Service and Catholic Schools

When I was a young man in high school, the idea of service and helping others started being an important part of my life. Why did this idea begin to develop in my life? Where did this idea come from? Who made this idea so important to me? Reflecting upon these questions, I know where and how it all began.

I went from a school that had about 25 students in my 8th grade class to a school where there was around 375 students in my grade. The school had nearly 1400 students total. The size of the campus was HUGE compared to my grade school. I didn’t know where I belonged or what to do. I knew I had to find where I belonged in this new environment. I became involved in theatre and this new thing that really changed it all for me…service.

The Theology Department at Saint Ignatius High School is unlike any other department that I have ever encountered. The teachers in the department don’t just teach their subject, but they also model it! There are 3 teachers that really stood out to me…Mr. Brennan, Mr. Healey, and Mr. Skerl.

Mr. Brennan quickly connected with me. He is one of the most sincere men that I have ever met, but he also knows how to motivate and push you to be your best. He was always looking at his students and knowing what they needed to hear. He would remind me of opportunities to help others. He showed me chances to go out and help others. This idea was not something I thought of before, but I did begin to think about it because I trusted Mr. Brennan.

Mr. Healey was my freshmen year theology teacher. He is a person that I model my teaching style after. He shows passion about his subject but also passion for his students. He lives his subject and was constantly reminding students that serving others is a great way to serve Christ, and that idea has stayed with me.

Mr. Skerl was one of the greatest men that I have ever known. He served others until his last day on this earth…and I still believe he is serving us today. He modeled the idea of servant leadership to the fullest and was the greatest example of leading by example. If you had to do a research project on service in Catholic schools, Mr. James Skerl would need to be a part of the project. This man created the St. Benedict Joseph Labre Homeless Ministry program (every Sunday of the year, students and adults go out and serve the homeless of Cleveland a meal and companionship), Dinner with L’Arche (a monthly dinner with residents of L’Arche Cleveland), he would attend every sporting event he could for students, and he also developed the St. Joseph of Arimathea Pallbearer Ministry at the school (students attend the funeral for someone that does not have family or friends to act as pallbearers).

If anyone led a life truly guided by the Corporal Works of Mercy, Mr. Skerl was that person. He not only showed how the Corporal Works of Mercy should be lived, but he encouraged and drew students in to live that same life with him. He would never force a student to serve, but he knew what to do to get a student to be there with him. He served others without question. He served others because he saw Christ in those that he served.

These 3 teachers are the reason I serve. Without Catholic education, my passion for serving others would most likely not be where it is today. As a teacher, I need to model the importance of serving others, I need to live a life of service to others. Students need to see that serving others is what makes us see Christ even more in every person we encounter.

One of my favorite phrases is this “We don’t serve others because they’re Catholic, we serve others because we’re Catholic!”

Service is a part of our faith. Service is how we show we see Christ. Service is showing our love for Christ! Become that inspiration in a student to help them begin to serve others!

Professional Development in Catholic Schools

The ever-changing world of education requires teachers to attend many sessions of professional development. Professional development can be seen as a waste of time by some teachers, while others see it as a great opportunity to expand their knowledge and skills. No matter what school you are in, there is most likely that teacher or group of teachers that will say, “Why do we need this? What I’m doing is working!” Sure, it works for you, but that’s not what education is about!

Professional development comes in many shapes and sizes. These are some different methods:

  • The “sit and listen”- an “expert” in the field comes and discusses a new theory or concept and teachers are supposed to listen and learn it
  • The “one size fits all”- Professional development planners simply assume that all teachers need the same skills to be developed so professional development is designed for all teachers
  • The “fix-it” method- Schools look at what is going wrong and attempt to put a bandage on it to correct what is going on for the short-term
  • The “student-centered” approach- The skills and techniques that are being discussed are being led by the needs of the students. Teachers gain knowledge of how students are learning and what teachers can do to meet their needs.
  • The “teacher led” method- Teachers discuss with their Professional Learning Network (PLN) to build sessions that best meet their desired needs.
  • The “hands-on” method- Teachers are actively engaged in the professional development by becoming active participants in the method rather than listeners and non-doers.
  • The “Collaborative Teacher” method- Rather than going to sessions designed strictly for your subject matter, teachers attend sessions that blend multiple subject areas and promote collaboration.

