Sunday, December 18, 2011
Monday, December 12, 2011
Thursday, December 8, 2011
Monday, December 5, 2011
Monday, November 14, 2011
ANSWER: The Catholic School advantage.
With the economy still in the dumps, there must be some benefit in order for it to be worthwhile. The benefit must go beyond the inclusion of a religion class throughout the course of the day; students can attend faith formation classes for free on the weekends. It must go beyond having the ability to accept and deny students based on academics and behavior (and in turn have fewer problems and higher achieving students).
"And so, now as in the past, the Catholic school must be able to speak for itself effectively and convincingly. It is not merely a question of adaptation, but of missionary thrust, the fundamental duty to evangelize, to go towards men and women wherever they are, so that they may receive the gift of salvation" (The Catholic School on the Threshold of the Third Millennium, n. 3).
The Catholic School must have at its foundation an obligation to evangelize. It must charge itself with producing lifelong believers and future citizens of heaven.
"Its (the Catholic School's) task is fundamentally a synthesis of culture and faith, and a synthesis of faith and life: the first is reached by integrating all the different aspects of human knowledge through the subjects taught, in the light of the Gospel; the second in the growth of the virtues characteristic of the Christian" (The Catholic School, n. 37).
The Catholic School must weave Jesus into all aspects of the curriculum and school culture. It must put the subjects and concepts taught in the light of the Gospel, and ensure that students are not just made smarter, but that they are also made better.
In a sense, the Catholic School must be able to produce productive citizens- people who can and do contribute in a positive way to their society. Ancient theologians argued that a good Christian made for a good citizen. Current research corroborates this:
A Harvard University study conducted in 2000 (Campbell, p. 25) reported that Catholic School students performed better than other students on the three basic objectives of civic education: the capacity for civic engagement (e.g. voluntary community service), political knowledge (e.g. learning and using civic skills), and political tolerance (e.g. respect for opinions different from their own).The longer that students spend in Catholic school's the greater the spiritual and academic benefits:
Catholic Schools are still the most effective means of forming adult Catholics that are active in their parish. 43% of those who had more than 8 years of Catholic School attended Mass every week (Greeley, p. 250).
If a student spends 8 years or more in a Catholic School, the advantage is higher math, reading and vocabulary scores (Sander, p. 545).Catholic School students are happier than their public school counterparts. They are healthier. They have a more benign view of their fellow humans. They are more accepting of people of different viewpoints. They are more generous in giving back to the Church, donating over $750 million dollars annually (Greeley, p. 260 - 261).
Even here in our own state, a 2009-10 analysis of students who qualify for Step Up for Students, Florida’s Tax Credit Scholarship Program, shows that students in Catholic schools outperform their public school peers that they left behind. Catholic Schools can educate students better and for less than ½ of the money that it costs public schools to educate students.
Put simply, there isn't just a Catholic School advantage, there are Catholic School advantages.
Campbell, David. “Making Democratic Education Work: Schools, Social Capital, and Civic Education” (paper presented at the Conference on Charter Schools, Vouchers, and Public Education, March 2000), 25ff.
Congregation for Catholic Education. “The Catholic School on the Threshold of the Third Millennium.” Catholic Education: A Journal of Inquiry & Practice, Vol. 2, No. 1: 4 – 14.
Greeley, Andrew. 1989. “My Research on Catholic Schools.” Chicago Studies, Vol. 28, No. 3: 245 – 263.
Sander, William. 1996. “Catholic Grade Schools and Academic Achievement.” The Journal of Human Resources, Vol. 31, No. 3 (Summer, 1996): 540 – 548.
Sacred Congregation for Catholic Education, The Catholic School (Washington, DC: USCC, 1977).
Friday, October 21, 2011
A month ago, I wouldn't have been able to use this phrase. For anyone unsure of its meaning, it will be revealed in a few moments. For now, let me relate how I came upon this expression.
At a recent in-service a vendor who was pitching a product (and sponsoring lunch!) said that since his company's product boasts customer service, in Spanish, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, he makes a point to wake up on Christmas morning, call the help line, and utter "Feliz Navidad" to the unwitting operator answering his call. He said it's his way to "kick the tires", as a way to ensure that his company is living up to the ideals it professes.
His presentation and the lunch his company sponsored were equally impressive. He was a good salesman; but not that good. Despite not purchasing his company's product, this phrase stuck with me. First, I love the imagery. I picture a beat up car on a dusty road and I can almost feel my foot bouncing off the front driver's side tire. Not that I know anything about cars, but I imagine this being a final step (after filling the tank, checking the oil and doing other such car maintenance tasks) before climbing back into the vehicle to continue on my travels.
