes this clear nexus between governance and the “values and perspectives” of an organisation. Governance is in fact a mechanism of policy and “decision-making” (closely related to the ellipse of management) that ensures educational institutions remain true to their mission.

It is these values and perspectives that underwrite everything else that an organisation does and it is these, therefore that provide the key to governance… (S)o that a central governance function is policy-making. The other generally recognised aspects of governance are linkage to ownership, ensuring the continuance of an organisation from generation to generation; appointing the principal and assuring executive performance… (Generally the board is) removed from the day-to-day activities of the institutions (Beavis, 1997, pp.292-293)

Ultimately the role of governance is to monitor the policies, procedures and practices of the Catholic educational institution and measure these against that institution’s ever-regenerating mission. It is the role of governing bodies to reflect upon the direction that the institution is taking and ensure that it is alignment with the ethos that has been espoused. Thus there is a strong link between the function of governance and the mission. On a day-to-day basis governing bodies stand apart from decisions made in the institution but yet they are an integral part the “life-dynamics” of the school organism allowing for self-monitoring, adaptation, renewal and regeneration within it.

Governing bodies have a custodial role to preserve the organisation’s values and perspectives, and hand them on intact in spite of the change that organisations must experience in order o be able to function in more complex environments. (Beavis, 1997, p.296)

Articulating a “Cultivation Metaphor”: The Fruit.

“A tree is known by its fruit” (Matthew 12: 33)

In a short survey of educational administration theory, it becomes apparent there is some silence on what surely is the key focus of any authentic Catholic education.

The Catholic school sets out to be a school for the human person and of human persons. The person of each individual being, in his or her material and spiritual needs, is at the heart of Christ’s teaching: this is why the promotion of the human person is the goal of the Catholic school (Congregation for catholic Education, 1998, pp. 11-12).

Perhaps as a result of the “machine” metaphor’s focus on what Wheatley referred to as, “boundaries and boxes”, the student outcome as a result of educational administration, leadership and management seems somewhat de-emphasised in literature.  Educational organisational theory speaks often (and rightly) of structures and objectives, goals, mission and values while the words students and learning are too often conspicuous in their absence. Such a de-emphasis, seemingly unintended by many authors and in some ways a necessary bi-product of the focus of their papers, can create a “world view” in which leadership, administrative and organisational approaches are explicitly stressed with only oblique or implicit reference to the students themselves[13]. This paper seeks to redress this imbalance to some extent by placing a significant emphasis on Catholic educational administration, leadership and organisational theory’s ultimate aim of serving students and improving their learning outcome.

In traditional philosophical terms, it is intended learning outcome move beyond the epistemological (episteme, knowledge) to the ontological (ontos, being), without leaving the former behind. Catholic education “aims not only to influence what students know and can do but also the kind of people they will become” (Groome, 1996, p.121).

In a cultivation metaphor, improvement of student educational outcome can be seen as the fruit of the entire organisation. In a plant, the fruit contains the seeds of the future. This fruit is a source of nourishment for other organisms in the wider environment. A symbiotic relationship exists between the fruit, its host plant and the wider environment. As fruit ripens, it moves from its host plant and develops a life-dynamic of creation and co-creation of its own drawing upon the richness in its formation. The fruit and the seed it contains are a source of growth, a key aspect of the creation process. As students experience improvements in their educational outcomes as a result of authentic processes of educational leadership, management and administration, they are more able to act in a way that allows them to function in their world as effective citizens who can work towards the building of God’s Kingdom. Catholic schooling, therefore its administration, leadership and management, “intends to inform and form the very being of its students, to mold their identity and agency – who they are and how they live” (Groome, 1996, p.121) therefore the fruit section of Figure 3 is of great significance.

Figure 3: The Fruit

Figure 3

Some Conclusions and a Final Critique:

This paper has articulated a theory of educational organisation organised around a “Cultivation Metaphor” that is congruent with trends in contemporary organisational theory, educational administration and theology. It has outlined the significant perspectives offered by a variety of organisational and educational administration theories upon which it is based and it has continually referred back to a reference point of authentic Catholic schooling.

Throughout the paper, current educational practices have been implicitly and explicitly critiqued and alternative perspectives that utilise the Cultivation Metaphor have been offered. Numerous critiques of current practices are have been progressively placed in footnotes at appropriate times in order to create a fully integrated paper.

Australian Catholic schools in the complexity of the modern era have been confronted with issues that have caused much discussion regarding their role and nature. Such discussion reflects a wider discussion of Catholic theology and is evidenced in the writings of authors such as Groome (1996), Spry (1998), Cleary (1999) and Duignan and Bhindi (1998). A key issue facing educational administration, organisation and leadership theorists in this context is the articulation of a coherent theory that reflects the true nature of Catholic schooling. This paper has attempted to offer another perspective and model for discussion to this debate.

