Category Archives: Lead

We Are Called to Love All of God’s Children

The following blog was contributed by Tiffany Norris, MA, school counselor at Cathedral Catholic High School in San Diego, California.

As a society, we are in a time of tremendous insight, potential transformation, listening and for many a newfound understanding. The horrific acts of cruel injustices inflicted upon George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Rayshard Brooks, Ahmaud Arbery and countless others have become the most recent cry for change in the African American community. As a faith-based community, we are called to love all of God’s children and bear the burdens of our brothers and sisters in Christ. In our Catholic schools, we have a unique opportunity to implement change that is long overdue, and can better address the injustices that are rooted in over 400 years of systemic oppression.

The question for faculty, staff and administrators then becomes, “what tangible things can I do to help at my school?” It seems as though thoughts and prayers are no longer enough, and so we must now take action. To overlook this opportunity to address our Catholic school communities would be a failure to accept our responsibility as Catholic school educators. Upon return to school in the fall, conversations with students (no matter the subject area) can start fairly simple. Develop ice breakers that discuss what topics really resonated with them over the summer. If no students openly discuss social injustice, make that your topic of choice and hold open discussions in your classroom about what students feel will help them better understand social injustice in the world around them. It will be important to remain upfront with them and let them know that you, as an educator, are willing to take on hard topics for the betterment of the class. For example, in visual and performing arts classes, study African American music, base a school play or musical on an African American show. Take time to reflect upon why this has or hasn’t been a part of your school’s curriculum in the past, and if it hasn’t been…change that.

Knowledge is power. As an educator, you have a chance to make a tremendous impact. Take time to decide what you want your students to get out of the school year, and find reading material for them that addresses systemic racism and how that plays a role in your subject area. I would recommend making this an individual versus group project, so that students are engaging and everyone has an opportunity to learn.

As you work through this next school year and new topics are discussed, one thing to keep in mind is that many people are still learning. As you take the lead in these discussions, carefully foster all perspectives, which will lead to deeper learning opportunities for everyone. With transition in curriculum there also may be negative feedback from time to time. Your focus must remain on what God has called you to do, and that is to lead by His example.

The devil is the root of fear, but God is the presence of truth. You’ve got this!

Recommended Resources:

https://www.amazon.com/Third-Option-Racially-Divided-Nation/dp/1501172190

https://www.instagram.com/tv/CA9LyigBdjT/?igshid=1rgon9ffas5r6

https://www.schoolcounselor.org/school-counselors/professional-development/learn-more/race-and-equity-resources

https://www.tolerance.org/

https://vimeo.com/ondemand/ethnicnotions/98681735

https://www.amazon.com/White-Fragility-People-About-Racism/dp/0807047414/ref=nodl_

http://doloreshuerta.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/04/privilege-walk.pdf

The NCEA Catholic Leadership Summit 2020

The following blog was contributed by Kevin Baxter, chief innovation officer for the National Catholic Educational Association (NCEA) in Arlington, Virginia.

When COVID-19 turned everything upside down in the spring, we knew that NCEA was going to need to think differently about how we approached our work moving forward. We were inspired by the courage and creativity we saw in Catholic schools across the United States as they adapted to virtual instruction so effectively. Thus, with prayer and faith in the Holy Spirit, we dove in and transformed our annual Convention, which was scheduled to take place in Baltimore, to a completely virtual event. With more than 7,000 registrations we knew there was interest in and need for high quality professional development in Catholic schools.

For the 2020-2021 school year, we were determined to take our innovative approach to a higher level. Thus, we developed several different professional services that we will offer over the course of the school year. The first of these is our New Leaders Academy, which starts the first week in October with a unique blend of synchronous content delivery, professional collaboration and network building, and one-on-one coaching for new school site leaders. We have a great cohort of participants and exceptional, experienced facilitators and coaches to support this new program at NCEA.

We also recognized that one of our anchor events each year, the Catholic Leadership Summit (CLS), required new thinking and an innovative approach to address the current reality. So, we looked at the event through an adult learner perspective, and with the frame that understood that collaboration and networking were the aspects of CLS that attendees most appreciated in years past. We began by addressing the issues that have consumed much of our nation over the past six months – first, the crisis of the COVID-19 pandemic and how it has impacted not just our schools but all aspects of our lives. Leadership in crisis is something every superintendent, principal and higher education leader must understand and be prepared for to be effective in their roles. Thus, we wanted to be sure we addressed the challenging reality we are faced with in Catholic schools at this moment.

