Author Archives: NCEATALK

From Lincoln’s Desk – Upcoming Changes at NCEA

Dear Members:

I am writing to let you know of upcoming changes at NCEA, and how we will implement new positions to engage with membership at all levels. 

Jill Annable, senior vice president for programs, will be leaving NCEA on July 15 to serve Catholic schools as a consultant through the Andrew M. Greeley Center for Catholic Education at Loyola University. Colleen McCoy-Cejka will be leaving NCEA as director of professional learning on June 30 to consult and provide program development on inclusion to Catholic schools. We’re immensely grateful for the contributions that Jill and Colleen have made to NCEA, and our work on the NSBECS Advisory Council, microschools, the global Laudato Si’ Action Platform and professional development will continue under new leadership.

I am pleased to announce Karen Barreras, former superintendent for the Diocese of Reno with some 30 years’ experience in Catholic education, as our director of leadership engagement. Her primary role will be to work with Catholic school superintendents and network leaders, ensuring that we have strong peer networks in every state and across every region. Our focus is to bring leadership together in national professional learning communities, using this collaborative infrastructure to strengthen the mission. 

John Galvan begins work at NCEA on July 1 as the director of catechetical assessments, overseeing NCEA’s formative assessment tools of Information for Growth (IFG) and Assessment of Child Religious Education (ACRE). John’s work as director of schools for the Diocese of San Diego reflects his love of the teaching mission of the Catholic Church and has been a hallmark of his work at the diocesan level for the last eight years. 

Laura MacDonald will be stepping in as our new director of professional learning. As an educational leader at diocesan, state, county and district levels, Laura has extensive experience mentoring and leading teachers. The upcoming professional development programs already in place for spring and summer will continue as planned. We will be hiring a new senior leader for our content team in the near future. For the time being, please direct all communications you would send to Jill or Colleen to lmacdonald@ncea.org

We’ve posted the new position of educational content coordinator. The collective wisdom and activity in the field are tremendous, and as your national association our first role is to connect you to peers and partners that will help you have excellent schools. The educational content coordinator will lead in navigating that world, ensuring that members at every level find the best people, resources and ideas. We have an archive of books, webinars, recorded sessions and other media that we will curate for our members. Moreover, we are investing heavily in a new website that will guide members to a portal page and resources specific to their job, and we look forward to sharing more about this effort as the work progresses.

We also are working to fill our digital project coordinator position, whose primary role will be to collaborate with internal and external teams, stakeholders and corporate partners to manage our media channels, advancing projects throughout our organization.  

We are grateful for the ongoing service of our content team, including vice president of public policy Sister Dale McDonald, vice president of research and data Annie Smith, and data analyst Sarah Huber. NCEA is truly graced with an entire team dedicated to the mission of Catholic school education and serving our membership. 

Our events calendar for the coming months remains full, including our Law Symposium in Louisville, KY, July 7-10, 2022; our Catholic Leadership Summit and New Superintendents Academy in Arlington, VA, October 15-19, 2022; and NCEA 2023 in Irving, Texas. We will continue to offer a robust slate of in-person and online conferences, cohorts and regional events. 

Please join me in wishing Jill and Colleen well in their new endeavors and welcoming Karen, John and Laura to their new NCEA roles.  

Peace,

Lincoln Snyder

World Catholic Education Day and Pope Francis’ Global Compact

The following blog was contributed by Quentin Wodon, OIEC & Loyola University New Orleans.

Catholic schools serve 62 million pre-primary, primary and secondary school students globally, and close to seven million students enrolled in universities and other institutions of higher learning. While in some countries like the United States, Catholic education is celebrated on a particular day or week, at the global level World Catholic Education Day is observed each year 40 days after Easter, which this year falls on May 26.

The principle of observing the day was agreed upon at a Congress of the International Office of Catholic Education (OIEC in French) in Brasilia in 2002. In 2021, for the 20th anniversary of the adoption of the day, the Global Catholic Education project prepared in collaboration with OIEC series of resources that could be used by Catholic schools to celebrate the day all over the world. This included a series of 25 interviews of Catholic education leaders and practitioners.

This year again, resources are being made available for the celebration of the day, including a one page flier, an 8-page brochure and a new report based again on interviews with educators. The theme for this year’s report is “Responding to the Call from Pope Francis: Seven Commitments for a Global Compact on Education.” This focus comes from the fact that in September 2019, Pope Francis suggested the need for a Global Compact on Education to renew our passion for a more open and inclusive education. He called for a broad alliance “to form mature individuals capable of overcoming division and antagonism, and to restore the fabric of relationships for the sake of a more fraternal humanity.”

A year later, in a video message for a meeting on the Global Compact, the Pope called for seven commitments related to the Global Compact on education: (1) to make human persons the center; (2) to listen to the voices of children and young people; (3) to advance the women; (4) to empower the family; (5) to welcome; (6) to find new ways of understanding (the) economy and politics; and (7) to safeguard our common home.

To share examples of what educators are already doing to help implement the vision of Pope Francis, the first part of the new report produced for World Catholic Education Day reproduces a text forthcoming in the Journal of Global Catholicism. The text builds on stories and insights from about 130 interviews conducted to date with educators for the Global Catholic Education project. Insights from those interviews are shared as they relate to each of the seven commitments called for by Pope Francis.

The second part of the report consists of seven interviews illustrating how Catholic educators and others are putting these commitments into practice. One interview is provided to illustrate each of the seven commitments.

The first interview with Sister María Antonieta García Carrizales from Peru is broad on the mission of Catholic schools. It illustrates how Catholic schools aim to fulfill the first commitment called for by Pope Francis, which is to make human persons the center.

The second interview with Sr. Antoinette Nneka Opara from the Africa Province of the Society of the Holy Child Jesus illustrates the second commitment, which is to listen to the voice of children and youth. Sr. Antoinette shares the example of a survey implemented in two schools for girls in Nigeria to understand the nature of violence in schools and how to end such violence. These online surveys were a unique approach to give voice to children in confidentiality.

