By Anne Marie Amacher
The Catholic Messenger
Teachers and principals who attended the National Catholic Educational Association conference in Orlando, Fla., last month brought back new ideas to make their schools even better, they said.
Celeste Vincent, principal at Regina Elementary in Iowa City, said she finds the conference inspirational and motivational. “I am able to attend this due to sponsorship from our Home and School. This is a conference where you can find sessions on governance, enrollment, learning trends, research results in Catholic education, technology innovations to support learners, guidance on legal issues, faith-building sessions and much more. It allows me to concentrate on the role of instructional leader and what I can bring back for my students and staff in the area of instructional programming.”
A favorite session for Vincent covered the spirituality of administration presented by Ann Garrido, author of the book “Redeeming Administration, Administration as a Spiritual Journey.”
Glenn Plummer, principal at Regina Junior/Senior High School in Iowa City, said the conference “provides an opportunity to learn from Catholic educators from across the nation. It is great to hear about ideas that have proven to be successful and to measure if those ideas will improve Regina.” His favorite session focused on integrating Catholic values and administrative leadership presented by Steve Neiheisel of the University of Dayton. “The main theme was that your mission and vision should drive all decisions in your school. Schools were separated into three areas: organizational culture, organizational structure and processes, and organizational assets.”
Another session Plummer gained valuable information from focused on creating rapid, transformative and sustainable change. The main topic was appreciative inquiry, a process that allows for change by focusing on what the school is doing well. “If schools focus on what is going well, then they can find solutions to the areas where they can do better.”
Two teachers also represented Regina at the conference, Erin Vorwerk and Diann Zirtzman.
Lorene Knobbe, a fourth-grade teacher and curriculum director at St. Paul the Apostle Catholic School in Davenport, attended for two reasons. “The first is to gather new information and techniques to use in the classroom and with teachers in our building. The second was to recharge my faith life. Celebrating Mass with 5,000 Catholics can do that! The music was beautiful and uplifting and the procession was breathtaking.”
Her favorite session addressed data-driven instruction. “An elementary school changed the way it used data to drive daily instruction.” She said educators use short goals (three to five weeks) with every child and provide specific instruction in small groups to support students. The educators integrate technology and a diagnostic program to find the specific areas needed by each child and work directly in those areas. “I would love to go and visit this school in Philadelphia,” Knobbe said.
Julie Delaney, principal at St. Paul the Apostle, says NCEA “provides learning opportunities geared specifically to Catholic schools. The presenters are Catholic educators, which allows for new leadership, instructional, managerial and technology ideas all to be presented from a faith-based perspective. The presenters have situations that I can relate to as a principal of a Catholic school and the unique situations we deal with as administrators.”
Delaney tries to attend NCEA each year because it provides “spiritual nourishment as well as academic.
“I can’t pinpoint one session as my favorite because each session offered a powerful learning opportunity. I attended sessions on leading with heart and spirit, school law, development, hiring/induction programs and technology. The most meaningful parts of the conference are always the opening and closing liturgies. The thousands of educators worshipping and praising God together always moves me and gives me goose bumps. It is awe inspiring.”
Lee Morrison, superintendent of Catholic schools for the Diocese of Davenport, said NCEA is “an outstanding source of professional development and faith formation. I find many Catholic schools around the nation are facing some of the same challenges and there are sessions that will ultimately benefits schools in the Diocese of Davenport.”
He attended sessions on virtue-based restorative discipline, a Catholic response to bullying behaviors and mission driven enrollment with affordability, “a favorite.”
“Since I am busy pulling together input for our strategic plan, (to begin on July 1) I thoroughly enjoyed the session on effective strategic planning.
“I continue to attend this conference because I come back energized and hopeful. Catholic school education is a priority in the Diocese of Davenport. It is through our Catholic schools, we are able to hand on the Catholic faith to our young people in a context that affects every aspect of their growth and development as persons.”