Second, we have all been impacted by the issues of racial justice in our country and, specifically, how we can do a better job in Catholic schools to address the underlying aspects of equity. We want to address this question directly and have honest and difficult conversations in order to begin the process of healing and moving forward with intentionality so that we can educate the students in our schools with our Catholic faith at the forefront.

With these two themes in mind, we sought to have high level, keynote speakers for each of the four days, each one of which would address a specific domain of the National Standards and Benchmarks for Effective Catholic Elementary and Secondary Schools (NSBECS).  We were blessed to have such a positive response and our lineup is extremely impressive on multiple fronts.

Dr. Howard Fuller is a legend in the school choice movement and his advocacy for families, especially those from low income backgrounds, is an inspiration for all. His commitment and dedication to the civil rights movement extends back to the 1960s, so he is a particularly appropriate keynote on Day 1 for Governance and Leadership. Dr. Marie Lynn Miranda is the Charles and Jill Fischer Provost of the University of Notre Dame. As she stated when she was appointed, “As the first American-born member of an immigrant family, I have benefited tremendously from the transformative power of education” so we felt she was a great person to speak on Day 2 for Academic Excellence.

Archbishop Wilton Gregory needs little introduction to Catholic school educators. He is the seventh Archbishop of Washington and a former president of the USCCB. Archbishop Gregory brings a great pastoral approach to the challenges we are faced with today and we are blessed by his keynote on Day 3 for Mission and Catholic Identity. Betsy Bohlen is the chief operating officer for the Archdiocese of Chicago. With an MBA from Harvard and 16 years of experience at McKinsey and Co. she brings both a business approach to her work and a commitment to the Catholic faith. She is ideal in keynoting the last of our four days on Operational Vitality.

Each day will start with a welcome message and some words of hope from four American Cardinals (Cardinal Sean O’Malley, Cardinal Daniel DiNardo, Cardinal Blase Cupich, and Cardinal Joseph Tobin). This will be followed by opening prayer and a brief welcome message. The keynote speaker will then address the group live and set the tone for the day in the domain area of the NSBECS.

Following the keynote during each day of CLS, we will have Focus Sessions. These will group attendees into one of three different groups: one for diocesan level leadership, one for school site leadership and one for higher education and other leadership. Each of these sessions will be led by colleagues in the field to 1) address the theme of the keynote at a high level and 2) create a collaborative space where participants can share successes and challenges they face in their work in the specific domain. It will be part content delivery and sharing but much of the time will be spent in smaller groups to address specific questions from the keynote and the topic.

Finally, each day of CLS will end with Professional Learning Groups (PLGs). These will be comprised of approximately 10-15 participants with roughly equal representation from each of the leadership sectors. The PLGs will be led by trained facilitators who will draw input from the various Focus Session meetings so that the conversation centers on how we all can collaboratively assist Catholic schools in dealing with this unique moment in history. Ideally each participant will leave with some tools and strategies to bring back to their own work in their region of the country.

We recognize that this year presents unique challenges to Catholic schools and leaders at all different levels. Our hope and expectation are that the Catholic Leadership Summit will provide an opportunity to learn and be inspired, and then collaborate and share with colleagues around the country to think through the most positive way forward.

Finding Hope When You’re Feeling “Teacher Tired”

The following blog was contributed by John Reyes, Ed.D., executive director for operational vitality at the National Catholic Educational Association in Arlington, VA.

I once saw a Tweet a few years back from a university professor who, after a day’s worth of demo lessons several years removed from the classroom, talked about being “teacher tired” – and that phrase hit hard.

You must know that feeling – emptying your pockets full of Expo markers, falling asleep grading on the couch then subsequently waking up late into the night thinking it’s the next day, driving to school on your day off – and like me, you probably FEEL the phrase “teacher tired” just as much as you can read it. It hits hard in that crunch of time before grades are due; it hits hard when vacation just seems a *bit* too far off; and it hits hard when our communities are reeling from and attempting to navigate turmoil, trauma, loss and uncertainty on an unprecedented scale.

The antidote now, as it has been, is equal parts confronting the brutal facts and remaining optimistic about what lies ahead – an idea Jim Collins calls “the Stockdale Paradox” in his book Good to Great.

There are plenty of voices proclaiming the brutal facts – personally, there is nothing more I can offer to speak to this that your own lived reality, the incessant e-mail blasts, the tweets of despair and the talking heads on TV aren’t already doing. Without question, it is exhausting; but the narratives we are told pale in comparison to the depth of seriousness of the actual crises facing Catholic schools, their students and their families.

Here’s the thing, though – the history of Catholic schools is rife with tribulation, strife and challenge, but never without resilience and love in equal measure. In a piece published for Catholic Schools Week six years ago, Cardinal Timothy Dolan spoke candidly to the hardships of Catholic schools, but remained steadfast in proclaiming that it was “grit, pride, love, and determination” in the face of those hardships that embodied the resilience and love of Catholic school communities.

When you look at the legacy of Catholic schools and their propensity to innovate in serving marginalized populations, their attentiveness to values-based education, their ability to foster increased student outcomes with tighter budgets, and their dedication to ministering to the whole child and the family, the only conclusion I can surmise is that Catholic schools were tailor-made and fashioned for a time like this.

In Chapter 3 of the first letter of Peter, we are compelled to “always be prepared to give an explanation to anyone who asks you for a reason for your hope.” For me, it is the selfless, courageous, run-to-the-danger level of response Catholic schools have and continue to execute. It is embodied in the willingness to innovate and be Christ to kids and families no matter the mode of instruction. It is embodied in the hunger and thirst of educators to know better and do better – to create stability in the midst of uncertainty.

At NCEA, we envision our work to be of advocating for hope, creating communities of hope, and building capacity to manifest that hope for kids and families in Catholic schools. Despite our circumstances pulling each of us to isolation, we are embracing this moment as an opportunity to default to collaboration. It is a radical sense of belonging to each other as Catholic school educators, as followers of Christ, and as men and women imbued with a distinction of dignity and value by our Creator that can and ought to be a driving force in what is probably the worst case of “teacher tired” ever.

We Are Made for Each Other

Two friends from St. Athanasius, before COVID-19.

The following blog was contributed by Christian Dallavis, Assistant Superintendent for Partnership Schools in New York, NY. Reprinted with permission.

“Are we going back?”

“What will it look like?”

School leaders are hearing these questions every day at the start of July 2020, and they are anxious to answer them.

Soon, every school in America will find a way to make logistical accommodations to operate this fall. Some schools, dioceses, and districts have already published their plans. All of these plans tell families how schools will go back to school during this unusual year.

Few explain why these measures will be taken.

In my experience, people are not likely to embrace a new how without understanding why.

Concentration camp survivor Viktor Frankl understood this dynamic when the stakes were the highest. In Man’s Search for Meaning, he explained that any attempt to restore hope among those living in fear must understand Nietzsche’s words: “He who has a why to live can bear almost any how.

The COVID-19 pandemic is not the Holocaust, but school-aged children in the south Bronx and elsewhere have experienced death in their homes to a degree that is not yet appreciated in the rest of the nation.

Take the “conversation” around masks, for example. Some Catholic school principals report that parents are threatening to withdraw their children if masks are required this fall. There is no unity in our community around why masks are important; the mask is just a how without a why. If you are a Catholic school leader who plans to require that kids wear masks, how do you respond? What belief informs your decision to do this?

Beliefs and Goals

First we must distinguish between beliefs and goals. Recognize, for example, that adopting protocols in order to comply with guidance from the  governor, mayor, CDC, diocese, or even Dr. Fauci himself does not constitute a belief. Compliance is a goal, not a belief. Similarly, “protecting the health and safety” of the community is a goal (more noble than compliance!), but still, not a belief, and not compelling to the parent who does not see the value of a mask.

Our root beliefs are the statements of conviction that inform our decisions, inspire our actions, and determine our goals. What do you believe that drives you to require masks? We may wear masks to comply with guidance and protect health—but what is it that we collectively believe that will compel all of us to wear them faithfully?

Too often our shared beliefs go unspoken. In reality, naming our root beliefs—shouting them from the rooftops, in fact—can be the most powerful way to unify our communities around the logistical norms that are aligned with those beliefs.

Catholic school leaders, you have an opportunity right now to anchor these critical decisions in your root beliefs. By putting your beliefs and mission in the headlines of your back to school plans for Fall 2020, you can lead with creed, build culture, and advance your mission. The logistics of your plan, and your community, will follow.

It might look something like this:

The Process

Starting right away, begin a series of regular updates to your community about back to school.

Connect with families every two weeks, on the same day, at the same time, via the same mode, like clockwork. Broadcast your message to current families and  also send a special message to new families—especially incoming kindergartners. If you haven’t communicated with them yet, you should not be surprised to find them shopping for another school. They do not yet know what you stand for, and in the absence of communication during a pandemic, they are getting anxious about sending you their babies.

The Message

You should be clear about the beliefs that are at the heart of the school community and which will be used to make decisions about your back-to-school plan. Tell them, for example, that your school is organized around a set of root beliefs that are at the core of our faith and our mission. They might include:

In this school community, we believe that we are made for each other.

We believe that we are better together, because we are a family; indeed, we are many parts of one Body of Christ.

We believe that we grow in our relationship with God by learning about God’s creation: the world, the people in it, and ourselves. We are always learning, and we believe that we learn better together.

These beliefs drive us to our shared purpose, which is our mission: to fan into a flame the gifts that God gave each of your children. We prepare your children to flourish, so they will be leaders in this life and saints in the next.

The Plan

Even if you don’t have a complete plan yet, share the beliefs that will inform your plan, what you are planning right now, and then prepare folks for your plan to change, as it will almost certainly change. If you do have a plan, be explicit about how each element is informed by a belief. You might say:

We learn better together. As of July 15, our plan is to return to school in the building, as we always do. The first day of class will be August 27. Our mission to ensure that your child flourishes compels us to take all necessary precautions to minimize the spread of COVID-19 within our community. Given the current public health conditions, these precautions may include wearing masks, distancing desks, having lunch in the classroom, or putting acrylic shields in some spaces. We will publish our plans related to these precautions via these regular updates. Please watch your email. Because we learn better together,  and we are confident that we can provide an excellent education in the faith while safeguarding each member of our community.

We are made for each other. This belief, and the latest scientific understanding of how the virus travels and infects individuals, will guide our decisions about which precautions to adopt. While children may not generally be sickened by the virus, they can carry and transmit it without symptoms. A student may carry it to school and transmit it to a classmate, who can bring it home and infect family members. While neither of these students may ever experience the illness, parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, and other family members who live with our students who are susceptible to the disease may become seriously ill.

Our children and our community cannot flourish if the virus does. Our goal is to protect every member of our community by minimizing virus transmission from student to student at school. We will adopt precautions that are known to reduce the potential for virus transmission in our school community.

We are planning for a range of possible ways to educate your child this fall in order to ensure your children’s educational experience is as uninterrupted, rigorous, and rich as possible. If your children are unable to return to school in August, we will offer remote learning to ensure they continue to receive a Catholic education of the highest quality.

While we pray for a year of in-person instruction at school for all, if the public health situation in our community requires that we make use of a backup plan to protect your children and our team, we will not hesitate to do so, just as we did not hesitate to close the building in March.

We believe that we are made for each other. We love each one of you and each one of your children, and we are confident that we can provide an excellent education in the faith in each of these scenarios while safeguarding each member of our community. Just as Christ calls us to stop everything to protect one lost lamb from harm, we will do what it takes to take care of each other and we will be stronger for it.

We are always learning. In humility, we recognize that the public health situation may change rapidly between now and the start of school, just as it has since we last gathered in person in March. We also recognize that scientists are learning more about the virus and its spread, and the precautions we take will reflect both our learning and the current public health situation. Starting today, we will communicate with you every two weeks—more frequently if necessary—to ensure you are aware of our most current plans and any changes we make. We are always learning about the virus, its transmission, and our community’s vulnerability—and we will adjust our plans as needed to ensure each child flourishes.

In this time of deep uncertainty and fear, Catholic school leaders, you have an opportunity to unite your school communities around these beliefs we all share but do not say out loud often enough. When it is time to go back to school, every school in your neighborhood will have a logistical plan that explains how they will go back to school. Getting these logistics right is the work of crisis management. In the face of a fast-moving public health, economic, and social crisis outside your control, however, our communities need you to be transformational leaders.

What will it take to transform this moment of anxiety and division into one of strength and unity? It will not be a one-page pdf (or a 50-page slide deck) that explains that you will wear masks and social distance and disinfect sufficiently. Instead, it will be how you articulate why you do these things in your communities, how those beliefs are lived out in your actions, and, come August and September, how everyone in your community takes care of each other to ensure that every child flourishes.

