Diocese de Dili > NOTÍCIAS > OPINIÃO > Servant Leadership in Catholic Education II (Finish)

Servant Leadership in Catholic Education II (Finish)

Father Domingos Gusmao, M.Ed

Diocesan, Diocese of Baucau, Timor Leste


The principal and the teachers work well together

          The teachers work together as brothers and sisters at Dom Basílio’s school. According to Wong and Davey (2007, p.10) “they advocated the importance of learning from the grass roots and leading with a shared vision and spirit of collaboration.”

The Holy See’s Teaching On Catholic Schools (Miller, 2005) says that “for Catholic schools to achieve their goal of forming children, all those involved – parents, teachers, staff, administrators and trustees – must clearly understand who the human person is.” Based on my research, the number one strength of  Dom Basílio’s school is that it works together with the community and local authorities. The school principal  said  that “the relation, coordination with school, with teachers, with students goes fluently or very good and the educational process is well organized because it is not only the teachers, students, but also involvement of the local community leaders and the parents (sic)” (p.7). One teacher who was interviewed said that the strength of this school is the unity among all teachers (p.31). Another teacher added that the strength of the school is the unity among the teachers and students (p.41).

          Paul T.P. Wong and Dean Davey (2007) still emphasize that “it is about influence rather than power control”. This style, whereby the leader influences rather than controls is present among the school principal, teachers, students and parents at Dom Basílio’s school.

          This idea is similarly also emphasized by Nsiah and Walker (2013) – that servant leadership is not just imposed by a formal relationship between school community members, but also manifested from an informal relationship as well. In this case the influence of the school principal and his teachers encourages the local authorities and the parents to contribute to the school community.

           As an example, one of the teachers interviewed stated that “recently there was an event on the Feast of the school, all students, teachers and parents mostly participated (sic).” Another teacher said “[at] the beginning and the end of the school year usually all teachers, students, and the parents attend the party. First is the mass then eat together after eating dancing. The participation on this event is maximal (sic)”.  Yet another teacher added “that the beginning and the end of school year’s celebration about, almost all students, all teachers, and most parents participated (sic)”.

           In order to help everyone the school promotes an initiative of serving others. Between them they should help each other, as it is stated in Educating Today and Tomorrow: A Renewing Passion (Congregation for Catholic Education, 2014). This observation is based on the school principal’s statement, “and also involvement of the local community and parents.”As a further example, when there was a celebration of the school anniversary, or it was the beginning and the end of the school year’s Eucharistic celebration, most of the parents and local government leaders attended.

           One of the nine teachers said “this unity may bring this school forward.” Another teacher added “this school is the unity of the teachers and the students (sic).”


Serving each other in the catholic school

          There are vast numbers of Catholic schools in East Timor. Dom Basílio’s school adopts an approach based on The Sacred Congregation for Catholic Education (1977) which states that “the Catholic school is committed [. . .] and cultivate human values in their own legitimate right in accordance with its particular mission to serve all men has its origin in the figure of Christ”. It goes on to say “the very pattern of the Christian life draws them to commit themselves to serve God in their brethren.” It adds “serve the people of God and mankind in the efforts they undertake to access truth”.

          The school staff, teachers and school principal work jointly. They serve each other, but most especially they serve their students. According to Nsiah and Walker (2013) the greatest demands of educational servant leadership are service, care and humility. The staff of Dom Basílio’s school are united in making decisions and work together they serve their students.

          Pope Francis himself emphasized that “education truly forms human beings, it is especially the duty and responsibility of the church, who is called to serve mankind from the heart of God.

          School staff decide everything concerning school work together; therefore they are responsible for their decisions. They work together effectively because they work according to their common decisions. They all share the power of working. They share the work well between all of them and they work consultatively. They work together firmly because they have a strong connection.

          In the Catholic schools, teachers, staff and principals may live according to the gospel; to serve not to be served. Pope Francis said in 2014 that they (teachers) are a “living presence of the Gospel in the field of education, science and culture” (Zenit, Feb 13, 2014). Here I believe that the Pope is emphasising that serving others (by educating students) is based on the teachings of Jesus Christ. O’Neil and Torres (2011, p.85) support this, stating that “Each community is unique, and Catholic schools must serve those differences while ensuring the universal mission and essential characteristics of catholic education are present.”


Catholic educators as servants

          Teachers may present themselves as servants. Those teachers and principals who work in Catholic schools are also called Catholic educators. Those priests, religious brothers and nuns who run schools are called religious educators. “The religious educators must have the courage to compassionately serve and lead as Jesus did” (Lavary, 2009).  As a result of the service that religious Catholic educators provide, they show that they are servant leaders. According to Robert K. Greenleaf (1977, p.19), “the great leader is seen as servant first”. The great leader here tries to effectively answer the needy. Greenleaf (1977, p.22) further states that it is the responsibility of “the servant first to make sure that other people’s highest priority needs are being served.”