The third interview with Sr. Mickerlyne Cadet in Haiti relates to the commitment in the Global Compact to advance women. Sr. Mickerlyne belongs to the FMA congregation which runs schools and other institutions globally with a focus on educating girls. She currently heads a vocational school in Haiti that prepares young women for work in the hospitality industry.

The fourth interview is with Cathy Low, a permanent volunteer of the International Movement ATD Fourth World in Switzerland. Cathy talks among others about street libraries, and how building on the aspiration of parents for their children is essential to the fight against extreme poverty. The interview relates to the commitment under the Global Compact to empower the family. The International Fourth World Movement for which Cathy works has long argued that the family is the first line of defense against extreme poverty. In the realm of education as well, parents and siblings have an essential role to play for children to learn.

The fifth interview with Father René Micallef, SJ, in Rome is about the commitment to welcome under the Global Compact. Catholic schools must be inclusive. This applies to children with disabilities, those from minorities or other religions, as well as the poor. It also applies to refugees. Fr. René talks about the importance of education for refugees, a topic that is especially relevant today given the dramatic increase in the number of refugees globally.

The sixth commitment under the Global Compact is about finding new ways of understanding the economy and politics. The penultimate interview with Idesbald Nicaise, a professor of economics at KU Leuven, Belgium, illustrates how this can be done. That interview is part of a broader series of interviews with Catholic economists.

Finally, the seventh commitment is about care for the environment. The last interview with Myriam Gesché, also from Belgium, explains an initiative taken to promote a better understanding among Catholic school students of the need to safeguard our common home, with a particular emphasis on the energy sector. That interview is part of a series on digitalization in education. These interviews are illustrative of the efforts already made by educators all over the world to “live” the commitments suggested under the Global Compact on Education. The hope is that these interviews and the broader report for World Catholic Education Day will inspire you in your own work to implement the vision and seven commitments suggested by Pope Francis toward a Global Compact on Education.

Building a School Community of Faith and Resilience

The following blog was contributed by the Friendzy content development team.

As we progressed through Holy Week and are now in Easter season, it is a fitting time to talk about resilience. Reading through the Gospel accounts of Holy Week – from Palm Sunday through to Jesus’ death on the Cross – every action of Jesus is marked with an incredibly powerful resilience; a strength and capacity to overcome hardships that can only be categorized as divine.

This resilience that we see Jesus display in his final days before the Crucifixion is something that I know so many of us are praying for and seeking in ourselves, our students, and our school communities. These past few years have been tough; our students are hurting and their ability to bounce back has diminished. Mental health claims in young adults increased a staggering 97% in 2020 alone. 

So, as a faith community, how do we lean into the message of Christ and help students build the muscle of resilience? 

Guiding students through challenging situations can be daunting, but just imagine a classroom full of scholars, who in the face of adversities of all kinds, can look you in the eyes and say, “God has given me the ability to bounce back!” 

At Friendzy, we have seen that social-emotional skills like resilience are teachable. We have also found that scripture is the perfect guide and example of how we can develop and live out God’s design for friendship. 

Here are a few practical tips on how you can begin to explicitly teach the skill of resilience to your students using the example of the life of Jesus and the 4 Rs of Resilience. 

  1. Ask students: Do you know what it means to be resilient? Assist students in defining resilience in their own words with examples. Keywords: strength, push through, bounce back, overcome, recover quickly, toughness, make it through challenging times. 
  2. Define: Resilience is a person’s ability to bounce back in response to hard or challenging times. It is working through things that are hard and not giving up. The dictionary defines resilience as “the capacity to recover quickly from difficulties; toughness.”
  3. Read: Choose a passage of scripture where Jesus exemplifies resilience. In the “Apply” section below, we chose the story of Jesus in Gethsemane (Matthew 26:36-46). You can use this outline verbatim or choose another section of scripture that exemplifies the 4 Rs of resilience.
  4. Apply: Introduce the 4 Rs of resilience and identify how Jesus demonstrated and exemplified each.

RECOGNIZE HARDSHIPS

Recognizing hardships means telling ourselves and maybe even others that we are experiencing a challenge or going through a tough time. We may be tempted to pretend everything is ok, but it’s important to say “This is hard!” Only then can we begin to find ways to bounce back. 

Jesus gave an example of this in the garden of Gethsemane (Matthew 26:36-46) when he shared with his disciples that his “soul was sorrowful.” He then went off to be alone and continued to share his feelings with God, asking for help and strength, as he knew that death was drawing near. 

REMAIN HOPEFUL

There are many situations where it can be difficult to see the silver lining or find any hope. In the last passage, we read about a moment when even Jesus struggled to find hope. And what did he do? He prayed to God and even asked his disciples to pray for strength as well. When we place our hope in God, He renews our strength. God is with us and will never let us go! We can take comfort in the fact that Jesus, in the face of terrible circumstances, found the strength to continue through God. 

REFRAME VIEW

Hope gives us the ability to reframe hardship and bounce back. Reframing means taking the time to find the good in a challenging situation. It doesn’t mean ignoring that a situation is difficult, but it does mean finding a new perspective or a new way of looking at how a challenge can actually bring something positive like growth, confidence and stronger relationships. 

Jesus, in this passage we read, was faced with a truly terrible situation. He knew he was going to be crucified. Scripture shows us that this wasn’t easy for Jesus. What do you think kept him going? It was his ability to reframe the situation and remember that through his pain and death, he would be bringing life everlasting to generations of believers. 

Can you think of a challenging or scary situation that you were able to reframe? 

Examples: Going to the dentist might be scary but you know that in the end, you will have clean and healthy teeth. Learning something new might feel challenging in the moment, but reframing might be remembering what you’d like to be when you grow up and how having knowledge and good grades will help you accomplish your goals.