Finding the Words

The following blog was contributed by Liz Ramos, principal of St. Michael – St. Gabriel Archangels Catholic Elementary School, Archdiocese of Indianapolis.

My heart is broken, and I wish I had answers. I wish I knew what to tell my parents when they ask what instruction will look like in the fall after ten weeks of remote learning. I wish I knew what to tell my teachers when they ask how to teach the idea of sharing in a Catholic school when suddenly they are told students cannot share classroom supplies for fear of spreading a virus. I wish I knew what to tell people when they ask whether or not they should begin leaving their homes to venture into a world filled with unknowns. Yes, these questions certainly have their place of importance, but right now, the question that I wish I knew how to answer is the one that will come when my students return to my building and ask why a man had to die in the hands of people they have been taught to trust.

Like many educators, we struggle with finding the right words to explain what happened during this unfathomable incident and so many other tragedies that occurred before this one, but our struggle to find the words is nothing compared to the injustices and oppression that so many within our society continue to face each day.

I often wonder if we, as educators, and more importantly as Catholic school educators, do enough to teach the concept of racism. In religion class, we teach our students to treat others with respect and dignity, but we often avoid discussing the consequences that could happen when we fail to do that, other than telling students that such actions will not lead one to Heaven. In history class, we teach about slavery and the Civil Rights movement, but often we quickly move on to the next topic, claiming there is so much other history to cover before the end of the year. Even in our language arts classes, when we could be discussing more modern pieces of literature that showcase the lives of people from various cultures, we turn to the “classics,” often written by Caucasian males about Caucasian families and lifestyles. Failing to teach about the importance of other cultures continues to leave the impression that one race is more important and that there is little room for those of color. We may not mean to do so, but that is the message we are sending our students when we do.

As individuals, we work hard to provide a safe and welcoming environment for our children so they can be afforded so many opportunities that may not have existed when we were their age, and yet, we find that there are obstacles that continue to prevent our society from progressing as a whole.  We must seek change and allow our students to share their own stories and their own struggles and actively listen to what they are saying to gain insight into what they are feeling. Many of our students are too young to have their voices heard, and so we must be the megaphone for their voices so that all children of God can be heard.  We also need to model what healthy dialogue is with all community members. While we may not always agree with what another person says, we need to welcome other voices to join the conversation so that even for a moment we are forced to think about our own ideas and values. We also need to continue to explain that people make mistakes – some graver than others – and that while forgiveness needs to be shown, it is not always easy to give, for healing wounds takes time.

While it may not always be comfortable, it is important for us, as educators, to teach our parents and our students about how to have these discussions about race and culture so that change can be made. Below is a list of books you may find helpful not only in having those conversations, but also in celebrating the lives of so many who have risen above the injustices they have faced. 

Book Titles

We Rise, We Resist, We Raise Our Voices, An anthology edited by Wade Hudson and Cheryl Willis Hudson

Separate is Never Equal: Sylvia Mendez & Her Family’s Fight for Desegregation, by Duncan Tonatiuh

The Whispering Town, by Jennifer Elvgren

Rosa, by Nikki Giovanni

The Day You Begin, by Jacqueline Woodson

My Hair is a Garden, by Cozbi A. Cabrera

Something Happened in Our Town, by Marianne Celano, Marietta Collins, and Ann Hazzard

That’s Not Fair! Emma Tenayuca’s Struggle for Justice, by Carmen Tafolla and Sharyll Tenayuca

Leading by Example

The following blog was contributed by Rachel Rell, a junior at the University of Notre Dame and a summer intern with the National Catholic Educational Association (NCEA).

As the oldest of six children, I often found myself calling out to our mom for help in yielding off the copying voices of my younger siblings. As I grew up, I began to notice the other areas my younger siblings copied me: ideas for art projects, food recommendations for dinner, favorite colors, the list goes on. Although this was largely an area of annoyance for me throughout my younger years, I began to see that my younger siblings were watching all that I did and copying it. Although having them choosing the same favorite color was annoying to me, the things I did were creating an impact on their lives and the habits they were developing. How I responded to situations and treated others was how they were going to act in the future. I have lived my whole life in a sphere of influence, and now have made it one of my guiding principles to live as though others are watching, because they are.

