2015 Catholic Education Summit Reflection

Topic A:  Listen

Sister Angela Ann's keynote address inspired me to begin approaching my teaching life as not only a journey I undertake as an individual, but also one that should acknowledge how I approach this journey with my students and parents.  The concept of "the art of the accompaniment" has inspired me to explore the ways I can be representative of a living Church, living Faith and living Christ.  This challenges me to recognize the sacredness of the encounter and to truly listen to my students and parents' faith stories as I also share my own stories as well.  Sister Angela Ann did an excellent job pointing out the themes and patterns of Pope Francis' writings demonstrating the importance of this accompaniment to demonstrate mercy and compassion to others.  Another point of the keynote I found applicable to the journey is the need for healing in our students' lives.  I was inspired by the example she provided in her Chaminade Scholars class regarding a ceremony of healing.  It made me wonder about offering this suggestion to our Mission Implementation team at my school to see if this type of prayer service might work at our school or be included in one of our monthly masses.

The theme of healing carried over into our small group table discussion as well.  While I didn't share this with the group since I came up with the insight later during the day, I believe the Church needs to recognize the healing which might be something our parents may need as well.  If we can open up a dialogue with our parents to share their own faith journeys and offer healing to them this might be a great service.  I am not sure how this might exactly be offered but perhaps in recognizing that some of our parents come to our school with a lot of different experiences as Catholics and the Church.

The school as an extension of the Church might be a place of healing and renewal.  

I thought it was particularly appropriate that this Sunday's gospel story centered on healing.  Jesus acknowledges both the young child as well as the woman in need of healing and his peripheral vision challenges us to see those marginalized from society.  Perhaps the parents who themselves may feel marginalized from the Church can experience compassion and mercy in our school.  This is an essential charism of the Marianists and Sisters of Notre Dame so it would be a nice demonstration of our mission.

Topic B:  Dialogue

During Dr. Pam Cross Young's presentation, "Leading, Building Relationships and Developing a Healthy, Spiritual, School Culture" the larger and small group discussions presented insights into authentic leadership styles which should be an inherent part of Catholic schools.  She presented the challenges and realities in creating a spiritual culture within Catholic schools and the role various ways leaders may approach these challenges and realities.

The question presented to the small and large groups challenged us individually to explore how might people in my own sphere of influence act in new and different ways to accomplish leadership tasks.  A dominant theme in our small group was about the importance of listening to others and also developing trust within these relationships.  

Two leadership roles I play in my school is the English department chair and Capstone coordinator.  Taking time to open up dialogue with the teachers within my department and also the students and mentors within the Capstone project would help me create  a healthy, spiritual school culture.  Specifically, scheduling time to meet with the small groups of students during each semester and especially early in the school year, would allow for more dialogue with the students and their mentors.  For the past two years, most of my meetings with the groups of students working on Capstone are with groups which are struggling with their research or project.  By being more intentional and proactive in scheduling meetings early in the semester, it  would help create more trust.  In listening to the group’s early ideas about their project and the research questions they have before they begin their project, I can demonstrate how I have listened by referring back to the ideas they shared in the initial conversation.  My goal would be for both students and mentors to feel affirmed as they move forward with their projects if I successfully demonstrate how I listened to their ideas at the very beginning of the year.  This trust will provide the openness to ask more questions and seek guidance as the year progresses especially if they face challenges and obstacles with the Capstone experience and project.

 Sister Carol Cimino's lively presentation on "Engaging Millennial Families:  Focusing Parents to Support the Catholic School" gave great insight into many types of parents within the Catholic school and how each generation has their unique experiences which impact their parenting styles.  It also gave me an opportunity to think of what type of parent I might be since I am also a parent of children in Catholic schools.  I began to think about ways I could serve as a model to other parents.  

She also inspired the audience to think of the journey motif inherent in our teaching lives and explored the "pilgrim rule on the pilgrimage".  I was challenged to see my own leadership roles within in my school metaphorically as a beacon as well as a torch.

Finally, Sister Angela Ann's talk "Communicating Community:  The Pastoral Challenge of Pope Francis" provide opportunities to discuss with others themes of the journey and to explore even further the Art of Accompaniment.  Within our small groups we discussed selected quotes and passages from Pope Francis' writings which provide inspiration to our teaching lives.

Topic C:   PLAN

The conference inspired me to carefully consider how my role as Capstone coordinator might allow me to contribute to creating a strong Catholic culture in our school and grow in my leadership role.  My role as coordinator gives me the opportunity to engage with every senior in the building and also provide a positive encounter with the Living Faith and Living Christ.  Sister Angela Ann frequently speaks of the church being not a museum but a lived experience and challenging our seniors to see themselves as servant leaders in our world today as they take on justice issues and implement a project to address this issue, provides them an experience of an active and lived faith.

I would like to implement a very specific plan for meeting with each group within the first three months of school to open up a dialogue about their project in order to build trust and demonstrate how I have listened to their goals and ideas for their project.  This past year I did not have time to meet with all of the groups.  I was teaching four classes.  The groups I did meet with were groups encountering some problems with their project or meetings I needed to initiate because of a delay in their implementation of their project.  

Next year teaching three classes will give me the opportunity to schedule meetings with the groups during their homeroom period.  I will need to take a look at the school calendar over the summer and map out the meetings.  Since there are a number of groups who have a clear idea of their issue and ideas for their projects already, I can meet with these groups very early in the school year.  I would also design a summary sheet of our conversation so I can remember their ideas and proposal for their project so when I meet with them again during the second semester I will be able to refer back to the ideas to show how I carefully listened to this first conversation.  By listening and being fully present to the students, I will hopefully create a strong sense of trust.

Another change I would like to initiate are my updates to parents regarding the Capstone project.  I provided quarterly updates regarding due dates for the project or a summary of the current progress for the senior class. I would like to include writings of Pope Francis, Father Chaminade or St. Julie within these updates so parents are able to see the connection between the Capstone experience and our Church today.  For example, many of the students select the environment as their justice issue.  If I pointed out how their research and project implementation is directly connected to Pope Francis' own words, parents may recognize how their own son and daughter is actively responding to the call.  In Laudato Si (Encyclical on Ecology) Pope Francis states:  "I urgently appeal, then for a new dialogue about how we are shaping the future of our planet.  We need a conversation which includes everyone, since the environmental challenge we are undergoing, and its human roots, concern and affect us all."  The goal would be to open up some dialogue with parents about the project and provide opportunities to comment or respond to the updates.  I would also like to explore the possibility of starting a Twitter account specifically around Capstone and send out tweets about various projects and inspirational quotes.  I need to think this through more and seek out more guidance since I am absolutely unfamiliar with Twitter and want to do this effectively.  Our school does utilize Twitter for general announcements and for athletic updates.  I know students are very engaged with Twitter and it also may be a way to engage parents as well.  New times calls for new methods and adaptation and change are all integral characteristics of a Notre Dame and Marianist education.

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