Mr. Ed…A Leader In Catholic Education

I’d like to introduce you to Mr. Ed, the maintenance person at St. Michael School. Mr. Ed has worked at our school for well over 10 years. He knows the school inside and out. He is here well before the teachers and is going through his daily routine of preparing the school. We are extremely grateful for the work he provides, but more importantly, we are grateful for his Catholic leadership.

Mr. Ed greets our students with a smile each day and he is ready to assist wherever he can. Does he teach in a classroom all day? No. Does he teach our students? Yes. He teaches our students by modeling positive, Catholic behavior. He is compassionate, caring, respectful, responsible, and courteous. If you ever need assistance carrying a box, Mr. Ed will be ready to help you out! If you need some work done in your room, he will be ready to help you. If you ever need someone to talk to, Mr. Ed will be ready to help!

One thing we need to recognize about leadership in Catholic schools is that leaders are not always the administration. Mr. Ed exemplifies this idea. He leads silently. He leads with his actions. In my 1.5 years at St. Michael School, I can tell Mr. Ed is truly committed to Catholic education. Students know him because he is present in the school. He makes sure to acknowledge all of our students and is ready to support them in the education.

Leadership in Catholic education is represented at all levels of the school. Administrators, teachers, staff, and maintenance need to all be on the same page to work for the larger goal of educating students in the Catholic faith. Every member within the school is a leader and needs to promote the Catholic faith. Mr. Ed is a great example of being a leader within Catholic education.

Leadership In Catholic Education

Leadership in any school is imperative to success. A leader needs to have a vision, passion, courage, a persuasive nature, responsible, community building, judgment making skills, and be able to build relationships. While these skills are important for success in a school, a Catholic school leader has additional tasks to complete. Catholic school leaders need to lead in matters of faith. They need to lead a community with a Christ-centered focus that makes students, staff, faculty, parents, and stakeholders all strive to develop a more personal relationship with the Lord.

Leadership in Catholic education is not easy. It takes commitment to the school and to the faith. Decisions in Catholic education need to be focused on students, the community, and the faith. By reflecting upon the needs of a school, a Catholic leader needs to model the faith for the community. They need to be present and take a participatory role in the activities that lead the community to a stronger relationship with God.

I asked my students what they feel makes a good Catholic leader. I thought it would be interesting to see how they see the role of a faith leader. Their answers were inspiring to me. Here are some of their answers:

  • Helpful
  • Kind
  • Honest
  • Prays
  • Outgoing
  • Loving
  • Sharing
  • Creative
  • Fair
  • Welcoming
  • Positive
  • Peaceful
  • Loyal
  • Exciting
  • Strong
  • United
  • Cooperative
  • Serious
  • Holy
  • Fun

Wow! Some of these ideas we may tend to overlook in our role as a Catholic leader! Yet, most of these terms describe the life of Jesus. We must model ourselves after Christ in all that we do as a leader in Catholic education.

Over this week, I will be writing about those Catholic leaders that I have found inspiring in my Catholic education career and experiences. These Catholic leaders are more than just administrators. Catholic leaders in education range from principals, priests, parents, students, teachers, to staff! Leaders are those who live the message of the Catholic faith for the purpose of educating our students! I’m excited to share these stories!

Formation Programs/Theology Sessions of Interest

After reviewing the options for sessions in the topic of Formation Programs/Theology, I found myself already thinking of new ways to bring the Catholic faith into my classroom. I know I already do some of these ideas for my religion classes, but I want to know even more about how to do it! That’s the best part of this upcoming conference, you can always learn more!

Celebrating the Liturgical Year in Your Classroom: Sing a Song of Seasons is a tremendous topic that needs to be discussed. We are a faith that has a focus on Christ and we need to celebrate His sacrifice at Mass. While we go to Mass, it is also imperative that we understand the Mass and the Liturgical Year. Bringing the Liturgical Year into the classroom will bring a greater understanding of Mass to not only our students, but of our faith community.

Learning Through Song! An Engaging Way to Teach Catholic Prayer to Children is a session that I know I am excited about! I’m a big fan of music and I use music quite often to teach all of my subjects. When it comes to music, you can hear it coming from my classroom a lot! Connecting music with prayer is an easy mix and a great way to connect the faith to our students. Traditional prayer can be overwhelming to some students, but it is our responsibility to connect our faith to our students. Music just might be the connection that students need.