Timothy 4:12 says, “Don’t let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example for the believers in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, and in purity.” Even though I don’t believe this verse is written only for the young, it is one that I have built my life upon. Our culture today has taught us that leaders are strong, dominant and outspoken. But what about those of us that were not made this way? One of the many lessons my younger siblings have taught me is that leadership does not always look the way that it does in movies. Leadership is stepping up to be a role model for others and living up to the responsibilities involved with being a positive one. Our Church and our schools need these leaders more than ever. Our students need you to show them how to become the person God is calling them to be, not only through carefully laid out lesson plans, but through actions.

One of the reasons my parents chose Catholic school for my siblings and me, and one of the reasons I chose a Catholic university for myself, is the people that students are surrounded with. My teachers throughout the years provided me with positive role models at school to continue the emphasis on the values that my parents taught us at home. My teachers taught me not only math and English, but also helped to form my habits and values; my friends, not only hopscotch and jump rope rhymes, but what a true friend looks like. As Catholic school educators and proponents of Catholic education, the children that we form are the most important aspect of everything that we do. As those that they interact with on a daily basis, we can have a substantial impact on the habits they form and the people they become. We aren’t perfect. We make mistakes. But, it is the resolve to act intentionally, knowing that they are watching, that helps us to become the positive role models our children and students need. We have all heard the saying, “Actions speak louder than words,” but it is a common phrase for a reason. So, live and teach as though your three-year-old sister is copying everything you do because although your sibling, child or student might not be watching, someone else’s probably is.

Catholic Educators Continue to Work for Peace and Justice

The following blog was contributed by Kathy Mears, Interim President/CEO of the National Catholic Educational Association (NCEA) in Arlington, VA.

Doug, Desmond, April, Michael, Kenisha, Eric, Aaron, James, Tiffany, Jennifer, Derek, Megan, Elizabeth, Adam, Linda, Reggie, Jamie, Matt, Kenny, Keri. These are the names of some of the students I have taught or was principal for during my 39 years in Catholic education. Some were black, some were white, and some were brown. They were all taught and cared for by my colleagues and me.

The actions of the last week have saddened me. My former students are upset, afraid and don’t know what to do. They were taught to respect each other, to work together, to show kindness in all things. Yet, they are living in a world that judges them not so much by what they do or how they live their lives, but by the color of their skin.

I am frustrated that in 2020, we aren’t doing better. As a child, I remember the riots of 1967, 1968 and 1970. I remember the people walking side by side asking for a better world. I also remember the anger and how some demonstrations became destructive. Fifty years later, I worry we have learned nothing.

Racism is a sin. It is wrong. As educators, it is something we can work against, but more importantly, we can teach our students that God made each of us and loves each of us. It is up to each of us to set an example of how to act and to teach our students that the color of one’s skin simply does not matter.

For those of us in Catholic education, where nationally almost 30 percent of our students come from minority communities, we can continue to work for peace, by working for justice. We can continue to teach students that they are all worthy, that they are all loved. We can show our students who will go on to become nurses, doctors, engineers, pilots, maintenance workers, police officers, teachers, farmers, miners, military personnel, attorneys, computer programmers, priests, sisters, and mothers and fathers that each of us is responsible for our own behaviors and that when we judge others by the color of their skin and not by their character, we are part of the problem.

As educators, we are in the position to make a huge difference. We are given the opportunity to teach that all people matter, that all people must be treated with dignity and respect, that it is through community that we will build the kingdom of God on earth. I pray that we won’t waste our opportunities to make a difference. I pray that we make sure that each of the students in our care know that they are known, that they are loved.

Catholic education can make a difference in this area and we should lead the way. Let’s commit ourselves to teaching our students that prejudice is wrong, that we must live the Gospel message to love one another and that we must forgive each other as we will inevitably make mistakes. But with the hope of our faith, we can be the leaders God asks us to be. We can be the teachers we hope to be, and we can be the peacemakers our world needs.

Let’s get started today. We owe it to our students.

Crisis and the Catholic School’s Response

The following blog was contributed by Clare Kilbane, Ph.D., a faculty member, senior learning designer, and Catholic school liaison at the McGrath Institute for Church Life at the University of Notre Dame. Follow her on Twitter @ClareRKilbane. This article was originally published on the McGrath Institute blog and is being offered here with permission from the publisher.

