May 20, 2019 WBAS Cat Support Articles, REL Asset - Handout, REL PD - Leaders
Assessing Catechetical/Religious Education Programs – Ideas for Parish and School Leaders
By: Kathy Hendricks
In this article we'll explore ways parish catechetical and school leadership can plan for the future by evaluating the past year. Assessing catechetical and religious education programs as the faith formation year draws to a close will renew your vision and enthusiasm for what lies ahead! Plus, download a 3 Ways for Parish Catechetical Leaders and Catholic School Leaders to Evaluate the Year Tip Sheet.
I can recall the end of my first year as a Parish Catechetical Leader. There were loose ends to tie up, catechist recognition celebrations to plan and implement, and a rather chaotic office to put in order. The last thing I wanted was to rehash the entire year through an evaluation. It seemed good enough to just wrap it up, take a summer breather, and then resume planning for the year ahead. If you are a catechetical leader, you might feel the same way. Even so, “good enough” isn’t going to lead to anything new or creative when it comes to faith formation in the parish or school. Nor is it going to help you develop and grow as a leader. There are a number of ways to evaluate the year but let’s focus on three: programs; people; profession.
As you read this article, reflect on the following questions:
What satisfaction can you take in your catechetical leadership over the past year?
What are you looking forward to in the year to come?
Ways Parish Catechetical & School Leaders Can Evaluate the Year
One of the easiest aspects of a year-end assessment is looking back on programmatic successes and failures. Perhaps you have used evaluation forms with parents of students in your catechetical program or participants in adult education sessions. Depending on the tool chosen, the information can help you tweak programmatic details for the upcoming year. There are limitations to this process, however. Those surveyed may just circle a number, offer a perfunctory comment, or use the form to offer a word of thanks or complaint. No in-depth evaluation is forthcoming and so we move ahead without any new ideas or motivation to change.
Program evaluations can and should involve a variety of ways to glean information, such as personal interviews, conversations with key players (catechists, parents, and the students), and observations by parish staff and pastoral leaders. And don’t forget the support staff. Administrative assistants and maintenance workers have their own observations about programmatic details. For example: What kind of communication glitches appeared in phone calls or email messages? Someone fielding those calls or sifting through messages or social media posts can offer helpful ideas for improvement. How considerate were catechists and students in leaving their meeting spaces in good order? If classrooms were strewn with take-home materials and other handouts, it indicates that these aren’t serving the purpose for which they are intended.
Calendars are also useful in reassessing the year. Review your entire year for valuable clues about programmatic successes or failures. For example, a review of a personal calendar might reveal that the poor showing at a parent meeting or intergenerational gathering was surrounded by too many other personal or parish commitments. This, in turn, offers insight into the overload that curtailed preparations for an event and ensured its success. By reviewing the year from a distance, we attain a clearer vision of future program needs.
Overseeing the work of others, particularly volunteers, is a time-consuming and sometimes overwhelming responsibility. At the end of the year, it is fitting to celebrate their work with an end-of-the-year party and then send them off with a thank-you gift. While the idea of “evaluating” others can sound a bit demeaning, it is a process that is beneficial to them as well as to you as a leader.
Personal interviews are the most helpful way to determine how a catechist has fared during the year and hear what she or he plans for the following year. It is helpful to develop a simple questionnaire or set of reflections for the catechist to complete prior to the interview. This gives them adequate time to review the year for themselves. Include questions about the program itself, such as the usefulness and effectiveness of catechetical resources, adequacy of their meeting space, size of their group, and time allotted for the program. Invite them to share honestly their expectations and experience with you and other catechetical leaders. It is important to know the kind of support they received and how they want it maintained or improved in the future. Lastly, include a process for self-evaluation that gives catechists an opportunity to reflect upon their gifts and how/where they want to grow. This will help you to discern how well-placed the catechist is for his/her position and plan for the kind of development that will meet the entire group’s needs and interests.
When speaking to catechetical leaders about their roles and responsibilities I am struck by how few are given an opportunity for self-assessment with a pastor or other supervisor. It leaves many of them moving from year to year without much sense of where they have been or where they are going.
When serving as the Director of Religious Education for the Diocese of Colorado Springs I was supervised by the head of the Office of Christian Formation who regularly affirmed and challenged my work. Each year, we took two weeks for my performance review, a process that included evaluating past goals and accomplishments, and putting together short- and long-term plans for the future. Although it was a rather involved process I found it incredibly helpful to discuss the previous year with another person prior to setting goals for the year ahead. At one point, he challenged me to hone in on the latter, advising me to “do fewer things well.” It was probably the best piece of advice I ever received. It was also a reminder of the importance of not only assessing what I had done over the past year but also how I had done it.
This is sound wisdom for everyone in positions of leadership. By looking back to what and how we have carried out our responsibilities we are better able to look ahead with renewed vision and enthusiasm for what lies ahead.
PARISH CATECHETICAL LEADERS– As the catechetical year comes to an end what kind of reflection and review can you carry out – by yourself or with the help of another person – that will help you re-assess your plans for the upcoming year?
CATHOLIC SCHOOL LEADERS– Assessing the school year involves factors that vary from a parish faith formation program. What insights from this article, however, can you put to use in assessing your school year, the people who have been involved with it, and your own personal contribution as a leader?