Systems Change


By Dr. Debra Colley

Through our Vincentian mission,  we ask …

 What must be done? and  How must it be done?

photo (5)Our journey in France allowed us to walk through cities where these questions began to unfold in the life of St. Vincent de Paul.   We gathered in Folleville realizing that we would not have our community of Vincentians had it not been for the history of all that transpired in that town – the question of “what must be done”  was asked here.

photo (4)We walked the path in Chatillon-sur-Chalaronne where the townspeople came to assist a neighbor in need – with so much food,  St. Vincent knew that we needed to organize the great charity of people – “how must it be done”  was asked here,  providing a clear example of systems change.

As leaders,  we must think about the effectiveness of our ‘best efforts’ if not organized and sustainable.  Our greatest challenges in serving those most in need require this systems thinking  – a purposefully planned and organized use of the goodness of people,  the professionalism and knowledge of the related disciplines,  and the effective use of resources.    The transformation that is needed to address issues of poverty today requires nothing less.

photo (3)photo (2)Our journey continues;  however,  I am struck by the relevance of these two questions (what must be done and how should it be done) in our leadership and in the issues facing our schools,  families,  and communities.   My question becomes  … how are we answering  them?

Our Vincentian Heritage

By Dr. Debra Colley

As a Vincentian university, our mission inspires our studies, our service, our research, and our professional commitment to serving those most in need. We are joined in this mission by the other Vincentian Universities – DePaul University in Chicago and St. John’s University in New York City.

France BuildingWhat a privilege, therefore, to be asked to participate in the Vincentian Mission Institute to study St. Vincent de Paul and St. Louise de Marillac. This provides is with an opportunity to think about the importance of the Vincentian mission as we prepare leaders across all disciplines of study.

We are now in France following the footsteps of St. Vincent. We initiated our trip in his birthplace in Dax (the Berceau) and will make our way to Paris. I am interested in the transformational role of St. Vincent as he began his life as an ambitious and successful man, bringing what seems to me to be a commitment to systems thinking and sustainability to his work with the poor.   In the professions of education and human services (among others), we are challenged by the need to influence systems that will sustain reforms and change the course of opportunity for those who are under-served.

France FoodSo as I enjoy the pastries during this journey through France. I will reflect on the contemporary application of our mission given the pressing issues we face today.

Salaries for Educators

By Dr. Debra Colley

I listen, with great interest, to the ongoing discussion about salaries for teachers and educational administrators (the CEOs of school systems). Often the bottom line in this discussion is this: Are educators paid too much?

In my experience, I have learned that teachers take on the awesome responsibility of facilitating the cognitive, psychological and psychosocial development of their students. These teachers continually strive to shape our world’s rapidly changing workforce by fostering crucial literacy and communication skills in our children, and by inspiring students to a higher level understanding of math, science and technology (to name a few). The support they provide to their students translates into success and innovation for engineers, medical doctors, scientists, and CEOs (again, to name just a few), who will lead us into the future.

Why, then, are we not talking about salaries that will entice our greatest young people to select teaching as their profession?

We know that the average salaries being discussed by the media are heavily weighted by those who are most tenured. It is the beginning salary, however, which drives young people into the profession as they consider how their skills and talents will translate into a career – a career which promotes fiscal independence or even one which will provide confidence in the ability to support a family within the economic conditions of this generation (not to mention paying student loans).

As a professional woman, I have been interested in seeing the entry level salary for teaching increase over the years, as I would like our most talented students to choose this exceptionally significant profession. The competition to choose other more lucrative careers is fierce…young women and men alike (both of whom are needed in our schools) have many professional opportunities and they should indeed consider the financial foundation and growth that is needed for a secure future. I would like to see teaching on that short list!

So we may ask … is the salary of a teacher too high?

I ask . . . what is the value of the professional who shapes the academic and personal development of our children and adolescents, influences our community through the education of its citizens, and imparts cutting-edge, 21st century knowledge and skills that are essential to the future workforce of our country?