Second, much like the first time my Uncle Dave asked me if I was "feeling froggy" and if so told me to "go ahead and leap", I was amused by this expression and intrigued by the fact that I had never heard this figurative expression used before. Contextually, I understood the way he included it in his presentation. But to be sure, I googled it: Doing research before making an investment and To make a quick, superficial inspection of something, were two of the definitions upon which I stumbled. Then, I found the etymology: since tires on early automobiles were often made with cheap and/or thin rubber, "kicking the tires" was an easy way to test not only the thickness but also the tire's ability to hold and retain air. "Kicking the tires" would quickly reveal an inferior product.
Third, I respected this gentleman for putting his own product to the test. We could fill volumes with the number of companies that promised one thing and then produced something very contradictory. Few business or organizations or even people behave in such a way that they consistently do what they say they'll do.
Of course, no company or person is perfect. But rare are those who follow through with what they say they'll do with some regularity. No organization entirely lives its mission, no person holds onto his/her convictions without stumbling. Unfortunately, though, few even try or care that they fall short.
Jesus called such people Pharisees. Today we label them hypocrites. We are all of us guilty of being less than perfect. We can, though, continually improve.
We can "kick the tires" and discover chinks in our armor. Doing so exposes our weaknesses and challenges us to make changes. Neither of these is pleasant. Both are essential as both people and Catholic Schools.
Kick your tires. Ask someone else to kick them for you and with you. Don't kick somebody else's unless you've been asked in turn. Worry about the plank in your own tire and not the splinter in another's.
Ask the questions, "Why do we do that?" or, "Why do we do that in that way?" Put behaviors, policies, procedures, actions in terms of your mission and scrutinize whether or not they help you to fulfill it. Analyze areas where you are saying one thing but doing something that sends an entirely different message (educators know this as the null curriculum).
Never accept "we've always done it that way" or "I've always done it that way" as sufficient enough reason to continue to do something.
Take the biggest obstacle keeping you from being the person or institution God has created you to be and throw it out the window. Then ask yourself, "Now what?" Maybe that obstacle wasn't the thing keeping you from being your best self. Maybe you and your reluctance to change are.
Check your ego at the door and start allowing God's spirit to mold you and shape you into what He wills. Invite God to give you and/or your school a tune-up. Allow Him to fill you with air if you're flat, patch you if you've been punctured or make a change if you need a new part. Let Him do it now so that when He calls at a time like Christmas morning to kick His tires (us!), we can answer, say "Feliz Navidad", and pass Inspection.
Sunday, October 2, 2011
As Emily related to me this episode as well as other words spoken by this prodigy, I responded like any parent- why can't my daughter, 30 days this girl's elder, talk with clarity? What are we not doing? Reading to her enough? Speaking to her and not just about her? Doing things for her instead of teaching her and/or letting her figure it out herself? Luckily, my feelings of concern quickly fleeted. The educator in me rationalized with my inner-parent: every child progresses at different paces.
This story time-mate can use interjection in appropriate contexts but may not yet be able to stand, wave or make a complete mess of her bedroom by unshelving and opening every book she owns. Everyone is inherently different. Thank God for that! All created in His image and likeness, we were also created as unique and special persons. As such, we all have varying gifts, talents, weaknesses and shortcomings. Thank God for that, too!
With this in mind, the dynamics of having 20-30 individuals, each with their own unique gifts and talents, in the same classroom presents various challenges to meeting the needs of all of those individuals within that classroom. Known in education as differentiated instruction, teachers are charged with meeting each student where they are and helping them to progress. It starts by shifting to a student-centered classroom (as opposed to the traditional teacher-centered ones). From there, delivering the content so that it makes sense to and has meaning for students trumps teaching in the method, style or pace most suited for the teacher. Covering material is out the window in differentiated instruction. Sitting in its place is student learning. Student learning, not teacher teaching, should be the focus of any classroom trying to do more than just educate those students in the middle of the ability spectrum within a classroom.
As one would imagine, differentiating instruction successfully is extremely difficult. Most teachers aim for the middle of the famous "bell curve", figuring this strategy and pacing will allow them to educate a good percentage of students. This is hardly blameworthy. A majority of students get a best fit education. Meteorologists cannot boast a higher success rate. Major League Baseball players make millions of dollars if they can be productive at a much lower rate.
But, when it comes to education, specifically Catholic education, a majority isn't good enough. The top tiered students will become bored. The lower end frustrated. Both extremes disillusioned.
