Our new school year has just begun, and we are excited to welcome our students back to school! We have much to accomplish by working in partnership with our families to support students both academically and spiritually. While academics are important, I want to pose this question. As we begin this year together, what do we as adults wish to model to our young people, whether a parent or guardian, teacher, support staff, principal, Pastor, coach, or any other parish or school staff who supports our students?
What message will be primary to our relationships with them? In a time when the seed of self-doubt is planted at a very early age because of all the messages coming at students via television, social media, movies, and peers, we need to speak with one voice to those whom we care for deeply, our children. In a Catholic school, there should be no doubt as to what that message might be because the values we hope to teach our children are inherent in the teachings of Jesus.
In late July, the Merton Leadership Initiative group made up of teacher leaders, principals, counselors and learning coordinators came together for a two-day retreat at St. Meinrad. One of the activities after reading and discussing the Beatitudes, required them to identify sixteen values that would capture the values that they operate from as Catholic school teachers and leaders. Eventually, they had to whittle it down to three values (and moaned and groaned about it) to fill in the following sentence:
I am called to be _____________ , _____________ and _____________ to serve God’s people by doing meaningful work.
While everyone’s sentence was a bit different, the fact that the message each one wished to deliver to their students was rooted in Gospel values was clear. They were speaking the same language. Our young people in a Catholic community deserve a clear message from the adults in their lives that represents who we are called to be as disciples of Jesus. More importantly, our students need people at every turn who are demonstrating those Catholic values embedded in Scripture to walk the walk and talk the talk. Our children are precious to us and should be nurtured and supported by each one of us in the ways of our Catholic faith. The Merton Leadership Initiative group created a vision board at the end of their two days together that they could post in their workspaces as a reminder of the Catholic values they wish to impart on their students this year.
I challenge every teacher, coach, parent, or guardian to do the same thing as the school year begins. Identify what it is you hope to transmit to your children/students in your interactions with them this year whether it is through a simple sentence that sparks conversation in your home or classroom or a more creative expression of this commitment. Let the Gospel values inherent in Scripture guide this message so it is heard loud and clear and modeled in our Catholic communities. My commitment to living my values this school year is this: I am called by God to be faith-filled, compassionate and trustworthy in serving God’s people. Count on me to strive to live this daily.
Mary Beth Bowling is Superintendent of Catholic Schools in the Archdiocese of Louisville.