A Call to Catholic Teachers

I just finished reading Jonathan Doyle’s new book Tools & Fuels last night. IMG_1083It is a truly inspirational book with simple advice for anyone involved in Catholic education. Doyle takes the reader on a journey of discovery. From viewing Catholic schools as a mission, “(That) they exist as an integral part of the mission that is the Catholic Church” to his mantra of, “you can’t do a supernatural task with only natural resources” Jonathan expertly narrows the focus of Catholic schools down to simply putting Christ at the center. It’s something so simple and so easy to put into action but many in Catholic education make it much more difficult than it needs to be.

I have seen first-hand how many Catholic schools focus more on college prep, test scores, and analyzing data than they do on putting Jesus at the center of all that they do. Mr. Doyle issues a clarion call to step back and put our total dependence on God, only then can we become Saints, beat burnout, and save the world.

Weaving personal experiences, stories of saints, and quotes from Popes and theologians IMG_1087into the narrative seamlessly makes for a captivating read. I can identify with the life experiences Jonathan shares on a very personal level. This man pours every fiber of his being into showing how the Catholic teacher is called by God to a vocation that is so important (helping form Saints) that only a total dependence on His help can we accomplish what He wants us to do.

I applaud Mr. Doyle for his energy, zeal, and willingness to be countercultural in a very disturbing point in our history. If you are a Catholic teacher, you MUST read this book. If there is one book you read this summer (other than the Bible) read this book! I’m just a high school teacher from Iowa but I truly think that if you teach, administrate, counsel, or work in a Catholic school that this book will change your life.

What’s the Point?

As a family we recently started watching the television series “The Walton’s.” I remember watching the series back in the days of three analog channels. The show takes place on a mountain in West Virginia during the depression. At the time, a person could buy a bull calf or a new drive shaft for $9.00. Radio was the only form of electronic entertainment and some houses didn’t even have telephones. Work was hard to find and those that could find it worked hard

.waltons

So why the history lesson? I get nostalgic whenever I watch shows like this. Shows that put our humanity into perspective and the values of life, love, journeys, family, and relationships. I ask myself at times if, with all the technology we have at our fingertips, have we lost some of these values? Do we not need these values anymore? Are the old days and old ways no longer applicable?

On “The Walton’s” John Boy is the oldest son and he processes his thoughts by writing pen on paper much like I process by typing on my blog. He was more diligent than I have been the past few months. Yet, there is still something about taking pen and paper to process thoughts that resonates with the human psyche.

I have noticed a number of news articles lately stating that using computers for notes and discussion in class leads to less retention by students. I try constantly to get my students to understand that by taking physical notes they will have better comprehension and retain information longer. Jesus taught by using parables and through example. He constantly challenged the conventional wisdom of the day. See, parables were intended to get people to stop and think. Isn’t that the point of a high school theology course?

Aha! We need to stop and think, we need to discuss Church teachings, we need to explore the values of life, love, journeys, family, and relationships. This must be face to face not device to device. If I didn’t sit with my students and process what they read in their textbooks, then good questions and relationships would not develop. If I didn’t introduce my students to the four types of love as put forth by C.S. Lewis, How could we have a discussion about family, love, and relationships?

Catholic theology teachers also need to teach students how to look references up in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, Vatican Council II: The Conciliar and Post Conciliar Documents, and various papal encyclicals. They also need help knowing how to find the answer to the various questions that invariably come up in a teenagers life. Of course, getting them comfortable with asking their parish priest for guidance should be practiced also. How do they get to practice this if they either don’t go to mass or if they don’t have some sort of relationship with their parish priest? I have made it a priority to invite priests and other religious into my theology class so that my students can become comfortable in knowing these people at a personal level.

Nothing has really changed from the times of the Walton’s. The things around us might change, our modes of entertainment might change, but humanity has not really changed since our beginning. Values matter, relationships matter, love matters teaching our students with the guidance of the Holy Spirit and a Christ like spirit of charity is necessary in every generation.

Good night John Boy!

 

 

Teaching Strategies: Are They Worth It?

img_0384Teaching strategies is a topic I give a lot of thought to. Hattie’s Visible Learning and effect size is getting much of my attention as of late. The FIT teaching approach as a framework for growth and leadership piques my curiosity. Carol Dwerks’s Mindsets make mind sense. And, the teachers throwing out grades (#ttog) movement has me focused on feedback versus letter grades.

Finding effective teaching methods has been a goal of mine for the past five years. I have to admit that I go into most teaching situations with an idea and content that has to be covered. Rarely do I have time to think about how to best help students learn the concepts, ideas, and content with a scaffold that helps provide structure and support in order to move learning forward.