Bottom line: unacceptable.
Catholic social teaching promotes the dignity of all persons. As Catholics we respect and honor human life from conception to its natural end. Jesus challenges us to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, heal those who are hurting. Go and make disciples of all the nations. Jesus even gives us the parable about the vineyard workers getting hired at different times but receiving the same wage (Mt. 20:1-16a). Fair doesn't mean equal. Every student in our classrooms deserves our time, attention, talent and love.
A staple in special education classrooms, differentiated instruction involves open ended assignments, tailoring instruction to meet the specific needs of all students, allowing different groups of students within the same classroom to be at slightly different stages, and even activating multiple intelligences. Luckily, general and even Catholic education classrooms have taken to this approach. Educators have come to realize that this is just good teaching because it promotes good learning. The student becomes the focus and the center of the educational effort. The teacher employs different strategies to reach each student. Instead of students adapting to a teacher's style, teachers differentiate to meet the varying needs of each and every student.
Good teachers will get a majority of the students in their classroom to succeed. Outstanding teachers will design ways to engage the highest and lowest performing students as well.
The difference is something that makes a world of difference, especially to the kids on either end of the spectrum: differentiated instruction.
Monday, September 19, 2011
As such, Emily had an exterminator on the premises this past week. Even though my bug fighting and killing experience and repertoire of strategies pales in comparison to this expert, I'm starting to think that the ants are just too resilient to be defeated.
Or maybe just too numerous- ants are everywhere. Their army seems to have an unlimited supply of troops. I hope that our extreme measure proves to be successful; the grittiness of my lilliputian nemeses, though, is impressive enough to instill doubt. After all, ants can carry more than five times their body weight. I would be lucky to still be able to lift 1.5 times my own. And, even though we called for reinforcements, my team is greatly outnumbered.
In brainstorming possible ways to hold the line, I started to develop a rivalry-esque respect for my six legged opponents. Their unwavering determination and will astounded me. The more I tried to keep them at bay, the faster and more numerous they seemed to grow. I can just imagine them clenching their mouths, rolling up their sleeves, digging their heels into the ground, maybe even spitting once or twice and yelling to each other, "Is this the worst this guy has to offer? Bring it!"
In personifying these insects and identifying a soft spot in my heart for them, I also reflected on the importance of this character trait in not only students but also teachers. Resiliency, determination, grit. Our pampered, fast-food, instant gratification lifestyles have massaged any toughness right out of us. For those who have faced difficulty, there's likely a law, diagnosis (and corresponding medication), talk show, or watered down educational/accountability system that can offer these "victims" easy relief. Not a way out of the difficulty, just a way to make it not as rough.
Without pressure and heat, there would be no such things as a diamond. Iron is made into steel by removing impurities through extreme heat. Sometimes a plant must be pruned back before it can fully blossom.
One of the most important lessons we can teach our students and one of the most important character traits we should foster and develop is resiliency. How to weather a storm. How to work hard to overcome a difficulty. How to roll up their sleeves and say to a classmate, "Is this the worst this guy has to offer? Bring it!"
To build resiliency in students we push them. Challenge them. We hold them accountable for academics and behavior. We deal with them in fair and consistent ways. Most importantly, we model it. We follow through on everything. We mean what we say and say what we mean. We push ourselves to overcome challenges and difficulties. We ensure our preparedness and professionalism. We believe that every student can be reached, taught and improved.
Timothy Daly of the New Teacher Project puts it in these terms, "At the end of day it's the mindset that teachers need- a kind of relentless approach to the problem," This approach can, under any set of circumstances, ensure student success.
Angela Lee Duckworth, an assistant professor of psychology at the University of Pennsylvania, argues, "Those who initially scored high for 'grit'- defined as perseverance and a passion for long-term goals, and measured using a short multiple choice test-- were 31% more likely than their less gritty peers to spur academic growth in their students" (www.theatlantic.com/doc/201001/good-teaching).
So, then the question becomes, "How do you create resilient teachers?" Unfortunately, it's harder to do with adults than children. The approach is the same, though. Push, challenge, follow through, hold them accountable, be fair, be consistent, model it.
Teachers, like ants, are impressively strong creatures. Able to do so much more than carry five times their "body weight", a resilient teacher will guarantee that all students thrive. A resilient teacher will develop resilient students. Resilient students will be able to do...just about anything.
Tuesday, August 30, 2011
"Each and every day, we strive for predictability, unoriginality and no frills utilitarianism for all of your transportation needs. The 2011 Mediocrity will get you from A to B without anybody ever noticing, and that's a good thing" (for more, click here: Mediocrity).