          Teachers serve students at schools as part of their work and life. However, for the success of both teachers and students, one of the best ways for the future betterment of students is for their teachers to serve them. This style of serving may help and promote better student achievement and improve the work achievements of the teachers.

          These educators are Catholics; therefore their Catholic identity may show through their service. It is also part of the mission of every Catholic person. Through this Catholic work ones faith is seen and identified. In the gospel of Luke, Jesus says “the leader must be like the servant” (Luke 22: 26, New American Standard Bible) Lavery (2009, p.3) adds “Servant leadership is an appropriate form of leadership to develop in young people.” Gravissimum Educationis (Pope Paul VI, 1965) states the declaration of the Sacred Synod to be, “in the sense of the word of apostolate most suited to and necessary for our times and at once a true service offered to society”.

          This service is specifically aimed at students, most especially in the Catholic schools. Despite this, the academic service may be easily enlarged to serve many people throughout society. Such a sentiment is mirrored in Fuller and Johnson (2013, p.118) “Nearly every one interviewed felt that their dedication to serving the neediest students was intricately related to their implicit Catholic identity.”

          Furthermore, students who are being served well may have comfortable and helpful ways of learning.  Teachers who serve should be united in working together at school. For example, the teachers should plan all areas of school work together. The teachers and school principals work together as a team as well; always making all decisions on school work together.

          In Dom Basílio’s school, one teacher said that “generally, all employers of this school are united. Our unity, we show through meetings and decisions collectively (sic).” Evidence of this can be found in the way that the interviewer was treated; being invited to the opening of the school year. Here, he observed that there many parents joined in with the celebration. As part of the school’s tradition, the beginning and the end of the school year there is always a Eucharistic celebration. The interviewer knew this because he was once also principal of Dom Basílio’s school.  In the Eucharistic celebration, parents of the students, teachers, staff and some local leaders are usually present.


Mission and Service are key features of a school principal’s leadership

          In Catholic schools, teachers and school principals should teach as part of their pastoral work as “mission and service, in very different cultural and social contexts” Educating Today and Tomorrow: A Renewing Passion (Instrumentum Laboris) (Congregation for Catholic Education, 2014 p.8).Dom Basílio’s school is in a different place and has a different culture compared to other Catholic schools in advanced countries. In a newly converted Catholic country with its superficial Catholics, the pastoral work of priests and nuns through education in a social context may help people intellectually and spiritually. The priests and religious people may work closely with lay Catholics in schools as part of apostolate or evangelization.

         According to Grocholewski & Pittau (2003, p.82) “[t]he Bishops of Japan, Korea, Taiwan, Thailand and other countries testify to the importance of the Catholic school for Evangelization. Many Bishops even say that 90% of the baptized had their first contact with the faith through their Catholic schooling” showing that the role in evangelization provided by Catholic Schools in Asian countries is highly significant.

         At Dom Basílio’s school, that there are daily prayers at the beginning and end of the school day. The principal of Dom Basílio’s school had said that in his school there is an emphasis on faith, behavior and intellectual formation. As a former principal of Dom Basílio’s school for four years, I too know that the school has deepened academic and spiritual studies, and aided development in the local region, East Timor. This is because the school has produced good quality students for the country. Dom Basílio’s school has produced students now have good positions in the government and some still have entered foreign scholarship programs and have studied abroad. Students have gone as far as Indonesia, Brazil, Portugal and the Philippines. There are also some who study religion (both women and men) at diocesan seminaries both domestically and internationally.

         Students have gone on to become assistant lecturers at Universities and Institutes. One is the head of the English department at an Institute in Dili East Timor. Another one is a youth representative of Timor Leste. He was a representative of all Universities’ students in East Timor and attended International meetings. In the name of Timor Leste, he went to attend UN meeting in New York in 2016. He also attended the ASEAN youth meeting in Bangkok. The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) in Timor Leste also invited him to talk about sustainable development in Kenya, Africa. He went to attend more meetings in Japan, Australia and Jakarta.  Furthermore, several students have become military and police officers and some are primary or secondary school teachers.    


Challenges of teachers’ work together with the principal face in their school

          The purpose of every school is to achieve better results from the work of teachers and principals. Gleeson argues that in every school the emphasis is on measurable outputs (Gleeson, 2015 p.147). There are, however, some challenges in the measureable output of Catholic schools.