Teachers are called to make their classrooms inviting, engaging, and a place where students want to come in and learn. Teachers are supposed to make learning “fun”! On the other side of learning, professional development is many times seen as boring and a pain to go to. This should not be the feeling! Professional development needs to be designed the same way we are called to run a classroom…engaging, inviting, a place where teachers want to be, and “fun”!

Professional development also needs to be designed for the purpose of the school. For Catholic schools, there is an even greater challenge. Schools need to meet the professional growth of teachers and their spiritual growth. How do Catholic schools meet this need? What methods can schools use to expand the spiritual strength that teachers need?

The spiritual growth of Catholic school teachers is essential for the success of schools. Catholic school teachers are entrusted with not only the academic knowledge that students learn, but also the faith formation of their students. Teachers are called by the Holy Spirit to develop the knowledge of their students in subjects both secular and sacred. Catholic school teachers take on this additional role with pride and passion, but it is critical that schools aid their teachers in developing their faith and strengthen their desire to teach the faith to students.

Teachers in Catholic schools need to build an additional PLN in their life to assist with the religious education aspect of their job. Teachers need to find those that challenge their faith and help them grow in it as well. Teachers need to be provided with spiritual directors that will provide them guidance to find their place in education that they need to be and the best method to get there. Schools often times believe that the one retreat a year is enough for faith formation of their teachers, but this truly is not enough. School administrators need to provide continuing faith formation activities throughout the year. They need to provide opportunities for teachers to develop their faith.

Faith formation opportunities are available in the same way professional development opportunities are available. There are lecture series available, webinars, classes, and informal meetings that teachers can attend! Next question is this, “how many teachers know these opportunities are available?” How many administrators are focused primarily on the academic content and not focused enough on the spiritual needs of their staff? This lack of attention is where schools start to separate themselves.

Schools need to inform teachers of ways to grow their faith. Connecting the faith to the daily lives of our students in Catholic schools helps schools reach students where they are and pushes them to where they need to be as Christian leaders. Teachers need to find new ways to model the faith and connect the faith to students.

Now, does the lack of attention fall only on the administrators of many schools? Absolutely not. Teachers also need to be willing to share what they see as opportunities. Teachers need to find their PLN and attend events together. Teachers need to be willing to step up and do their part. Teachers also need to take an active role in developing new professional development.

One professional development method that I would like to see is the growth of EdCamps for Catholic teachers. Catholic school teachers have different situations and challenges that public schools don’t face. We have scenarios and subjects that may need to be discussed in different ways than in other schools. We need to gather as Catholic school teachers and learn and share the methods and skills that we have gained as Catholic school teachers. We also need to discuss the different ways we share our faith with students.

EdCamps are unique ways to share and learn. The events are educator led and encourage discussion in a non-lecture manner. Maybe this style is what some schools need to openly discuss ideas. There are many times when teachers don’t know what other teachers are doing. An EdCamp style could open up discussions on what can be done to collaborate.

Another important aspect of professional development, especially in the realm of spirituality, is what can we do to best serve our students. How can we display our faith more to show what Catholicism means to us? We need to provide a safe environment where students feel safe to ask a question about where their faith is going. We need to learn ways that encourage students to strive to love Christ more deeply. What I do in class is good and I feel students do grow closer in their relationship with God, but what can I do that makes their love grow even more deeper? I do not have all the answers or methods, but learning from each other is what we need. We need a community that wants to grow each of our faiths so we can follow God more nearly.

Here are some of my goals:

  • Be more vocal and passionate in the professional development of my colleagues and to offer ideas of areas that need attention and methods that we can use to learn from each other
  • Build a spirituality program for my school. Strengthen the faith of teachers through prayer groups, faith discussions, and share techniques that improvement the faith of our students.
  • Create an EdCamp for Catholic school teachers in the area. I have already spoken to some teachers who want the same thing. Teachers find EdCamps a great way to share and discover new connections and methods of teaching. Teachers have so many resources and want to share them with others, so we should do this in a faith based method!