One of their non-commercials states, "Instead of breaking the mold, we went down and found those pieces from that mold, and we put it back together."
Of course, Subaru is playing with us. No one would actually want a car like that- so we are intrigued enough to go in search of one of their models. Average? Ordinary? Middle of the road? Commonplace? Good enough?
How many of us woke up this morning and thought, "I want to be an average _____________ today. I don't really want to make a difference or be noticed"? Fill in the blank with husband, son, principal, father, student, brother, mother, janitor, banker, chef, whatever. No one would actually hope to be mediocre.
Similarly, there isn't a student sitting in their seats this school year thinking, "I hope that in June I have all C's!" Hopefully, there isn't also a teacher standing in the front of a classroom musing, "If I can just reach the students in the middle this year, that would be a success!" The dawn of a new year yields an optimism and positivity that this year will be different. The promise of a new teacher, perhaps a new schedule, even a new school, or a new roster of students (or at the very least a new set of school supplies!) also gives us a new confidence that this will be the year that we do all of our homework or study for multiple nights before a test/quiz, complete our lesson plans before they are due to be checked, make the tough phone calls, and the positive ones, too.
This may last until around September or even through the first round of tests or possibly the end of the first quarter. And as the monotony of the daily grind replaces the life-giving hope of the first few days and weeks, we start to give in to this spirit of mediocrity. We start to settle for good enough. We start to believe that a C is about the best I'll get anyways. We buy into the trap that some students are lazy or too far behind for me to help. We become afraid.
This fear keeps us a long way from reaching our heavenly call. St. Paul tells Timothy, "God did not give you a spirit of fear, but one of POWER, LOVE and SELF-CONTROL" (2 Timothy 1:7). Even the Psalmist writes, "I praise you because I am WONDERFULLY made" (Psalm 139:14). Jesus Himself tells us, "You are the light of the world" (Matthew 5:14). A far cry from average, ordinary or even mediocre.
We were made in God's image and likeness and if we are to believe our God is all-loving, all-powerful, all-knowing, than we, too, must tap into this royalty. We were made for so much more than middle of the road. We were made for heaven.
So, this year, instead of just being good enough, why not be heroic? If anything stirs inside of you as you read this, it is the Spirit tugging at your heart the same why He did when you were young (or younger). It is God awakening your passion for Him within your heart. If your breath is getting faster, or heart beating more quickly or if you find yourself becoming energized (which is rather presumptuous of me!), go with it. Be the parent you once were and always wanted to be. Be the teacher you set out to be when you first stood in front of a group of students. Be the student who takes ownership of his/her learning and make this the year that puts you back on the path to becoming who God created you to be.
It's a Mold that can't be broken.
Wednesday, August 3, 2011
But, to remain relevant, Darius Rucker evolved. Taking a risk, Darius launched a country music career in 2008. For those of you who don't know, Darius Rucker is African-American. Furthermore, very few African-Americans have vertured into the world of country music; even fewer have found success there. Prior to Darius reaching #1 on the country charts in September of 2008, the last African-American to accomplish this feat was Charley Pride in 1983, 25 years before. Growing up in South Carolina, Darius was no stranger to country music. A singer with a soulful voice, his evolution into country music was not as far of a leap as some may think. But, it was definitely a leap, and one that enabled Darius Rucker to remain "bearing upon or connected with the matter in hand" (from Dictionary.com). Hootie and the Blowfish is no longer relevant. Darius Rucker is.
As Catholic Educators, are we connected with the matter in hand? Do we have direct bearing upon what is pertinent, important, timely? Have we appropriately evolved? Or, do we still teach, solely, from behind a podium? Do we punish entire classes for the misdeeds of a small few? Are we autocratic or authoritative? Are we educating students for success in our world or theirs? Is our educational approach relevant?
As Catholic Educators, the beauty of the message of the Gospel is that it is timeless. It is always relevant, always pertinent. Our Catholic Church is a wonderful example of staying relevant while still maintaining a rich tradition. Its roots continue to get deeper so that its branches can continue to grow taller. The Vatican has a YouTube Channel: http://www.youtube.com/user/vatican. The Pope even has a Twitter account, "tweeting" on February 8: "I invite Christians, with an informed & responsible creativity, to join the network of relationships which the digital era has made possible" (from http://twitter.com/#!/PopeBenedictXIV). On November 27, the American Church will put to use the Third Edition of the Roman Missal, harkening to a more direct translation between the prayers used during the Celebration of the Eucharist and the Scripture upon which they are based. The Catholic Church is staying relevant while maintaining its firm foundation.
