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An Interview with Richard Piwowarski, Ph.D.

Dr. Knight: To begin with, I am honored to interview a former student of mine who has just recently finished his doctorate at Catholic University. Could you tell us about your doctoral work?

Dr. Piwowarski: Thank you for the opportunity Dr. Knight! I had the most fortunate opportunity to study Catholic educational leadership and policy with Drs. Convey, Schuttloffel, and DeFiore at CUA. The entire experience, from engaging in critical work with fellow Catholic educators and pushing my own, as well as collective understandings, of learning, faith, and mission to discovering the impact that research has upon our work, was transformative. The five years that I spent in the program (three years of course work and two years of dissertation) allowed me the great privilege of discovering and strengthening my understanding of God’s will for my life. My research, while broadly focused upon Catholic identity and leadership, centered upon the spiritual leadership of the secondary school principal as it manifests in the school as a faith community. I have a strong interest in furthering our understandings of secondary school-based faith formation, religious community sponsorship, the Charism of secondary schools, the principal as a spiritual leader, and the school as a distinct faith community.

Dr. Knight: I am honored to interview you, Richard, as the principal of Resurrection High School, can you tell us how you decided to work in this school. You are sponsored by a religious order, how does that affect your work?

Dr. Piwowarski: One spring day a couple of years ago, something told me to look and see if there were any opportunities in Chicago and I came across the posting from Resurrection. I was an interim principal at the time and was not too certain that I wanted to continue in that capacity or explore alternatives in Catholic leadership. As the days passed into weeks, my prayer focus centered upon understanding what God was calling me towards and having the grace to follow it. From the moment I first steeped foot on the campus, I knew something was unique and different and that I would be a part of it. It’s been a rewarding, and challenging, three years! We are sponsored by the Sisters of the Resurrection. I am a fervent believer in the transformative gift religious community sponsorship brings to a secondary school. In my own experience having attended and served in community sponsored schools for almost the entirety of my career (and education) I am able to see the particular grounding that a community provides the school. We have a rich Charism, given to us by our sponsor, that guides our ministry. We also have a unique responsibility to continue the work of the sisters who came before us.

Dr. Knight: The readers would like to know your background in Catholic education and what that involvement means to you.

Dr. Piwowarski: I was most fortunate to attend Catholic schools for high school (Marist High School Chicago), college (Loyola University Chicago), and graduate school (St. Xavier in Chicago and The Catholic University of America). My entire professional career, save for one year in Tennessee, took place in Catholic schools (Marist High School, Andrean High School, and Resurrection College Prep High School). I also have the opportunity to serve on Catholic school boards, Archdiocesan committees, and advocate for legislative priorities that empower schools and the communities they serve. Very directly, this involvement is meaningful as it allows me to do the work that I believe I am called to do!

Dr. Knight: We are a large Catholic archdiocese growing in diversity. Could you tell us about the religious diversity in your school? Other aspects of diversity?

Dr. Piwowarski: I enjoy working with young adults who are on varying stages of their own religious journey (although many would not label it as such). There is amazing diversity, often times overlooked, that exists within young men and women searching for meaning in their lives while interacting with their own understanding of God and our Church all combined with the typical chaos of life. I strive to collaborate with individuals outside of the typical life experience of the students I serve so that they (the students) have access to a world that will enrich their own. Hand in hand with these efforts is a framework of dignity; each of us are different, each of us are created by God and God resides within us. As such, we share a commitment to make certain that dignity of difference is expected, nurtured, and celebrated.

Dr. Knight: What is your philosophy of leadership? What are some of the aspects of leadership that you promote?

Dr. Piwowarski: This could take up as much space as a dissertation! Simply, my focus as a leader is centered around two aims: helping individuals identify who they are called to be and then creating the structures that will allow that calling to manifest. So much about my leadership is grounded in the expectation that our primary goal is to determine what we are made to do, to be, and then to go about becoming it fully. I take refuge in the belief that we are all part of something so much larger than our individual selves. In terms of a specific philosophy, I would say that I espouse the core tenets of Servant Leadership, first coined by Robert Greenleaf.

Dr. Knight: What are some ways you have dealt with challenges in regard to the students or their parents and how did you find solutions?

Dr. Piwowarski: I approach every interaction, challenging or otherwise, as a unique opportunity to support an individual as well as to clarify any misunderstanding. More times than not, parents want what they believe to be the best for their children. Challenges often manifest when they perceive anything other than the best. The relationship between school and family is foundational to the success of a student. As I say often, nothing is impossible as long as we are honest and intentional in approach.

Dr. Knight: What advice would you give to a new high school teacher on his/her first year of teaching? As a person who worked with high school teachers all my life, I would like to see each student who applies to your school to have the same mentor for 4 years as I think adults need to take seriously our responsibility to the generation. Would that ever be something you could imagine doing or are already doing?

Dr. Piwowarski: I tell them to pray. Pray for the grace to understand what God is asking of them in their vocations as educators. Pray for the courage to respond to what He is asking. Pray, in thanksgiving, for the amazing gift that they receive. I then tell them that, if they have any chance of success, they must be authentic witnesses to love, learning, and mercy. St. Pope Pius said that modern man will only listen to teachers if they are witnesses. I think every student should have a mentor, a “go to” adult in the building who has a fuller understanding of their dreams, their fears.

