Details of Thesis

Title Making the Edmund Rice Ethos a Reality: A case study in the perceptions of principals in Christian Brothers’ Schools in Queensland
Author Tuite, Kerrie Patricia
Institution Australian Catholic University
Date 2007
Abstract This research concerns how lay principals are negotiating the nurturing of authentic Edmund Rice education in their schools within a period of organisational change in the 21st century. The context of this research is Queensland Catholic schools in the Edmund Rice tradition, once more commonly known as Christian Brothers’ schools. These schools claim to carry on the educational charism of Edmund Rice (1762-1844), Founder of the Christian Brothers, who began schools in Ireland to provide a holistic education for boys, especially those who were marginalised by poverty and social stigma. Christian Brothers’ tradition purports that the Edmund Rice educational charism was handed on to successive Christian Brothers’ schools by Christian Brothers; however, research indicated that there were clear deviations from the original charism just prior to and following the death of Edmund Rice, raising questions of whether these schools remained authentic carriers of the original charism. Research also suggests that these deviations resulted in number of instances when the original charism of Edmund Rice was, at best, muted, or, at worst, distorted beyond recognition. Additional investigation also demonstrates that these departures from Rice’s charism resulted in a culture that differed from Edmund Rice’s original vision for education thus raising issues of authenticity for schools in the 21st century. Since Vatican II the Congregation of Christian Brothers has undergone significant changes. Most notable has been the reduction in Brothers in leadership positions in schools. Edmund Rice’s beatification in 1996 sparked renewed interest in his original educational vision, and The Congregation of Christian Brothers world wide began to explore what this charism might mean in contemporary times. In Australia, schools changed their name from Christian Brothers’ schools to Catholic schools in the Edmund Rice tradition, as part of an attempt to develop an authentic educational vision for contemporary Australian schools. At the time of this research, there were ten schools in Queensland, all led by lay principals, within a subset of forty or more schools across Australia. In Queensland, these schools encompass a wide socio-economic spectrum and offer differing educational offerings ranging from a totally traditional curriculum, to a comprehensive curriculum, to more flexible offerings for disengaged and marginal youth; the majority of these boys’ schools are single sex schools. This researcher identified that there was lack of clarity as to what constitutes an authentic Edmund Rice school and that a lacuna existed between the organisational rhetoric and the reality of principals. Consequently, the purpose of this research was to explore what lay principals perceived to be the essential features or ethos of this educational vision and the ways they developed this ethos into an authentic Edmund Rice culture in order to determine whether these schools are authentic to the original vision of Edmund Rice. Because the purpose of this research was to explore perceptions, the epistemological position of Constructionism, using an interpretivist perspective was adopted for this research. The methodology of Case Study was utilised as it allowed for the exploration of the world of Queensland Catholic schools in the Edmund Rice tradition from the perspectives of principals: nine current principals and one past principal were studied. The literature review generated the following research questions: 1.What do principals consider are the essential features of the Edmund Rice ethos? 2.How do principals ensure that the ethos of Edmund Rice is an integral element of school culture? 3.What aspects of leadership do principals consider important in ensuring that the Edmund Rice ethos is developed into an authentic culture?  The findings of this research indicated that principals perceived that the essential features of ethos were found in: providing values based education; ensuring that young people were liberated from factors which marginalised them; ensuring that their schools were places of Diversity and Inclusivity; undertaking the development of Right Relationships; and developing a strong sense of community. Principals ensured that the Edmund Rice ethos was authentically connected to school culture through: providing Social Justice Initiatives; developing spirituality and sense of the sacred; providing flexible options for a diverse range of students; and ensuring that structures and formation experiences were provided to support the development of ethos. Finally, principals articulated their leadership role: in ensuring the embedding of ethos in culture was one of cultural change agent; as a spiritual and prophetic leader; developing a student centred focus; and being a role model for leadership within the totality of the school community. The research concluded that, for these principals, the development of an authentic Edmund Rice school was embedded in these three issues: 1.Ethos: A Catholic education with values based on Edmund Rice and his educational mission; 2.Culture: A positive environment which enables and encourages the development of structures and formation experiences to support ethos; 3.Leadership: Leadership led by a principal who understands ethos and is committed to a role model of the development of an authentic culture. However, the research also concluded that, while lay principals were committed to the development of an authentic Edmund Rice school and were committed to the organisational change needed to achieve this goal, they were constrained by a variety of factors including: school context; school tradition and history; the traditions and expectations of the Christian Brothers; the financial situation of the school; support or lack of support from the college community and Edmund Rice Education. These factors make the realisation of authenticity a goal to be worked towards, rather than a concrete reality. In essence, this study concluded that, one overriding dilemma for principals was whether they were prepared to make the sometimes difficult decisions needed to ensure authenticity to the original Edmund Rice educational charism, or retain the status quo, with the knowledge that, in so doing, they may be militating against authenticity to the Edmund Rice educational vision.
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