Posted in leadership, School governance, School Leadership

Leadership as Vocation

Last night, I found myself in the sub-basement of the school with our new maintenance volunteer head and, later, his wife.  He wanted to walk through again and look for building plans, and I’d sworn I’d seen them downstairs, but alas, we couldn’t find them there.

Regardless, we were actually there for the fish fry, so it was somewhat comical to be crawling around the basement when the place was full of people, but everything was covered and calm, so we could “talk shop.”

When he continued to prowl and she joined us, she and I chatted about the school and its future.

And yes, it has one, thank you very much (you all know that…but sheesh, I had to tell people who had heard that we were closing that no, that wasn’t the case).

Anyway, while we were chatting, I think she saw how overwhelmed I had gotten by all the junk still scattered all over the school.  10+ years of neglect will do that to a building as large as ours, where you can hide everything in some room or another.  She then switched to talking about vocation and how it was clear I was in the vocation I was called to be in and how lucky I was that it was the case.

For those of you who don’t know, vocation has many meanings to Catholics, but the big one we often use it to mean is a “calling” as a priest, monk, or nun.  When I was younger, I thought my vocation would be to be a sister.  Somehow, it didn’t work out that way, though as an Autistic I struggle with the concept of wife and mother because I, my husband, and my son are Autistic, and that means we kind of all run our own shows, but we like to be in the same house together.  Marriage is a vocation, too.

The other vocation, of course, is the calling to serve in some other occupation.  You can serve in any occupation, by the way.  You can be a businessperson and that can be your calling, depending on how strong you are at it and how you use that to serve others.

Service is always a component of a vocation, it seems.

I used to think my vocation was Catholic schoolteacher, but my aunt said long ago that teaching came too easy to me and that I’d be bored.  She was a teacher her whole career, except a brief dalliance as a principal; she preferred teaching and went back to it.  I can and do teach still, but it’s very different.  My 8th grader is developmentally better off being out of the “one room” schoolhouse since the developmental gap between him and the next youngest student is about 3-4 years (possibly a bit more; my 5th graders are pretty immature, in a good way; they are playful).  Anyway, this means I teach him a lot, when he doesn’t teach himself, but I don’t do it the way a traditional teacher does.  Rather, we fit it in around everything else I’m doing, and that seems to work for him.

So, while I have the ability to teach, I prefer to deal in the big picture and take care of things that are more philosophical.  There’s little room for that in the day-to-day of teaching, and I seem good at it.  Meanwhile, my one-room teacher loves teaching and working in the minutia of that part of the vocation.  She’s fantastic and I feel blessed to have had her sent to me.

We are in a very difficult time at my school, including talks to change the face of Catholic education in my entire city (there are four Catholic schools here, and the recent talks have been frank; I may close by the fall, and if I go, there’s at least one other school that will follow me), but I have been strong in my advocacy for the purpose and place of my school and need for it, as well as a desire to help the other three schools to succeed by no longer fighting over students, but rather, growing the pool of people who want Catholic education.  My Autism has become a gift in this area, because I can see alternative ways to do things and can be very flexible and change directions when I see evidence suggesting the need for the adjustment, and right now that’s exactly the kind of leader we need around here.

This is a rough time to be a principal for any of us here, but it’s also the time for a “weirdo” like me to be here.

So, yes, I think Catholic school leadership is my vocation, but I wouldn’t have had the opportunity to lead, had there not been such a very specific set of circumstances in place here, and the place not been so very desperate.  One thing about vocation is opportunity, and sometimes I think we Autistics have to show what we can do, which is hard when you’re trying to get your first job.  In my case, I was blessed to have a Pastor in this parish who saw that I had potential to lead.  If I can turn this ship around, I am set for life; I can stay here, or I can go to other in-trouble places and turn them around.

If I succeed.

I believe this is my calling now, even more so than writing.  I love writing and novel writing, but it seems right now, in this time and in this place, this is what I’m called to do.

For those following, I posted recently about bailing on that leadership program, but I have also since learned I’m trapped in it; no one will certify me as a principal unless I retake all the courses, so if I’m going to do that anyway, I may as well add “Dr.” to my name and get superintendent certification at the same time.

Even though those titles are not important in the true Catholic educational landscape, they do impress a lot of people who might fund us and help them to understand that I do, in fact, know what I’m doing.

So, while crawling around in the sub-basement of my school last night, a parishioner helped me to fit things all together just in time for me to start another class in this sequence.  If my vocation is Catholic school leadership, and few Catholic school leaders have a terminal degree (Ed.D. or Ph.D.), then standing out is not necessarily a bad thing if it helps me to market myself as a person who fixes problems in schools (which, hopefully, I will be able to claim).

God called me to be part of how this school is saved, and, beyond that, how Catholic education in my city is saved.   It’s a big order, but just the kind of thing we Autistics can be great at, so long as people trust us enough to let us try.


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