2017 Catholic Education Summit - Reflection by Stephanie Klein

LISTEN:  Who inspired you?  Why?  What did you hear from presenters that offers new information, raises questions, or provides suggestions to you in your work context particularly related to Christian meditation, school culture, and mental health?  

The person who most inspired me at this year’s summit was Peg Dubrowski. She had such a new and unique perspective on school culture. Sadly, many schools are moving away from character building due to increased emphasis on testing and common core curriculum. Peg brought up a very poignant example of why character building is so important. At the beginning of her presentation she asked how many people could do things like “recite the preamble” or “list the Fruits of the Spirit.” Very few hands raised. However, when we were asked how many people could “name four people who have helped you through a difficult time” and “list four teachers who aided your journey through school,” nearly everyone raised their hands. That is such a powerful point.

Peg’s presentation reminded me of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. In Maslow’s hierarchy, he lists a numbers of basic needs that must be met, including shelter, food, and love, before a person can reach their full potential. Peg’s theory states that we must teach our students how to be human beings and interact with the world before we can teach them school subjects such as math, science, etc. We must meet their basic needs first; we must teach them their purpose. Peg emphasizes our ultimate purpose: love God and love one another so that we may one day enjoy eternal life. It is only when we can teach our students how to be human, and how to be virtuous, that they can reach their full intellectual potential and succeed in life.

I was also inspired by the ladies from ECHO. Their presentation on mental health in our schools only proved to emphasize the importance of Peg Dubrowski’s purpose-driven theory. The brain is not structurally complete at birth. Brain development is guided by one’s environment, which can cause a brain to be “re-wired” and lead to a mental health disorder. The good news is that a brain remains pliable. Our job as educators is to educate the whole person. We help to shape who our students become. Because of this, it is one of the most challenging and rewarding professions.

These presenters not only made me think about my students, but my own children as well. This information really hit home as I struggle with a daughter with some anger and anxiety issues and a son with sensory and attention issues. Not only did these presenters give me hope, but I came away with a new outlook and some wonderful strategies to use at home and at school.

DIALOGUE:  Who inspired you?  Why?  What did you hear from other participants in small group, during presentations, at lunch, and/or with vendors that offers new information, raises questions, or provides suggestions to you in your work context particularly related to Christian meditation, school culture, and mental health?  

During the time we had for discussion, we found ourselves further dwelling particularly on Peg Dubrowski’s purpose-driven schools. We even found ourselves using the language. One conversation looked like this: “How are you doing?” “Well, I was fine until I just got this phone call, but now I have moved below the line.” Peg spoke of the self-regulation line. When you are above the line you are positive and effective. When you are below the line you are negative, edgy, and finding things problematic. If only we could be so up front with people all the time, conversations might go a lot smoother. While in this situation the statement was partially made in jest, I know that their mood had just changed. Once that person stated they were below the line, you could alter how you conversed with them or how you received what they said. As teachers, we thought the suggestion to either show or tell your students where you are on the line before class is a wonderful idea. Students can respond to this, even subconsciously. It is important to remember that you are human and on the same journey to eternal life that they are.

PLAN:  What do you intend to initiate, change, enhance regarding Christian meditation, school culture, and mental health as a result of your participation today? What is your timeline?  Who must be engaged? What is your overall goal?

Being both a teacher and mother, my plan is going to encompass both of those important areas in my life. Firstly, I need to remind myself of my purpose. I often let myself get carried away by the endless to-do lists, the housework, chauffeuring kids, teaching the curriculum, preparing for musical performances, etc., striving to be the best wife, mom, teacher, and musician I can be. I need to step back and think about my purpose as stated by Peg Dubrowski: love God and love others so that we may enjoy eternal life. My focus and thinking need to change today. I need to ask myself where I am on “the line” and only make decisions when I am above the line. I need to think about “the frame” and the cyclic effect it has on how I think. Above all, I need to stay calm. In the end, the ultimate change needs to be in me so that I may help my students and my children on their purpose-driven journey.

In the reflection questions, it was asked what two things you want your students to take away from your classroom. It did not take long for me to come up with love of music and respect. I feel like I already do a fairly good job instilling love of music, so I’m going to focus on respect. Respect, to me, fully encompasses the purpose of loving God and loving others. This is something all students tend to struggle with at times. When I was teaching general music, I had 3 classroom rules: respect things, respect others, and respect yourself. With limited class time, I have not focused on that as much with my choir. As a choir of 50 students, there are usually a number of conflicts between students. While I often speak of the choir as a team and how we all need to help and be there for each other, I believe I need to have this as a lesson during our very first choir rehearsal and return to it throughout the year. I had considered doing team building activities outside of choir rehearsal, but always struggled with getting them scheduled. It is my goal to plan at least 3 of them for my choir this school year.

The presenters also gave me insight to my own children. My daughter has a lot of difficulties controlling her emotions due to some anxiety. As Peg explained, the amygdala, the emotional brain, gets in the way of the thinking brain. I often found myself saying to her when she was having a full blown tantrum, “Think about what you are saying. Think about what you are doing.” She would respond either, “I can’t think,” or “I don’t want to think!” This all makes perfect sense now. We need to find a way for her to “settle her glitter” and not allow herself to become so emotional. I plan to make her an emoji chart so she can identify and point out her emotions to me. Peg presented that by simply having awareness of our emotions, it empowers us. Helping her become aware and being able to identify her emotions is going to be the first step in empowering her. After doing this for a while, we can begin to discuss what may be causing these emotions.

ACT:  How did you implement your plan? Did you achieve your goal?  Why or why not? Will sharing your story help others in Catholic education?  In other spheres of education?

Follow through is always the hardest part. We all know the saying about “the best laid plans.” I came home fully ready to change my point of view on my life’s purpose and help my family on their journey. Life quickly became overwhelming again with the to-do list, the housework, the holiday preparations, injured children, etc. On the other hand, while I can’t say I was consciously doing it, I have felt calmer through situations the last two weeks. I have also found myself once again having some moments of Christian meditation, which had not happened in recent months. I still plan to work on my self-awareness and my thinking pattern, but have not consciously gotten around to it yet.

As for my choir, since the school year will not start for another month and a half, I have not gotten very far on this. I have, however, started looking at the different team building activities I want to do with the choir and at the school and church calendar to see when I could schedule them. My next move will be to come up with my lesson plan for the first rehearsal in order to incorporate a lesson on respect.

At home, with my daughter, I have printed out a feelings chart and we have started having her point to the face of what she is feeling. It is too early to see any great change, but she seems interested in the chart at least.

Overall, I know there is much more to do, but I am still inspired by the presenters at this year’s summit. Awareness empowers us, and it is my hope to empower my students, my children, and myself. May we all embrace our purpose and follow Christ.

By Stephanie Klein, Ascension School

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