Take a few minutes as a class to practice reframing a few of these examples. Recognize the bad but focus on a positive part: 

> You don’t know how to do your homework.

> Someone you love is sick.

> You moved schools in the middle of the year and don’t know anyone.

RELATIONSHIPS

We all need to have supportive relationships. Other people help us bounce back. All through Jesus’ life, he relied on the friendship and support of his friends and disciples. It’s through these relationships that we have an account of Jesus’ life in the Gospels! Sometimes we don’t notice or forget to acknowledge the people in our lives who care for us and cheer us on. It’s important to remember who these people are.

>>> Who is one person who cares about you? (teacher, coach, family, friend)

5. Model: Share your own story of resilience using the 4 Rs. Ask students to reflect on their own stories of resilience either in writing, small groups or as a large class group.

Equipping students with accessible language and a process for bouncing back will help them apply scripture in a meaningful way, strengthen their self-awareness and self-management skills and support them in their academic success. 

If you’re looking for additional tools and resources for teaching students resilience and coping skills through the lens of scripture, reach out to a Friendzy program specialist today to learn more about our whole school program that teaches explicit social and emotional skills with a unified language through the lens of scripture and friendship. 
Friendzy is offering a month-long soft launch unit all about resilience at no cost for schools beginning their school-wide Friendzy journey in the Fall of 2022.

Fair Parental Choice in Catholic School Education

The following blog was contributed by Sister Dale McDonald, PBVM, Ph.D., NCEA Vice President of Public Policy.  

For decades, NCEA has supported parental choice in education as a component of the social justice agenda of the Catholic church. The choice movement is about supporting parents as the primary educators of their children and assisting them with the means to select the education they deem appropriate for their children. The association defines “full and fair parental choice” as that which includes all private and religiously affiliated schools.

The attainment of full and fair parental choice in education is NCEA’s primary public policy objective. NCEA supports programs such as tax credits, vouchers, scholarships and education savings accounts to ensure that all parents have the financial means to select the appropriate school for their children. 

The association advocates for the enactment of legislation and policies that will maximize the quality of educational opportunities for all of America’s children, particularly the children of poor and modest means. While millions of Americans exercise their right to choose schools they believe best for their children, their freedom depends on their ability to pay tuition to private schools or to establish residence in communities with excellent public schools. But virtually all low-income and many middle-income families cannot exercise their right to choose the schools they want to educate their children. 

As Catholic school educators, the NCEA membership believes that all children are entitled to attend any school, religious, private or public, which will help them to achieve their full potential and that such choice is a universal parental right regardless of race, creed, neighborhood or the ability to pay. From the earliest settlements of this country, Catholic schools have served the common good of the nation and will continue to do so in a manner that recognizes that all children have an inalienable right to a quality education that is determined by parents, the primary educators of their children. At NCEA that commitment continues.

We believe that educational choice can promote academic excellence by creating an educational climate that is respectful of parental concerns while fostering a competitive climate that results in greater school accountability to parents.

NCEA members believe that the needs of students and their parents supersede those of entrenched educational bureaucracies. 

Public interest polls unfailingly demonstrate that parents overwhelmingly support full and fair choice. Furthermore, any publicly funded educational choice programs must include religiously affiliated schools if all parents, particularly those with low or middle incomes, are to have meaningful options. 

Most parents who currently choose Catholic or other private schools for their children exercise this constitutional right at significant cost and personal sacrifice; they bear a dual burden of paying school tuition while also contributing their share of taxes to support public schools. The education of children in Catholic schools provides more than $21 billion in annual tax savings to the American people.

We believe that government financial assistance to parents, in the form of tax relief, scholarships or vouchers, to enable them to choose any school, including religiously affiliated ones, will withstand First Amendment challenges. We urge the continuance of the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program, the first federally funded scholarship program for under-served students that is changing the lives of almost 2,000 student participants.

Catholic school educators support the right of parents to choose schools for their children. This fundamental liberty – the belief that “the child is not the mere creature of the state” – was upheld by the Pierce decision.

Today millions of Americans exercise the right to choose schools. This freedom, however, depends on their ability to pay tuition to a private school or to live in neighborhoods where the public school system meets the needs of their children.

While NCEA advocates for educational choice for all Americans, it has a special concern for the children of the poor. These children are our children, too. Priority should be given to assistance for low- and middle-income families, enabling them to increase educational options for their children.

NCEA believes that full and fair parental choice will strengthen both families and schools and improve educational opportunities for all. Interested in more information on parents’ rights for school choice informed by Catholic Church documents? Please see the blog post, Parents’ Rights in Education by Reverend Peter M.J. Stravinskas, Ph.D., S.T.D. Excerpts are from Father Stravinskas’ book, The Mission of Catholic Schools: A Century of Reflection and Direction.

Parents’ Rights in Education

The following blog was contributed by Reverend Peter M.J. Stravinskas, Ph.D., S.T.D., co-author with Reverend Nicholas L. Gregoris, S.T.D., of The Mission of Catholic Schools: A Century of Reflection and Direction. Father Stravinskas has highlighted the following excerpts from the book that specifically affirm the Church’s position on parental choice for schools. The book is a collection of ecclesiastical documents on Catholic schools, focused on elementary and secondary schools, beginning with the pontificate of Benedict XV and ending with that of Pope Francis.

Summary Conclusions

In all of the citations offered, one finds a consistent line of thought, namely, that parental freedom of choice in education is a fundamental human right.  No citation hems this right in by certain conditions, like financial need.  The only way that issue could be entered into the calculus would be by invoking the moral principle of “gradualism,” that is, here, a political assessment that school choice legislation could have difficulty passing if it were not limited (at least initially) to those in most financial need.  However, gradualism would also hold that this step must only be considered a first step, requiring further political action to encompass all parents, regardless of financial status.