This paper, by way of critique, suggests that there are a number of challenges to be faced in practical educational situations from numerous workplaces including that of my own.

Firstly, this paper recognises the need for stakeholders in schools to actively embrace a new understanding of the complex realities of Catholic schooling by moving beyond the disconnected thinking that is a residual of perspectives offered by Taylorist “machine metaphors”. Many activities in school environments seem focussed upon a desire to “control the environment” consistent with an “old Newtonian paradigm” and then a subsequent frustration at behaviours that are incongruent with an understanding the schools are complex and fluid environments extremely resilient to prediction and control. This point is discussed in pages 2 – 4 and practical examples given within footnote 3. Perhaps a differing appraisal of the reality of educational administration would lead to a reduction of frustration and increasingly complex bureaucratic procedures which seek to control the aspects of school practices that are fundamentally beyond control. It is at this point the advice offered by the Serenity Prayer seems most appropriate[14].

Secondly, this paper challenges educational administrators, leaders and managers at all levels in practical situations to move beyond a reliance on designated role descriptions and “boxes and divisions”. “Leadership and management are being redefined and there appears to be a clear shift away from traditional hierarchical perspectives of leadership” (Duignan and Bhindi, 1998, p.92). A more dynamic approach to decision making, leadership, administration and management can now be embraced by schools that embraces a new period in the Church of “consensus and integration… based on the shared intentions and goodwill of individuals” (Duignan and Bhindi, 1998,p.93). All stakeholders in the Cultivation Model offered in this paper have a role as administrator, manager or leader in a variety of fluid contexts. Further stakeholders have an obligation to contribute in this way and contribute to the optimal achievement of student outcomes. Leadership, administration and management in the current context is not something THEY or YOU do, rather it is something that I and WE do. In the current context of schooling, it is not uncommon to hear comments that suggest, “They should do something to fix this”. The challenge and critique presented in this paper is that THEY are WE. Everyone is connected and has a role in working towards the success of the Catholic school. This point is a theme emerging from pages 10-12 and is explored to some extent in footnote 11.

Finally, this paper raises the point that ultimately the breathe of spirit, RUAH, as represented in the mission of the school should be breathed into every aspect of its life. The vision must be operationalised and institutionalised into all aspects of the school. This presents an ongoing challenge to all educators within a Catholic school.


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[1] In this braid, M represents Management (which can be characterised by a reactive/reflective mode of operation), L represents Leadership (which can be characterised by a proactive/planning mode of operation) and A represents Administration (which can be characterised by an active, functionalist, and enacting mode of operation). For further exploration of management and leadership, a useful discussion is provided in Beavis, 1997, p.295.

[2] Many schools, however, still primarily operate within this mode. Principals may be seen as only figure-heads or supervisory leaders and be separated from the function of teaching, heads of department may be seen primarily as curriculum managers and so on. “The culture of disconnection that undermines teaching and learning is driven partly by fear. But it is also driven by our western culture of thinking in polarities, a thought form that elevates disconnection into an intellectual virtue” (Palmer, 1998, p.61).

[3] Such a description is broadly congruent with the principles of knowledge management and systems thinking expressed by Johanssen, Olaisen and Olsen (1999).

[4] For example statements such as: “… (T)he goal of the Catholic school is to become an ‘environment permeated with the Gospel spirit of love and freedom’ ” (Spry, 1998, p.105) are expressed rather than those with a different emphasis such as:  “the Catholic school (is) a place of integral education of the human person” (Congregation for catholic Education, 1998, p.7).

[5] “Complexity studies indicate that the most creative phase of a system, that is, the point at which emergent behaviours inexplicably arise, lies somewhere between order and chaos” (McElroy, 2000, p.196)

[6] The concept of “fitness landscapes” however is itself drawing upon outmoded understandings of biology perhaps once fostered by Social Darwinists who saw the death of an organisation as a failure. “Today our images of biological reality have been transformed. Ecological studies offer a picture of nature less focussed on the terrors of combat than on the dance of communal collaboration, a picture of the great web of being. Struggle and death have not disappeared from the natural world, but death is now understood as a factor in the ongoing life of the community rather than as a failure in the life of the individual” (Palmer, 1998, p.96)

[7] Whether discussing issues of behaviour management, academic special consideration, the loss of class-time to excursions or whole school events and public holidays, the relationships and conflicts experienced in dealing with other staff or parents or a myriad of other issues (both large and small), the desire of school staff to “control” their environment and a frustration at the subsequent lack of success in doing so, is evident on a daily basis.

[8] In large schools, especially established secondary schools, the challenges posed by great complexity and range of activity is often addressed through a desire to impose strong central and bureaucratic controls and systems. Hierarchical systems can come to dominate such institutions, role descriptions are regularly checked and rechecked, disputed and challenged; demarcations and lines of accountability and responsibility are sharply delineated and risks are minimised as staff become bunkered in worlds of separation. In such an environment, there is safety in stagnation, what has been done before is the norm and tension, as those who desire to protect small safe empires, thrives.

[9] Teachers from moment to moment may be one, two or all three of these. “good teachers possess a capacity for connectedness” (Palmer, 1998, p.11)

[10] There is also an imperative for such recognition to be translated into actions that reflect this understanding of reality. There needs in many schools to be a realignment that correlates an understanding of the nature of the organisations with the way in which power is expressed within the them.

[11] In the same vein of “inextricable plaited-ness”, Diarmuid O’Murchu (1997, p.80), in his writings on quantum theology, explores what he refers to as the “Trinitarian relatedness” of a Triune God.  Clear parallels to braiding in the educational administrative field can be noted.

[12] Therefore every classroom action by teachers can be seen as directly linked to the spiritual and theological mission of the school. As authentic teaching requires a clear understanding of the self and an awareness of one’s own role within a community of faith, it therefore follows that authentic Catholic school requires a clear understanding of the mission of both the school and the Church and an awareness of the teachers’ role in building a community where faith is lived and modelled. “Teaching can only come from the depths of my own truth” (Palmer, 1998, p.33)

[13] Figure 2 represents the second segment and is found on page 11. Figure 3 represents the complete final diagram of the model and is found on page 18.

[14] “God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; Courage to change the things I can;
And wisdom to know the difference.”

“Crises” of Modernity facing the Catholic Hierarchy?

single hand of drowning man in sea asking for help

Not drowning. Waving?

The definition of a crisis varies in sources and often the word crisis carries negative connotations. The some authors however point out that crises are very much part of the human experience (Coles & Gimpel, 2010, p. 128). In fact, a crisis is perhaps more appropriately viewed as an opportunity for growth. Robinson in fact argues that “the word crisis, frequently misused, means a turning point” and that “a crisis is an opportunity for growth” (Robinson, 2010, p. 158). Certainly, crises are, of course, not new in the history of Catholicism and from each period of crisis, the Church has grown and matured in its teachings relationships and theology.

The current crises facing the Church, in essence, stem from the hierarchical Church’s difficulty in dealing with the forces of modernity. The hierarchical Church faces the challenge of a Catholic response to Modernism. According to Robinson, the symptoms of this crisis are reflected in two areas which he refers to as “sex and power” (Robinson, 2010, p.148). These two areas reflect the Church’s current search for relevance in the lives of those living in westernised, educated and consumer oriented nations. Coles and Gimpel (2010, p.133) identify the symptoms of this crisis more specifically as (i) a shortage of priests (ii) tensions between the regional churches and Rome (iii) a diminished sense of institutional commitment and (iv) evangelisation. In the face of these symptoms, the Church has sometimes sought to emphasise the importance of the priesthood at the expense of reform or engagement with the laity, to centralise decision making structures when it should decentralise, to emphasise doctrine and orthodox in the face of declining “ecclesial loyalty”  (Rausch, 2010, p.137).

In my experience, the Church has yet to fully embrace or comprehend the sense of spiritual autonomy exercised and desired by Catholic in the developed Western world. Such a sense of autonomy has been confronting to a Church which has tended to rely on medieval based traditions and model of leadership. As the western world moves into a “post-Christian” epoch, educated modernist Catholics will expect a greater flexibility from the Church hierarchy centred in Rome and will seek to influence the running of their own smaller, local and more immediately relevant “churches”. These churches will seek to embrace the role of the laity and committed Catholics regardless of gender or sexuality. Collegiality will become a central factor in the shaping of the new Churches which will act in communion with others. Such group will emphasise the importance of inclusiveness and will focus on the core social justice mission of the Church – possibly at the expense of doctrine. Unless the hierarchical Church of Rome engages with these modernist understandings of Church, perhaps through what John Paul referred to as “re-evangelisation” (cited in Rausch, 2010, p. 138), it will risk becoming irrelevant to the lives of Catholics in the developed world.