As Catholic Schools we must use our creativity to stay relevant. We must enlist the help of our parents, corporations and businesses. We must find ways to use state and federal money to our advantage. We must capitalize on scholarship money and grants. We must seek out the most up to date research on planning, instruction and assessment and weave it into our style of teaching. We must market. We must plan. We must teach in such a way that the Catholic Church remains relevant for another 2,000 years. We must be better than the educational offerings at public, private or even other denominational schools. We must evangelize.
Every aspect of our schools must show the relevance between the subject matters we teach and the only Subject that really matters- Jesus.
Every aspect including our blogs...
Wednesday, July 27, 2011
My heightened sense of anxiety because of Elizabeth's heightened abilities of mobility has perpetuated a reflection on the word "proof".
It has multiple meanings. A noun, verb and adjective, the word means everything from evidence, to a trial copy, to resistant and the activation of yeast.
Proofing was mentioned in last week's Gospel: “The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed with three measures of wheat flour until the whole batch was leavened” (Matthew 13: 32 - 33). Part of Jesus' long list of parables, proofing - or the activation of yeast - is a concept that recurs throughout the Bible, but mostly in a negative way. But, as Jesus often does, he reverses the commonly held perception of yeast and gives it lasting power. We think of proofing dough and its connotation to how we should view the Kingdom of God in a positive way. Bread that doesn't rise or expand, even in our carb conscious culture, is typically not a good thing (especially if it is supposed to). Prior to Jesus's use of the concept, yeast was seen as something that would take over dough, similar to the way that sin can take over every aspect of our lives. Expanding and rising in intensity, even a little sin can lead us into a downward spiral.
Jesus's use of the idea is proof that we are called to rise and expand. We are to become activated, quickened, elevated, and in being so enlivened - leavened - we should be able to do the same for others.
Educators within Catholic Schools should be this key ingredient in the recipe for our students' learning. Inspiring the pursuit of greater and deeper knowledge should be coupled with an equally intense search for spiritual development. The two of these combined should leaven us out of our school doors to make the world a better place. We shouldn't just be bread for the world, we must also be the yeast that makes the bread possible.
So, we must provide a different type of proof as well. We must be the proof, or evidence, that the Kingdom of God truly exists. Called to establish His Kingdom here on Earth in the hopes of inheriting a piece of it in eternity, we must behave in such a way that our very lives cause others to consider the fact that there is not only a benevolent God, but that this God passionately desires an intimate relationship with us. We must be the proof (n.):
1. The evidence or argument that compels the mind to accept an assertion as true
2. The convincing or persuasive demonstration
3. The determination of the quality of something by testing (definitions via: The Free Dictionary)
of such a God.
How do we offer up such proof? With the same ingredient that proves we are Christians and that mom's cooking really is the best: love.
Friday, July 15, 2011
I've taught in classrooms of close to 30 students. I ran a High School athletic program. I just completed my first year as Principal in a school of over 30 personnel and 340 students. I should be able to handle just one, right?
But, as any teacher who is also a parent (and many parents/people who think that anyone with even a high school education can teach) would attest: parenting is an entirely different and entirely more important type of education.
Unfortunately, I would venture to say that our American society does not share my high regard for parenting. Case in point, upon a recent trip to the Post Office with Elizabeth, my wife Emily found herself last in a very long line. The next customer after Emily and Elizabeth was a middle-aged woman with only her parcels in tow. As the line slowly inched forward, and Emily managed both Elizabeth and our packages to mail, the woman said to my wife:
You know, I may be from what you would call a third world country, but there pregnant women and women with children would never wait in a line such as this. In my country, you would be considered sacred.Now, I understand that the "I hate Casey Anthony" Facebook Page was the fastest growing page last week but does our reverence for the vocation of parenthood extend any further than hitting the "Like" button?
Are mothers in America sacred?
The Catholic Church does not shy from its stance on the importance of parents:
Parents and those who take their place are bound by the obligation and possess the right of educating their offspring. Catholic parents also have the duty and right of choosing those means and institutions through which they can provide more suitably for the Catholic education of their children, according to local circumstances (Can. 793.1).
