Is High School Theology Just About the Content? 

For about a year now I have been searching. I have been searching for ways to engage my freshman theology students. I go between the USCCB’s “Framework,” my school’s textbook, the Bible, etc. I often feel like Moses wandering through the desert. I have learned from the National Directory of Catechesis that there is a different way to teach theology.Alpha and Omega

I am not a creator of teaching materials, I am a searcher for the best materials for my students. I have searched for any freshmen theology teachers who have developed standards that augment the bishop’s “Framework.” The “Framework” does a good job of outlining the content that should be included in high school theology courses, but it lacks what the students should be able to do or how they are to show what they have learned.

Do I decide what it is that my students should be able to do? Am I the one to decide how my students show their learning? What are the best ways for students to show that they understand, that they remember, that they can apply, analyze, evaluate, and create? The Church is the authority on many things, so who is the authority when it comes to theological pedagogy?

I guess that I feel I rely on the Church for so much that when it comes to something that is so extremely important like preparing the souls of adolescent learners, I need more than just my feelings, prayer, and approved textbooks to guide these decisions. I do have textbooks that have suggestions but that’s the rub, they are just suggestions. Can I make those learning decisions? Yes, I can. Do I know why I would choose an essay to express the four senses of scripture or an album cover with liner notes, or are the senses of scripture not really that important? Where should I be expending my efforts?

To me, it appears that there is a disconnect between what research is showing in education in general and the specifics of what is to be known in theology. What should freshmen theology students be doing? What should they be producing and creating? How do they show that they are making the connection between knowledge and the heart? How do we help them come to know the goodness, richness, and Tradition of the Catholic Church?

The Dreaded PD Staff Meeting

the dreaded dead spider

the dreaded dead spider

For the past year, I have been wondering why I come away from staff meetings in a grumpy mood? The funny thing is I enjoy meeting with my colleagues but I seem to leave the meetings frustrated. Don’t get me wrong here because I work for great administrators and colleagues and we have awesome students, but we are stretched too thin. I feel that a couple of things are in motion here; one, I never feel as though what I have to say matters to anyone and second, the focus is seldom on what’s best for kids but on topics that might someday be remotely related to my daily interaction with students (and even this is quite a stretch). And some things just get started and they whither away, so why put effort into something that may or may not be revisited in the future?

I feel that for a staff “professional development” meeting to meet my needs as a professional teacher and learner it has to have five things.

First, it helps if the topic will be personally useful to me and by that I mean something that I can turn around and implement in my classroom. Second, it needs to be focused on helping students become self-motivated learners. Third, I want to know that my voice is valued as a contributing member of the community. Fourth, professional development meetings need to be a dialogue not a lecture.  And last, the topic needs to have a sense of urgency attached to it. 

I want to be the best teacher I can be for every student, teacher, and parent I meet. So, wouldn’t it make sense if professional development centered around what individual teachers need most?

What Makes a Catholic School Catholic?

This is my first Blog about Catholic schools and theology. I am a teacher at heart, but the BIG eternal questions have begun to dominate my time. The seriousness of trying to get others to Heaven has been weighing heavily on my mind as a new school year has begun.
Catholic School

First and foremost a Catholic school should be the face of Christ to the world. The very first question we in Catholic education must ask ourselves is, will what we are doing help our students to become saints? A very close second question should be, what are we doing to foster vocations to the priesthood and religious life? I teach high school theology, junior high religion, a college and careers class, and a mobile computer science principals class. I teach in a Catholic school! But, how is a Catholic school any different from a public school or a charter school? According to the National Center for Education Statistics, there are three types of Catholic elementary and secondary schools.”(There) are parochial schools, which are associated with particular parishes; diocesan schools, which are associated with the larger diocesan unit; and private order schools, which are associated with specific groups within the Catholic church, such as the Christian Brothers, Dominican, Jesuit, and Marianist Orders (see full statistics here).”