         At Dom Basílio’s school one of the major challenges is that some of the teachers did not finish their undergraduate studies. They studied under the Indonesian regime. When Indonesia invaded East Timor on December 7, 1975, East Timor was a Portuguese colony. On August 30, 1999 the 78.5% voted for independence under UN supervision. When the East Timorese broke away from Indonesia, schools all over Timor Leste, from kindergarten to universities, stopped functioning (Aucoin, L. Brandt, M., 2010). Therefore, University students who did not finish their studies under Indonesian governance could not continue their studies and graduate.

         After Independence, during the UN transition from the year 2000 to 2001, some ex-Timorese teachers started to voluntarily open elementary, junior and senior high schools. As many Indonesian teachers left too there was a lack of manpower. Those university students who could not continue their studies chose to voluntarily help and teach at these reopened schools. This is the case for some teachers as Dom Basílio’s school.

         The teachers’ fundamental work is to promote science and Catholic moral values.  Therefore, they need to continue developing their scientific knowledge along with their academic skills. The Ministry of Education for Timor Leste still provides for some foreign professional trainers to give training to Timorese teachers. The graduation of 634 teachers took place on February 29, 2012 in capital of Timor-Leste, Dili “as ministry of education reiterated the importance of ensuring a quality teacher training” (“INFORDEPE graduates 634 teachers”, 2012).Portuguese language and professional development is still common in almost all schools in East Timor. Usually, schools take time during the school semester break for this purpose.

        This does not mean that the professional development of knowledge only becomes strong through teaching experiences. As Moore says (1999 p.102) “the school culture has not provided a strong community and communication which could serve as good soil for the development of teachers”. Thus, working well together may help and strengthen the relationship among teachers, principal, students and the parents. Gravissimum Educationis (Pope Paul VI, 1965) says that (teachers) are:

       “Intimately linked in charity to one another and to their students and endowed with an apostolic spirit … and let them work as partners with parents and together with them in every phase of education give due consideration to the difference of sex and the proper ends Divine Providence assigns to each sex in the family and in society.”

        Despite this, there are still Dom Basílio’s school still faces challenges. The school is located in a rural area and therefore has limited access to educational facilities and resources. The teachers are still young (being in their 30s) and therefore have less teaching experience. The teachers also have only a limited knowledge of the Portuguese language.

       Portuguese is one of the official languages used in schools throughout East Timor. Based on Constitution of Timor Leste, Section 13.1 “Tetun and Portuguese shall be the official languages in the Democratic Republic of East Timor.” According to Leech Timor Leste has worked with the Comunidade dos Paises de Lingua Portuguesa such that the “‘privileged ties’ shall be retained with countries whose official language is Portuguese”(2008, p.161). 

        The teachers of Dom Basílio’s school studied in Indonesian before the independence of East Timor. After independence “the government of Timor Leste adopted two co-official languages, Portuguese as the language of wider communication and Tetun as the language of identity” (Leech, 2007, p.1).

       Though the teachers have started to learn Portuguese, and now understand the Portuguese language, they use academic books in Portuguese but explain in using Tetun. It poses difficulties because there are expressions in scientific language which are not easily translated into Tetun. Tetun is still a very basic form of communication; it has very limited vocabulary of words. Therefore, extending scientific knowledge is still difficult.  



         The main questions of the research study at Dom Basílio’s school illuminate educational leadership style of the principal and the nine teachers. The main questions asked of the school staff focused upon empowerment, connection, effectiveness, Catholic identity, and the mission of the Catholic school. Through these main questions the researcher hoped to identify the definitive educational leadership style at Dom Basílio’s school. The results of the research study show that the school principal successfully empowered all his teachers and administrative staff by working closely with them. As the principal said, “we work together with the community, local authority, and work fluently.” He added, “we meet with the parents of the students every three months”. They have united, and work well together at the school.

         This has resulted in a common constructive approach towards the students. This is consistent with what Pollock said when he described successful teachers as “committed, dedicated, and [they] worked collaboratively” at school (Pollock, 2013,p.323).

         Based on yearly national exam results and successful applications to the National University of East Timor, the school is one of the best Catholic schools in East Timor. This is because the principal has empowered his teachers and administrative staff. This is evidenced by the high community participation enjoyed at school events. As one teacher put it, “the beginning and the end of school year’s celebration are about students’ 98%, teachers’ 100%, and the parents’ 89% participation (sic)”.

         The Catholic identity of this school is very strongly emphasized through daily religious reflection, such as saying when saying daily prayers. Thus, the school succeeds in the mission of strengthening the students’ knowledge of science, as well as their moral and spiritual lives.

