Living Our Witness

You’ve now worked in urban, suburban and rural schools. What would you say is the difference you see in Catholic schools?

That’s a little bit hard to answer because I don’t know any different. Not only have I always worked in Catholic schools, but I’ve also spent my entire life in Catholic schools. I spent my kindergarten year in public school, which was the last time I saw a public school.

Why did you choose Catholic education for a career?

I think it really does have to do with the relationships, not just with the students, but with the parents. There’s just a very relational sense of common faith. It’s the common way we interact with one another and the common understanding that we have this higher purpose. We have a calling. Whether it’s urban, suburban or rural, we all have that same common idea that we want to have some faith, whether Catholic or from other faith backgrounds, as part of our daily lives.

How does your background help when you have to be a disciplinarian?

Being able to talk about what God calls us to do or what Jesus teaches us in the context of discipline situations. I couldn’t do that if I were a disciplinarian at a public school, and I couldn’t call on that. For me, the ability to draw on that has been beneficial for discipline for school administration. Even as a classroom teacher, it’s just that ability to use our faith in so many different situations that keeps me wanting to stay in Catholic education.

What made you decide to make the shift to a K-8 environment?

I’ve had a couple of influential mentors who, over the years, have said to me, “You’ve done high school and do the high school so well. We think you’d really enjoy learning the skill set at middle school and grade school.” I loved the work for the 20 years that I did high school, but I also knew that there’s equal importance to ensuring that faith foundation is solid for the elementary level.

Is pulling from your high school experience a bonus when working with middle schoolers?

I’m a teaching principal, so I teach part of the day, and I’m principal another part of the day. I felt like I could take some of that existing high school knowledge and help them feel like, “Hey, this is what you’re going to expect when you hit high school, and this is what you’re going to experience.” I think part of what called me to K-8 has been to help them feel prepared for the high school level.

What feels different about K-8?

In a K-8 setting, you can truly become part of the school community in a way that you can’t in high school, just because of a different structure. There’s an extra level of parent involvement in the K-8 setting, and I was entranced by wanting to learn to do some of the administrative work and to partner with parents of younger students. I got a better understanding of that developmental level, a better understanding of how I can serve those families. Being able to serve families differently than you can in high school was important to me.

Parents are their children’s primary catechists. What can they do to help the work of Catholic educators?

My first tip is always to ask what they did at school that day, what they learned. Don’t ask how it went, because that’s a yes or no. Ask what they did, have a regular conversation about school in general, but related to faith formation, modeling how to talk about your faith.

How would you describe the modeling?

So not just that we say meal prayers together. We do nighttime prayers together and go to church together. If they’re a second grader talking about what they’re learning for a Sacramental preparation, now model that for them. Say, “Well, that’s great. I remember that. Or I didn’t realize that,” and model for them what it means.

Do the kids pick up on those actions?

Kids know more about what goes on in the world than we give them credit for. When tragic things happen, or happy things happen, or whatever kind of news event happens again, talking about that within the context of faith helps them understand that our faith isn’t just that thing we do on Sundays or in religion class. When we hear about something sad on the news, let’s say a prayer for that person. Or you hear about something great — say a prayer of celebration. If you hear someone treated someone poorly, well, we know that Jesus didn’t teach us to do that. Modeling those conversations very organically, which I think for many adults can sometimes feel unnatural at first, seems natural for kids. It helps them realize that our faith is a part of our everyday lives.