While these ideas seem large, they are doable. Just finding the right manner and connections to make them happen is the big part. I plan on making these ideas happen. I want to see the faith of our schools and students grow even larger. We are all doing a great job, but there is more to be done! We can’t stop!

God bless!

 

Why I Choose Catholic Education

This past week I have been posting reasons why I choose to teach in a Catholic school. The reasons are numerous. I find that I find comfort knowing that I am teaching in an environment where I am surrounded by people who share a common passion…and that is Catholic education. The next question is “What makes an education Catholic?”

Catholic education is more than having a religion class everyday and learning about the Sacraments or ways of Christian living. Catholic education is living out the Sacraments and how to be Christian. Catholic education is being able to recognize a student that is struggling with a difficult situation and approaching that student and saying a quick prayer with him/her. Catholic education is being able to find those teachable moments and guiding a student to learn to trust the Holy Spirit will guide them to become an even stronger student.

Every Tuesday the school I work at attends Mass as a school. Gathering to share at the Lord’s table puts what we do as Catholic educators in a whole new perspective. Am I there to teach or am I there to lead students to draw closer in their relationship with God? I feel I am there to lead students to draw closer in their relationship with God. I enjoy and truly look forward to attending Mass as a school. I need to be reminded of how my students are forming their conscience and growing in their faith. This reminder makes me realize that I am still learning and growing in my faith.

My students wrote last week why they choose to attend a Catholic school and why they find it important in their lives. The responses I received made me feel even more commitment to teaching in a Catholic school. Students responded multiple times that growing in their faith is important. They also feel that attending Mass is important. That being with friends and learning something new everyday is why they choose Catholic schools. I am just honored to be a part of their learning process.

The growth of my students is an aspect of their learning that I find joy in experiencing. Yes, I am there to teach them social studies, spelling, handwriting, reading, and religion. More importantly, I am there to teach them how to be positive members of our community. I am there to teach them that decisions need to be made with faith and morality as their guide. My faith needs to be a role model. My responsibility is to the community, the parish, the parents, and most importantly the students. If I can’t provide my students with the best religious education experience possible, I need to find ways to do that. I need to lead them to a stronger relationship with Christ.

Placing Christ as the center of my teaching is essential. It’s not just important because I teach at a Catholic school, but it’s also important because my students deserve it. Students deserve an environment where they can grow and learn in the faith. They want this environment. They want opportunities to ask questions about Catholicism.

I am in a blessed learning community. We are fortunate enough to have priests that come and teach our students about their faith. Students appreciate the time the priests spend with them. Having priests in the classroom allows students to grow and see their faith differently.

Now that I have provided these reasons, plus the reasons in my other blog, here is the real reason why I choose Catholic education. Catholic education is my vocation. I feel that I have been called to be a teacher in a Catholic school. I feel that I need to be in a classroom to share my faith and to learn with my students. I want to be in the classroom and grow in faith. Teachers need to share the why they are teaching with students and I do share with them my reasons. Students need to see my commitment to the faith and to the students. Students need to see that I don’t just say what they should do, but I participate and show what they need to do.

Catholic educators need to provide opportunities for students to grow their faith. Walk along the path with them as they journey through new ways to grow their faith. Being a Catholic school teacher is a privilege. Teachers need to treat it as such. Where else can we participate in the education of children and help them become positive leaders in our faith all while growing in our own faith at the same time? I truly feel honored and blessed to be a Catholic school teacher. This is why I choose Catholic education!

Why Education?

When I first went to college, I simply had the thought that I would go into the business field. I wanted to work in hospitality and in the field of doing something to make people happy. I figured hotel management would be a great field for me.

I went through college and worked hard to succeed. I started classes early in the morning and went late into the night…typically 8:30am until 9:30pm. Obviously those hours included several significant breaks, but it still was a long day. I enjoyed the long days. I enjoyed learning. I enjoyed being with others that wanted to learn! I also had the major desire to earn money.

When I completed my Bachelor of Business Administration, I was unsure of what I wanted. I was lost, but now I also feel that entering the business world was not what God wanted from me. I took a risk and asked to take part in the Young Alumni Volunteer Program at St. Ignatius High School. I took a risk and it led me to something I now know I need to be a part of.

