Saturday, September 25, 2010

Intelligent, Backward Design

It's probably safe to say that in fashioning creation, God had a clear picture of His end products prior to starting. I firmly believe that humans (and all of creation for that matter) did not occur by accident. Rather, we were made in God's image and likeness. We were fearfully made. We were wonderfully made. We were made for a specific purpose or end, and this end was clearly known prior to our creation.

Even if you factor in the theories of Evolution and Natural Selection, God still has a place and His Intelligent Design is easy to experience. Look at any aspect of creation and it's easy to see that Something smarter than a human is responsible. The intricacies of cells and atoms, the complexities of life cycles and our bodily systems-- all point toward God's Intelligent Design. And since it's intelligent, it's also fairly likely that the end was known before He ever began.

Few culinary feasts are created without an idea of the sights, smells and tastes that those who will dine at the table will experience.

Few embark on journeys by plane, car, foot or even boat, without first identifying a destination.

You don't start training for a marathon without an understanding of just how far 26.2 miles really is. Likewise, you don't participate in the race unless you've undergone some sort of training.

While I could go on with other examples to demonstrate earthly examples of having the end in mind before beginning, I'd rather not completely reveal my lack of impulsiveness. In addition, I'd like to get to the purpose for which I started this blog entry: how this relates to Catholic education.

As Catholic educators we must begin with our ends/purposes clearly in sight: to educate life-long Catholics in such a way that they not only contribute to but also positively change society. With these goals in plain view, we can approach our lessons, plans, assessments, extra-curriculars and all that we do so that they further this mission. Anything not advancing this mission should be scrutinized as to whether or not it should be included in the school's agenda. Similarly, simply knowing our objectives as Catholic educators makes it more likely that we'll actually accomplish them.

A similar method must be used regarding instruction-- teachers must begin with the end in mind. Known as "Understanding by Design" or "Backward Planning", this method asks for teachers to start their planning by identifying those concepts they hope students will learn by the time the lesson(s) is(are) over. This approach also moves past checking off a list of standards to imparting enduring understandings, concepts and ideas that are much broader in scope and much more important. Units don't typically end with a chapter test (although they can). Instead, teachers end with an assessment that tests whether or not students are able to use their new knowledge meaningfully.

While much too complex of a technique to adequately cover here, Understanding by Design is successful for the same reason that a recipe produces culinary delights, Mapquest directions and GPS systems get us to our destinations and marathon training plans enable us to complete a distance that toppled Pheidippides.

It may be backward, but in this case doing things backward is smart...even intelligent.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Run, Run As Fast As We Can

My nephew Frederick will turn two years old later this month. His favorite things, which also happen to be his favorite words, include cars, trucks, cheese, boats, trees, sail boats, and dump trucks. He also runs everywhere he goes. Literally. At first I thought it was just to get his favorite toys, or to come to dinner (especially if cheese was on the menu!). But, this sense of urgency was apparent when cleaning up his toys, going down for a nap or giving hugs goodnight. He runs everywhere.

When I wasn't getting a good chuckle out of how fast his little legs could propel him, I was thinking about how different my life would be if I were to do this (and in saying this, I mean to live with such a sense of urgency-- if I ran everywhere I'd not only set a bad example for all of the students at ICS but also it would be entirely weird). Frederick made me think about how much I'd love to live with such passion, enthusiasm and zeal at every moment during every day of my life.

And why should any of us lack the fervor of a 2 year old? Despite the daily grind, which often wears on our hopes and dreams, we have few other valid excuses. For, since everyone has a purpose, everyone also has a limited amount of time to accomplish it. God has given us work to do that is worth doing. He's also issued a deadline by which He needs it done.

My intent is definitely not to offer a message of doom and gloom. Instead, it's intended to be a realistic reminder that we have little time to waste when it comes to doing God's work. Each day, we receive the gift of 24 hours. What we do with those hours is our gift back to God.

St. Francis de Sales put it this way, "Every moment comes to us pregnant with a command from God, only to pass on and plunge into eternity there to remain forever what we have made it."