Dr. Knight: What are some of the ways you interact with parents to support their work in raising their children?

Dr. Piwowarski: I make myself fully available to our parents; I call it the ministry of presence. Parents are the first teachers of their children, first examples of God’s love in their lives. As an educational leader, I am responsible for ensuring that relationship is honored.

Dr. Knight: Does the fact that your school is located in a metropolitan area make a difference to what happens in your school?

Dr. Piwowarski: It does! We have many excellent programs that benefit from access to the richness of our city.

Dr. Knight: How do you promote rigor in your school while remaining true to the Catholic mission of your school?

Dr. Piwowarski: Rigor is a million-dollar word in education. If I ask ten educators to define rigor, I would receive ten different answers! I define rigor as the expectation that students, as a result of a lesson, activity, some educational interaction, are better, wiser, stronger than before. As a Catholic school, we are called to respond to our Lord’s invitation of service. We expect more, demand more, inspire more because of and in response to our mission.

Dr. Knight: As a statistician, I realize data is a large part of determining the success of schools. Explain your involvement in using data for the benefit of the students, their parents and the other schools in the Archdiocese?

Dr. Piwowarski: These past years, I have invested considerable energy in seeking out appropriate data points to help assess school success. I was tired, frankly, of relying upon standardized test scores to paint the whole picture of our schools. Test scores matter, but capture part of the picture. But measuring if students are better, wiser, stronger as a result of our teaching requires a more diverse cadre of tools. We are exploring ways to measure student outcomes against a backdrop of expectations

Dr. Knight: Safety is such an important part of our everyday understanding of life. What aspects are the most important variables to you?

Dr. Piwowarski: Students need to feel safe in their school for learning to happen. Beyond the typical security measures we employ, we focus on the quality of interaction between teacher and student.

Dr. Knight: Technology is such an integral and important part of our lives. What has been effective for your schools? Do we use technological devices ‘too much’?

Dr. Piwowarski: Technology requires a delicate balance. Nothing can replace the value of meaningful human interaction. There are ways that technology supports this; live streaming with people across the world, watching science experiments take place in real labs at universities, watching a congressional session, flipping a classroom, giving immediate and targeted assessment feedback, etc. However, there is something unique about a teacher guiding and mentoring a student that cannot take place virtually. We use a Chromebook in a one-to-one environment.

Dr. Knight: On the lighter side, why is a sense of humor important to the running of a school or what it means in regard to teaching?

Dr. Piwowarski: Humor is everywhere; we need to find it. Humor helps me to keep a check on my priorities as well as my dispositions. Some days, the role is totally overwhelming. Humor gives the joy an outlet!

Dr. Knight: Why is your school important for the success of the Catholic Church?

Dr. Piwowarski: Jesus is the way to the Father. He is cause of our joy. He is the truth. Empowered women, those who know what God wills for them and have the courage to seek it fully, transform the world. They bring hope and light to a fractured society. Our school aims to do just that; empower ordinary girls to become extraordinary women guided by the Gospel and the love of God.

Dr. Knight: Thank you for providing us with valuable information about the engagement you have in education and how your school provides leadership in the area of Catholic schools. I thought that our reader would appreciate your commentary on this study .

The Relationship between the Servant Leadership Behaviors of the Catholic Secondary School Principal and the Spiritual Formation of Faculty and the School Faith Community

Richard John Piwowarski, Ph.D.

Director: John J. Convey, Ph.D.

The mission of Catholic schools is two-fold: the academic and spiritual formation of students (Miller, 2006; CCE, 1997, #16, 2007, #26). Catholic identity, which has people interacting with and conveying content and culture (Convey, 2012; Cook, 1998, 2001), flows from the mission of Catholic schools. The principal, as spiritual leader, influences the relationships faculty and students have with God, their selves, and their communities (Ciriello, 1996). Servant leaders are defined by their character, desire to serve those led, and the intention to help those led become better, wiser and servants themselves (Greenleaf, 1970, 1977). Servant leaders are distinguished by the intersection of “who they are” and “what they do,” which is akin to the Catholic understanding of a vocation (Jacobs, 1996; Sendjaya, et al., 2002).

This study examines Catholic secondary school faculty perceptions of the relationship between the principal’s servant leadership behaviors and the spiritual formation of faculty in the school’s faith community. A core tenet of this study is the notion that servant leadership is one vehicle by which the spiritual leadership of the principal manifests, thus enabling the mission of Catholic schools. A total of 221 faculty from all regions of the National Catholic Educational Association completed a survey containing 80 items of which 74 followed a six-point Likert scale. This survey measured faculty perceptions of principal servant leadership, faculty spiritual formation, and the school as a faith community.

This study has four major findings. Catholic secondary school faculty have positive perceptions of the servant leadership practices of their principals, their individual spirituality, and

the school faith community. The principals’ character, dedication to Church traditions and teachings, their fostering of authentic relationships with faculty members, and their focus upon collaboration and professional development engender the spiritual development of faculty and the faith community. Faculty years of service in a Catholic secondary school, whether or not they teach Theology, and the school’s promotion of a Charism are most closely related to positive faculty perceptions. The principal directly influences the spiritual formation of faculty by strengthening the defining elements of the school faith community.

my Richard Piwowarski


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