Secular Sources

“The fundamental theory of liberty upon which all governments in this Union repose excludes any general power of the State to standardize its children by forcing them to accept instruction from public school teachers only.  The child is not the mere creature of the State; those who nurture him and direct his destiny have the right coupled with the high duty, to recognize, and prepare him for additional duties.”

– Supreme Court of the United States, Pierce v. Society of Sisters, 268 U.S. 535 (1925).1

“Everyone has the right to education. Education shall be free, at least in the elementary and fundamental stages. Elementary education shall be compulsory. . . .  Parents have a prior right to choose the kind of education that shall be given to their children.”

Universal Declaration of Human Rights of the United Nations Charter (1948)

“A civil right penalized is a civil right suppressed.”

– Virgil C. Blum, Freedom in Education (Garden City, New York:  Doubleday, 1965), 56.

“An education established and controlled by the State should only exist, if it exists at all, as one among many competing experiments, carried on for the purpose of example and stimulus, to keep the others up to a certain standard of excellence.”

– John Stuart Mill, On Liberty (New York:  Henry Holt & Company Publishers, 1898), 184.

Ecclesiastical Sources

“In the first place, it pertains to the State, in view of the common good, to promote in various ways the education and instruction of youth.  It should begin by encouraging and assisting, of its own accord, the initiative and activity of the Church and the family, whose successes in this field have been clearly demonstrated by history and experience.  It should moreover supplement their work whenever this falls short of what is necessary. . . .  For the State more than any other society is provided with the means put at its disposal for the needs of all, and it is only right that it use these means to the advantage of those who have contributed to them.

“. . . giving them [Church and families] such assistance as justice demands. . . can be done to the full satisfaction of families, and to the advantage of education and of public peace and tranquility, [which] is clear from the actual experience of some countries comprising different religious denominations.  There the school legislation respects the rights of the family, and Catholics are free to follow their own system of teaching in schools that are entirely Catholic.

“Accordingly, unjust and unlawful is any monopoly, educational or scholastic, which, physically or morally, forces families to make use of government schools, contrary to the dictate of their Christian conscience, or contrary even to their legitimate preferences.”

Pope Pius XI, Divini Illius Magistri (1929).

“Parents. . . have a primary and inalienable duty and right in regard to the education of their children.”

– Vatican II, Gravissimum Educationis, n. 6.

The family “requires the help of society as a whole.”

– Vatican II, Gravissimum Educationis, n. 3.  

Parents “have the right to decide in accord with their own religious beliefs the form of religious upbringing which is to be given to their children.  The civil authority must therefore recognize the right of parents to choose with genuine freedom schools or other means of education.  Parents should not be subjected directly or indirectly to unjust burdens because of this freedom of choice.”

– Vatican II, Dignitatis Humanæ, n. 5.                      

“Because they have given life to their children, parents have a most serious obligation and enjoy the right to educate them.”

Code of Canon Law, canon 226.2.

 “It is necessary that parents enjoy true freedom in selecting schools; the Christian faithful must therefore be concerned that civil society acknowledge this freedom for parents and also safeguard it with its resources in accord with distributive justice.”

–  Code of Canon Law, canon 797.

“Parents have the right to choose freely schools or other means necessary to educate their children in keeping with their convictions.  Public authorities must ensure that public subsidies are so allocated that parents are truly free to exercise this right without incurring unjust burdens.  Parents should not have to sustain, directly or indirectly, extra charges which would deny or unjustly limit the exercise of this freedom.”

– Holy See, Charter of the Rights of the Family, Article 5 (22 October 1983).

In the lead-up to the signing of the Helsinki Accords, Pope John Paul II called for “freedom for families to choose the schools or other means which provides this sort of education [religious] for their children without having to sustain directly or indirectly extra charges which would in fact deny them this freedom.”

– “On the Value and Content of Freedom of Conscience and Religion” (14 November 1980).

“The right of parents to choose an education in conformity with their religious faith must be absolutely guaranteed.”

–Pope John Paul II, Familiaris Consortio, n. 40 (1981).

“Public authorities must see to it that “public subsidies are so allocated that parents are truly free to exercise this right without incurring unjust burdens. Parents should not have to sustain, directly or indirectly, extra charges which would deny or unjustly limit the exercise of this freedom.” The refusal to provide public economic support to non-public schools that need assistance and that render a service to civil society is to be considered an injustice. “Whenever the State lays claim to an educational monopoly, it oversteps its rights and offends justice. . . .  The State cannot without injustice merely tolerate so-called private schools. Such schools render a public service and therefore have a right to financial assistance.”

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– Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church, n. 241 (2003).

Advocacy

“Where this fundamental liberty is thwarted or interfered with, Catholics will never feel, whatever may have been the sacrifices already made, that they have done enough, for the support and defense of their schools and for the securing of laws that will do them justice.”

This is “not mixing in party politics.”  On the contrary, it is involvement “in a religious enterprise demanded by conscience.”

– Pope Pius XI, Divini Illius Magistri.

“It is of great importance, especially in a pluralistic society, to work out a proper vision of the relationship between the political community and the Church, and to distinguish clearly between the activities of Christians, acting individually or collectively, in their own name as citizens guided by the dictates of a Christian conscience, and their activity in communion with their pastors in the name of the Church.”

– Vatican II, Gaudium et Spes, n. 76.

Some situations call for “concerted action.  Organizations created for group apostolate afford support to their members, train them for the apostolate, carefully assign and direct their apostolic activities; and as a result, a much richer harvest can be hoped for from them than if each were to act on his own.” 

– Vatican II, Apostolicam Actuositatem, n. 18.

Such activity is “political intervention,” serving as “protagonists of what is known as ‘family politics.’”

– Pope John Paul II, Familiaris Consortio, n. 44.