So, I hunt for the elusive silver bullet that will help me make a difference for my students and colleagues. Recently, I purchased a book of strategies that had examples and processes for over 50 types like anticipation/reaction guide, discussion partners, mind maps, think-pair-share, jigsaw, etc. I know that I will be able use many of these with success in my classroom.

One of the problems I’m trying to solve is how to effectively teach vocabulary. img_0383I teach three sections of 9th grade theology and there is a lot of new vocabulary that then represents ideas or concepts that are highly elusive in the best of times. So, I was searching for strategies and came across a website for Marzano research that offers access to over 300 teaching strategies for $30.00 per month yearly subscription. I was wondering if anyone has used this subscription service and whether it is worth the price?

You Might Be A Teacher If….

Happy Birthday to the world’s newest teenager!


I have been working on my theology 9 curriculum a lot this summer. So far no vacation yet nor in the near future. Maybe next year. I really enjoy writing curriculum so this is by no means a chore. However, it does take humongous blocks of time to think through and process the sequencing of learning experiences and aligning them to the United States Council of Catholic Bishops Framework for high schools.

In my spare time I’m taking an online course toward a graduate certificate to teach online (can we see where the future of education is moving?). Oh, let’s not forget professional development via social media along with research about how the brain works, mindsets, visible learning, vocabulary strategies, and FIT teaching. It’s a good thing I gave up all my hobbies years ago. I do love what I do and I know the payoff will come in being prepared with intentionally designed lessons when the kids come back to school.

If all this sounds familiar or you have found yourself nodding along, then you’re probably a teacher. If you’re thinking nope, work begins at 8 am and ends at 5 pm, then you’re probably in a different occupation and I thank you for visiting my blog. I actually dated a girl in college who really believed that teachers could just be done for the day when school got out! If the only time you can go on vacation is when the airlines are charging the most, then you’re probably a teacher. If you have the luxury of pulling your kids out of class for a week or two during the school year (most likely the week before a quarter ends) because you found cheap tickets to Waldo’s World, then you’re probably not a teacher.

I would just love to meet some of those people who say that teachers get to have the summers off. Or, and I love this one, teachers get twelve weeks of vacation in the summer, plus two weeks at Christmas, and a week long spring break. And the always charming, teachers are overpaid.

The old adage, “those who can do, those who can’t teach,” had to have come from someone who never spent any number of years teaching. Now I’m not angry or jealous of those who think these thoughts or those who might even express them, because I truly love what I do and I am blessed to be able to touch the future every day. To those of you that don’t understand a teachers life, I pray for you every day. And to those of you that have been nodding as you’re reading, I pray for you too. Let’s keep the profession classy and never stop being there for one another.
 

Teaching: What Works?

I teach a year 9 theology course where there are lots of new vocabulary, many abstract concepts that need to be made concrete, and students who will doubt the validity of what I teach. Because of this, I have been searching for how to best serve my students and I have run across some ideas that are tried and true. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not afraid of change or trying new things, but I do want my kids to have a solid foundation in faith. The guiding principles at my school are “Inspiring Faith and Excellence.”

Visible Learning

Visible Learning, written by John Hattie and Gregory Yates

Earlier this spring I came across two sources that stated what the best teaching strategies are based upon research. Results from small research studies can be posted almost as soon as a researcher has completed a project. Which means they need to be taken with a grain of salt. Personally, I feel as though I was cheated in my teacher education program and that I need to begin teaching with strategies that have been proven through research to work.

The National Council of Teaching Quality (NCTQ) published this work that stated the following about fundamental teaching strategies:

     1. Pair graphics with words,

     2. Link abstract concepts with concrete.                 Brepresentations,

     3. Pose probing questions,

     4. Repeatedly alternating problems with solutions and problems that need to be solved,

     5. Distributing practice,

     6. Assessing to boost retention.

Some of these may seem to be pretty obvious but there were four that were new to me (numbers 3-6). I would think that having been teaching for more than twenty years I would be familiar with all six “fundamental teaching strategies.”

I also have been reading John Hattie and Gregory Yates’s book  titled Visible Learning and the Science of How We Learn. I was also generally surprised to see that the teaching strategies that had the greatest affects on student learning matched nicely with the NCTQ report. I keep hearing people talk about teachers being facilitators of learning, coaches, or guide on the side. But, in Hattie and Yates’s book, direct instruction, feedback, and teacher clarity had just more than double the effect size as inductive teaching, simulation and gaming, and problem based learning.

I’m also glad to see that scaffolding, as shared in this recent post from Edutopia by Rebecca Alber,  was also mentioned in the Visible Learning book as a “critical instructional component.” Hattie and Yates also state, …”there is little basis to suggest that personal discovery within itself assists a person to actually learn. In fact, additional load (cognitive load) imposed by the need to explore and find things out can detract from our capacity to assimilate the information uncovered.”

