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Shuttloffel, M. (2013). Contemplative Leadership Practice: The Influences of Character on Catholic School Leadership. Catholic Education: A Journal of Inquiry and Practice. 17(1), 5.

The purpose of the this qualitative study was to extend the researcher’s previous work on contemplative leadership beyond Catholic school in the United States to see if similar forms of leadership exist in other similar Countries: Australia, England, and the Netherlands.  The researcher conducted the study in order to determine if contemplative leadership is a distinctively American form of Catholic school leadership or if it could be applied more broadly across national and cultural borders.

Before describing the study, the author described her contemplative model of Catholic school leadership and its theoretical framework.  Metacognition (Flavell, 1977; Van Manen, 1977) – thinking about one’s thinking – forms the basis of the model and is explicitly informed by the Catholic principles that emerge from Scripture and Tradition.  The model aims at creating a distinctly and overtly Catholic faith-forming community including everyone associated with the school and is explicitly ecclesial in nature.


The study took place between 1999 and 2013, involved thirty schools across three nations, and required seventeen international trips to complete.  The researcher used a qualitative method with a hermeneutical phenomenological approach.  Data collected came from voluntary participation among directors, school heads, principals, teachers, school board members, diocesan officials, and higher education researchers in ten schools in each country.  Along with extensive interviews, books, journal articles, pamphlets, school and diocesan literature, photos, and artifacts were collected, and websites investigated.  Data was coded and checked for similarities with contemplative practice in the United States, between the three participating nations, and within each nation.

Three positive themes, across national boundaries and congruent with American practices of contemplative leadership, were identified: the role of life experience on leadership practice, educational leadership as a vocation and ministry, and the priority of relationships for leadership.  The researcher identified three additional themes that pose challenges: cultural tensions within national boundaries, a deficit in theological and spiritual development, and the reduction of education to rationalized questions and processes.  These themes vary in degree across the countries studied.

The study concluded by highlighting its three major successes.  First, the study extended current research by providing new comparative understanding across national ad cultural boundaries.  Second, the study offered new insights relevant to the complex processes of preparing a new generation of Catholic school leaders.  Lastly, the study identified one major shared challenge across the population: significant and meaningful generational differences between the current group of Catholic school leaders and the group who will succeed them.

The researcher did not identify the limits of her study nor did she describe avenues for future research.