“Allow me to claim in this place for Catholic families the right which belongs to all families to educate their children in schools which correspond to their view of the world. . . .”

– Pope John Paul II to UNESCO officials in Paris (1980).

Father Peter M.J. Stravinskas, Ph.D., S.T.D., is the founder and superior of the Priestly Society of Saint John Henry Cardinal Newman, a clerical association of the faithful, committed to Catholic education, liturgical renewal and the new evangelization. Father Stravinskas is also the president of the Catholic Education Foundation, an organization serving as a resource for heightening the Catholic identity of Catholic schools. Interested in more information on parents’ rights for school choice informed by the advocacy work of Sister Dale McDonald, PBVM, Ph.D., NCEA Vice President of Public Policy? Please see the blog post, Fair Parental Choice in Catholic School Education.


1So important was this statement that Pope Pius XI cited it in his landmark education encyclical, Divini Illius Magistri (the only U.S. Supreme Court decision ever cited in a papal document).

Should Catholic Schools Join the Mindfulness Trend?

The following blog was contributed by Sofia Carozza, a doctoral student in neuroscience at the University of Cambridge, England.

Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, students of all ages have reported high rates of loneliness and anxiety. These concerns were already on the rise in recent years, but they have been exacerbated by the financial difficulties, social isolation, and illness brought on by the pandemic.

In response, some schools have introduced the practice of classroom-based mindfulness interventions as a support for their students’ mental health needs. When practicing mindfulness, a person strives to cultivate non-judgmental awareness of the present moment. This mental work is often accompanied by attention to breathing and posture. Although researchers have not yet done rigorous studies on the efficacy of school-based mindfulness programs, preliminary research shows that mindfulness meditation can alleviate stress and reduce pain. It would seem, therefore, that mindfulness could help young people who experience distinct challenges in their mental or physical health.

Although it is positive that mindfulness promises these benefits, and it would make sense that Catholic schools would follow their public-school counterparts in providing support for the social and emotional needs of their students, Catholic schools should be cautious about introducing mindfulness as a solution to the anxieties of life. Catholic schools are distinct in that they aim to open the souls of students to the life of God. This means that they must offer students an account of reality that is rooted in the Gospel and also equip them with the means by which to live it. Without this, young people are vulnerable to prevalent ideologies of our time, which are not always compatible with the Christian view of the world and the human person.

When considering the incorporation of mindfulness, educators at Catholic schools will want to keep this mission in mind and weigh the proposed benefits of mindfulness against its associated costs. These costs include a suspension of judgment, a separation of the mind from the heart, and a withdrawal from communion with God and others. Contemplative prayer, long known to the Christian tradition, is a better option. Its practice offers expanded, widely recognized benefits with none of the associated drawbacks of mindfulness.

The role of judgment

Mindfulness meditation aims to help a person cultivate a ‘non-judgmental’ awareness of reality. This involves their observing whatever thought or emotion arises in their mind without passing judgment on its meaning or value. Ideally, suspending judgment in this way lessens the discomfort of negative emotions and quiets painful critical thoughts.  However, their elimination may come with a psychological cost. 

As psychologist Susan David emphasizes, emotions and thoughts, including uncomfortable ones, communicate useful information. For instance, feeling anger is often a sign a person has witnessed an injustice, an experience of shame may indicate a person’s need for acceptance and love. In routinely suspending judgment (as is encouraged in the practice of mindfulness), a person becomes less able to evaluate the truth of their experiences and becomes vulnerable to distorted beliefs and instincts. This is problematic because psychological and mental healing relies on correcting false ideas and aligning one’s thoughts with the truth of reality–a process that is central to the most effective therapy for mental illness.

The suspension of judgment may also have a spiritual cost.  This is because a person’s capacity for judgment aids their progress on the path of Christian life, which is one of conversion. Following Christ requires the constant work of correcting the false judgments attributed to our fallen nature. When striving for increasing holiness, a person must learn to “put on the mind of Christ”: to esteem humility and poverty, to hope amid suffering, and to accept dependence on God with joy. The practice of ignoring one’s judgment, as occurs in mindfulness meditation, can put up obstacles to this conversion by weakening a person’s ability to accurately evaluate emotions, intentions, and actions. For instance, a recent study showed that practicing mindfulness meditation decreases the empathy narcissistic people show others, perhaps because it interferes with the rejection of self-aggrandizing thoughts.

Contemplative prayer, on the other hand, heightens a person’s capacity for judgment. Through encountering Christ in the silence of her heart, a person can offer Him her intellect, will, and emotions, and ask Him to make them like His own. Prayer thus strengthens a person’s capacity to reject evil thoughts and cultivate the life of Christ, which alone can bring us peace.

The needs of the heart

Mindfulness, as an extension of Buddhism, aims to expose all of reality as impermanent and unsubstantial, including the notion of an eternal soul. If none of reality is ‘real’, a person can only be certain of what is going on in his own mind–his thoughts, perceptions, and emotions. Mindfulness thus teaches those who practice it, whether they realize it or not, that their ultimate desire is for a life free of psychological suffering.

But this is not enough to satisfy the human heart. What the human person truly desires is not a life free of suffering, but the awareness of the beauty and meaning of life at every moment, even in the midst of suffering. This is the thirst of the soul for the divine. Without recognizing this thirst, and God’s answer to it, a person has no defense against despair. This might explain why some people who practice meditation report that their mental health and well-being actually decline.

In contrast with mindfulness, prayer teaches us to listen to the desires of our hearts for justice, beauty, truth, and love. It allows us to discover that these desires can be fulfilled. Because in the silence of the present moment, it is possible to recognize that we are being created at every instant by God, a God who became a man so that we can now encounter Him in our lives. A habit of prayer strengthens a person’s awareness that they live in Christ because of their Baptism, and nourishes their desire to follow Him, even through suffering, to the embrace of the Father.