In choosing to send my children to a Catholic school as well as 20 percent of my meager income, I expect that they will have theology or religion class on a daily basis because we all know from the Catechism of the Catholic Church that our purpose here on earth is to know, love, and serve God in this life so as to be happy with Him eternally. I choose not to send my children to public schools because most public schools are bigger and I want my children to be part of a smaller albeit strong academic community of disciples responding to the call of Christ. I also expect my children to learn charity by serving the culture of life through total giving of self. I expect a Catholic school to ground my children in the mission, sacramental life, and magisterial teachings of the Church. I want everyone of my students to be able to combat social relativism, know what and why the Church teaches what it does, and then be able to defend and apply that teaching to their lives.

I came across the following article recently by Jason Adams, “Raising Religious & Moral Standards for Catholic High School Students,” and after just one year of teaching high school theology I concur with his findings. I am especially disappointed that theology (the study of God) is not given the same academic status (rigor, or as I prefer, vigor) as the rest of the curriculum. This all begins and ends with the culture of the school. If the culture in a Catholic school is not clearly focused on Christ, if it is at all caustic, negative, or even doubtful about Church teachings, then students will pick up on this and theology or religion will become a touchy-feely-everyone-sing-kumbya-and-be-happy class because the tenants of our faith really don’t matter. If all a Catholic school does differently than a public school is pay lip service by “looking” Catholic and praying, then is it really a Catholic school?

In my opinion, theology is probably the most academically challenging course a student can have. In theology we are trying to understand God, to prove that He even exists. I have a lot of priest friends and one of them told me about a class where he was talking about concepts like eternity, God being outside time, and the uncreated creator. At one point he stated, “I only began to be able to understand this concept enough to explain it to others about five years ago.” His advice to me that same day was, “we all should be aware that if we don’t practice what we preach, then we begin to lose that which we once knew.” Theology is definitely not like learning to ride a bike. We will never fully understand God in a lifetime of committed theological study, but we can begin to know Him better and be able to evangelize others through this study.

One of Adams’s solutions for making Catholic schools more Catholic is,

          “Students should be made accountable for learning, retaining,
           and applying the content of the faith. They should read primary
           documents, research matters of faith and morality, write in-depth
          analytical papers, take notes frequently, and give quality individual
          presentations. They should be exposed to adult thinking about the faith
           from their teachers, guest speakers, and other sources such as articles
          from Catholic periodicals and audio/video presentations from orthodox
          theologians. Accountability for learning also means frequent testing and
          honest evaluations of the quality of students’ work. Religion courses
          should be anything but cupcake classes, considering the volume and
          complexity of theological concepts that they survey.”

This is a serious charge to undertake and sometimes stake holders at Catholic schools get sucked into the idea of the school having a “Catholic identity” but get distracted by numbers of graduates attending college (don’t get me wrong here as I want all my students and children to attend college, but not at the cost of their eternal happiness), numbers of students taking advanced placement or honors classes, or even numbers of students scoring high on state achievement tests. Many Catholic schools have a Mass, pray, and have kids wear uniforms, but does this alone make the school truly Catholic? Most Catholic schools have theology courses but at many of those schools people continue to see theology as a fluff class. The question often is, how can you assess my son or daughter on religion? So, the conclusion is that it’s a feelings course with an automatic A attached. We cannot afford to do this to our children especially in an era when Catholic church numbers are dropping drastically. In May, the publication Crux published a finding from a Pew Research survey which showed that only sixteen percent of Millennials (those people born between 1981 – 1996) identify as Catholic (see article here).

Religion should be at the heart of every Catholic school’s educational program and research has proven that Catholic schools, religious orders, and the priesthood begin to thrive when there is a commitment to the Magisterium, the principles of Catholic faith, and the moral life of the church. Students need to be exposed to the roots of our Catholic Faith and its relevance and application to contemporary living and faith issues. If Catholic teachers and administrators really took to heart what the Church teaches and the eternal implications of what we do here on earth have on the next part of our journey, then we would be on our knees daily as a staff praying for the students and families we are privileged to serve. As St. Theresa of Calcutta was fond of saying, “I see and adore the presence of Jesus, especially in the lowly appearance of bread, and in the distressing disguise of the poor.”

Back In the Saddle Again

Corn growing in driveway

photo by Aaron Maurer @coffeechugbooks. Used with permission

It’s a good thing that I took a break from social media for a month. There were so many things that I did with my family and moving two households into one place was just the most recent event. Yes, I have bruises from carrying boxes and household items and I have muscles screaming that I didn’t even know I had, but the move is over. Finally, after two years, my wife and kids and I are living in one place, in Iowa.