Furthermore, the Church promotes the family as the primary avenue of the propagation of the faith. Blessed John Paul the Great wrote in his Letter to Families:
Certainly one area in which the family has an irreplaceable role is that of religious education, which enables the family to grow as a "domestic church". Religious education and the catechesis of children make the family a true subject of evangelization and the apostolate within the Church. We are speaking of a right intrinsically linked to the principle of religious liberty. Families, and more specifically parents, are free to choose for their children a particular kind of religious and moral education consonant with their own convictions. Even when they entrust these responsibilities to ecclesiastical institutions or to schools administered by religious personnel, their educational presence ought to continue to be constant and active (16).
Children should learn about Jesus from their parents. This faith should be supported by participation in the Church, not the sole place it is supplied.
Parents are not just important. They are the most important part of Catholic education.
But, how many Catholics have even read this letter? Or, how many, regardless of whether or not this letter was read, even believe that parents and the family play such an integral role in the development of children?
Plato wrote, "A society cultivates whatever is honored there."
Do we honor children? How about families?
Hospitals in America view women in labor as patients. Is giving birth a sickness? Cereal companies, knowing the huge childhood obesity problem in our country, often list sugar or one of its many aliases, as the second most bountiful ingredient- which is okay because they're made with whole grains! Advertisers, regardless of the product, keep in mind our children and strive for brand recognition and loyalty. Television, even "kid-friendly" programs, often contain objectionable material.
But, sex sells, and in a society where money is honored, money is in turn cultivated...at the expense of our children.
ABC News supposedly paid Casey Anthony $200,000.00 for exclusive rights to videos and pictures of her story. Chances are also good that at some point, she will capitalize from this infamy.
Kate (of "Plus 8" fame), sans John, still gets paid for offering up the lives of her children, even though it already cost her her marriage.
Even teachers cultivate money as opposed to children. Despite attempts in many school districts across the country to base teacher salaries on performance, most public systems allow tenured teachers- many of who are burnt out or at best antiquated- to keep their high paying positions regardless of their inadequacy.
Money is honored here and we think that just because we hate Casey Anthony that we can claim to care about and cultivate our kids.
That's like planting a garden in the shade, watering it sparingly with Coke, giving it a shot of Miracle Grow and expecting it to yield a bountiful harvest.
As Catholic educators (teachers and/or parents), we must approach each child we encounter as the sacred gifts that they are. We must realize that (and I've included this before) as teachers we do not "write on inanimate material but on the very spirits of human beings."
In honoring our children, we must do much more than press a "Like" button to voice our displeasure at a bad parent, or add some Miracle Grow to make up for our deficiencies. We must spend less time cultivating our money trees and more time giving some TLC to another abstract arbor: our family trees.
Thursday, June 30, 2011
Over the course of that weekend, as well as the past week, I reflected again and again on this occurrence. I thought about how incredible it is that Elizabeth, who can't speak or even move gracefully and with coordination, can express her emotions so clearly. What's more is that I'm even more impressed with her displays of happiness than sadness. She is so excited to see me or Emily. She'll smile. Shake. Squeak. And now come to us- the object of her desire.
Am I so quick to let others know that I love them? As teachers, do we show such emotion toward our students? What about their parents? What about our colleagues?
Another part of my reflection focused on the importance of fatherhood, and in turn parenthood and teacherhood. Elizabeth crawled to me. She'll also follow Emily and me if we move from a room with Elizabeth to a room without her. She'll make noises or movements in the same fashion (somewhat) and motion (again, somewhat) as what we model.
St. John Bosco, the founder of the Salesian order (who devote themselves to working, primarily in schools, with the young and the poor) in one of his famous dreams, recounts the story of the monkeys. To paraphrase his tale, a man wanders into a forest and falls asleep. As he sleeps, a group of monkeys sneak into his campsite and take all of the hats that he has packed. Upon waking in the morning, the man is astonished to see a cadre of monkeys donning his hats. Outraged, he yells and screams for them to give him back his hats. They, in turn, make loud noises. The man then proceeds to jump up and down in frustration. The monkeys do the same. Finally, out of desperation and resignation that his hats are gone forever, the man takes off his hat and throws it to the ground, sits down and pities himself. His reserve of hats then comes showering down upon him.
The Old Testament figure Judith preaches to the rulers of the people of Bethulia, saying, "Therefore, my brothers, let us set an example for our kinsmen. Their lives depend on us, and the defense of the sanctuary, the temple, and the altar rests with us" (Judith 8:24). As parents and teachers, it is imperative that we set an example for our kinsmen/children/students. Their lives truly depend on us- their salvation rests with us.
Makes you think twice about cursing or even showing frustration in front of a kid, right?