The call to communion

During mindfulness meditation, a person strives to overcome suffering by focusing only on thoughts and sensations. Establishing this very limited psychological horizon can have detrimental effects on a person’s relationships. This is because it turns one’s focus inward and away from the joys to be found in encountering others. Practicing mindfulness may thus lead a person to forget that she is created to give and receive care in loving relationships—a truth that psychological research has verified. The self-absorption promoted by mindfulness can also impede the path toward God, a journey traveled by learning to recognize Christ’s presence in one’s neighbors—particularly the poor (Matt 22:37-39; 25:21-46).

Prayer, on the other hand, expands the horizon of a person’s reality and thereby fosters communion with God and others. This is because “begging to see God’s face” in prayer leads a person to seek and find His presence in ordinary experiences of daily life, including encounters with others. Prayer teaches one to gaze on all people with the awareness that they, too, belong to God and that one’s true joy is found in serving Him in them.

Conclusion

Life under a pandemic may be filled with stress and suffering, but that is not the final word, because God has taken our burdens on Himself in Christ. Catholic schools have the fullness of this truth and should not settle for proposing anything less to their students. By teaching them to pray, Catholic school educators can offer their students a remedy that satisfies the needs of their hearts and functions as a powerful defense against anxiety.

In this age of digital media, incorporating prayer is easier than ever. There are numerous online resources for teachers who want to help their students learn to pray – and some, like the Catholic prayer app Hallow, even have special offers for schools.

However, if teachers and administrators are to give the treasure of prayer to their students, they must first discover it for themselves. By fostering their own relationship with God in the silence of their hearts, teachers will be able to speak to their students of the love that Christ has for us, which is our source of peace. For it is God who gives Catholic educators the strength and grace to fulfill their lofty responsibility toward their students.

The original, longer version of this article can be found on the Church Life Journal website.

Using Trip Steps to Guide Instructional Reading Time

The following blog was contributed by a team of authors from Renaissance: Dr. Gene Kerns, Vice President and Chief Academic Officer; Dr. Jan Bryan, Vice President and National Education Officer; and Julianne Robar, Educational Content Program Manager.

To view the full article on Reading Trip Steps, click here. You can also learn more about Reading and Math Trip Steps in the NCEA webinar, Mastering Challenging Reading and Math Skills and the NCEA podcast, Trip Steps for Reading and Math.

In education, we often describe learning as a staircase, with each skill being slightly more difficult than the one before it. While this is generally accurate, students occasionally encounter a skill that is significantly more difficult than the prior skill, and these “Trip Steps” may cause a stumble in learning.

Focus Skills, a free resource from Renaissance, are the essential reading and math skills at each grade level that are also important prerequisites for future learning—the skills that students must master in order to progress. While all Focus Skills are essential, Trip Steps are more difficult, and critical, for students to learn than others.

Knowing which reading and math skills are most difficult for students to learn at grade level is valuable information for planning instruction. Trip Steps also support the important work of learning recovery, by helping educators identify essential yet challenging skills from prior grades that students may have missed. Trip Steps for Reading tend to span many grades within each skill area. For example, the Trip Steps for Main Idea and Details span grades 2–10. The Author’s Purpose and Perspective has Trip Steps spread across grades 2, 7, and 10. Looking at the list, it’s clear how these skills build on one another and require increasingly sophisticated levels of analysis.

What sets reading apart is how students must operationalize skills they’ve learned through all the genres they encounter. Reading a novel is different from reading a poem, an essay, a persuasive piece, or a newspaper article. The Trip Steps in the Conventions and Range of Reading skill area highlight the difference between reading literary texts and informational texts. This begins in grade 1 with the Trip Step, Understand the general differences among various print and digital materials (e.g., storybooks, fairy tales, informational books, newspapers, websites).

Grade 1 typically has the most reading Focus Skills, so it’s not surprising to see the large number of reading Trip Steps in kindergarten and grade 1. Students build important foundational skills at these grade levels, particularly for decoding. The skill areas we see here include Phonemes, Vowel Sounds, and Consonants, Blends, and Digraphs. Some early reading Trip Steps are extraordinarily difficult. For example, consider the kindergarten Trip Step for Vowel Sounds: Distinguish between similarly spelled words by identifying the sounds of the vowels that differ (e.g., pick the word that has the /a/ sound: cat, cot, cut.) Using the empirical difficulty data from Renaissance Star Assessments, we see this skill is roughly two grade levels ahead of kindergarten. But because it’s a prerequisite skill, it’s taught in kindergarten, not second grade. Even though it’s a difficult skill for kindergarteners to learn, it’s essential to their progression—which is the very definition of a Trip Step.

It may seem surprising to see only one reading Trip Step for grade 3, given the many policies around third-grade proficiency. Remember that high-stakes grade 3 tests assess students’ reading development through grade 3, not just in grade 3, including all the critical decoding skills in kindergarten and grade 1.

Once students have learned the mechanics of reading, daily independent reading is essential for building background knowledge and vocabulary and developing the stamina to read the long and complex informational texts they’ll encounter in college and career. In middle and high school, there’s a massive shift in complexity and in how students are asked to interact with texts. They’re making inferences, analyzing figurative language, evaluating arguments and evidence, and drawing conclusions. 

Looking at grade 7 Trip Steps, you’ll see that the skill areas deal with author’s purpose, author’s word choice, connotation, cause and effect, etc., and the skills begin with words like “Interpret,” “Analyze,” “Explain,” and “Draw conclusions.” This is not something that comes naturally to many 12- and 13-year-olds. The Trip Steps for middle and high school highlight the equally important role of teacher-led instructional reading practice in helping students to learn these challenging and more abstract skills. So how might teachers and administrators use Trip Steps for Reading? We suggest that grade-level teams plan instruction and share resources, focus on prerequisite skills and student motivation, and frequently check for understanding.