Facing significant change in our lives takes confidence and optimism as well as the ability to let go of those parts of our lives that are lacking wholeness and embracing a new version of ourselves. Fear of the unknown can be a strong force of conservatism in a time when societies are in rapid change. For many Catholics, the known “traditional” ecclesiastic structures within the Church give stability and structure. They have provided for many a sense of certainty and security in a period of history characterised by rapid societal transformation and uncertainty. This challenge of modernity has confronted almost every institution of the modern western world since the Enlightenment. The onslaught of modernity has confronted religions, cultures and traditions across the globe. It is not surprising to note then that the hierarchical Church of Rome is confronted with substantial challenges to remain relevant and connected. The issues faced by the Catholic Church are similar to some other Christian denominations (and non-Christian faiths) but are not shared by all groups and sects in the same way. Some groups within the Church while offering security, stability and structure in an uncertain age have created what appears to be, at least in the short-term, a “laager mentality”[1] (WordSmith.org, 2010). It is this siege mentality that seems to grip the Roman curia. As with the Church of earlier eras, there is a tendency in the Church hierarchy to see the Church as a “perfect society” that does not “need outside influences or interference… This thinking came about as a form of self-preservation in the Reformation. But to continue to think like that in the twentieth” or twenty-first centuries was and is “totally inappropriate” (Coles & Gimpel, 2010, p. 132). At a time when precisely the opposite is called for, fear of the modern has led some in the Church to retreat into their known experience and to build what has become “ a fully centralised church governed by a completely sovereign papal monarchy”  (cited in Rausch, 2010, p. 136). Feeling the “threat” of rapid change and the intellectual challenes of modernity, papal conservatives and other centralising forces of the Church (such as Opus Dei) have retreated from true power sharing (utilising the principle of subsidiarity) into “the most centralised period of Church governance that has been known in history”, a period in which the worlds most economically complex and developed, democratic, dynamic and educated nations have had “ultra-conservative” clerics forced upon them  (Rausch, 2010, p. 136).

[1]  A South Africa term used to describe a way of thinking which reflects the practice of circling of wagons    in order to protect oneself from an external threat. WordSmith.org defines a laager as:“ A camp, especially one protected by a circle of wagons or armored vehicles. To enclose in a defensive encirclement… From the obsolete Afrikaans word lager (camp), from Dutch or German Lager (camp).”


(2010). The Third Christian Millenium. In J. Coles, & P. Gimpel, Module 1: Foundations (An Open Learning Course from IFE) (pp. 127-131). Brisbane: Faith and Life.

Rausch, T. P. (2010). The Future of the Catholic Church. In J. Coles, & P. Gimpel, Module 1: Foundations (An Open Learning Course from IFE) (pp. 133 – 145). Brisbane: Faith and Life.

Robinson, G. (2010). Vatican II: From Pause to Forward. In J. Coles, & P. Gimpel, Module I: Foundations (An Open learning Course from IFE) (pp. 147 – 159). Brisbane: Faith and Life.

WordSmith.org. (2010). A-Word-A-Day: Laager. Retrieved August 25, 2010, from WordSmith: http://wordsmith.org/words/laager.html



The Gospel according to Luke is best viewed as one “portion” of larger whole, the “missing half” being the Acts of the Apostles. The first “portion”, the Gospel, focuses its attention on the life, ministry, death and resurrection of Christ while the other, the Acts, focuses on the developing Church which grows out of the life of Jesus and the missionary zeal of the early Christian evangelists. “Virtually all contemporary scholars think that the Gospel and the Acts were conceived and executed as a single literary exercise” (Johnson & Harrington, 1991, p.1). Longenecker insists that any study of Luke should start with a reading of both texts together as a complete whole (2004, p.147). This “whole” is referred to in the literature as Luke-Acts. It is interesting to note that it’s been proposed that, given the closeness in literary structures and genres between the two volumes, Luke may have been emphasising that “Jesus’ ministry and the Church’s mission together constitute the fullness of God’s redemptive activity on behalf of humanity”  (Longenecker, 2004, p.147). This intriguing theme of the need to end division, to seek and work for wholeness and to “heal wounds” is recurrent in a study of Luke.

Luke’s gospel was written (probably by multiple authors and at a similar time and similar manner to the other synoptic gospels of Mark and Matthew) in Greek in around 75CE. It represented a recording of the proclaimed teachings of the evangelist Luke regarding the gospel[1] (rather than the actual writings of Luke). Therefore, the most correct name for Luke’s gospel is in actuality “the Gospel according to Luke”. By the time of its writing, the proclamation of the Jesus story had gone “beyond the confines of the predominantly Semitic world to the broader Hellenistic, Greek-speaking world of the gentiles” (Bucher, 2009, p.114). As such, each varying version of the one gospel, the good news, grew to reflect the specific needs of its audience and the key focus of its authorship. Little is known of the authorship of the gospel. The author of Luke’s gospel “like other the evangelists, recedes modestly behind his story” (Johnson & Harrington, 1991, p.3).While tradition holds that Luke was “the beloved physician” (Coles & Gimpel, 2009, p. 113), a doctor, this is far from certain.