Journaling is also another great way for students to pray and reflect on their lives and faith. Connecting prayer life across the curriculum is also important. Using Prayer Journals with Middle School Students will be a great session for me as I begin to find new ways to have my students reflect and grow in their faith. I’m also interested in learning how to utilize prayer journals in a variety of subject areas. We must introduce prayer in all aspects of our Catholic schools.

These are just a few of the sessions that are offered in Formation Programs/Theology. There are so many wonderful options to choose from and each will offer you some new insight into forming the faith of our students!

Faith Integration Sessions of Interest

Integrating the Catholic faith into the content areas of education and throughout the entire school community is one of the greatest responsibilities of a Catholic educator. We need to show how to integrate the faith by working with all the parties involved in the education of our students. We need to show our Catholic identity through all that we do and to all those that we serve. There are many stakeholders in Catholic education and we must find the best ways to reach them. I feel that the following sessions will help me to better integrate my faith to all those in my school community: Bringing the Works of Mercy to Life in Our Catholic Schools; Catholic Identity and Civil Law: Pitfalls and Promises; Irresistible Catholic Schools: A Transformative Idea Whose Time Has Come; Principal Fit: Strategies Designed to Strengthen Novice Principals’ Physical, Mental and Spiritual Fitness; and Service Projects, a Family Experience.

Bringing the Works of Mercy to Life in Our Catholic Schools is an essential session of interest. We must constantly remind our students of our call to serve others through the Works of Mercy. Yet, we must also find the most practical ways to show our students how to live the Works of Mercy to the fullest measure possible. We must learn to blend the Works of Mercy into all content areas and aspects of Catholic education.

Catholic Identity and Civil Law: Pitfalls and Promises is an area that I find interesting because I am an aspiring administrator and it is critical that I am well-versed in how to ensure that Catholic identity and Catholic education is protected by the laws of our nation. Catholic education needs to be protected and we must show our Catholic identity in every way possible. Knowing how our Catholic education is protected allows for schools to do everything possible to live out our Catholic faith.

Irresistible Catholic Schools: A Transformative Idea Whose Time Has Come is a session that means so much to me. I believe my school has great Catholic identity but there are areas that we need to strengthen and improve our vision. The vision of Catholic identity needs to entice and build greater interest in our school. We need to build a school that exhibits Catholic identity to all who enter or hear about the school. We must instill the vision of Catholic identity to all teachers and then into our students. This session will greatly benefit me and my school community.

Principal Fit: Strategies Designed to Strengthen Novice Principals’ Physical, Mental and Spiritual Fitness. As I stated earlier, I am an aspiring administrator. I know how important it is for administrators to take care of these 3 areas of personal well-being.

Physically, an administrator needs to be physically fit to ensure that they can provide the best service to the community. They need to be present and around the school to respond to the needs of teachers and students. Mentally, a principal needs to have a clear mind and find ways to look at situations that may arise with proper focus. Finding strategies to achieve the greatest success possible in these 2 areas would greatly improve my knowledge of being an administrator.

The spiritual fitness in a Catholic school is very important. The principal is not only the academic leader of a school, but it is also the everyday spiritual leader of the school. Leading spiritually shows the importance of faith within the school and will guide the teachers and students to a faith that will help them serve others. This session will be one I will find very beneficial.

The final session I will discuss in Service Projects, a Family Experience. As an educator, I need to remember that the student is not the only person I am reaching when it comes to teaching about the Catholic faith. I am reaching the student and his/her family. We need to connect the faith to the whole family through providing opportunities that brings everyone together. I have always wanted to start a family-based service project for my school. This session will only build that desire even more!

Integrating the Catholic Faith into the school even more than it already is will be exciting! I’m looking forward to building new ways to integrate faith into my already strong Catholic faith school community!

Education Trends/Innovation Sessions of Interest

Education is an ever-changing field. There are new ideas and concepts being utilized on a weekly basis! How can we keep up with these new trends and methods? First, we have to know what they are! Secondly, we have to open our minds up to learning about these ideas and reflect upon how we can use them in our own classes.