So what does all this mean for me as a teacher? It means that I need to build solid relationships with my students, use fundamentally sound research based teaching strategies that have been proven to work, scaffold learning, and make sure my kids get timely feedback. I also see a disconnect between what teachers are saying works (teacher as facilitator) and what research has proven to work (teacher as activator). Thoughts anyone?

Teaching is my Life

I know the I have been negligent in keeping up with my blog, but (you knew a but had to be coming) I have been spending the time with my family, my students, and my curriculum. Some of you may have even wondered, where did he disappear to?

chaos-391652_1280

cc0 Public Domain

While at my son’s baseball game last night, I was able to jump on Twitter and interact a bit and to look through my Flipboard aggregator. I had to step back from Twitter chats for a while because, well, I was buying too many books and trying to filter through and process too many great ideas. Gamifying classrooms, eXPlore Like a Pirate, blended learning, Ditch Textbook, Learn Like a Pirate, grading, not grading, feedback, badges, personalized learning, embedded assessment, formative assessment, summative assessment, project based learning, innovation, HyperDocs, and mindsets in the classroom are all ideas I am trying to wrap my mind around. Oh, and let’s not forget that I also teach high school theology, college and careers, computer science principals, and junior high religion!

So, I’ve been busy. Such is the life of a teacher and teaching is my life. Being a teacher and building relationships within a classroom is something that God has hardwired into me, but being a stereotypical guy, I pour my all into it. I mean, how many people are at their son’s baseball game curating articles into magazines?
My Twitter PLN is great and I love everyone who is in it. I sometimes feel that I don’t contribute enough or I feel jealous that many of my peers have had the focus to publish a book, present at or attend conferences, teach webinars or create podcasts. Meanwhile, I am all over the place with these ideas and not really incorporating any of them into my classroom or my professional development.
So what might I do to rectify this situation dear reader? I am going to take a statistics course this summer and begin my doctoral studies in the fall. In the past I have written about trying to work out a doctorate online with a board of directors and badges as credentials. Well, I’ve decided to go the traditional university route. I know it will be expensive, but I need the deadlines, a system, and a mentor to hold me accountable. What might I research? Curriculum, assessment, and motivation. Stay tuned for more. My goal is to try and post at least weekly throughout the summer.
Pax Christi

One Block at A Time: I’m Just Learning

Following education, technology, pedagogy, brain research, as well as a plethora of other educational trends and issues has been a passion of mine over the past half decade (does the seem to look like a lot more time?). What has been weighing most on my mind as an in the trenches teacher for the past three years is, how can I become a GREAT teacher?
img_0475 I don’t want to just settle for average. I mean, my kids have enough average teachers every day. I want to be up there with elite teachers, teachers like Paul Solarz, Dave Burgess, Michael Matera, Nicholas Provenzano, Starr Sackstein, Shelly Sanchez, Alice Keeler, Joy Kirr, and Vicki Davis. These teachers are passionate about what they do and make a difference for not only the students they teach but also for the teachers that teach other students. These elite teachers have an impact on my classes here in Iowa City.
One of the things that I am coming to realize this year is that many of the trends and issues I was following didn’t or haven’t mentioned the six fundamental teaching strategies that form the basis from whence great teachers spring. My current research into the realm of educational psychology and how we learn began with reading just a bit of John Hattie’s Visible Learning for Teachers: Maximizing Impact on Learning. I got just a little ways into the book before I realized that I needed to read Hattie’s and Yates’s book Visible Learning and the Science of How We Learn. While reading this book, going through a number of highlighters, and taking many notes, I began to realize that there was something missing from my educational foundation!

Back in college we didn’t really have any textbooks that I can recall ever buying or reading that really focused on how people learn. I recently came upon the following articles in my Flipboard feed;

The Internet Makes Us Stupid and Here’s Why, We Need to Rewrite the Textbook on How to Teach Teachers, and How Has Google Affected the Way Students Learn? These all helped to lead me to the following documents:

  1. Deans for Impact (2015). The Science of Learning. Austin, TX: Deans for Impact.
  2. National Council on Teacher Quality (2016). Learning About Learning: What Every New Teacher Needs to Know. 
  3. Behnke, Rachel. The Fundamental 5: The Formula for Quality Instruction: A Guide for Administrators. TCEC Conference.
Now that I know the basics, I feel that I can move forward and better understand how to become a GREAT teacher. What was missing from my own teacher prep program has been located and I can rectify the deficiency and finally move forward. And, so I begin building, one block at a time (I knew there was a missing piece somewhere).

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?