Finally, Elizabeth's first time crawling toward me, her earthly father, made me think of how many times in my life I have gone crawling back to my Heavenly Father hoping to be reconciled with Him. Like the prodigal son, I am humbled, especially considering the example I am called to set for both my own daughter and all of those students entrusted to my care at Incarnation, thinking of Elizabeth crawling toward me.
She makes me want to crawl faster, and more often, back to Him. With the strength of the Eucharist and the power of the Sacrament of Reconciliation, I know that I have the tools, if I would just use them, to be the type of dad Elizabeth needs me to be.
She may be the one learning how to move, but in many ways, I am the one who's crawling...
Saturday, June 11, 2011
While not a rousing end to a banner year, it did signal the hope, promise and expectation shared by myself and our teachers about the year ahead. They could have very easily stayed at home and started their summer break. As a school, we could have let the government money used to sponsor this workshop roll back into the hands of bureaucrats.
Championships, however, are won in the off-season.
Very much a forward thinker, I seldom look back to the past with either nostalgia or regret. What does the future hold? How can I bring it to fruition? Do other possibilities exist? How can I open myself to see beyond even these avenues and welcome that which is from God?
Very much introspective, reflective and prayerful, I tend to spend much time prior to making a decision in thought, reflection and prayer. Doing so allows me to put the outcome of such decisions in the hands of God and rarely spend time in regret. Rarely do I even reminisce. Trust that I'm doing, in a human and imperfect way, what God wants me to do. Pray that He gives me the strength to do it. Keep trying.
But, look to the future. At the very least, focus on the present moment in such an intimate way so as to live in harmony with the only time there is. "Don't stop thinking about tomorrow..." Fleetwood Mac sings, "...don't you look back."
And I typically don't. I loved it when Elizabeth would fall asleep on my chest. I loved being able to sprint and play sports that require quick changes of direction. I even loved being an Assistant Principal. Instead of longing for these pieces of my past, though, and what I no longer have, I choose to focus on what is still to come. The glass isn't just half full, the other half is coming.
But, within a span of 48 hours last week, the first year of my principalship ended, my wife and I celebrated our fourth wedding anniversary (the best 4 years of my life-- and they just keep getting better!), and one of the most influential people in my life outside of my immediate family and my wife died: Coach Ron Alexander, my wrestling coach at Benedicting High School. "Coach Al" as he was affectionately and respectfully known, taught me so much about not only what it means to be a man of faith ("Cheese and crackers, Michael! What in the ham sandwich are you doing?"-- never once did I ever hear Coach Al swear and he would NEVER use the Lord's name in vain), but also what kind of man I wanted to be. Humble, hardworking, generous, kind, Coach Al made Christ incarnate to me. In me Coach Al saw what few others did, including myself. I'd like to think that he saw me as He sees me. Coach Al challenged me. He encouraged me. He supported me. He loved me.
My retrospection continues. As I thought about the past year, I thought back to that pivotal year half of my life ago. I was 16 and had made the transition from the hard court (basketball) to the grunt and grind of the mat (wrestling). My reasons for quitting just about the only thing I ever quit were numerous. What I learned that year echoes in my mind as I reflect on the many events and lessons of this past one.
Reinvention. The differences between basketball and wrestling are many. Prior to my first day at wrestling practice I thought that I was a good athlete. After that first day of getting twisted into more shapes than a box of rejected pretzels, and being completely exhausted, I realized I had very little endurance, little functional strength and absolutely no idea how to wrestle. I lost 8 matches prior to finally winning one, which, according to Coach Al, was much quicker than even he had expected. I had an enormous drive to learn an entirely new sport (prior to joining the team I had never even seen a wrestling match that didn't start with a W and involve foreign objects), fueled mostly by my desire to please Coach Alexander. I would spend time after practice working on the move covered that day at practice. I would pride myself on running our mile or two-mile warm-up as fast as possible. Climbing a rope once, turned into doing all four of my climbs consecutively. I had to reinvent myself as an athlete and as a person. Thanks to Coach Al, I didn't have to do it alone.
16 years later, I became a first time principal and father within a year. I also had major knee surgery, altering my once-typical workout routine. Reinvention once again, and again, and again.
Risk-taking. As a junior in high school, I took a risk to begin a new sport dominated by life-long wrestlers. Thanks to the tutelage of Coach Al, my gamble paid off. Only two years into the sport and I placed third at sectionals. This confidence to attempt new things empowered me to walk-on to the University of Notre Dame's Football team. The risk I took my junior year, though, was juxtaposed to Coach Al's gigantic arms. He was there to pick me up every time I fell. Had he not been my safety net, I'm not sure I would have gained the confidence to try other new endeavors...like becoming a principal.