During my time in the Young Alumni Volunteer Program I worked with a variety of ages. I worked with young children from the neighborhood; I worked with elementary to middle school students in a nearby school; I was able to help form the faith lives of high school students through going on retreats. I also learned that the four walls of an office would not be the right place for me. So, I went back to school.

I went back to school to begin my journey into the world of education. I didn’t want to be trapped by the four walls of an office, but rather help the minds of children to break down the walls of a classroom and see the world that lies in front of them. I became a teacher.

When I entered college my days were long…and they still are. I wanted to be around learning…and I still am. I wanted to be around those who want to learn…and I still am. Education just feels right to me!

The world of education has allowed me to grow. I’ve grown in my own skills, developed new skills, became stronger (mentally, emotionally, and spiritually), I’ve seen my students grow, I’ve seen them struggle, and they’ve seen me struggle as well. I have developed friendships. I’ve been there for my students and they’ve been there for me.

Education has built me up to be a beacon for my students. I’m not always the most organized, but I know where my heart lies…and that’s with my students.

Some people are made for the business world. Some people know how to do great things by working in an office or building great pieces of machinery! Yet, there are some people that can do something that may not seem significant, but it means the world to them…and those people are teachers!

That’s what I want to do. I want to something that may not mean like much, but means so much to someone else. I want to watch a student break down that wall and see that world that lies ahead of them. I want them to discover and take a risk and learn where they need to be. I want to be their teacher…and always remember that they are teaching me as well! That’s why I became an educator.

Focus…making things clear.

Sometimes I lose my focus. Sometimes things get blurry for me and I need to settle down and put so much into perspective. I have found myself needing to settle down more often this year than last year.

I have found myself wanting to do so much and not knowing where to begin. I want to flip my classroom. I want to use more educational technology. I want my students to get the best education they can receive. That last one is where I need to put all my focus.

I need to put my educational ideas to the side and see what my students want from me. Where do my ideas lie in comparison to those of my students? Are we in the same area or do I need to put my focus more where they are? Sometimes our ideas get blurred together…and that’s even more challenging. They want to use an idea I have but in a different way. Do I let my stubborn nature get the best of me and refuse or do I give in and let the students show me a new way? I would hope to believe that I give in more than I refuse, but it’s not always that way.

The first thing that I need to do is get to understand what my students want from their education. What interests do they have? How can I connect their interests to the content? What are the best methods to do this? Are the ideas I want to implement truly best for my students? Where can I turn to for that guidance to learn more?

Focus isn’t easy to find. Lack of focus distracts us. It can also lead us to not understand our students and their interests. If we don’t focus on their desires and passions, where does that put us and the students? We fall behind. We go backward and not forward. We need to have a focus on our true responsibility, and that is preparing the entire student for future success. If we focus only on one part of our students’ education, we can’t focus on their entire education.

My focus needs to turn to knowing what my students want from me! I need to not overwhelm them and myself with trying to do too much too fast. I need to slow down and ensure myself that my focus is clear. Perhaps my students don’t need to use technology to be the best student they can be. Maybe they don’t need to utilize new methods of educating. They may only want the focus on them…and that’s what matters most!

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Twitter and Why I Use It!

I was always intrigued about Twitter when I first heard of it. I thought at first it was some silly place to write really short Facebook status updates to an even larger, more random group of people that I may or may not know! So, just like any curious mind would do, I joined Twitter. I joined Twitter in January of 2009.

When I started, I started tweeting everything that I figured somebody that followed me might care about, even though most of these followers I saw everyday and were right next to me when it happened. Then I would start to follow sports fans on Twitter and just tweet out silly observations from the games I would watch. Then I started to think that nobody cared about what I was saying. There would be an occasional picture of me playing with my nephews, then something silly that my nephews were doing or some random thing I saw that was hilarious to me. Sure, these made me feel good to post and it made me feel even better when someone would “favorite” my tweet! Yet, something still was lacking from my use of Twitter.

One day, I’m not even sure when, my idea of Twitter drastically changed. Something happened! How did it happen? Honestly, I can’t even tell you! Maybe someone I follow (probably a teacher friend) was doing a Twitter chat. I was interested in a tweet that they sent and I just decided to click on the hashtag for that tweet (I think it was #ohedchat). At that point, my Twitterverse burst open! There was a whole world of Twitter that I didn’t even realize existed!