Attempts to discover in Luke-Acts the distinctive style or outlook of a physician, for example, have repeatedly been refuted. More helpful insight into the author is provided by the character of the composition. His stylistic fluency is demonstrated by his facile use of several Greek styles. His Hellenistic education is shown by his use of rhetorical conventions. His wide reading in the Torah is manifested by his dense scriptural allusions… (the gospel reveals) an author of synthetic imagination who was able to make the story of Jesus and the story of Christianity’s beginnings into one coherent and interconnected narrative…  (Johnson & Harrington, 1991, p.3)

This imagination, Johnson and Harrington contest, is what allowed the author(s) of Luke to interweave the Jesus story with the experiences of a wider group of Gentile believers to build a coherent and relevant whole – a Church. In Luke’s gospel is a constant theme in which divisions vanish. While in terms of content and reach, Luke, as a synoptic gospel, is similar to the gospels of Mark and Matthew[2], it is in this healing message and in its literary genre and audience that important distinctions emerge.

Luke’s gospel appears to have been written for wider audience than either Matthew’s or Mark’s gospels (Bucher, 2009, p. 115). Luke’s “audience is predominantly Gentile, probably consisting of some of Paul’s coverts in Asia Minor and Greece… His is the earliest pastoral attempt to retell the story of Jesus to the broader Greco-Roman world” (Bucher, 2009, p.115). While in the prologue to his gospel Luke addresses a person called Theophilus, it is accepted that this person represents the wider Hellenistic[3] audience (Bucher, 2009, p.115).  While it is difficult to place either the location of writing or location of Luke’s readership with any certainty, it is widely believed that “Luke’s readers were Greek-speaking and sufficiently acquainted with scriptural traditions to grasp at least the gist of his many allusions. They were also obviously Christian[4]… (and) in all likelihood, Gentiles. A great deal of Luke-Acts, in fact would not make sense if its readers were not Gentile” (Johnson & Harrington, 1991, p.3). These readers sought to find connection with the roots of Jesus’ story and to be an accepted part of both their own society and the Judaic traditions of their relatively new Christian faith. Luke demonstrates and builds this wholeness through a careful selection of literary genres.

In terms of literary genre, it is possible to argue (as do Kugler and Hartin 2009, p.330) that all the gospels are, in essence, narratives. That point accepted, it is important to note that many other literary genres have been identified within the overall narrative of Luke’s gospel. (Further genres can be identified if Luke-Acts is taken as a whole volume.) It is important to be aware of these genres when reading Luke in order to fully comprehend the messages and issues that it treats and in order to fundamentally comprehend the healing and unifying images of Jesus presented. “If we can determine the generic characteristics of Luke-Acts… we are provided with important clues as to how it would have been read by its first readers – or at least how Luke would have wanted it to be understood” (Johnson & Harrington, 1991, p.5). Despite other options being proposed, Johnson and Harrington argue that Luke should be best viewed as a combination of Hellenistic history or biography and Jewish apology. By developing a structured prologue, by  claiming that the gospel seeks to provide a sustained and sequential” narrative (Luke 1:4) and by acknowledging oral and written sources and his own research beyond his text (Luke 1:1-3), the gospel conforms to the patterns of Hellenistic historical writing such as those by contemporaries such as Lucian and Josephus. This is further evidenced by references to specific localities and events throughout the text (Johnson & Harrington, 1991, p.5-6).

The emphasis of the gospel on the the life of Jesus raises academic argument that the genre also closely conforms to that of Hellenistic biography such as those written by Diogenes and Iamblichcus. Through this genre, popular at the time, the births, lives and achievements of great philosophers were often recounted (Johnson & Harrington, 1991, p.6-7). As such, Luke places Jesus alongside the great thinkers of the Gentile world in literary recognition and elveates him further in the minds of the Gentile faithful. The Gospel, however, moves beyond well the Hellenistic biographical genre by promoting the Christian mission to a wider audience. Johnson and Harrington point out that the Luke-Acts work serves a “political end” in an era of great opposition to evangelists such as Paul in some parts of the Roman empire. In a sense, as a Christian apologist (like those of the Jewish faith who had composed Jewish apologies before him), Luke takes a positive view of Gentiles and Roman officials in particular. Seeking to heal rifts with authorities and within communities, he seeks to move beyond narrative, history and biography to reassure the readers of his texts[5] that “Christians were politically harmless and shold be allowed the same freedoms given by Rome to the Jews” (Johnson & Harrington, 1991, p.8). It is argued that in this sense, Luke follows in a genre previously attempted by a number of writers including the Jewish historian and apologist Jospehus (notably in The Jewish War) (Johnson & Harrington, 1991, p.7-9). By chosing to write in this variety of styles, the author(s) of Luke’s Gospel have allowed the audience to connect the life of Jesus to a variety of styles and story narratives to which they were already familiar and to place a new story and religious paradigm into a literary tradition with which they were comfortable. By using devices such as summaries, speeches, prophecy and causality and parrallelism within these genres connections are made, points emphasised and arguments proposed within the guise of narrative  (Johnson & Harrington, 1991, p.10-14). Ultimately, from the gospel, a distinct image of Jesus emerges.