A crisis has a strange way of clarifying things. For instance, the COVID-19 pandemic has helped me to recognize the important contributions Catholic schools are uniquely positioned to make. As I’ve worked to support Catholic school leaders in “pivoting” to distance education, I’ve become keenly aware of the many ways Catholic schools help the families they serve.

Providing connections to peers in a faith-based community 

Although social distancing is helpful for our physical health, social isolation is detrimental to our mental health. It makes people more prone to depression, anxiety, despair. The effects of social distancing required during a quarantine are especially difficult for teens who derive their social and emotional development through interactions with peers. Through online learning experiences, a Catholic school can allow young people of all ages to continue to benefit from healthy formal and informal interactions with their peers. During the pandemic, special care can be taken to provide students the opportunity to grieve together about the loss of canceled social activities, truncated athletic seasons, postponed sacramental celebrations, and alterations to other important events. Students will also benefit from opportunities to wrestle productively with the suffering they see in the world around them under the guidance of a caring teacher who can guide them as they engage the “big questions” from a Christian worldview (e.g., problem of suffering, existence of God, meaning of life, etc.). Supporting the work of students’ parents, a Catholic school teacher can offer additional affirmation that God will not abandon his people, that good can emerge from bad events. Teachers can team up with parents to help students develop resilience, lean on prayer, and practice hope.

Bringing Christ’s love to the community 

Because teachers have a personal, direct, and regular connection to students and families, they are often the first to know and be able to respond when they are struggling. In these uncertain times, when many people are experiencing anxiety, grief, illness, and hardship, those working in Catholic schools can share Christ’s love in special ways and mobilize others to do the same, addressing the spiritual needs of families and providing them comfort when they are grieving the loss of loved ones, jobs, and security. Teachers can ensure families have the resources many need for distance learning, and administrators can arrange assistance in paying tuition. Likewise, counselors and other staff can connect school families to community resources that address food insecurity, unemployment, and mental-health. This witness of Christ’s love, evident in the actions of school staff, can inspire similar actions among the families as well. Parents can be encouraged to help one another manage the difficulties of distance learning as they adjust to the stress of working from home and parenting under quarantine. Students can be encouraged to bring Christ’s love to the community as well, perhaps engaging in service learning by reaching out to senior citizens who are isolated through phone calls or other means.

Supporting the Domestic Church

In a time when public celebrations of the Mass have been suspended in many places, Catholic schools can offer important support for the celebration of faith, prayer, and worship in the family or the “Domestic Church.” Through the leadership of campus ministers, catechists, theology teachers, or others, the school can supply parents and guardians with specific ways to focus on faith, liturgy, and prayer in the home. For example, the school could provide a resource that explains how to participate in an online Mass prayerfully, along with a list and links to available online Masses. The school might also encourage a common time for daily Mass or praying the Rosary. Educational materials that help a parent provide catechetical instruction can also be reinforcing. In this way, the school can honor the parents in their role as “first teacher” and build up the family and domestic Church. Not only will this augment the work of the school when the current crisis has passed, but it will also allow both the faith of the family and their bonds with one another to be strengthened so they emerge from the crisis stronger and more full of God’s love.

Catholic School Teachers Go Above and Beyond

The following blog was contributed by Kevin Baxter, chief innovation officer at the National Catholic Educational Association (NCEA) in Arlington, VA.

Happy Teacher Appreciation Week! It is wonderful to set aside this week, especially during the current coronavirus pandemic, to honor the work that teachers do every day in service to students. Catholic school teachers are a special group – when I was superintendent in Los Angeles I wrote an article for our archdiocesan magazine which talked about the superpowers that Catholic school teachers possess. So, it is a great practice to set aside this time to honor the great work teachers do each day.

Catholic school teachers go above and beyond their standard role in the classroom. I remember an unforgettable comment made to me by one teacher when I was a principal. She had a student who presented some significant behavioral challenges in the classroom and we were brainstorming some strategies that could be effective. She turned to me and said, “I don’t see (student’s) challenges as being his challenges, I see them as my challenges.” This is indicative of Catholic school teachers across the country who view their primary task to be helping students to achieve their God given potential in all aspects of their learning.