What was being off social media for a month like? At first it was freeing. I felt like I had more time, which I didn’t have because I’ve been taking two online classes, one that ends this week and one that ends the day school starts on August 24th. I found that I couldn’t keep away from my Flipboard account which is where I get most of my news and where I curate information into a dozen magazines. I didn’t turn my notifications off so I did notice the constant stream of my Twitter feed popping up on my iPhone. I read a lot for pleasure, tried out some new iPhone games (including one called Ingress which is location based and entails getting outside and capturing virtual portals), and I colored. Yes, that last one was coloring. I bought an adult coloring book Secret Garden: An Inky Treasure Hunt and Coloring Book, a set of colored pencils, and spent some time coloring. No, I’m not trying to reclaim my lost childhood, I have read a number of articles about coloring helping keep stress levels low so I gave it a try. I find that when I color I am so focused on staying inside the lines and preoccupied with my color selection that my mind does not wander to the daily stressors of my life!

My daughter has been running with other kids from her cross country team this past week so I was at school from 7 AM until 8:30 or 9 AM all last week. This week she begins two a days that start at 6 AM and 6 PM and we’ll throw in a drama camp at 3 PM. It will feel like being at school full-time.

Where do I stand as of today? I have about 400 Voxer group messages, I have been peeking at my Twitter feed and occasionally favoriting tweets and even retweeting the past couple of days. I have to learn my routine again which means setting aside time for things like blogging and participating in chats. It was really difficult to stay away from chats. I looked at my notifications about every third day just to make sure I wan’t getting trolls into my feed.

I miss my friends. As many of you may know, I don’t have a lot of friends IRL, so being away from my friends on Twitter and Voxer was really trying on me. I’m an introvert at heart, but I love all the friends I have made via social media. I saw quite a few items come across yesterday from Shelly Sanchez (@ShellTerrell), Alice Keeler (@alicekeeler), Robert Schuetz (@robert_schuetz), Andrea Kornowski (@andreakornowski), Aaron Maurer (@coffeechugbooks), Mark Barnes (@markbarnes19), Darin Johnston (@AnIowaTeacher), and the always early riser Joy Kirr (@JoyKirr) and I couldn’t help but feel ecstatic that I would be joining in their conversations again and tapping into their expertise.

Now, do I try to get through all those Voxer messages or do I mark them them all read and begin anew?

Technology, A Blessing and A Curse

Always on, connected 24/7 always carrying more technology than the astronauts involved in the Apollo moon landing can be both a blessing and a curse. As I tried to follow along with the #NotAtISTE2015 group and all the wonderful presentations from ISTE 2015 I realized that I could not keep up. It was too mentally stimulating. I felt like my mind was on information over load. I realized that I need a break!

It seems as though I have lived, breathed, and soaked in social media and education for six years straight. I believe that everyone needs to take a vacation or even a staycation (is that even a word?). Needless to say, I’m taking the month of July off. No social media, no blogging, no Voxing, no Twitter. Unfortunately, Email never goes away. If I didn’t keep up with that at least every other day, I would most likely have over 1,000 Emails by August 1st.
July 2015 Calendar
One of the first people I began following on Twitter was Dr. Doug Belshaw. He (@dajbelshaw) started taking a month away from social media in 2007. He called it Belshaw Black Ops. Doug has the right idea, we all need to take a break from our always on society. I too am going to focus on reading books during July and spending time with my family (Coach D – I will also NOT be following news stories).

Yesterday I read a blog post written by another Twitter friend of mine, David Geurin (@DavidGeurin). He is a high school principal, blogger, and moderator of #MOedchat. You can read David’s post here. One thing from his post hit home and it hit me hard. He said, “I will pull back as I completely restructure my time. You see, there are five people in my life who are counting on me more than anyone else. They call me husband and dad.” I don’t know why Mr. Geurin’s post resonated so profoundly with me. Is it because we are both married and have four children? Is it because I too feel that my family had been getting whatever dad has left over in the tank after ed chats, school, grading, and student events?