Reid identifies the key Jesus image to emerge from Luke as that of healer, discussing the traditional view that Luke was, himself, a physician. This image is constantly reinforced by the writing style and tone. She emphasises, however, that a common image of Jesus as purely a physical healer (a spiritual physician?) is far too limited. Reid points to Luke 4:18 as having no equivilent in other synotic gospels. She writes: “Jesus proclaims his mission (in Luke) to be not only one of preaching but also one of healing and releasing people from every kind of bondage” (Reid, 2009, p.118). Luke’s Jesus is one who heals all ills and social divisions. It is an inclusive Jesus welcoming of Jew and Gentile alike. Jesus in Luke embodies the redemptive plan of God for the whole of humanity, something that must have been welcome “good news” for the Gentile audience of Luke’s gospel. As Longenecker (2004, p.147) suggests, Luke’s emphasis on the healing of “Jesus’ ministry… (reflected) the fullness of God’s redemptive activity”.

Jesus, in fact, serves as a healer to the sick – those who by demonic possession, accident of birth, sin or whatever cause, lack physical wholeness… the sick are made well. (But more than this) the oppressed…are set free… Even Samaritans are not outside the reach of Jesus’ mission… Luke brackets his Gospel with references to the inclusion of Gentiles…  (Green, 1995, p. 89-90)

“Jesus the healer” in Luke brings a wholeness to creation and seeks to dissolve the “barriers that separate people” (Green, 1995, p.90). Green explores that semantics of Luke’s gospel to uncover an image of Jesus in which Jesus challenges society’s ills and seeks to make whole and to heal the rifts between the powerful and privileged and those who are oppressed and dispossessed. To the Jesus of Luke’s gospel, “people are not to be predetermined as insiders or outsiders by their sex, family heritage, financial position, location in the city or in rural environs, religious purity and so on. The message of Jesus (in Luke) is that such status markers are no longer binding. Anyone may freely recieve the grace of God. Anyone may join the community of Jesus followers. All are welcome”  (Green, 1995, p.82).


Bucher, O. (2009). The Gospel for the First Century World. In J. Coles, & P. Gimpel, Module 3: Foundations (An Open Learning Course from the IFE) (pp. 113 – 118). Brisbane: IFE.

Coles, J., & Gimpel, P. (2009). Module 3: Foundations (An Open Learning Course from the IFE). Brisbane: IFE.

Green, J. B. (1995). New Testamnt Theology: The Theology of the Gospel of Luke. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.

Johnson, L. T., & Harrington, D. J. (1991). Sacra Pagina: The Gospel of Luke. Minnesota: Liturgical Press.

Kulger, R., & Hartin, P. (2009). An Introduction to the Bible. Michigan: Wm.B. Eerdmanns Publishing.

Longenecker, R. (2004). Studies in Paul, Exegetical and Theological. Sheffield, UK: Sheffield Phoenix Press (Department of Biblical Studies, University of Sheffield).

Reid, B. (2009). Healing beyond the Physical: Luke’s Portrait of Jesus the healer. In J. Cole, & P. Gimpel, Module 3: Foundations (An Open Learning Course from the IFE) (pp. 118-122). Brisbane: IFE.

[1] It should always be remembered that there is in fact only ONE Gospel – that is to say, the ONE GOOD NEWS of Jesus, but, in common parlance, four authoritive written versions of that one gospel exist in the New Testament. Thus the one Gospel is proclaimed as the Gospel “according to” Matthew, Mark, Luke or John.

[2] The gospel traces the life of Jesus, with particular interest concerning his birth, ministry, death, and resurrection. It concludes with an account of the ascension. The author is characteristically concerned with social ethics, the poor, women, and other oppressed groups within society and Jesus’ minsitry as healer to them.

[3] By Hellenistic, I refer to those of the era influenced by both the Greek language and culture. Hellenistic groups were much larger in number than those simply of Greek ethnicity.

[4] Luke 1:4 states that he writes to confirm their beliefs.

