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Three Ways Teachers Can Strengthen Their Content Area Expertise

Monday, August 31, 2015 by Brian Collier, Ph.D.


The new school year is upon us in most parts of the country and my former students are now returning to schools across this country. A friend recently asked if I had three pieces of advice for teachers as they start up a new (or another) year of teaching. The Professor in me responded gleefully because we love to be asked for advice so below is the advice I gave:

  1. Go to your professional conference this year! I know that it’s often hard to get to these conferences, but go! These conferences are a great opportunity to re-engage with the profession, particularly your content area.  Going to these conferences can be what sustains us and energizes us as educators. We can get new ideas, new tricks, and hear from others who are passionate professionals. Make sure to go to your professional conference – be it your regional conference, your state conference or even your national conference – make sure to go once a year and connect with the profession.  

    While you’re at the conference make sure to talk with veterans and new teachers alike, both have great ideas. Make sure to let others know where you teach and that you’re a proud teacher – if you’re a Catholic school teacher don’t be shy but announce yourself – if you’re a homeschool teacher share your success stories and favorite methods – if you’re a public school teacher share freely what is working in your community system. Be bold and share widely our colleagues are our colleagues regardless of where they teach – we all teach children and that’s what is important.

  2. Focus on inquiry! All content areas really can connect through inquiry if they’re being taught well. A really great teacher I know has really pushed his students to do inquiry based learning and has had great success. Make sure that students leave your class knowing that they should look at the whole world around them and be asking, “why is that there?” or “why does that work in that way?” or “what is going on when that Gospel was written?” They should be filled with the ability to ask questions and then a confidence that they can, through work, figure out answers to really just about anything.

  3. Read some books! Model for your students that you’re continuing to learn. I know there isn’t a lot of time during the year for reading, but showing that you’re an expert in a field by talking about what you’re reading is so very important. It also lets students know that the expectation for successful adults is that they be reading some things. If you really don't have time for a book how about pointing them to other things you’re reading for instance I’m currently reading national newspapers that I could share with students, but also always reading America Magazine, Notre Dame Magazine, Social Education (the Social Studies Journal) and The Western Historical Quarterly. I regularly throw in things in class that I learned from reading these articles or from the books that I’m reading or even from the podcasts that I regularly listen to such as This American Life or Reply All, or even Serial when it is in session.

For me all of these podcasts, journals / magazines, and a myriad of books make up my intellectual life and are part of who I am. I want my students to know that my thinking and decisions are ever-evolving and I want them to showcase that kind of thinking and evolution of the mind too, so we as the adults in their lives have a responsibility to read and then to talk about it with students when the moments are right.

I’m wishing all of my friends returning to classrooms in the K-20 world a successful start to a new academic year. I hope you’re able to find time to hone your expertise through connecting with colleagues, focusing on inquiry, and modeling that you’re a citizen of the mind.


Brian S Collier, Ph.D. teaches with the Alliance for Catholic Education (ACE) at the University of Notre Dame.  He is @collier_brian on twitter and can be found at:

Crux, Cuomo, and the Cardinal: Will School Choice Save Catholic Schools?

Monday, August 31, 2015


About a week and a half ago, right around the time most of our nation’s schools were gearing up for another school year, the Catholic news site Crux published a helpful story, “Catholic schools look to tax credits to save them” by Michael O'Loughlin.

OK, so the headline is a little ominous.

On the one hand, even if tax credits magically became legal in every state in the union, many Catholic schools wouldn’t necessarily be off the proverbial “chopping block"—they’d still need strong and robust community engagement to increase enrollment, excellent instruction, high academic standards, and so forth. But on the other hand, if all tax credit and voucher laws were to suddenly evaporate, it wouldn’t necessarily be the end of the world for the Catholic educational system either. Indeed, advocates of Catholic education have a few others ideas that, together, we hope, will continue save our schools (e.g., excellent teacherstransformational leaders, the Holy Spirit).