From that one tweet and my clicking of a hashtag, my experience and opinion of Twitter changed. I found teachers that had similar experiences to me that wanted to share thoughts and ideas! I found teachers with differing viewpoints and wanted to discuss differences with me in a civilized manner! I found administrators that were supportive of my ideas and encouraged me to keep pushing forward! I found teachers and administrators that continuously pushed me to finally complete my process for my principal license! I found teachers that showed their creativity and made me want to do greater things in my classroom. I found people that REALLY do care about what I had to tweet about!

Where did this one hashtag lead me? I went from some basic high school/middle school teacher with a 200 “followers” to a passionate, eager teacher with over 1,000 followers! These new followers have each played a role in developing my career as a teacher. I have found these followers in a variety of Twitter chats…#ohedchat, #tlap, #leadupchat, #hacklearning, #sschat, #catholicedchat, #2PencilChat, #flipclass, #satchat, #sunchat, #theclassroomwall, #whatisschool, #UrbanEdChat, #5thchat, #divergED, #KidsDeserveIt…and I’m sure many others!

Would I still be in the education field without these chats? Yes, I would be. Does having a great Personal Learning Network (PLN) behind me make it better? Definitely! I have had the pleasure to have met several of my Twitter PLN members in person! It is quite awesome to meet these fine people and see how well you feel like you know them even though we’ve only conversed over Twitter! Twitter has led me to several #EdCamps! I never would have gone to an EdCamp if I wasn’t on Twitter! Now, I am a huge fan of EdCamps and have traveled hours to get to one! Thanks #EdcampLdrOH!!

I am so blessed to have found that one tweet, that one hashtag, and send my 1st tweet in an educational Twitter chat! Twitter has been a great educational tool for me! It’s been a resource unlike any other in my career! Of course I still use Twitter to talk about Cleveland sports (how could I not? The CLE is doing great!)! I don’t do it as much and what I do say is positive about our teams! For education though, I would support any teacher that wants to expand their PLN using Twitter! Educators need to use Twitter to do what is best for students!

Ideas…Make Them Happen!

I got an idea over the summer that was met with a little push back. Sure, I was a little defeated when it happened, but I will not let that stop me. It was a little tough dealing with dissenters, but I know that what I want to do will benefit the students of my school.

Now, what is this little idea that I received? Well, I want to ask teachers for a collection of their teaching/education related books and begin to form a library in the teachers’ lounge. These books would be open for all teachers to borrow and gain further knowledge of their profession. It would also form a stronger community where teachers want to share ideas and thoughts about what they have read. Sure, some information may not pertain to particular class levels, but the idea that I could find a way to better connect to a grade level that I don’t teach, to me, is awesome!

I want others to know what I have been reading. I want them to take that risk and open their minds to new ideas. Some teachers may not even know what other books are out there! If we build a library, we will build a community! I want to make teachers push their minds further. I want them to push their limits!

This library would be simple. It wouldn’t be much, but it would be a foundation of opportunities. It would allow use to build new connections. It would allow us to do what is best for our students.

The feedback I first received was that of hesitation. It was also very tough. I am not going to let that stop me. I am going to make this happen!

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My One Word…Passion

I was just in a Twitter chat (#sunchat) and that topic of what your “one word” for this year will be. I had to think for a few, but it quickly came to me…Passion!

What is “passion”? Passion, according to Merriam-Webster, is “a strong feeling of enthusiasm or excitement for something or about doing something.” This definition describes my feeling about education perfectly. How can you enter into a classroom and not feel passion? How can you truly give yourself to your students if you don’t have passion? How can I show passion in my classroom?

Each day when I walk into my classroom, I feel an excitement that today I have the opportunity to connect to my students in a new way. This connection comes from me giving my students the desire to want to continue to learn. I have to show my passion for the content I am teaching. If I come in and state that this topic is not exciting, why would students care to learn about it? I am here to build the interests of students, I have to show passion!

