Tuesday, April 21, 2015


Last week at Mass, my family and I had the blessing of witnessing a baptism. The priest invited all children from the congregation to join him and the family around the baptismal font. Surprisingly, both Elizabeth and Catherine went for an up-close view. Luckily, this experience prompted a great catechetical opportunity throughout the course of the day - what is baptism, why did the priest pour water over the baby's head, can I look at my baptism pictures, can I wear my baptism gown, why can't we have our baby dolls wear our baptismal gowns all the time? Furthermore, it seemed to be an evangelical experience as well - both girls acted out baptisms of their own that day. 

You know you must be the principal of a Catholic school when your daughters incorporate elements of our faith into their creative play. What an immense blessing this was for me and Emily - we can see the roots of the gift of faith we are working so hard to give to our children. 

More importantly, we can see that God has truly claimed them as His own.

They, through their baptisms and lives of faith, have been branded as God's. They bear His mark. It is my hope and prayer that Emily and I and our Church community may be able to make this brand even more indelible as they age. 

The week after Easter I had the privilege of representing Incarnation Catholic School and the Diocese of St. Petersburg at the National Catholic Education Association Conference in Orlando. Two of the sessions I attended dealt with branding, something I believe our school desperately needs. I learned the difference between a brand and a logo / trademark. A logo or trademark is often just a symbol of the company or organization or, quite simply, its name. A brand, though, is the visual, emotional, rational and cultural image that you associate with a company or a product. While a logo or trademark supplies easy recognition of a company or "brand", a brand pulls on the heart strings of its consumers, instilling loyalty and even allegiance with the overall experience of the product. 

As Howard Schultz, CEO of Starbucks, attests, "The most powerful and enduring brands are built from the heart - if people believe they share values with a company, they will stay loyal to a brand." 

As Catholic Schools, our brand is that we promise eternal significance. We work on the souls. We form students spiritually. We build future citizens of heaven. We educate and catechize and evangelize and socialize and emotionalize and exercise. 

You can't get this at your local public or charter or private school - only Catholic Schools are offering the Eucharist as the source and summit of its educational program.

Our brand, in order to be successful, must show that God has branded us, indelibly, as His. Consistency with our fonts and methods of communication and use of colors and logos is important. Paramount, however, is that we bear the mark of God in all that we do.

Be blessed. Be bold. Fight for JOY!

Be Incarnational.

Be His.  

Monday, April 13, 2015

Strengthen Your Hearts

I don't watch a whole lot of TV, especially not over the course of the past 5 years and definitely not over the course of this past one. But, one of my favorite shows was Friday Night Lights​. Not just a football highlight reel, this television drama touched on many themes and issues. 

One of the key mottos, repeated by one of the main characters, Coach Eric Taylor, and the teams that he coached was, "Clear eyes. Full hearts. Can't lose."

As I watched the show during its run on air, this mantra resonated deeply with me. It was a rallying cry that united his teams. It was a message for them to (re)focus. It was an attitude that he instilled into his student-athletes. 

We focused on our hearts over the course of Lent, and as such this motto resurfaced from the depths of my heart. The importance of strengthening our hearts, and in turn the hearts of our students, struck me in a revelatory fashion. We want kids to grow their capacities. We desire our students to persevere through difficult tasks. We hope that they will develop morally. We would like for them to see past the pain of the temporary for the joy of the future / long-term / something else. 

No matter what we want students to do, though, they will be unable without firm hearts. 

They will give up. They will give in. They will stay put. They will decline. Academically, behaviorally, emotionally, socially, spiritually. 

A strong heart entails grit. Grit leads to growth. Growth leads to success. Add God into the mix and this success becomes heavenly.

We challenged students to complete a Crossfit exercise (Stations of Cross coupled with light physical exercises) as part of our Lenten journeys. I reflected on those students, regardless of age, who could not complete various parts of the program. Maybe they talked. Maybe they ran. Maybe they sat. Maybe they needed water (after every lap) or the bathroom. Maybe they stopped doing the physical exercises. The students who struggled in any or all of these ways did not come as a surprise (again, regardless of age). It may have stemmed from a lack of prompting prior to beginning (expectations were unclear) or perhaps outward signs beguiled an inward focus (even though the student appeared to be off-task, they were actually quite attuned to the spiritual exercise).

But, it may be that it indicated weak hearts - hearts that have received too little love, and have had too little support, and have endured too much hardship, and have not had enough structure. 

Hearts that have been beat up and bruised and hurt in ways that no one should endure. 

So the challenge as educators is how we get our students to have "clear eyes" and "full hearts" so that, no matter the situation, they "can't lose"? 

Lent offered great perspective and insights on a solution: pray, fast, give. The more opportunities we can afford to our students to do these three spiritual habits, not just during this liturgical season but all year long, the stronger their hearts will become. Of course, we must realize that in order for students to grow the capacity of their hearts through these practices, we will need to both chunk / scaffold their prayer, fasting and giving, and also train them in how to do these things as well. 

We must teach students to enter into relationship with God through prayer. We must teach them how to pray. We must give them opportunities to pray. We can't love what / who we don't know. We come to know God through prayer.
We must give students opportunities to fast. These must be intentional and they must be incremental. Explicitly mentioning the connection between their sacrifice and their improvement will motivate more sacrificial behavior. Furthermore, celebrating the effort of students to grow in this domain will also inspire more progress. Challenge students to be silent for increasing amounts of time. Push them to read independently for greater lengths incrementally. Encourage them to develop their grit - their internal resolve - and draw attention to those times when it actually happens.

We must give students chances to give. Social interactions are incredibly important. We must teach and train our students how to speak and act with each other. Typically this happens almost naturally with younger children. We give them the words to say and the times that they should say them. But, as students get older we stop instructing and coaching them on what to say and how to talk with others, especially in difficult situations. It is one thing to serve in an anonymous way; it is true love to serve those in front of you. 

As Catholic educators we must believe in our ability to strengthen the hearts of our students and in turn give them the grit to follow God's will for their lives. 

We must believe that our time spent instructing them academically, spiritually, socially and emotionally can help to clear their eyes to focus on all that is truly important. 

We must believe that we can strengthen the hearts of our students through opportunities to pray, fast and give. 

We must believe that we can get kids to believe that with a committed focus on God and a heart full of grit they can't lose.

Strong hearts. Strong minds. Strong Catholics. 

Can't lose.