This column by Jill Annable, assistant superintendent for curriculum, instruction and technology integration, originally appeared in the Jan./Feb. 2020 issue of FAITH Grand Rapids magazine.
It is a privilege to serve alongside the talented teachers, administrators and pastors in the 31 Catholic schools throughout the Diocese of Grand Rapids. In our ministry, we provide students and families an educational experience where Christ illuminates learning and life.
This school year, our teachers have been engaging in three areas of study to further strengthen our work: Theology of the Body; culturally responsive teaching methods; and incorporating inquiry strategies in mathematics. These priorities are part of our five-year “Catholic Schools: Bridging Faith and Future” strategic plan, which is currently in year two.
Theology of the Body is St. John Paul II’s teaching about God’s vision of the human person and human sexuality. Under the direction of Bishop Walkowiak, each school principal is facilitating weekly faith formation for their teachers focused on this rich teaching. These discussions have been planned by the Office of Catholic Schools and feature content from Ruah Woods, a Theology of the Body education center in Cincinnati, Ohio.
This formation not only strengthens our teachers’ commitment to a life centered in Christ, but also prepares them to teach about what it means to be made in the image and likeness of God. As teachers study this material, our religion curriculum is being updated as well. While many students have already begun receiving grade-appropriate education in Theology of the Body, by next school year it will be part of the curriculum in all of our Catholic schools.
Culturally responsive teaching helps us serve a diverse student body representative of the universal Church. This is part of our commitment to helping all students feel welcomed and cherished, as evidenced by our continuing commitment to serving students with various learning needs. Adding this specific focus on strategies for culturally responsive teaching aims to ensure that students of all ethnicities know they are valued for the gifts they bring and prompts us to consider students’ cultural backgrounds in our instruction.
We began by examining the U.S. bishops’ recent pastoral letter against racism, “Open Wide Our Hearts.” Teachers read this document ahead of our diocesan back-to-school kickoff in August, where nationally syndicated Catholic radio host Gloria Purvis gave a keynote challenging all of us to open our hearts as she reflected on the pastoral letter. In October, the Office of Catholic Schools hosted an online professional development day centered on the Theology of the Body, along with specific learning on how culturally responsive teaching is the answer to our call to combat racism in our lives. This Catholic worldview emphasizes the dignity of the human person.
The third element of our instructional focus this year has been expanding the use of inquiry in our classrooms. Inquiry is at the root of a child’s natural sense of wonder, inspiring students to problem-solve and think critically about complex material and ask questions that deepen their understanding of God’s creation. We recently adopted this instructional model in our science classrooms and now we are extending this to math instruction. Inquiry in math means exploring multiple methods for solving a problem, with students discussing and evaluating different strategies and solutions. It’s awe-inspiring to witness our students engaged in such open-ended, creative learning!
I am grateful for the faculty, staff, administrators, pastors and supporters who are collaborating on these efforts to provide an outstanding education with Christ as the foundation. We are grateful to the families who have chosen to partner with us in teaching their children, and we always welcome families who would like to choose Catholic education for the first time.
Catholic schools in the Diocese of Grand Rapids are an alliance of 31 vibrant learning communities (26 elementary and five high schools) serving more than 6,340 preschool through 12th grade students throughout West Michigan. Our schools inspire young people to grow in Catholic faith and grace, achieve more in school and life, develop creativity and character, and feel welcomed and cherished for their unique gifts. We partner with parents to awaken the whole child to a world of light and life — that grows better and brighter when children reach their potential.