Trip Steps provide a tool for prioritization, a way to “zoom in” on the Focus Skills that will likely require the most instructional time, the most support, and the most student practice. Share the list of Trip Steps with teachers and instructional specialists. Ask them to find quality resources, lesson plans, and instructional tools for teaching students these necessary and challenging skills.

Four Ways Professional Development Can Immediately Benefit Teachers

Students today, more than ever, are relying on their teachers. The past two years have had a dramatic impact on some students who are still regaining lost learning time while simultaneously struggling to keep up with grade-level studies. This situation thrusts teachers directly into the spotlight, which means they need to be as prepared as possible to take on the heavy responsibility of accelerating the learning of their students.

How can Catholic schools best prepare their teachers? Through consistent, effective professional development (PD). As students grow more dependent on teachers to lead them out of the COVID learning gap, teachers in turn are counting on administrators to provide the support they need. Here are four ways that professional development benefits teachers—and, in turn, students and districts.

1. Enhancing Knowledge Base. The formula is simple: the more teachers learn, the more they know; the more teachers know, the more their students will learn. This knowledge isn’t limited to curriculum; rather, it encompasses the understanding and honing of education best practices, which can include how teachers can:

  • Better communicate with their students
  • Best and most effectively instruct children of multiple learning levels
  • Create relevant course instruction for their students
  • Consistently learn new education technology so they’re prepared to employ it in a timely fashion

While not the only topic of focus when it comes to broadening teachers’ knowledge bases, deepening their understanding of the specific subjects they teach remains critical. After all, students look to teachers as experts who know the answers to any questions students may ask. Professional development can help expand subject matter and curricular knowledge so teachers are prepared to provide answers and explanations to student inquiries.

Research by the U.S. Department of Education’s Institute of Education Sciences backs up this statement—it shows that student achievement can improve by as much as 21 percentile points as a result of teacher participation in effective, well-designed PD programs. The bottom line? Teachers who receive high-quality professional development on a consistent basis are better equipped with the tools they need to elevate their instruction and impact students in an even more positive way.

2. Better Organization and Planning. As mentioned, PD is not limited to curriculum and subject instruction. One area that effective professional development can truly benefit instructors is the development of improved planning and organizational skills. In addition to the hours spent each day in the classroom, a teacher’s responsibilities extend beyond the school walls through grading, student evaluation and a laundry list of other time-consuming paperwork. By learning new skills and techniques, teachers can become more efficient in their time management, evaluations, record-keeping and overall organization. With that extra time, teachers are then able to better focus on their students, which can result in more positive student outcomes in the classroom.

3. Satisfaction in Their Role (read: Retention). We don’t have to remind you of the shortage of teachers across the country. Districts everywhere are struggling with short staffs, which is often the result of teacher burnout. The past couple of years have placed a heavy burden on the shoulders of teachers, and the weight of the stress and expectations has taken its toll. Even before the COVID age, the teaching industry suffered from notoriously high turnover; many teachers never make it to five years before leaving to explore other career paths. Professional development can help reverse that trend.

Providing PD, especially to newer teachers who are more prone to leaving the field, demonstrates a district’s investment in them personally, which makes them feel more valued and supported. Once a teacher feels that trust and support from their district, they feel more confident in their position, they know they’ll get the knowledge they need to keep improving, and they are more prepared to stay where they are for the long term. Plus, professional development offers teachers a refreshing change of pace—it allows them to be the student and provides them the opportunity to absorb information rather than distribute it. This opportunity to learn keeps teachers engaged. And guess who benefits from an engaged, supported, confident teacher? You guessed it, the students.

4. Encouraging Collaboration. Though teachers are often in front of a classroom by themselves, teaching is far from a solo act. As teachers are generally in constant communication with others—parents, administrators, fellow instructors—collaboration is a critical component within the profession. Any reputable professional development program includes substantial opportunities for collaboration; once collaboration becomes ingrained in a teacher’s daily responsibilities, they can then begin to cultivate communities that encourage communication and teamwork while helping create positive change in their schools and districts.

High-quality professional development clearly makes an impact at many levels, however, PD is only valuable when schools follow up with consistent support. Teachers may finish their PD sessions full of new knowledge and skills and ready to make a difference but if schools aren’t assisting with the implementation of these new skills, any benefits from PD will be substantially diminished. It is imperative that schools offer their teachers support through regular feedback, coaching, training events, observations and evaluations. It requires time, patience and steady support from districts to ensure success.

Catapult Learning’s professional development builds instructor and leadership capacity by equipping Catholic school educators with research-based best practices that are designed to meet the needs of their schools and districts. Our PD experts work with your school or district leadership to create a customized professional development plan to fit your specific areas of opportunity. By focusing on five key areas—pedagogy and curriculum, student support, environment, leadership and assessment—Catapult can address the varying needs of schools and organizations and help promote behaviors intended to increase and successfully maintain student achievement.

Catapult Learning offers a wide range of professional development solutions, including:

For more information about Catapult Learning’s professional development solutions, download our professional learning solutions catalog or browse through our workshops.

The Critical Role of “Trip Steps” in Math Recovery

The following blog was contributed by Dr. Jan Bryan, Vice President and National Education Officer at Renaissance, and Julianne Robar, Educational Content Program Manager at Renaissance.

To view the full article on Math Trip Steps, click here. You can also learn more in the NCEA webinar, Mastering Challenging Reading and Math Skills.

If learning is a staircase, then all steps are not created equal. In math especially, some skills along the staircase are extraordinarily difficult for students to master. At Renaissance, we call these skills “Trip Steps“ because they can cause a stumble in learning, just as an extraordinarily tall step in a staircase can cause an awkward bit of climbing. Essentially, new skill + new process = potential for some students to “trip.” And Trip Steps have profound effects on future learning in math. Trip over one and you’re likely to trip over another.

