The new year has come; it’s back to school after a much deserved Christmas break. A new year always brings with it the opportunity to make resolutions and to think about what we can do to improve ourselves in the new year. Resolutions are all well and good, and I highly recommend taking the time this January to make a professional resolution for 2018. But today, I want to raise a different issue. For most of us in Archdiocesan Catholic schools, our work doesn’t fundamentally change just because the last two digits at the top of our papers do. Now that one third of the school year has passed, most teachers in the Archdiocese aren’t asking themselves what they should be doing differently. They’re asking themselves a much more pressing question: what do I have the capacity to do with these remaining few months of school to continue to help my students learn given what I have learned about them in the first third?
The bad news is you didn’t have enough planning time during your hard-earned vacation days to come up with any solutions to this question. Who ever does, right? The thought of what to do now looms large in these first weeks of the new year, especially as winter NWEA testing and Catholic Schools Week festivities quickly approach. The good news is you’re not alone. Your fellow teachers in Catholic schools throughout the Archdiocese are working alongside of you in solidarity toward the same mission this winter and spring: re-engaging student interest in and re-enlivening classroom spaces for spiritual and academic growth.
And we here in the Catholic Schools Office continue to work hard to reach out to you in support of this incredibly important work. As can be seen in one of our office’s infographics, this support often comes in the form of phone calls, e-mails, visits, or workshops. You may be saying to yourself, “What does all of that have to do with what I need to do day-to-day? With these students? In the middle of the year?” While there’s no easy answer to these questions, we’ve recognized that the CSO needed to do something else to help teachers address these questions in a more practical way.
As one of our CSO 2018 resolutions, we designed this resource sharing website and blog to establish a forum for inquiry and discussion and to help enhance the professional quality of our schools. The resource sharing feature of the website will provide suggestions and ideas for content that may help you improve your practice, as well as a space for teachers to submit ideas, links, or resources for broader dissemination. The blog will contain regular posts about bigger topics related to curriculum, instruction, teaching, and learning posted at least twice a month.
You may be excited for the resource-sharing but may be wondering, “A blog? What good is a blog about academics in the Archdiocese and how is that going to help me?” As a former middle school ELA teacher, I never grew tired of reiterating the importance of purpose, genre, and audience to my students. So let me use the rest of this first post to delve more deeply into each of these three things in order to flesh out just what role the blog will play on this website.
Purpose: The more we communicate with each other about teaching and learning, the more effective teaching and learning will be across the Archdiocese. The sole purpose of this blog is to make that vision a reality. Let’s open up our classrooms, expand our ideas about what constitutes ambitious instruction and effective teaching, and continue to communicate with each other about our professional vocation using any means available to us. We can’t live out the Gospel mission in our schools if we don’t have academically rigorous schools. And we can’t have academically rigorous schools if we don’t care passionately about teaching and learning. I think this blog can be a place to raise questions and explore ideas that we otherwise may not have the time to ask or research on our own. This space serves to highlight the curricular and instructional strengths currently in place in RCAB schools, to address persistent dilemmas that plague teachers in the Archdiocese, and to drill down into concrete strategies for educators’ growth and improvement.
Genre: The posts on this blog will be concise, easily digestible accounts of how to strengthen some concrete aspect of teaching and learning. The posts will be somewhat informal without sacrificing being professionally meaningful. Example topics include: how to design well-differentiated math lessons; how to best interpret student assessment data to improve instruction; what ambitious, authentic standards-based lessons look like; what other teachers in the Archdiocese are doing to help aid student learning; and many more. A key feature of the blog genre, in general, is that there is also a tight relationship between the post and the audience. If you want to see a topic discussed, we can easily produce a post about that topic.
Audience: The most important thing to remember is for whom this blog is designed. It’s for you - our teachers - the instructional backbone of our schools. We value the professionalism and purpose you bring to your work and therefore we want to continue to provide resources to help you in your professional development. Which leads me to one of the key outcomes I hope this blog brings about: functioning communities of practice engaging in authentic inquiry about teaching and learning. This blog is designed to encourage this audience to continue the conversations introduced on this website and to use ideas generated after those conversations to influence instructional practice. This website is not a compendium of all knowledge related to curriculum and instruction. Rather, it’s a place for a community to digitally gather to become partners in developing a more rigorous professional culture in Archdiocesan schools.
We know it can be difficult to fulfill the responsibility to make sure that authentic, ambitious, and faith-filled teaching is happening in our classrooms. This resource-sharing and blog space has been designed to help better support your work.
CSO Academics Blog
Director of Academics, Andrew Miller, will post regular commentaries in this space about teaching and learning throughout the Archdiocese.