Tuesday, March 17, 2015

The Teacher

I have often quoted Fr. Pedro Ribadeneira, S.J. in speaking about the importance of teaching. He famously said this of teachers, "all the well-being of Christianity and of the whole world" depended on their work (Heroic Leadership, Lowney, pg. 208). 

All the well-being of Christianity and of the whole world depends upon your work. 

While at Church this past weekend, the homilist cited a study which stated that a person's moral compass is somewhat complete by age 5. In talking about the importance of the domestic Church, the priest argued for the families to be places of love, compassion, fairness, justice, forgiveness and humility. 

As I listened to his words, I reflected upon our work with students through our PBIS system of student management and our philosophy of transforming discipline into the formation of disciples of Christ. According to the study mentioned above, our efforts are feeble. Little can be done to morally influence someone else.

Whether or not there was validity and / or reliability behind this research, we know that the life of a child at home is vital. We know that the number of words to which students are exposed by age 4 significantly impacts their development of language. We know that parents are the primary educators of their children and that the home, according to our Catechism, is the place where the virtues are taught and learned. 

But, as Christians, we believe that people can change. Peter became the Rock. Saul became Paul. The blind man saw. The deaf man heard. The deceased girl lived. Lazarus came out of the tomb. Christ conquered sin and death.

We believe in a God of miracles. We believe that the Christian walk is highlighted by formation. We believe that through Lenten journeys and retreats and prayer and reflection we can strengthen our hearts and become better than we were yesterday, last month, last year or last decade. 

We can change. 

In turn, the work that we do with students can ​help them to change. We take students from ignorance to understanding. We move them from incompetence to fluency. We transition students from unable to skilled. We take them from good to better. We form them from misguided to led. 

We do the most important work in the world. 

You do the most important work in the world. Ever day. With every student. Through ever interaction and every miraculous moment you spend with them. 

You change the world. 

Because you are a teacher.

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

The Habit of Excellence

St. Augustine, in his work Confessions, whittled the spiritual fight down to mere moments. If you can do good, if you can follow God's will for just one moment, you can find spiritual success. The past is over, the future has not yet arrived. All we have is the present moment. All we need to do is be fully present to it - be heroic in that moment, be loving in that moment, be strong, be good, be holy - in that one moment. 

In this way, every moment is sacred. Every moment of our lives is all that we truly have - the future is no guarantee and the past has already faded into nothingness. Every moment is our one chance to do good. Every moment is a gift to be embraced, appreciated and cherished as we would any other immense blessing in our lives. 

If only we could live every moment in such a way, as if every moment mattered.

Imagine how different we would be. Imagine how different our world would be!

What type of strategy could we employ to capitalize on and make the most of every moment of our lives? 

Aristotle famously said this about excellence and how to achieve it: 

"We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit."

We become excellent by doing excellent things in excellent ways - one moment at a time.

Easier said, or typed, than done. 

In a book titled, Leverage Leadership by Paul Bambrick Santoyo, the author argues that school culture directly impacts student learning. Citing numerous case studies, Santoyo demonstrates that schools which adopt a philosophy of "making every second count" are only as good as the individual teachers that implement this belief on individual levels. In order for such a philosophy to be successful, Santoyo states that it must be coupled by meticulously crafted systems of school-wide management. 

Every moment of the day - from how students enter homeroom, to how you pass out papers, to walking in the hallways, to opening plastic containers during lunch - must be scripted. Expectations for all members of the school - students, teachers, leaders - must be known. These expectations must be so clearly known, because of the level of detail associated with them, that there is little opportunity for moments to be wasted or left to the variability of chance. 

Without this structure, Santoyo writes, "in every moment which we as adults allow our students to do less productive actions, we are unintentionally the authors of their bad habits." Even the best of students, teachers, administrators or even people, when given the freedom and flexibility to fill time on their own, will waste time.

The second piece of this strategy, after accounting for every detail, requires practice. Whether it's getting students to practice performing the expectations successfully or getting teachers to implement the system consistently, practice is what will produce real results. A system doesn't work by itself; it must be executed. 

Finally, practice will only instill bad habits if that practice isn't critiqued, monitored and assessed. Feedback and reflection is essential, allowing our improving practice to lead us to where it is we want to be. 

Not a bad recipe for success in any aspect of our lives. Employing it in any venue can help us to maximize the moments in our lives that create our days which lead up to our years and make our lives.

Finances? Make a detailed budget and practice good spending habits - and you should enter into some semblance of financial stability. Health? Track your nutrition, exercise and sleep and practice good habits for all of these - and you should start to experience better overall fitness and well-being. Faith? Intentionally schedule out time for prayer, fellowship, reflection and education and then consistently follow this regime - and you should start to reap the spiritual benefits of such a lifestyle. 

Seal these great plans and dedicated practice with the insights of a trusted colleague, friend, advisor, family member or with honest self-reflection and assessment and excellence in any aspect of your life will surely follow.

Maximize every moment.

Don't be the unintentional author of bad habits. Be excellent by repeatedly doing excellent things in excellent ways, turning these actions into habits and these habits into excellence. 

Start to teach, love and live so as to make every second count and over time every second will count.

You'll start to recognize that every moment is sacred, a gift.

Start to do the things that would make you into the person that you hope to be. In fact, it's the only way to become that person.

To paraphrase Bl. Mother Teresa of Calcutta:
Yesterday is gone. Tomorrow has not yet come. We have only this moment. Let us begin.