Non-Traditional Instruction of our Lord

The following blog was contributed by Adam P. Zoeller, a member of the theology department at Saint Xavier High School in Louisville, Kentucky.

What is your educational philosophy? Has your educational philosophy changed since you began teaching? Embarking ever so slowly on my 20th year as a theology teacher, sacred scripture continues to be my primary source of inspiration for what I consider to be sound pedagogy. In light of the lessons of the faith of the patriarchs, the challenging words of wisdom literature, and the unconventional teachings of Jesus Christ, my philosophy of education is rooted in scripture. 

The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.” (John 3:8). The disruption of the unseen coronavirus on school systems, administrators, teachers, students and parents is seen throughout the country. I find myself soul searching asking the question, where did this come from and where is it going? Teachers have been required to teach in-person, teach remotely or teach in a hybrid model. Flexibility and patience have been essential to navigate through these uncertain times. However, using sacred scripture as my inspiration in light of the pandemic, the opportunity for my craft to evolve is evident and necessary. The Call of Simon the Fisherman from the Gospel of Luke reflects my educational philosophy that has brought comfort and stability throughout teaching this school year. While the crowd was pressing in on Jesus and listening to the word of God, he was standing by the Lake of Gennesaret. He saw two boats there alongside the lake; the fishermen had disembarked and were washing their nets. Getting into one of the boats, the one belonging to Simon, he asked him to put out a short distance from the shore. Then he sat down and taught the crowds from the boat. After he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, “Put out into deep water and lower your nets for a catch.” Simon said in reply, “Master, we have worked hard all night and have caught nothing, but at your command I will lower the nets.” When they had done this, they caught a great number of fish and their nets were tearing. (Luke 5:1-6). The primary lesson of this story is Jesus Christ calling His Apostles and specifically the faith of Saint Peter to respond to discipleship. However, the application of this story to the classroom teacher is focused on not what to do (curriculum), but how to do it (pedagogy). For example, my educational approach during the pandemic has been rebranded to focus on “how to think” and not “what to think.” While navigating on a new online platform and teaching in a hybrid model, I have transitioned to student-centered, project-based learning. My “pedagogical net” has been cast out to enhance the 21st century skills of my students by not focusing on the content for the sake of content, but instead requiring the students in my class to research, apply, analyze, or evaluate the information. 

Perhaps the challenge of teaching amidst the pandemic is to recognize that it is time to rethink the old ways of teaching and move towards a new approach. Which side of the boat are you standing on? Which side of the boat are you looking out? The challenge is not only to cast the nets in a new direction, but to “lower these nets” deep into the theological content in our classroom in order to “tear” our students from the secular world in order to bring them closer to Christ, and be true fishers of men (and women).

About the Author

Adam P. Zoeller is a member of the theology department at Saint Xavier High School in Louisville, KY.  He earned his B.A. in religious studies and B.A. in clinical psychology from Spalding University (Louisville, KY) and his M.Ed. in educational leadership from the University of Cincinnati (Cincinnati, OH).  He holds a Master’s Catechist Certification from the Archdiocese of Louisville.

Adam has presented the following workshops for the National Catholic Educational Association:

  • Practice & the Game: Using Sports Language to Teach the USCCB Curriculum Framework (NCEA Webinar 2017)
  • Media Literacy & Scriptural Exegesis: Essential Skills for 21st Century Religious Educators, (NCEA Convention and Expo 2017)
  • From heart to missionary zeal: Using language and lessons from athletics to aid adolescent catechesis in the New Evangelization, (NCEA Convention and Expo 2018).
  • Framing Brain-Based Learning in High School Theology (NCEA Webinar 2019)

Adam has written the following reflections for NCEA Talk:

  • Paschal Mystery: Storytelling and Media Literacy (September 2016)
  • Personal Litany of the Saints (April 2017)
  • Motion Offense in Basketball. (November 2017)
  • Bully, Victim, and Bystander in light of the Woman Caught in Adultery (July 2018)
  • Searching for God in the MCU (September 2018)
  • The Way (truth and life) of the Cross: Reflecting on the road to Calvary through the temptations of Jesus Christ (March 2019)
  • My Inner Room during the Coronavirus Pandemic (March 2020)

Adam can be reached at