I also have to show passion for my students! I teach 5th and 6th grade. These students are at a prime age of starting to build their interests and what defines them as a person. I need to be passionate about their discoveries. I need to show them that they are doing great things and that they need to show passion for their new area of learning!

I need to show passion for my colleagues. I need to make them feel like they are making a difference with their work and that I support their passion for their subjects. I also need to be passionate about their personal journeys. I need to feel a connection with them as a person and not just as another teacher.

Also, the word Passion has another meaning. In the Catholic faith, Passion is the suffering and death of Jesus. We need to be reminded that this Passion is a part of our life. We need to accept the pain that may come from showing passion. People may not always accept us or our commitment to an idea. It will cause some suffering. We will be hurt along the way, but as long as you remain steadfast to your idea that if this is best for the students, you will feel the great reward of your passion.

Passion is developed. You may not know where your next boost of passion will come from, but you have to respond to it with everything you have. Passion is strong. Passion is exciting. Passion lies within you! You need to take that passion and exhibit it and pass it on to everyone you meet. Be ready for a strong connection to everything you do and for everyone you are working with! Let passion lead you!

Appreciation…Let’s Enjoy It!

There are days when you just seem so excited to get up and get into the classroom…then there are days when it can feel like a major struggle. Perhaps those struggles come from a situation at home…maybe it’s because of a situation at work…or, yes it happens, you just are struggling with that one student and you need a break from that child.

These things happen. They happen because we are human. We are challenged by so many to make our students believe that we are something more than human. We feel like we need to be perfect at times. We don’t need to feel that way. We need to show that we do make mistakes. We need to show how to get past those “bumps in the road.” We need to teach from mistakes rather than criticize that a mistake happened.

We enter into our classrooms sometimes under that idea that we can’t struggle. Maybe we shouldn’t show our struggle fully, but we do need to let others know that we are struggling. We have so much to appreciate!

We need to appreciate our colleagues. They are the ones that may cause some of our struggles, but there are those few that will strengthen you and continue to push you forward. Turn to them, that’s why they are there!

We need to appreciate our administrators. They provide us with a resource of commitment to the school and can help us regain our focus. They are more than just a “boss” but they are also a leader for your well-being.

We need to appreciate our students. There will be those students that make us feel like we are not accomplishing anything. We want some students to be way further along than they are. Yet, we also need to appreciate any movement forward with these students. Appreciate the smiles they give you. Appreciate the effort they show. Continue to realize that we are there for them…and that they are there for us. We need to appreciate our jobs and all that we do! Appreciate yourself!

Why I’m a Catholic School Teacher!

I have taught nearly 9 years so far. Each one of those years I have taught in a Catholic school. Eight of those years were in a high school setting and one in a grade school. This is year 10 and my 2nd year in a grade school. Each year I feel more and more blessed to have the opportunity to do 2 things: 1. Educate my students…and 2. Share my faith with my students.

Educating my students is a top priority for me. The Catholic school setting allows me to touch on topics where I can show God’s true presence in their lives more deeply. I am able to take a few moments each day and reflect with my students about how God has truly blessed them and help them see Jesus in everyone. I am excited to see my students grow in their faith when they start to see how they live the Corporal Works of Mercy through serving others. When I stop and have a reflection with them regarding an important topic and they explain how prayer and God made them stronger so that they could get through a difficult situation makes me a stronger Catholic. I’m inspired by the faith of my students and I hope I inspire them as well.

Working in a Catholic school does have many challenges and sacrifices. Yet, each challenge and sacrifice is a blessing. I look to these as ways that I can grow my faith. Perhaps I don’t go out as often…perhaps I look at what I have and find a new way to repurpose it into something my students can use. I’ve made social sacrifices, but I have also grown my creative skills. I know I can do more to help my students grow in their faith and I’m ready to keep pushing myself to make sacrifices to help them grow.

I’ve truly learned what it means to be a “Man for Others” during my 4 years at my Jesuit high school, but now living the motto makes me understand what it means. I am proud to say that I am a teacher and even more proud to say that I am a Catholic school teacher. Being a Catholic school teacher has been a great journey. I have so many teachers to thank for making me the Catholic I am today and inspiring me to be the Catholic teacher I am today.