Educators focus on meeting students where they are

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Pope Francis has called on Catholics to "meet people where they are," to listen rather than preach to — or at — them.

It's akin to what's happening in Catholic education these days, with educators adapting their teaching methods to address different learning needs of sophisticated students circa 2016. In essence, educators are meeting students where they are. The old way of teaching doesn't cut it anymore.

"It's about changing mindsets," said Cathy Johns, the director of curriculum, instruction and assessment for the archdiocesan Office of Catholic Education.

The old mindset was basic: Teachers teach and students learn.

"Here is the teacher, the possessor of knowledge, (whose) job is to open students' empty brains and pour knowledge in," Johns said. "That's not education anymore. Now, we are looking at the gifts and talents children bring to our classrooms, start with where they are and take them to the next stage.

"This is about educating children in 2016. We cannot continue to educate them like we have educated them in the past because our world is different and our children are different."

To address the mindset, Johns has organized a professional development day — "Meeting Diverse Needs of Today's Learners" — for principals and learning consultants on Wednesday, Nov. 9, at the Cardinal Rigali Center, starting with prayer in the St. Vincent de Paul Chapel at 8 a.m. The first two hours will be devoted to "Mindset: The New Psychology of Success," a book by Stanford University psychologist Carolyn Dweck.

"How can we as educators look differently at our students and their needs, and how can we then change our traditional practices to be more aligned with meeting the needs of today's student?" Johns said. "We as educators have to change our mindset, so we can begin to meet those needs in our regular, general ed classrooms."

Part of that is an inclusive environment with students of moderate to significant special needs educated in regular classrooms at their parish schools. Mary Queen of Peace School is in its second academic year of piloting inclusive education with funding from the OneClassroom Foundation, which is the sponsor of the upcoming professional development day.

The one-hour session on inclusion has two options: a presentation on the basics of inclusion for schools on fact-finding missions, and a more advanced presentation for schools considering inclusion for the 2017-18 academic year.

"As a Catholic population, is it not our responsibility to be catholic, universal, in the sense of embracing all of God's children?" Johns asked. "I believe we need to broaden our scope and look at opening the doors to students who, at one time, might not have found a home in our Catholic schools."

The final hour of the professional development will help learning consultants connect and network, perhaps setting up a professional learning community in the future so experts in a specific area can spread the wealth, so to speak, among schools in the archdiocese.

Johns also hopes the networking will help her develop content and topics for future professional development over the next few years, including a session already set for Wednesday, Jan. 25.

"What good does it do for me to say, 'This is what I think our learning consultants need to learn'?" Johns asked. "They need to tell me; they're in the trenches."

By doing so, Johns would be meeting learning consultants where they are, so that learning consultants would be meeting students where they are — just as Pope Francis has suggested. 

>> Today's learners

What: Professional development

Who: Principals and learning consultants

When: 8 a.m. to 1 p.m., Wednesday, Nov. 9

Where: Cardinal Rigali Center


Session 1 — "Reach to Teach" mindset

Session 2 — Inclusive education with two tracks: Want to Know More

Want to Implement in 2017-18

Session 3 — A Time to Connect and Network: Learning Consultants PLC

More information: Office of Catholic Education, (314) 792-7300

Sponsor: OneClassroom

Next up: Wednesday, Jan. 25, topic to be announced 

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