[5] It is suggested by some authors that Luke-Acts was published for audiences beyond the Christian communities.



Saint Paul’s First Letter to the Thessalonians is perhaps the earliest remaining and accessible source, chronologically, regarding the life of Jesus and the early Church of the New Testament. For that reason alone it is crucial in understanding the development of the Christian faith after the death and Resurrection of Christ. Hill states that it is in Thessalonica that the word Church is first used to describe the developing community of early Christians (2009, p.54).

 The word “church” is first used to refer to the Christian community in Thessalonica, a town in Macedonia where Paul established a community around the year 50 CE, some 15 years before mark’s gospel – the first of the four – was written. (Hill, 2009, p. 54)

The letters of Paul, including his First Letter to the Thessalonians, represent some of the earliest foundation documents of the Church. They provide an insight into the earliest traditions, issues and debates. They give some of the earliest perspectives into “Jesus’ teaching, the Eucharistic traditions, Jesus’ death and Resurrection, (and) the life and outlook of the early Christian communities” (Coles & Gimpel, 2009, p. 63). As such, understanding the context of the letter, (including the nature of its the audience) is extremely important to scholars who seek to understand, not only to Paul, but also the fledgling Christian Church’s foundations in the teachings of Jesus.

Paul’s First Letter to the Thessalonians was one of 2 letters to this community. The two letters are categorised as “early letters… (which) stress that the return of Jesus is imminent[1]” (Coles & Gimpel, 2009, p. 63) and give readers an insight into the thinking of early Christians who lived, worked and worshipped as a community in a Gentile setting (Coles & Gimpel, 2009, p. 75). Later letters give differing insights and perspectives.

As principle author[2] of the First Letter to the Thessalonians (other authors include Silas and Timothy), Paul was evangelising to the church in Thessalonica, Macedonia – a community composed primarily of Gentile converts “who faced strong opposition from their Jewish neighbours” (Hill B. , 2009, p. 77). Written in approximately 50-52CE most likely shortly after Paul’s arrival in Corinth, the letter sought to give reassurance and guidance to the Thessalonian community while also providing some answers to Jewish criticisms of the young Christian faith. The letter commences with expressions of joy and thanks for the efforts and commitment of the Thessalonians. It progresses to advise the Thessalonians on a range of practices (including sexual practises – an issue of importance at the time in Thessalonica) and duties which would, in time, “gain the respect of outsiders” (Smith, 2009).  A particular emphasis was on the nature of Christian love. Commentary on the First letter of Paul to the Thessalonians (4: 9-12) by Ian Mackervoy summarises some of the key Pauline teachings as:

Those who do not yet believe in Christ will see how Christians live (in Thessalonica). They will see the love that Christians have for each other. They will see how the Christians work and mind their own affairs. As Christians live like this, they will earn the respect of these people. Perhaps this will make people more ready to accept the good news about Jesus Christ. But if Christians do not love each other or are lazy, this will cause people to turn from the good news. Those who live as they should will not need to depend on anyone else. Instead, they will be able to support those who really are in need. The church should try to help those who are not able to work for themselves. But those who can work should do so. They should do so for the support of themselves and those who depend on them. (Mackervoy, 2003)

Such interpretation is supported by Boring and Craddock (Boring & Craddock, 2004).

Members of the Christian community had also asked Paul for advice as to what would happen to the dead Christians upon the return of Jesus. The letter seeks to provide some answer to these questions. In this section, Paul emphasises that the dead will rise with the second coming of Christ just as Christ himself rose at Easter. Paul emphasises that hope that Christians have in the resurrection and reassures the faithful that death is not finality in Christianity. Addressing the issue of “when” – the precise timing of the second coming of Jesus – Paul states that this is an unknown (1 Thessalonians 5:3). Christ’s return would come when it is least expected “like a thief in the night”. A great deal of commentary explores this point. This commentary also points to a paucity of representations of Jesus imagery in Paul’s first letter to the Thessalonians other than to suggest an awareness of the synoptic sources later to be important to Gospel writers (Saint Paul and the Historical Jesus, 2008).


Boring, M. E., & Craddock, F. B. (2004). The People’s New Testament Commentary. Louisville, Kentucy, USA: Westminster John Knox Press.

Coles, J., & Gimpel, P. (2009). Module 3: Foundations (An Open Learning Course from IFE). Brisbane: IFE.

Hill, B. (2009). Early Communities of Believers. In J. Coles, & P. Gimpel, Module 3: Foundations (An Open Learning Course from IFE) (pp. 54-61). Brisbane: IFE.