Of course, we need to recharge from time to time. We also need time to rest. Burnout can and does happen. To avoid it we must be smart in our work. Not everything can be accomplished in a day, week, year or even a lifetime. But, each day there is good work to be done. We need to do all we can to accomplish it.

As Catholic educators we truly have good work to do. It is work that is noble and even heavenly in that it deals with things not of this world. Our mission as Catholic educators is both to educate and evangelize. Even if our purpose was solely educating our students it would still deal with material that is heavenly: children. It is work worth doing. It is work that needs to be done. It is work that needs to be done today and every day. God is counting on us.

The alarm is ringing. The bell is chiming. It's time to get up, to get to school and to start working. If we had the sense of a two year old, we'd be running to get it done.

"There is only one thing to do here below: to love Jesus, to win souls for Him so that He may be loved. Let us seize with jealous care every last opportunity of self-sacrifice. Let us refuse Him nothing-- He does so want our love!"

-St. Therese of Lisieux

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

An Attitude of Gratitude

In light of my most recent blog, I share this short video clip, forwarded to me through All Pro Dad's Email Play of the Day.

Enjoy, and be thankful:

Monday, September 6, 2010

Thanksgiving Days

Last weekend, my wife Emily and I stumbled upon the Emmy's on television, and though we didn't watch much more than a few minutes of this awards ceremony, it was long enough to hear a handful of acceptance/thank you speeches. Some were heartfelt and spontaneous. Others were written down and rehearsed. And whether the thanker listed out every thankee or just covered everyone with a blanket "and-anyone-else-I-forgot-to-mention" thank you, award winners made a point to express gratitude to all of those who made their moment of success possible.

This year's Emmy Awards Ceremony also fell on the five year anniversary of Hurricane Katrina making landfall on New Orleans. Sadly, the effects of this devastating event can still be seen and experienced today. Not to dismiss the gravity of just how tragic this event was (and still is), but Hurricane Katrina and its effects brought out the best in our country, united a city and ultimately inspired us all. While I'm sure this weekend dredged up the pain of that event, remembering some of the stories surrounding it also invited feelings of gratitude, thankfulness and being truly blessed.

Two very different occasions. One common theme- thankfulness. Isn't it unfortunate that we seldom take time to express gratitude unless we are truly showered with abundance or extremely humbled by tragedy or loss. Much like a pre-game speech that fades by kick-off or an in-service that does little more than change one small aspect of our practice for an even smaller amount of time, our spirits of gratitude wane shortly after our lives return to normal.

Even holidays' (including our "Holy Days", too) effects are short-lived. Thanksgiving, Christmas and Easter may produce the most long-lasting thankfulness. But, once the Christmas shopping bills arrive or we've eaten enough chocolate to more than make up for our Lenten abstinence our spirits of gratitude dwindle.

In order to have a consistent attitude of gratitude, we must make every day Thanksgiving Day. In his Spiritual Exercises, St. Ignatius of Loyola suggests that Christians engage in a daily Examen, the first part of which is a review of one's day, from start to finish, noticing moments of God's presence.

Another tactic is to write down (on an actual sheet of paper) the people, things, and ideas (i.e. freedom) for which you are thankful. From there, review its contents daily (or even multiple times each day). Add to the list (hopefully without subtracting anything) as you see fit. Do it for a month and your awareness of the many blessings in your life will increase.

A final way to grow in appreciation for all that we have is to use good manners. It's amazing that simply "minding our p's and q's" can lead to more satisfaction with our current state in life. Say please and thank you, good morning, good afternoon, good evening and good night. Wave at people in cars who let you into traffic. Offer true and specific compliments to others, even strangers. Pray before eating. Pray before going to bed. Pray when you first get up in the morning. Hold doors. Pick up trash (even those that aren't yours). You'll come to find that the more polite you are, the more thankful you become. In turn, the more thankful you are the more for which you'll become thankful.

So, before your next moment of glory comes or before the next storm of your life hits, make a habit of spending time each day recognizing the many gifts bestowed upon you.

You might just thank me that you did.