Whatever the reasons, I have these two men to thank for my disappearance from the Twitterverse and digital social media. I’m going to live in the moment, try to dream, relax, and connect with people face to face. I’ll be back in August with #CathTheoEdChat and start gearing up for fall presentations and the 2015-2016 school year, but I’m hoping I can be a better resource to my PLN upon my return.

25 Books to Gnaw on Over the Summer

Games 65986_Barnes_Assessment30 3D-LLAP-254x300 The New Teacher Revolution

Looking to up your game, keep up to date with current trends and research, or develop professionally? Well, look no further because these 25 books are on fire. Quick reads with a plethora of opportunities to step out of your comfort zone into a world of meaningful learning. All of these authors practice what they preach and every one of them is personally approachable and helpful.

Don’t wait for the beginning of next school year! Add some personalized PD to your summer months. You cannot go wrong with these 8-) Please add your summer books to the list in the comments!

Anderson, Mark, and Jackie Beere. Perfect ICT Every Lesson. New York: Crown House, 2013. Print. Save to EasyBib

Barnes, Mark. Assessment 3.0: Throw out Your Grade Book and Inspire Learning. Print. Save to EasyBib

Barnes, Mark. Role Reversal: Achieving Uncommonly Excellent Results in the Student-centered Classroom. Print.

Bender, William N. Project-based Learning: Differentiating Instruction for the 21st Century. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin, 2012. Print.

Bonk, Curtis Jay. The World Is Open: How Web Technology Is Revolutionizing Education. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass, 2009. Print.

Clarke, John H. Personalized Learning: Student-designed Pathways to High School Graduation. Print.

Davis, Vicki A. Reinventing Writing. the 9 Tools That Are Changing Writing, Learning, and Living. New York: Routledge, 2014. Print.

Dueck, Myron. Grading Smarter, Not Harder: Assessment Strategies That Motivate Kids and Help Them Learn. Print.

Dweck, Carol S. Mindset: The New Psychology of Success:. New York: Ballantine, 2008. Print.

Ferlazzo, Larry. Building a Community of Self-motivated Learners: Strategies to Help Students Thrive in School and beyond. Print.

Gee, James Paul. The Anti-education Era: Creating Smarter Students through Digital Learning. Print.

Grant, Peggy. Personalized Learning: A Guide for Engaging Students with Technology. Print.

Gray, David, Sunni Brown, and James Macanufo. Gamestorming: A Playbook for Innovators, Rulebreakers, and Changemakers. Sebastopol, CA: O’Reilly, 2010. Print.

Hirumi, Atsusi. Online and Hybrid Learning Trends and Technologies. Print.

Horn, Michael B., Heather Staker, and Clayton M. Christensen. Blended: Using Disruptive Innovation to Improve Schools. Print.

Keeler, Alice and Miller, Libbi. 50 Things You Can Do With Google Classroom. Print.

Miller, Matt. Ditch That Textbook: Free Your Teaching and Revolutionize Your Classroom. Print.

Meloy, Judith M. Writing the Qualitative Dissertation: Understanding by Doing. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 2002. Print.

Ricci, Mary Cay. Mindsets in the Classroom: Building a Culture of Success and Student Achievement in Schools. Print.

Solarz, Paul. Learn like a Pirate: Empower Your Students to Collaborate, Lead, and Succeed. Print.

Stumpenhorst, Josh. The New Teacher Revolution: Changing Education for a New Generation of Learners. Print.

Terrell, Shelly Sanchez. The 30 Goals Challenge for Teachers: Small Steps to Transform Your Teaching. Print.

Tucker, Catlin R. Blended Learning in Grades 4-12: Leveraging the Power of Technology to Create Student-centered Classrooms. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin, 2012. Print.

Wettrick, Don. Pure Genius: Building a Culture of Innovation and Taking 20% Time to the Next Level. Print

Please add your summer books to the list in the comments!

YAY! School’s out for Summer ;)

You have probably seen the teacher countdowns to the end of the school year. You may have seen or discussed plans for summer vacations. Now taking a break in the form of a vacation is important, but recognize that teachers don’t get the summer off!


For all of you new teachers or pre-service teachers, let’s hope you aren’t joining the profession for June, July, and August. I will give you a little insight into this teacher’s plans for summer. A little backstory here, I have taught off and on since 1995 and my background is in the social sciences. I was hired this past school year to teach theology, religion, college and careers, and mobile computer science principals (MCSP).