What the article does do is give a pretty concise overview of where school choice stands in many states, in particular New York. O'Loughlin then explains how these policies—school choice programs, vouchers, tax credits—help families with kids in Catholic schools as well as the schools themselves.

The fascinating thing about what’s happening in New York is that you have Cardinal Timothy Dolan standing side by side with Gov. Andrew Cuomo on what, in some circles, is a pretty divisive political issue. These two haven’t always seen eye-to-eye on every issue, but when it comes to school choice, they’re in lock-step.

I sat down with ACE’s Director of Education Policy, and asked him: What’s up with that? In other words: What is it about school choice that has a Catholic cardinal and a democratic governor joining forces?

Schoenig offered a few thoughts.

Educational Choice is Good For Everyone

The most interesting (and what Schoenig calls the most “elegant”) part of the Education Tax Credit (ETC) and programs like it is that it will help support education in all three educational sectors: public, charter, and private. In the Empire State, nearly $40 million would go directly back to public school support (after school programming, instructional materials, supplies, etc.) more than $50 million would fund scholarships for low-income students, and $70 million more would come back to families in the form of tax credits that allow them to send kids to the school of their choosing. The design of the bills like these as a “tri-sector” credits expands the conversation from simply helping private schools specifically to broadening educational choice overall.

Six Things You Should Know about Catholic Schools in 2015-2016

Monday, August 31, 2015

"This isn’t just about implementing a new reading program or raising more funds. There is real tension between old and new, and it must be resolved."
Andy Smarick


The start of the 2015-16 school year is an exciting time for Catholic schools—perhaps even a “renaissance of inner-city Catholic schooling,” according to education reform leader Andy Smarick. As teachers return to their classrooms, parents send their kids off to school, and most importantly, our nation’s children commence another year of growth in mind, body, and spirit, here are six things you should know about Catholic schools this year.

1. Catholic schools are in a state of resurgence, innovation, and renewal. Emerging are new networks of Catholic schools, new governance models, new instructional approaches, and new financing mechanisms that allow parents to choose the best education for their child. Regional, consolidated, or interparochial schools are developing shared, collegial governance structures, and state legislatures around the country are looking for ways—tax credits, vouchers, education savings accounts—to help support and finance full parental choice in school selection for their children.

2. Catholic schools are leading the way in implementing innovative strategies, adopting a STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics) focus as part of a strong Catholic identity to advance the continual enrichment of the curriculum. A high-quality academic program prepares children to become responsible citizens and contributing members of our society.

6 things you should know about catholic schools3. Pope Francis loves Catholic schools, so much so that he is taking time to visit Our Lady Queen of Angels Catholic School in East Harlem during his visit to the U.S. While the Pope's visit is sure to headline international media attention, his love for children and his esteem for Catholic schools will be mostly clearly seen in this school visit, which the Vatican says he insisted on.

4. Catholic schools anchor communities, promote social justice, and are one of the most precious gifts of the Church and they exist only through the incredible sacrifice and the dedication of the mission-driven men and women who answer the call to teach and lead within them.

5. Teaching the whole child and respecting all persons and all gifts remain a unique theme of all Catholic schools. Catholic schools engage, in the words of the Congregation of Holy Cross' founder Blessed Basil Moreau, in "the art of forming youth—that is to say, to make of youth people who are conformed to Jesus Christ, their model.” Catholic schools engage in full human formation, so that, as Moreau wrote, "the mind will not be cultivated at the expense of the heart. While we prepare useful citizens for society, we shall likewise do our utmost to prepare citizens for heaven." Catholic schools will continue to teach and live the love and forgiveness of Jesus Christ.

6. In the words of St. John Chrysostom, “there is no greater work than to form the minds and hearts of the young.” Catholic schools are committed to both a religious and academic mission. In a world where values are progressively more and more secular and humanistic, Catholic schools are privileged to teach the faith and nurture in students a personal relationship with Jesus Christ.

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