At NCEA 2017, there are 20 sessions of interest in the topic of Education Trends/Innovation! These sessions are wide-ranging and will connect to all areas of education. From standards-based grading, to coding, to flipping classrooms, to student-led conferences, to STREAM, and even virtual reality, there will be a session that will provide me, and most likely you, with some greater insight into education!

While looking at theses sessions, 4 of them really stood out to me. These sessions include Designing Cross-Curricular Units and STREAM lessons in the Middle School; Create, Communicate, Collaborate, and Critically Think-Incorporating 21st Century Skills in the Classroom; Success for All Students Through the REDO process: Our Story; and Shake Things Up with Makerspace!

One main aspect of education is the collaboration between teacher teams. We need to look at each other and find ways to connect our content to the Catholic faith. We also cannot go through the process of educating our students alone. We need to bring our subjects together and collaborate to find strength in our work. Designing Cross-Curricular Units and STREAM Lessons in Middle School will be an excellent session to build new ideas on how to connect the various subjects into a plan or lesson that combines all the essential areas of learning.

Create, Communicate, Collaborate, and Critically Think-Incorporating 21st Century Skills in the Classroom is another session that I found personally interesting. The 4 Cs have been around, but usually they are placed into individual components. Placing these 4 into one methodology allows for a way of building greater 21st century skills into lessons. Students will become independent and innovative through these new skills and become successful, creative students. The main thing about the 4 Cs is that educators still need to collaborate and demonstrate the importance of connecting the subject areas together!

The next session that seemed interesting to me is the Success for all students through the REDO process: Our Story. I am a true believer in learning from your mistakes. I would not be where I am today if I didn’t learn from my mistakes, so why should I stop another person trying to succeed by not allowing them to learn from their mistakes? I do provide redo opportunities in my classes, but I want to know of more effective ways to provide these opportunities. Where can I improve to help my students improve? Where can I learn from my mistakes to help them learn from theirs?

The final session that I found interesting is Shake Things Up with Makerspace! I have been wanting a Makerspace for my school and/or classroom for awhile. I am still learning what the best means to go about this are and what supplies would be best. I want an environment where my students are engaging in hands-on activities that provide them with an authentic learning experience. Students will do better when they are allowed to be creative, and I want that creativity to begin in my classroom! I am looking forward to learning how to best produce a Makerspace that serves my students!

Being innovative and staying ahead of the trends is critical within a school. Knowing where your students need to be and leading them through ways that best serve them is essential. Do you want to follow the trends or lead the trends? I believe these sessions, along with other sessions that may come up, will allow me to be a trend leader!

Community Relations/Parish Partnerships Sessions of Interest

As a school community, we need to understand that we are not alone in our journey to educate the young minds of the Catholic faith. We need to use all of our resources to provide the best environment possible to further the faith and education of our students. NCEA 2017 in St. Louis has several sessions of interest that will provide school leaders with ways  to best connect the school to their community and local parishes.

A session that I find particularly interesting is the session on Collaboration for Common Mission: Use of Social Media Networking to Proclaim. One important aspect of Catholic education is to show the community that we are Catholic. Parents send their students to Catholic schools to ensure that the faith is being passed on to their children. Parents also want to see that their children are learning about the Catholic faith. The best way to show what Catholic schools are doing is first, teaching students how to live a life that shows the Catholic faith in action. The second thing to do is provide parents with an inside look into what our schools are doing…and to do that we must connect to where parents are. Parents are on 2 main social media sites. These 2 sites are Twitter and Facebook.

Connecting to parents through Twitter and Facebook allows parents to quickly see the wonderful things that are going on in our classrooms. Parents have that desire to know that what they are sacrificing for is paying off through the strong dedication of the school community.

The school community is more than the school building. The school community also includes the parish priests, parishioners, the neighbors, and the community businesses around the school. We need to connect to these groups as well. Learning how social media can be a great tool to integrate the school into these areas as well will make a school excel. We need to utilize the resources around us to promote the school, and most importantly, the Catholic faith.

These session of interest will be a way for you to learn what methods are best for collaborating with all the various groups that will help promote our faith and message. It will also show how to bring these groups into one larger mission together.

Best Practices Sessions of Interest

One of the topics that will be covered during the NCEA 2017 in St. Louis will be Best Practices. There are currently 16 different sessions that will be held that will help educators better serve their students. I have 4 sessions that I find would be best suited for my needs. These 4 sessions include Creating a Culture of Academic Excellence; Enhancing the Social and Emotional Maturity of My Students (and Their Parents); Leading a Catholic Professional Learning Community; and STREAM…The Catholic Intellectual Tradition and New Times and New Measures.

Creating a Culture of Academic Excellence is critically important to the academic success of a school. Culture is a driving force in a school and school leaders and educators need to develop a plan that pushes forward the academic growth of a school. Defining what tools and techniques a school already has in place can help assist in the creation of a school plan that achieves academic excellence. Discovering the tools and techniques can also aid a school in defining what academic excellence is and how well it is defined within their own setting. Tools, techniques, and culture will lead a school to academic excellence and this session will greatly assist me to learn how my school characterizes excellence and how our community can build a greater academic culture.

Enhancing the Social and Emotional Maturity of My Students (and their Parents) is an area that really does need to be focused on. Our students are in an ever-changing society with greater pressure on them than in the previous generations. Some students feel that they need to grow older faster than before. We as educators need to learn how to support and help students develop positive decision making skills that will not only allow them to make better choices but also help them with their self-discipline. Educators cannot do this alone though, so we also have to provide parents with the proper techniques that will help guide their student along that growth process. I believe this session will be very helpful.

Leading a Catholic Professional Learning Community is a session that will provide educators with the opportunity to gain knowledge on how to lead a group to grow their faith and academic skills. A professional learning community (PLC) is a group of educators that gather to collaborate on enhancing skills and knowledge of a particular area of the field. Catholic schools face different challenges and blessings that only Catholic educators understand. We need to find ways to support each other within our own buildings and outside of them as well. Learning how to lead a Catholic PLC will be of great interest to me!

STREAM…the Catholic Intellectual Tradition and New Times and New Measures is going to be a session that I know is going to be really important. I have always been a big believer in the idea that the arts, sciences, technology, engineering, and math are all related. The addition of religion into the equation places a strong emphasis on focusing on how God plays a role in providing us with gifts and talents and that we need to share these talents to blossom our education even further. STREAM is going to expand and I would like to be a part of this process within my school. Developing a STREAM curriculum and learning why STREAM is important is going to allow me to advance my school even further down the road to academic excellence.

While these are only a few of the sessions, you can see that NCEA 2017 in St. Louis will provide you with many options to learn more Best Practices. I know that I will become an even better teacher and colleague through attending these sessions. NCEA 2017 will have something for all of you!

My Catholic Educator PLN

One Saturday morning, I came across a Twitter chat that I didn’t even know was around. I always wondered if there was a Twitter chat that best fit my teaching needs. Yes, there are chats for general education…for 5th grade…for social studies…for leadership….for whatever else you could think of in education. Yet, I was looking for a chat that was for my calling…the calling of Catholic education.

It was just by chance that I saw a person that I follow use  the hashtag #CatholicEdChat. Being curious, I clicked on the hashtag to see what this chat was about. I obviously knew that it would be about Catholic Education, but what topics would be discussed? Once I started venturing into this chat, I knew that it would be one that I would remember to participate in on a weekly basis. This chat was just what I was looking for!

#CatholicEdChat is more than a chat on new educational ideas, but it is rather a professional learning network (PLN) that helps you develop new educational ideas that emphasize the Catholic faith. This group of dedicated educators explain techniques and how they benefit student growth within the faith. The educators in #CatholicEdChat are extremely supportive and are willing to share their knowledge and watch each other grow.

This is one great joy about finding a strong, supportive PLN. The PLN will show not just academic support, but support your faith as well. Twitter can be a place full of amazing educational ideas, but #CatholicEdChat is a place full of faith and spiritual growth. I know that there have been several ideas that I have used just from sharing in the Saturday morning chats. I am very grateful for the educators that I have connected with through #CatholicEdChat.

That one Saturday morning, all I did was click on one hashtag. That hashtag led me to a place where I know I needed to be. Sometimes taking that one little risk will lead you to a group where you need to be. I want to thank all those that I have connected with in #CatholicEdChat for supporting me and helping me grow in my career. My Catholic education PLN would not be the same without all of you! Thank you and God bless!

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!