This past year was filled with many new tasks. Observing and evaluating teachers. Re-aligning a faculty and staff to stay within budget. Adjusting our tuition scale and parish contribution expectation. Starting a Dads Club. Refreshing a website. Reconnecting a Parish to its School. Revitalizing a mission.
Resolve. After each practice we would, without fail, join in prayer together as a team, and repeat after Coach Al, "Victory doesn't always come (repeat) to the stronger, faster, man (repeat). But sooner or later (repeat), the man who wins (repeat), is the man who thinks he can (repeat). We respect everyone (repeat). We fear no one (repeat)." To this day, those chants ring in my ears, my mind, and my heart. 16 years ago, Coach Al nurtured a flame inside of me that has transitioned from a passion for sports into one for Catholic Education, and dedication to my school and team into a loyalty to my wife and daughter.
Coach Al, thank you for planting seeds of life inside of me that have continued to grow and blossom. So much of my life has been affected and influenced by the lessons taught to me that year.
I don't know what life has in store for me. God only knows the stories I'll be able to tell a year from now, or even 16 years from now.
But, I do know that no matter where I am or what I'll be doing, Coach Al will have, as he has for the past 16 years, played a part.
Thank you, Coach Al. I hope to see you again someday.
Monday, May 30, 2011
A very interesting and humbling perspective, even from Air Jordan himself. Somehow, and I know I sound incredibly old in saying this, I can not imagine many of today's starts declaring their shortcomings so openly. I'd even go so far as to say that even Nike no longer wants to tell any of its athletes who they should be or how they should behave...right?
Regardless of the current state of professional athletics (compared to the "Golden Age" of my childhood), Jordan's philosophy on the importance of failure resonated with me back as a teenager and remains with me today. As an educator, I see that a willingness to fail is a trait found in good learners. As the father of a 7 month old daughter, I see this philosophy lived out every day.
With eating under her belt, Elizabeth has shifted her focus to crawling. Able to creep, Elizabeth has not yet mastered the art of moving forward on all fours. Belly flops, rolls, tangled legs and incessant rocking followed by screams and wails have all been a part of her learning-how-to-crawl process. She's close, and will probably be crawling soon, but she probably just needs to fail a few more times so she can figure it out.
In addition to education taking time and effort (see the May 15 post), it also takes a willingness to fail, and in turn, failure itself. So, as educators, we must couple holding students accountable to high academic and moral statnds with loving support, nurturing and care. Right now, Elizabeth has a curiosity and love for exploration that is truly inspiring. She also has a determined spirit, and at this point a blind courage. Failure to eat, crawl or find her pacificer at night (even multiple pacifiers that have been strategically sprinkled in her crib) has not deterred her from trying.
Hopefully, this love for learning and her willingness to take risks will continue into toddler-hood, childhood, adolesence and beyond. Whether it is an unwavering self-confidence or an iron will, the older we get the less likely we are to tackle new challenges. For most of us, at some point in our lives we start to believe the lies of the one who wishes to keep us from becoming who God created us to be. You're not smart enough. You're not pretty/handsome enough. Savvy, strong, well-rounded, disciplined, healthy enough. You're too young. Too old. You're not good enough.
You are a sinner.
And so we stop trying. We stop challenging ourselves and growing. Maybe (and unfortunately) teachers, parents or even friends have reinforced these negative feelings. Maybe the pain of a particular failure, rejection or loss was too deep and the support needed to overcome it too shallow.
And in no longer trying we no longer fail and in turn gain control over the pain. We never have to worry about living down to the disappointment of missing a game winning shot if we always pass to another player, stay on the bench, watch it from the stands or critique it the next day at the water cooler. Playing it safe means we never fail.
It is encumbent upon Catholic educators to kindle the flame inherent in each of us for greatness. We must handle this light with extreme care and caution. The USCCB's Council for Catholic Education states (1998), "Teaching has an extraordinary moral depth and is one of man's most excellent and creative activities, for the teacher does not write on inanimate material but on the very spirits of human beings. The personal relations between teacher and student, therefore, assume an enormous importance."
Catholic educators, approach every day and every student knowing that you affect eternity.
The World already has too many wandering people with extinquished flames.
It has too many people so afraid of failing that they never even try.
It has too many would be saints wallowing in the mud figuring there's no point in getting up- they'll just fall again anyways.
What it needs is more failures, more people who realize that in order to be successful failure is an option.
It's just not the only option.