Why Cohort Learning is So Effective

Fr. Mark Searles, present with our new principal cohort.

When I was a young teacher, I “had to” attend a new educator series of meetings. Around six of us would meet with the principal each month, covering a variety of topics from school culture to work-life balance to best practices in teaching.

Over time, I grew to appreciate these meetings. The content was useful but the company was where the real value was found. We came to rely on one another and formed a professional community within the broader school faculty.

In the Diocese of Allentown, we are going through this same process in a variety of ways. Our elementary principals gather regularly for curriculum and assessment formation. High school principals also meet, discussing a range of issues particular to the grade 9-12 experience. These types of groupings, i.e. cohorts, are essential for professionals in Catholic schools.

Earlier this week, our newest principals had their second meeting of the year. My presentation on Servant Leadership can be found here.

An Inside Look at Pastor-Principal Collaboration

Msgr. Stephen Radocha and Mrs. Marybeth Okula

I had the opportunity to visit this past week with Msgr. Stephen Radocha and Mrs. Marybeth Okula of St. Jane’s School in Easton, PA. Beyond their generous hospitality was a clear sense of the collaboration that can occur between two individuals.

Msgr. Radocha and Mrs. Okula have been working in tandem for many years, a true benefit to any Catholic school. What follow are four benefits to multi-year collaborations as evidenced at St. Janes:

  1. Smoother communication: when the pastor and principal work together, they learn how the other ‘operates’. They know which times of day are good for a phone call and which types of issues require broader consultation. When meeting with parents, they know how to play off of one another and when to add perspective.
  2. Clear expectations: when the pastor and principal collaborate, they develop expectations related to crisis management, performance results and how issues are resolved. For example, a pastor knows that a seasoned principal can handle about 95% of school issues. When Mrs. Okula asks for Msgr. Radocha’s help with a situation, he knows that it’s serious. This is the fruit of their years of working together.
  3. Knowledge of likes and dislikes: it’s critical for a principal to know which kinds of things are most important to the pastor. When I led a Catholic high school, my team knew that I didn’t need to weigh in on the annual fundraising gala food menu- it just wasn’t that important to me. I knew that they would identify the right food to serve. This saved so much time and energy.
  4. Better decision making: collaboration leads to crisp and sound decision making. We seek to avoid group-think. A pastor and principal can nudge one another towards the right decision rather than the most comfortable outcome.

At St. Jane’s School, students truly learn what it means to become both saints and scholars.

The Value of Keeping it Simple and a Labor Day Tribute

I received an email a few months ago from a staffer at Bishop Barron’s Word on Fire apostolate. They had some excess Word on Fire Bibles and wondered if college students could benefit.

The answer was an obvious “yes”!

We then brainstormed the various ways that we could share the news with hundreds of campuses. Believe it or not, the process was remarkably simple:

  • Copy for an email + a Google Form

That was all that Word on Fire needed and the results are in: tens of thousands of college students will be receiving beautiful Word on Fire Bibles this year. Sometimes, the simplest solutions are the best ones.

In Gratitude to a Catholic Gentleman

This week marks the final chapter in a historic 43 year career within the Diocese of Allentown for Dr. Phil Fromuth, the 4th Superintendent of Schools. Earlier today, I wrote the following to our principals:

I’ve never heard Phil speak badly of someone. He is loyal to the absent, a sign of his character. Phil sees the good in individuals and in schools. He knows that Catholic schools rely on the good will, fierce heart and deep faith of those in service to students. 

A true son of the Church, Phil has an encyclopedic mind and a sincere love for the Church. Instead of using his vast knowledge to impress, his ability to recollect details and moments is a tool which informs decisions in the current moment. It’s extraordinary. 

When Phil and I first discussed the transition time between his term and mine, he described the role of Superintendent as that of “servant leadership”. While many see this phrase as trendy, Phil meant what he said. His legacy is a testament to being a servant first and to practicing what Pope Francis often calls “accompaniment”, the art of walking alongside others.

I’m honored to succeed Phil and have cherished our time together.

The Value of a Good Sign

There’s a real science when it comes to colors and marketing. This post highlights eight ways to use color to connect with your audience.

Earlier this week, I visited two schools which both used signage to tell their story. You’ll notice one donor wall, tastefully done in the entryway of a school and another connecting literature with the overall educational approach of the school.

If you’re unsure about the messages that your school sends via its signage, ask an incoming family for their feedback. They have “new eyes” and can offer some valuable feedback.

St. Francis Classical Catholic Academy, first floor display
St. Jerome Regional School, Entryway Donor Recognition Wall

How Does Your School Honor its History?

I was blessed to work alongside the late Bishop Fernand Cheri, OFM. I was serving as the Executive Director of a national Catholic organization and Bishop was our Episcopal Moderator. In the Black Catholic community, Bishop was highly respected and always available to answer questions or enjoy a good meal.

Bishop passed away a few months ago after a series of setbacks with his health. His funeral was beautiful as so many paid their respects.

Xavier University in New Orleans (the home of Bishop Cheri) has established this new tribute to Bishop which I found inspiring.

As you walk the halls of your school, consider how your community can honor its particular heroes. Whether through framed photos, quotes above doorways or through artifacts, our schools can teach our students so much about those we revere.

What St. Maximilian Kolbe Teaches us About Prayer

Today, August 14, the Church honors St. Maximilian Kolbe, a priest who offered his life for another man during World War II. Kolbe was known to be an incredibly prayerful man, starting his day with a Bible and a globe of the world.

It’s said that Kolbe would pray over the globe, interceding for various countries and peoples.

How do you pray for your school, your teachers and your students?

When I was a head of school in New Jersey, I would start each academic year with a special tradition. On the first day of classes, I would arrive extra early in order to walk the halls and pray for my students. As my hand would brush up against lockers, I would intercede for my students.

-for these new freshmen, that they might find a place of belonging

-for the teachers who will bring their energy and wisdom to their students

-for the twins in 11th grade who don’t always see eye to eye

-for the seniors as they finish their final year with us

And on and on I would go, walking and praying. It became my favorite prayer tradition of the year.

It’s said that we “transmit to others the state we are in”. When it comes to prayer, this is certainly true.

School Visits Begin for New Superintendent

Having joined the Diocese on August 1, a top priority has been to visit with principals and witness the good things happening in their schools. There is nothing better than to see a school in the summer, applying final coats of paint and another round of polish to classroom floors. Beyond the physical plant, it’s edifying to hear the stories of educators- what motivates and inspires them as Catholic school leaders. I’m grateful for our shared commitment to our students and our school communities.

Below are some of the photos from weeks one and two. #saintsandscholars

-Dr. St. Pierre

Chapel at Berks Catholic High School
Hallway in Good Shepherd School