How do we support the formation of teachers? This fundamental question dates to the US Bishop’s 1972 Pastoral Statement To Teach as Jesus Did. Dr. Tom Burnford, the President/CEO of NCEA (National Catholic Education Association) joined me on the Church Document series on Catholic School Matters episode #83 (#3 in the Church documents series) to discuss the pastoral statement on Catholic education. Listen to the podcast here.
Let’s start with the end in mind. What does it mean to witness the faith? In order to identify and articulate the best type of formation, you need to figure out what we’re forming for. The bishops point out that “teacher witnesses” have an “integrated approach to teaching and living.” Therefore, “witnesses” does not only mean faithful proclaimers of the teaching magisterium of the church. It means living and learning the faith.
To that end, the bishops point out the three components of Catholic schools: teaching the right message, building a Christian community, and serving the world. Teaching the right message means communicating the Gospel through words and deeds. Schools often struggle with the message. Does is mean excluding people who don’t agree with church teachings? How do we live the Gospel message? These are the messy gray areas which bring about struggle for most school leaders.
The second area is a strength of our Catholic schools. Ask any Catholic school leader and he/she will point to the strong sense of community. However, the challenge is to articulate why. What are the traditions that build a culture of community? How do you strengthen it? And do people understand this sense of community as Catholic? Or do they see it as an accident?
The final area is service. We often forget that our schools are not simply ministries of our parishes (i.e. recipients of grace) but are also called to serve and encounter the poor (i.e. vessels of grace). This is a pillar of Catholic schools.
So by this standard of witnesses, how are your teachers? And are you prepared to form them?