Hill, B. (2009). The Pauline Churches. In J. Coles, & P. Gimpel, Module 3: Foundations (An Open Learning Course from the IFE) (pp. 77-79). Brisbane: IFE.

Mackervoy, I. (2003, August). When Jesus Christ Comes: An EasyEnglish Commentary on Paul’s First Letter to the Thessalonians. (Wycliffe Associates) Retrieved December 18, 2010, from http://www.easyenglish.info: http://www.easyenglish.info/bible-commentary/1thess-lbw.htm

Saint Paul and the Historical Jesus. (2008, October 8). Retrieved December 17, 2010, from Catholic.net: http://www.catholic.net/index.php?option=dedestaca&id=1148

Smith, B. D. (2009, October 16). The First Letter to the Thessalonians. (Crandell University – Religious Studies Department) Retrieved December 18, 2010, from The New Testament and Its Context: http://www.abu.nb.ca/courses/ntintro/1thess.htm


[1] Parousia

[2] Interestingly, some early debate existed as to the authorship of this letter but Boring and Craddock point out that “Critical study is long past that phase and today no scholar doubts that the letter was written by Paul”. (p.635)



The Hebrew Scriptures are important for Christians as they are a source of divine revelation and form an important link to the heritage of the Christian faiths. Both Christianity and Judaism place emphasis on the understanding that God is present with us in “our lives and history” (Coles & Gimpel, 2010, p. 20).  Both faiths emphasise the important divine revelations enshrined and present in the traditions of the Hebrew Scriptures (Anderson, 2010). Historically all three great monotheist religions (Judaism, Christianity and Islam) claim the Hebrew patriarch Abraham as “their common father and hence seek their roots at the source of biblical tradition” in the Hebrew Scriptures (Anderson, 2010, p.46).

Coles and Gimpel point out the centrality of the Hebrew Scriptures to the Christian faith and emphasise the significance of the Old Testament (OT) to informing our understandings of messages, meanings and revelation contained in the New Testament. All understanding of Jesus and his role and place in human history and Revelation must be contextualised in Jewish history and traditions. It can only be fully understood from a position in which the importance of the Hebrew Scriptures is recognised and acknowledged.  Certainly, important divine revelation is found in the Gospel stories and other parts of the New Testament but as we claim, as Christians, that revelation and salvation come through Jesus of Nazareth we need to give due attention to the “experience of the people of Israel which Jesus himself inherited” (Hellwig, 2010, p. 22). This important connection has been recognised since the early church.  The Church has recognised the important place of Judaic traditions and that God’ self-revelation in Jesus is embedded in the Mosaic covenants “within which the life and teaching of Jesus himself was set” (Hellwig, Understanding Christian Revelation, 2010, p. 28)

 For Christians, Old Testament revelation reached its ultimate fulfilment in the life, death and Resurrection of Jesus Christ. For Christians, Jesus is not only the Messiah promised in the Old Testament but God Incarnate who establishes a new covenant (testament) with God’s people (Coles & Gimpel, 2010, p. 21).

Judaism and Christianity share a common link to God’s revelation in the life-story of Israel – “the people of God”[1]. The story of Israel, in part contained in the Hebrew Scriptures, is central to gaining a deep understanding of Christians’ relationship with God. Judaism and Christianity may disagree in their “understandings of the outcome of this historical drama but they agree on the unique character of the history with which the Old Testament deals” (Anderson, 2010, p. 47).

The Hebrew Scriptures hold a unique and special significance in Christianity. Against the backdrop of Jewish tradition, culture and faith, God’s self-revelation in Jesus his Son is seen. Therefore the way in which Christian view the Hebrew Scriptures in central to the development of their faith relationship with God. As Martin Buber (cited in Newland, 2010, p.84), a Jewish thinker stated when addressing Christian readers of the Hebrew Scripture:

 To you the book is a forecourt;

To us, it is the sanctuary.

But in this place,

We can dwell together,

And together listen to the voice

That speaks here.


Anderson, B. W. (2010). The Hebrew Bible. In J. Coles, & P. Gimpel, Module 2: Foundations (An Open Learning Course from IFE) (pp. 45-54). Brisbane: IFE.

Coles, J., & Gimpel, P. (2010). Revelation and the Hebrew Scriptures: God’s self-revelation. In Module 2: Foundations (An Open Learning Course from IFE) (pp. 20-21). Brisbane: Faith and Life.

Hellwig, M. K. (2010). God Revealed as Powerful Compassion. In J. Coles, & P. Gimpel, Module 2: Foundations (An Open Learning Course from IFE) (pp. 21-25). Brisbane: IFE.

[1] The term transcends political, ethnic or national divisions to mean a larger inclusive group “people of God” which includes Christians.

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