         Therefore, the effectiveness of empowerment and the connected relationships of the school principal and his teachers, with the emphasis on Catholic identity contained within the mission of this specific Catholic school, illustrate an example of servant leadership. The leadership practices of this school principal meet the mission of Catholic education and will continue to improve the identified Catholic school leadership style in this school.  



A Message from the Superintendent Marti West: Happy Catholic Schools Week. Retrieved from

Aucoin, L. and Brandt, M (2010). East Timor’s Constitutional Passage to Independence in Miller, E., Aucoin, L (Eds.) Framing the State in Times of Transition 245 – 274. Retrieved from

Congregation for Catholic Education (2014).Educating Today and Tomorrow: A Renewing Passion, InstrumentumLaboris. Retrieved from

Constitution of the Democratic Republic of Timor-Leste. Retrieved from

Fuller, L., & Johnson, L. (2013).Tensions between Catholic Identity and Academic Achievement at an Urban Catholic High School.Catholic Education: A Journey of Inquiry and Practice, 17(2), 94 – 123. Retrieved from

Gallagher, Tom (2010). Church can learn a lot from ‘Servant Leadership’. National Catholic Reporter.Retrieved from

Giancola, M., J. & Hutchison, K., J.(2005). Humanizing our practice: Transforming the culture of school leadership.  California: Corwin Press

Gleeson, J. (2015). Critical challenges and dilemmas for Catholic Education Leadership internationally.International Studies in Catholic Education, 7(2),DOI: 10.1080/19422539.2015.1072955

Greenleaf, R.,K.(1977). Servant leadership. Retrieved from,%20Servant%20Leadership.pdf

Grocholewski, Z. (2013). The Code of Canon Law and the obligation of parents to educate their child. Retrieved from

Grocholewski, Z., &Pittau, G. (2003). Presentations of the Vatican document: Consecrated Persons and Their Mission in Schools. Journal of Catholic Education, 7(1). Retrieved from http://

His Holiness Pope Paul VI (October 28, 1965). Declaration on Christian Education, GravissimumEducationis. Retrieved from

INFORDEPE graduates 634 teachers (Wednesday  29 February 2012). Retrieved from

Lavery, S.D. (2009). Religious educators: Promoting servant leadership. Religious Education Journal of Australia, 25 (2), 31-36. Retrieved from

Leech, K., J., T., (2007).The Ecology of Language Planning in Timor-Leste. A study of language policy, planning and practices in identity construction, Griffith University, Brisbane, Australia. Retrieved from

Leech, T., K. (2008). Language and Identity in East Timor: The discourses of nation building, Macquarie University, Australia. Retrieved from

Miller, C.S.B, J. Michael Archbishop (2005). The Holy See’s teaching on Catholic Schools. (CERC) Catholic Education Resource Center Website. Retrieved from

Moore, L. (1999). Staff Development in the Catholic School: The Caring Response of a Community. In E. Schuster, T. Hunt, T.Oldenski, and T. J. Wallace (eds.),Catholic School Leadership: An Invitation to Lead.

New American Standard Bible (1971). La Habra, CA: Foundation Publications, for the Lockman Foundation

Nsiah, J. and Walker, K. (2013).The Servant: Leadership Role of High Catholic School Principals, Boston: Sense Publishers

O’Neil, P., W. and Torres, A., S. (2011). Catholic Schools as Schools of Academic Excellence: A Summary of the Third Catholic Higher Education Collaborative Conference Proceedings. Catholic Education, 15(1),  72-86. Retrieved from

Phan, C., P. (2001). Proclamation of the Reign of God as Mission of the Church: What for, to Whom, with Whom, and How?. Retrieved from 67.59.66/ac-01-phanpaper.pdf

Pollock, K. (2013). Administrator and Teachers’ Perceptions of School Success in Publicly Funded Catholic School in Ontario.Catholic education, 16(2), 309-334. Trustees of Boston College, Canada, University of Western Ontario.   Retrieved from

The Sacred Congregation for Catholic Education (March 1977). The Catholic School. Retrieved from

Vatican Radio (6 November 2015) Pope: Church is called to serve, not to be served. Retrieved from,_not_to_be_served/1184802

Winston, B. E. and Ryan, B. (2008). Servant Leadership as a Humane Orientation: Using the GLOBE Study Construct of Humane Orientation to Show that Servant Leadership is More Global than Western. International Journal of Leadership Studies, 3(2), 212-222. Retrieved from

Wong, T., P. P., & Davey, D. (2007). Best Practices in Servant Leadership. Retrieved from

Zenit (Feb 13, 2014). Catholic Education: A coherent Two-Way Gift. Retrieved fom

Zenit (Feb 9, 2017). Pope: Catholic Schools Make Great Contribution to Church’s Mission. Retrieved from

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *