Catholic School Matters Top 5

In this week’s newsletter, I reflect on the fact that last week’s NCEA convention in Chicago left me energized, enthused, and a bit exhausted. It occurred to me that I had read a number of great books in the past couple of weeks and I thought it might be great to highlight these inspiring works.  Are you building your summer reading list? Read on.

I just finished reading Neurotribes: The Legacy of Autism and the Future of Neurodiversity and found it engaging and thought-provoking. Do you want to learn about autism? This book provides a framework for understanding how the diagnosis came about and is filled with stories of families struggling (and succeeding) with accommodations and making meaning of their realities. Autism is a spectrum, yes, but we should be far less interested in finding the causes (and trying to link it to vaccines) and rather spending our energy assisting the autistic with integration. It is written by a journalist so it reads more like a detective story than an academic piece. It will change your paradigm of disability.

I also just finished re-reading Parker Palmer’s A Hidden Wholeness: The Journey to an Undivided Life. In it, he talked about the importance of establishing “circles of trust” in our lives—people who will listen and respect your story. At my presentation last week, several principals reached out and talked about wanting to establish such a circle of like-minded principals who want to improve their practice. Are you interested? Send me an email and I’ll connect you.

I also read Dr. Scott McCleod and Julie Graber’s short little book Harnessing Technology for Deeper Learning. This little book combines theory about how technology should function in learning with practical suggestions for better instructional practices. It’s a great reflection on instructional leadership and should serve to whet the appetite of any educational leader trying to make those devices generate better instruction and learning.

Finally, Dr. Mike St. Pierre’s recent work, The 5 Habits of Prayerful People: A No-Excuses Guide to Strengthening Your Relationship With God, is worth your time. It’s filled with personal narratives of Mike’s struggle to pray as well as his best practices for building a fulfilling prayer life. We need more books like this!

Top 5

It’s almost May!  Where did April go? As we gear up for the end of the year, in this week’s newsletter I blog about some book recommendations and I collected some great articles for your reading pleasure. The Top 5:

  1. The first article in the American Catholic News is the announcement by NCEA that Dr. Kevin Baxter, the outgoing superintendent of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, is joining the NCEA team as the Chief Innovation Officer. His hiring heralds a new strategic direction for NCEA.
  2. In the Leadership section, the first article asks principals “Are you Brave Enough to Ask for Feedback?” by Jennifer Gonzalez. It’s a great question for this time of year.
  3. In the Teaching & Learning section, another Jennifer Gonzalez article addresses a problem for most Catholic schools—that of asking too much of our employees.  “’We’re a family’ and Other School Norms That Can Cause Burnout” is a great reflection on the dangerous impulse to ask too much of our employees.
  4. Why ‘Find Your Passion’ is Such Terrible Career Advice” from the New York Times is thought-provoking. We often think of leaders and teachers who were born to their positions and we expect them to be successful on Day 1. Likewise, we might expect ourselves to be successful on the first day and are surprised and disappointed when we struggle. Instead, we need to apply growth mindset principles to seek daily improvement.
  5. The long read is an older article from The New Yorker recommended by Tim Ferriss about data-driven decision-making in medicine entitled “The Health Care Bell Curve.” Do you wonder what data-driven decision-making might look like in schools? Try the approach outlined. When we don’t automatically assume that we are all doing good work (with the evidence to prove it) we might change our approaches.

Enjoy the week!  Catholic School Matters will be back in two weeks.


This week’s Catholic School Matters Radio Hour (Episode 153) features five great Catholic school leaders sharing their stories. It’s a long episode but chock full of great content. The first guest (1:55) is Jason Curtis, the current principal of Cardinal Gibbons High School in Raleigh who has taken a new job as President of Saint Francis High School in the Bay Area.

The next guest (21:05) is Superintendent Stephen Perla of the Diocese of Fall River. Steve is both a superintendent and a seminarian studying to be a priest. He is heading up an effort to investigate how IDEA is being implemented in Catholic schools and how it can be improved.

Dr. Beate Nguyen, the principal of St. Augustine School in the Archdiocese of Los Angeles joins the podcast (at the 41:05 mark) to discuss the efforts of a group of LA Catholic school principals to learn from Finland. This study tour of 12 principals was a cohort which worked together to observe and learn from the Finnish system.

Dr. Paul Barker, the president of Our Lady of Good Counsel High School in Olney, Maryland joins the podcast (1:02) to discuss the unique character of his school. As one of the first International Baccaleureate (IB) Catholic high schools, he discusses this unique program. As a member of the Xaverian Brothers network, he also discusses their unique charism.Mary Ann Murphy, the outstanding principal of Immaculate Conception Catholic School in downtown Los Angeles for 31 years, joins the podcast at the 1:28 mark. She is retiring this year after a remarkable tenure and shares her story and joys of leading the school in a high poverty Catholic school, including a visit from St. John Paul II in her first year as principal.