Trip Steps and accelerated learning

The Focus Skills Resource Center, a free resource from Renaissance, identifies skills fundamental to student understanding at every grade level and across all domains of reading and mathematics, tied directly to each state’s learning standards. Some Focus Skills have also been identified as Trip Steps and can provide educators with a pathway to prioritize and plan more impactful learning experiences. This is especially important given the need to accelerate learning after academic disruptions. The challenge is illustrated by the Renaissance How Kids Are Performing report, which found that students across grades 2–8 ended the 2020–2021 school year 11 weeks behind expectations in math, on average.

Which skill area has the most Trip Steps?

Geometry & Measurement is the skill area with the most Trip Steps across grade levels, while Grades 4 and 5 have the most math Trip Steps. This reflects the shift in process complexity, as well as the transition in this grade range from Whole Numbers to Fractions. The table below shows the Trip Steps that exist in this critical transition, as well as provides further examples of important prerequisite relationships between skills.

Trip Steps and math recovery

Focus Skills and Trip Steps help educators focus on recovery and growth to accelerate learning. We suggest that teachers:

  • Review math Trip Steps for your grade level or course
  • Identify the prerequisite skills associated with each Trip Step
  • Plan with math colleagues and share resources, techniques, and expertise related to Trip Steps
  • Nurture positive mindsets by explaining to students that the skill may seem difficult, but, step-by-step, they can master it
  • Share strategic feedback with students
  • Assess student readiness for each Trip Step
  • Engage in just-in-time support as needed
  • Monitor developing mastery

Why research on Trip Steps continues

At Renaissance, we continue to look for relationships among Trip Steps, Focus Skills, how students are performing, and how they are really learning. There is always something more to learn, and there are always remarkable findings to share. To learn more about Focus Skills, and to see the most critical math and reading skills by grade level for each state, visit our Focus Skills Resource Center. To see a list of math Trip Steps that are also Focus Skills, click here. And to see the most urgent instructional needs this school year, download our report on How Kids Are Performing.

Navigating Grief in the Classroom

The following blog was contributed by Laura Wei, M.Ed., School Success Specialist at Friendzy.

Any educator who has taught during this pandemic understands the many challenges that surface throughout the school year – from handling changing learning models to the lack of digital resources, and more importantly, prioritizing the social-emotional well-being of students over academics. Back in 2020, I taught 5th grade in an auditorium with 27 students (there was not enough classroom space to accommodate social distancing). Every morning, students would walk in and sit in their designated seats which were a few seats away from their peers. They would scatter their materials on the floor beside their breakfast, take a deep breath, and try their best for another day of learning.

I had a student who I loved dearly. This was my second year teaching her, so I knew her and her family well. She became known as the student who was always the first to enter the classroom and greet all the teachers. And though she struggled in reading, she never let it discourage her and became one of my strongest discussion leaders.

When she didn’t show up for a couple of days, I became increasingly worried. I made a phone call and it was then I learned that her father had passed away suddenly from COVID-19. It was a family of 5 kids and the dad was the sole provider.

There was only one question that popped in my mind… What can I do to best support my grieving student and her family?

What is Grief? 

Grief is the normal and natural emotional reaction to loss or change of any kind. It is the conflicting feelings caused by the end of or change in a familiar pattern or behavior and can affect our mind, body, emotions, and spirit. (source)  

It is important to note that when students experience death, they may express their grieving outwardly (see pg. 8-9 for common responses to grief), and they may not. This distinction is critical as one should not assume another individual is not grieving just because we do not “see” a reaction. Everyone experiences grief differently and should be able to grieve at their own pace and in their own way.

How Children of Different Developmental Stages Understand Grief

K-2
  • Tend to think in concrete ways and can be confused by common explanations of death
    • For example, a five-year-old who was told that his father had gone “up in the sky” expressed his wish to become a pilot, so that he could visit him
  • Children’s belief that their own wishes can make things happen in the world might worry that a death is their fault
  • Might struggle with the idea that someone is gone “forever” and might ask when they will be coming back
  • May ask the same questions over again to seek understanding
3-5
  • Tend to think in concrete, literal ways and can have trouble understanding abstract concepts like “moved on”
  • Questions from this age group may sound insensitive, but are just them trying to make sense of what has happened
  • May also worry that they did something to cause a death
  • May feel a wide range of emotion and can even experience feelings physically – like frequent headaches or stomach aches
6-8
  • Since children develop at different rates, there can be a variation in how grief is expressed
  • Can understand that death is final and may feel overwhelmed by strong and often conflicting emotional reactions
  • May be fearful about showing emotions in front of others or being treated differently (make sure they are able to seek adults for support in a private way)
  • May feel isolated from non-grieving peers or worry that their way of grieving is “wrong”

General Tips for the Classroom

  1. This topic may trigger memories and sadness for some students. Notify school counselors and parents of discussion in advance, for additional support
  2. Monitor the temperature and temperament of the classroom during lessons and discussion. Take breaks to stretch, breathe and laugh as needed. I would recommend printing for all students the desk version of Friendzy’s daily check-in tool to help with this. Grief can come in unexpected waves and this tool allows students the space to share how they are feeling at any given point and also provides teachers valuable insight on the classroom dynamic. 
  3. Acknowledge and reinforce that it’s okay not to be okay. 
  4. Encourage students to encourage one another. For younger students, this could be a smile, a note or drawing or kind word. For older students consider walking through the “How can we show comfort to others?” 
  5. Give breaks as needed. This includes bathroom breaks, water breaks, and a designated calm space if possible. A calm space can include independent activities like coloring sheets and journaling printouts. Here are several Friendzy resources that could work for a calm space here: 

Doodle downloads: 

Hard Things Help Us Grow

Everything Will Be Alright 

Better Together 

I Miss You 

We Are In This Together

Friendship Comforts Fear

Peace Blooms From Gratitude

Feal to Deal

Additional Resources