Every content area was new to me, the building and staff were new, and the culture/traditions were new. Needless to say, it has been just like being a new teacher again.

At my school we have finals next week and the school year officially ends May 28th. Woo Hoo! Schools out for summer……. Not really.

I have already been researching and planning differently for next year. One of the online summer courses I’m taking is already running with assignments due NEXT WEEK! I also have a six week online course to help me prepare for the mobile computer science principals class. There goes 1/2 of June and all of July. If that isn’t enough, I will spend another four weeks online from the last week of July until mid August. So that’s six credits over the summer and I will get a stipend instead of credits for MCSP.

What time is left? Time for moving my family to the area, setting up accounts, and maybe a day or two at a water park. I’m not complaining either, I just want people (especially people outside of education) to know that all summer is NOT a huge vacation in the life of a teacher!

Ending Strong

Creative Commons via jimjarmo

I don’t feel on top of my game today. I know that old adage, “you choose your attitude.” I want to feel good, excited, motivated, inspirational today, but I am literally drained. Some people say, “well it’s that time of year.” Others say, “how many days do we have left?” And still more say, “get ready for your schedule to be disrupted.”

What should we do to make even the small moments of time we have left with our students meaningful? How can we re-charge and motivate ourselves and our students to end the school year strong? I feel as though I have been flying by the seat of my pants all year and now I want to end strong.

This is my first full-year back in the classroom after a five year hiatus and I want to end the year with excitement for me and my students. They don’t want to read any more, they don’t want to do vocabulary or discuss religion any more. It seems as though the kids’ heads are already in summer vacation mode. It feels like pulling teeth just waiting for them to respond.

What will motivate us for the next three weeks so that we can end the school year strong?

What Would Happen if the Lights Went Out?

What would happen to society if all our electronic devices failed? I’m not talking about just for a few hours or days but what if it was months or years? What if our electronic infrastructure was attacked, or began to fail as rapidly as it arose? No, I’m not a defeatist or a doomsayer. I genuinely wonder what would happen?

A single candle burning in the darkness

Without Electricity


I’ve talked to more than a few teachers recently who have used this argument as justification for supporting the argument that kids need to know some basic information in areas like history, English, math, and science? What happens if we throw out the textbooks and we put our faith in web based or cloud based materials?

I think that these are reasonable questions and I confess that I don’t have a good answer to them. I also remember an old saying, “don’t put all your eggs in one basket.”


I’ve been trying to get people to join in a new Twitter chat that I started a few weeks ago and I have heard all kinds of excuses.

“I don’t tweet.”
“But, it’s the best free professional development  around.”
“That’s nice, but I’m okay with that.”

Here’s another, “You want to get together and talk, let’s pick a night and do that instead of banging some keys and staring at screens.”

And another, “here comes that techno geek who doesn’t even know what’s going on in the world.”


Because I use technology to try and become a better teacher and person, I have to put up with quite a few snide remarks from colleagues that have it all figured out. Sometimes I wish I had it all figured out. Sometimes I wish I had no knowledge of the impact that technology can have on teaching, learning, and connecting myself and my students to a global audience.

I have even been told to just be myself, to forget  what other teachers are doing in their classrooms. Quit reading “Teach Like a Pirate.” Quit reading blog posts. Quit Tweeting, Googleing, and all that social media stuff. Just quit trying to be someone you’re not.

The thing is, I’m not trying to be someone else, I’m trying to become a better teacher and person by learning from others successes and failures. And I’m trying to transcend mediocrity. I feel that if I’m not learning then I’m not improving. If I’m not engaged with what’s happening in the field of education then I will have to work harder to catch up in a few years.


What would happen if I just closed my classroom door, assigned textbook readings, lectured, and then threw in a quiz here and a test there? What if I closed my classroom door and did whatever I wanted because, “unless parents or students are complaining you can do whatever you want.”

What if I bought into the philosophy that I’m going to do what’s best for me because the students and parents are ungrateful toward teachers and I don’t get paid enough to put up with this crap?

Would anyone really care as long as I kept out of their hair and didn’t ruffle any feathers?<p/>

I would care.

What would we do if the lights went out?