Three professors in Notre Dame’s Mary Ann Remick Leadership Program in the Alliance for Catholic Education (ACE) are the authors of a forthcoming book that presents a promising “new way to sustain and strengthen Catholic schools” through action research. Research, Action, and Change: Leaders Reshaping Catholic Schools by James Frabutt, Ph.D., Anthony Holter, Ph.D., and Ronald Nuzzi, Ph.D., was recently released by the Alliance for Catholic Education Press and features original action research contributions from eight Catholic school leaders throughout the United States.
Authors Frabutt, Holter and Nuzzi acknowledge early on in their work that research is a practice traditionally left to academia, not to classroom or administrative practitioners engaged in the day-to-day work of schools. The latter have typically been passive recipients or users of findings from research done by education scholars. However, because action researchers systematically explore challenges in their school, they bridge the traditional gap between researcher and practitioner and are empowered to make data driven decisions for the sake of educational improvement. This applied approach to research responds to the urging of the Congregation for Catholic Education for “courageous renewal” in Catholic schools.
The action research of Jocelyn Pierre-Antoine, a member of the fourth ACE Leadership cohort and the inaugural recipient of the (2008) Action Research in Catholic Education Award of Excellence, illustrates the great change and growth that is possible in a school community when leaders use an inquiry-oriented approach to their work in the classrooms and with one another. Pierre-Antoine currently teaches at St. Edward School, a pre-K-8 school in the Diocese of Oakland, California. Her action research identified the importance of the new staff members at St. Edward School learning about the charism of its founding religious congregation, the Dominican Sisters of Mission San Jose. The interviews and data collected through her research served as the foundation for three educational and spiritual formation sessions wherein current and former principals of the school shared with faculty members the history of their congregation and its charism.
“As a Catholic school leader, action research empowered me to use the lens of hope and creativity to provide life-giving solutions that will help our school community foster the Dominican presence even after the Mission San Jose Dominican Sisters are no longer able to minister at our school,” said Pierre-Antoine.
Connections between the practice of action research and the faith tradition of the Catholic Church are well emphasized throughout the book. After defining action research and uncovering its history in education, the authors address how it is infused with both Catholic spirituality and community. This model is further illuminated by the examples of action research offered by practicing Catholic leaders, which make up the “heart of the text.” According to the authors, “…their work testifies to a deep incarnational view of the world, one which sees God’s grace manifested in the school and God’s will being done in the classroom” (p. 6 ).
Contributors to Research, Action, and Change are graduates of the Mary Ann Remick Leadership Program with M.A. degrees in Educational Administration, and currently serve as Catholic leaders in schools and dioceses throughout the United States. Nearly all of them presented their research at the ACE Leadership Conference held in July 2008, and many have gone on to present at other national conferences.
In keeping with the authors’ intention to inspire a new generation of leaders for Catholic schools, Research, Action, and Change will be used as required reading for future cohorts in the Mary Ann Remick Leadership Program in the Alliance for Catholic Education. The program began in 2002 as an extension of the University of Notre Dame’s nationally recognized Alliance for Catholic Education (ACE) Program. Led by the Rev. Ronald Nuzzi, Ph.D., the program provides an intensive 26-month experience, encompassing the dispositions of becoming a professional administrator, fostering school community, and promoting spiritual formation. The Remick Leadership Program is responsive to the ongoing needs of Catholic schools across the country for qualified, faith-filled leaders to serve as principals, and now prepares more people for Catholic school leadership than any other program in the nation.