Thursday, August 19, 2010

A New Hope

There's a saying in sports that everyone is undefeated until the season starts. Teams are filled with optimism and enthusiasm about their upcoming years and just about every team has championship dreams until Opening Day, Night or Week 1. But, before a game is played, teams have hopes of grandeur; at that point, everyone's still undefeated.

This same holds true for the first day of school. Everyone has perfect attendance. Everyone has perfect behavior. No one has forgotten any homework. No one has left their math book at home. The first day of school is filled with hope. It is filled with expectation. It is filled with optimism. Pencils are freshly sharpened. Folders and notebooks are still crisp. Crayon boxes still have all colors. Teachers and students share a mutual respect. High expectations are also held in common-- teachers believe that all students will give their best efforts, and students believe the same of teachers.

Unlike the world of sports where only one team will emerge as the "champions", however, all students have the ability to achieve greatness. More than one student can win a "championship" when it comes to academic, behavioral and spiritual success. In fact, if the hope and optimism present on the first day of school can be maintained, all students can.

And therein lies the challenge: how do we sustain this momentum? How do we inspire students to continue to give their best effort despite some inevitable setbacks? With the many different challenges and obstacles present throughout the course of a year, how do we forge ahead and ensure that students are developmentally ready and prepared for the upcoming grade level? How do we do more than just teach to the middle and have only a percentage of our students experience success? How do we excel as individuals, as classes, as grade levels and as a Catholic School?

In order to achieve greatness, the Administration, Faculty, Students and Parents of Incarnation Catholic School must focus on the school's Mission Statement. We must continue to live up to and live out the goals set forth in these words:

Incarnation Catholic School continues our tradition of:

Inspiring life-long learners,
Challenging each individual to develop spiritually and
Striving to serve each other and the community

as we prepare students for the future.

We must be able to keep this larger vision clearly in sight regardless of what occurs during the daily grind. Daily recitation of our Mission Statement is a way that we can come to internalize its messages. Periodic review of our progress toward these objectives allows us to identify areas of strength, weakness and opportunities for growth. Community awareness of its words can help us to hold each other accountable to its high ideals.

We can maintain the momentum of the first day of school by focusing on our mission, our purpose, our reason for existing as a place of education. When we are mission-driven the small bumps and hiccups are just that-- small. They become surmountable. They become conquerable. They become stepping stones in our overall journey to accomplish our mission. Like the Emperor Hadrian said, Rome was not built in a day but "brick by brick, my citizens, brick by brick."

So, at the start of a new school year, let us relish in its excitement, anticipation and hope. Let us learn the words of our Mission Statement so that we have a firm understanding of where we are headed as an institution and why. Let us turn our efforts over to God, so that God can turn them into something good.

Every student can become a champion. Let us all do everything we can to make sure that at the end of this year, all of them are winners.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Discipline to Disciple

God's omnipotent, omnipresent, and all-loving nature is readily apparent in Psalm 139. God knows us intimately. He cares for us unceasingly. He is always with us, regardless of where we go. And most importantly, He loves us, despite our imperfections, despite our shortcomings, despite our sinfulness. He knows us, everything about us, and yet He still loves us more than any human being (who know considerably less about our "real" selves).

We are "fearfully and wonderfully" made (Psalm 139:14) because God made us. Therefore, we are inherently good; we are not, however, inherently perfect.

We make mistakes. Actually, we make lots of them. We make bad decisions. We choose unhealthy foods, behaviors and lifestyles. We hurt others. We're mean. We're lazy. We're rude. We lie. We cheat. We sin in all kinds of ways.

Yet, despite all of these shortcomings we are still fundamentally good, and God still loves us with the deepest, purest, most intense love possible. We're not perfect, but we are good.

This goes for our students as well-- they may not be perfect, but they are good.

As Catholic educators, this is a very important concept in our approach to our students' moral formation. First, we must always maintain, recognize, and honor our students' divine heritage. We respect them. We value their opinions. We care for their concerns. We treat them as children of God. We believe that we're not turning bad children into good ones, but rather good children into even better ones.

Second, we use discipline as a way to help our students become disciples of Christ. Instead of a focus on punishment, we shift to a focus on developing the self-discipline of our students. This must be paramount in our efforts to form our students morally. We must encourage them to be self-disciplined, give them opportunities to develop and use this self-discipline, and offer them guidance as they mature in their abilities to self-regulate their behaviors. Ultimately, we must challenge them to take up their crosses and follow Jesus. We must call them to be disciples of Jesus.

As disciples of Christ ourselves, we can help our students develop greater self-discipline by modelling that self-discipline. We must keep our tempers in check. We must be consistent in our interactions with students, parents, visitors and other teachers. We must be present to our students, actively supervising them (especially during the many unstructured moments throughout the day-- lunch, recess, passing in the hallways, etc.). We must exercise patience, addressing students' misbehavior and not the emotions conjured in either ourselves or the students. We must use gentle reminders. We must have clear and consistent expectations in our classroom management plans. We must connect, in a personal way, with each student in our classrooms and our school each and every day. In a sense, what we must be as concerned with how we teach morality as with what we're teaching about it.

We must teach with love. We must love our students unconditionally and love them enough to discipline them. In Paul's letter to the Hebrews, he writes, "My son, do not disdain the discipline of the Lord or lose heart when reproved by him; for whom the Lord loves, he disciplines; he scourges every son he acknowledges" (Hebrews 12:5 - 6). There are times when students have not exercised self-discipline and our supervision has not deterred an inappropriate behavior (and/or our attempts at redirecting the behavior have failed). It is during these times that we correct misbehavior through age appropriate consequences and remediation. We do this to discipline our students, not to punish them. We do this to help them develop greater self-discipline. We do this to help them become disciples of Christ. We do this to help them become the people God created them to be:

Good people capable of amazingly wonderful things, but incapable of perfection.

Good yet imperfect people completely, totally, unabashedly, and perfectly loved by God.