Andrea Dean is an inspiration for more leadership roles for women in the Church
12 Sep 2018
The need to increase women's involvement in decision making at all levels of the Catholic Church continues to be challenged by a 2000-year-old patriarchal system, but promoting opportunities for women to participate in leadership roles is paving the way for positive change.
The Australian Catholic Bishops Conference (ACBC) identified a dynamic, self-motivated woman, appointing her to the dual role of Director, Office for the Participation of Women and Director, Office for Lay Pastoral Ministry. She spoke about her love for sharing skills that help to empower teams who want to make a difference.
A life-long educator, teacher and mentor, Dean’s professional skills support individuals, groups, and organisations who are inspired to develop positive future change. As a Churchill Fellow, she has facilitated conferences that explore issues such as mental wellbeing. She seems to have a knack for getting people to engage more deeply with each other, guiding them along large and smaller collaborative projects.
Why is there an office for women?
About 15 years ago the Bishops of Australia commissioned a major research project that looked at women and their role in the church. The research revealed that a significant number of Australian Catholic women were dissatisfied with the opportunities for participation with the church. So the ACBC established a council for the participation of women, and in my role as Director I support the work of that council. We have a strategic plan and commit to various projects. I do the leg work of conferences, newsletters, and I support the vision of enabling women to participate more fully in leadership and decision making in the Church. We have developed a database of names of women and their particular skills, so we can call on them when we need to for a range of different things.
The leadership role is one that directs, and builds bridges between diocese and other organisations. How do you make this happen?
It’s sometimes difficult and we often operate under the radar. A key project is the triannual ‘colloquium’ which in the original translation means talking together. At many conferences you just listen to a speaker, but in our colloquiums we gather women together to share their experiences, to encourage each other and to work for change. Through the two year program Leadership for Mission, for women between 25-35 years, we help prepare young women for leadership roles within and beyond the Church. We also have a mentoring program that aims to help women flourish. Women can sign up online, or they can come to an event.
I try to have a contact in every diocese, to facilitate two-way communication. We regularly develop resources for parishes including for prayer and reflection, and to create awareness around events such as International Women’s Day and the feast day of Mary McKillop.
What is important for leading and managing small teams so they can be successful?
Acknowledging the competence of people who come together to accomplish a task is important, and to consider all options on the table and only then tie the responsibilities down to specific people. Self-selection of tasks and ongoing monitoring is key because then the whole team works effectively in a supportive way. It fosters a sense of collegiality, and it’s important to meet after a project is done to reflect upon it and celebrate the successes as well as look at what has been learned.
Has the role of an educator changed?
It has changed. For example, the Prime Minister wrote to every school recently and asked them to do something about bullying. The role of an educator is now one that requires the teacher to do more than educate. They carry a large portion of the responsibility for the development of the student. Society expects a lot of educators, and expectations are very high. The role of social media has changed things, and now parents are able to contact teachers after hours making the demands on teachers more intense. Teachers work very hard, and they can end up getting sick during their holidays then miss out on genuine time to have a break. It’s even tougher to be a principal, expectations for them are so high and any extra work adds to what is already a day filled with responsibilities regarding teachers and students, and parents.
Have student needs changed since you began your career as an educator?
Yes because society has changed. In the past, a child had time at school and a rich life after school with more play time, whereas now the day is regimented and the child is committed to after school sports and there is less freedom for simple unplanned activity. There is a lot of stimulation today and it’s all the time, now.
Is it harder to recruit and train educators these days?
Education still attracts fine, talented young people but the pace and demands of teaching and the pressure of having large amounts of administration are very burdensome. I see turnover quite early in the careers of teachers, more so than before.
What are the benefits of spiritual retreats?
Most Diocesan Catholic Education Offices provide retreats for teachers and the provision for one spirituality day a year. “Courage to Teach” is popular program that began in the U.S. and helps teachers to reflect on their practice. Teachers need this reflective time to remind them of why they became teachers originally. The passion for teaching re-emerges and helps to connect them again with the deep values of being a teacher. A spiritual retreat, time to pause and reflect, helps the internal passion to be reinvigorated. Many Catholic teachers also find inspiration in the life of Jesus and his commitment to compassion and service.
How do you feel about your role as a mentor and educator?
For me, I feel really privileged. The work of mentoring means spending more time listening to someone else. Experiencing what they have to share is very inspiring and through this you are changed and I think you become more compassionate.
What place does mentoring have today in the workplace?
The profession of teaching has taken mentoring very seriously, and in the first 2 years of teaching is considered particularly valuable. It can be lonely work, to go off into your classroom and teach straight after graduating. Mentoring is very helpful in the teaching industry, some professions call it coaching but the focus is on helping teachers become empowered. Mentoring means having someone looking out for you, someone who wants to see you accomplish your goals.
How do you help students plan for the future if they have no idea of what they want to do?
A lot of professions are invisible to a school leaver, and there aren’t many careers they actually see. Students often think if they like science they will like this or that kind of career, but then preferences change and so they change their course or drop out.
I think we have to realise that it takes a while for young people to find the right career path and we need to be comfortable with the changes they will make over the course of their working life.
In 2017, Pope Francis said women have an essential role to play in interreligious dialogue, and "there is need for a greater recognition of the ability of women to educate in universal fraternity."
About Andrea Dean
Andrea Dean has been a primary school teacher, educational administrator, university lecturer, life coach and spiritual director. She currently works for the Catholic Church to increase the participation of women and laity in leadership and decision making.