I had another experience with a teacher at a different school where I served as principal that further demonstrates the selfless, giving nature of Catholic school teachers. This first-grade teacher also had a young boy in her class who presented various learning and behavioral challenges. I met with the teacher a few times throughout the fall to talk through different approaches that might be effective. The boy also had some issues with his home life and his parents had gotten divorced. During the Christmas break, his mom reached out to me to tell me that she was going to move out of the area to start fresh. In the back of my mind I thought, “I am sure that will be a relief to the first-grade teacher.”

After the Christmas break, the first person to come bounding into my office was the first-grade teacher. She sat down and started to go through the things she thought about over the break that she was going to use with this young boy. I cut her off and said that his mom withdrew him from the school. Instead of relief on her face, I was surprised to see the teacher burst into tears of disappointment. She was sad to lose the opportunity to work with the young boy.

Catholic school teachers bring their whole selves to the classroom – their faith life and their commitment to seeing the best in each child. They recognize that all human beings are on a continuous path of formation and none of us ever get to the end point in this life. Thus, they never ‘give up’ on a child but rather see the path each needs to take to be successful. For some students, that path may involve more turns, hills and valleys but Catholic school teachers know that each child will get there with loving guidance and support.

So, thank you to all the wonderful Catholic school teachers across the U.S. who give so much of themselves to see their students succeed. Especially in this time of shifts to remote learning and challenges, the value of a great teacher is more evident to all of us and something to cherish and celebrate.

Seven Steps to Strategic Planning for Catholic School Leaders

The following blog was contributed by Melodie Wyttenbach, Ph.D., executive director for the Roche Center for Catholic Education and a faculty member for the Lynch School of Education and Human Development. She and co-author Benjamin Potts wrote Seven Steps to Strategic Planning for Catholic School Leaders.

The times of relative stability, where change was incremental in the educational marketplace, are no more. Given the rise of charter schools, parental choice, innovations in technology, K-12 education in America has changed dramatically over the past three decades. And in the past few weeks as the nation and world grapple with the COVID-19 pandemic, schools have been forced to adopt more innovative instructional approaches. For schools that strategically understood how advances in technology could enhance student learning- virtual learning plans were in place, adaptable software programs in use by students, and hardware for each student a non-negotiable. While these schools did not have the foresight of a pandemic, leaders of these schools were able to see how changes in the external environment could either threaten their school or they could capitalize on educational innovations to advance their mission. On the other hand, some Catholic schools scrambled to put plans in place and leaders and teachers were challenged to build the plane after taking off into the virtual-homeschooling world. Now that the innovative instructional approach has become a necessity to sustain student learning, the question is will Catholic schools continue innovative instructional approaches and leaders be more entrepreneurial in their thinking? Or will Catholic schools return to the pre-COVID-19 ways of schooling?

 The history of education has taught us that change to the educational ecosystem brings about an increasing uncertainty for low-performing schools across sectors, and also brings about a greater interconnectedness to all players in a market, as changes to one public, private, or charter school in a given city reverberate unpredictably, affecting such things as student enrollment, finances, and the quality of human capital in another school. Change can jeopardize a given sector or can challenge leaders of a sector to come together and handle external pressures differently than they have in the past. These external pressures call Catholic school leaders to three things: first, Catholic schools must provide an excellent faith-based education to all children they serve; second, Catholic school leaders need to develop effective strategies to deal with their changed circumstances if they are to have a defensible basis for existing in an increasingly diverse, post-COV-19 marketplace; third, Catholic schools need to work in solidarity.

Strategic planning is an opportunity for Catholic school leaders to move their schools towards excellence, to effectively deal with changes, and center their community on mission and vision. To assist you with understanding the journey of strategic planning, this book Seven Steps to Strategic Planning for Catholic School Leaders, assists leaders in creating a map for their school’s journey to fulfill their mission. This text articulates a rationale for strategic planning, examines how this process unfolds in a school community, and provides Catholic schools leaders the tools to execute and successfully monitor the implementation of a strategic plan. To help you understand how this process may unfold in your Catholic school, throughout the book real-life insights from Catholic school leaders who have journeyed the strategic planning process openly share what worked, and did not work, are provided.

As strategic thought and action are increasingly important to the continued viability, effectiveness, and sustainability of Catholic schools, during this time of great complexity, we have an opportunity to strengthen our system as we emerge from this pandemic. In order to do so, let us be bold, think strategically like we have never thought before, and do so in communion, supporting one another.