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Through Others' Eyes

by Audrey Scott

Meaghan Crowley-Sullivan

"I would
                     and know the material, and then I'd go into the test...

and I would s t r u g g l e.

I looked at my friends, and they're so smart and incredible, and I'd think, 'Why am I not as smart as them?' I couldn't figure it out.

When I was in high school my mom was working with a tech company that was looking at how the readability of text and the features with font, spacing, and characters might impact someone's processing ability to read more effectively. She tested things at home and when I read, she said,

'Oh my gosh! I think you might be dyslexic.'"

Down to school they went, and Mrs. Crowley spoke five words that from a parent might strike fear into a teacher. 

"We want to try something."

She said, "We think Meaghan processes things a little bit differently. Would you take the two page test and put it on five pages?

             Don't give her more time.
                       Don't do anything else.
                                J u s t  s p r e a d  t h e  p r o b l e m s  o u t,
                                        so there's less to process at one time."

Meaghan's teacher, at St. Francis High School in Mountain View, California had been working closely with her, and eager to help, made the requested adjustment.

"I aced every single test after that," Meaghan said. 

"This very small accommodation changed my entire trajectory:
              who I thought I was as a person and
                       how I felt about myself as a learner."

"That was my in. I really fell in love with education—with this idea of using the tools that you have as a teacher to make a greater impact and support your students' needs more effectively," Meaghan said. "A huge part of that is technology. And that's where my passion comes in."

Inspired by her mom, Meaghan now teaches others how to leverage the technology they have on hand at any given time. After years in the classroom, she is the curriculum and professional learning developer at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles. She writes research-based professional development for teachers and principals with the iDEAL (Innovation in Digital Education and Leadership) Institute, providing professional learning in teaching and leadership through the integration of technology for the benefit of all students.

For her commitment to Catholic education and her passion for creating pathways to learning through nontraditional forms of instruction, enabling teachers to better meet student needs, Meaghan Crowley-Sullivan was awarded the 2022 Michael Pressley Award for Excellence in Catholic Education. Meaghan was a member of the 18th cohort of ACE Teaching Fellows and the 16th cohort of the Mary Ann Remick Leadership Program. 

"I have not left Catholic education since that moment I stepped into kindergarten," said Meaghan. She considers her time at Notre Dame pivotal, recalling her introduction to the Alliance for Catholic Education (ACE). "My friend would drag me to food events on campus. On one occasion ACE was offering free hot dogs outside Badin."

Free dinner notwithstanding, Meaghan liked what she heard that night. "This may be what I could do. So I joined the ESS (Education, Schooling, and Society) minor, and eventually took John Staud's Tolkein and Shakespeare class. It was my favorite class in college: fascinating and just incredible. He noticed I was really interested in non-traditional education. Although I couldn't articulate it at the time, I didn't connect with the 'sit and get' style of teaching. In that style, the teacher targets the middle, and that doesn't work for most kids."

In ACE, Meaghan taught second grade at St. Rose of Lima Catholic Academy in Denver, Colorado. "It was their first year becoming an Expeditionary Learning school. So I got to be part of this very non-traditional form of education, and I never looked back."

She built on that model in San Jose, California, at Holy Spirit School. "There was a new system of schools that were going to be blended learning schools," Meaghan said. "So again, I got to be in on the ground floor of a different non-traditional style of learning."

While attending some lackluster professional development, Meaghan saw a need she thought she could fill. "I want to make this better," she said. "I want to go into instructional leadership, instructional development, and supporting teachers professionally."

Meaghan reached out to ACE and to April Garcia with the Remick Leadership Program and told her she wanted to work with teachers in that space. "Her feedback was that if you want to go into schools and help, a huge part of that is understanding how the leaders can support those schools, so you need to know what it means to be a leader in that school. So I did Remick with the lens of wanting to make sure I understood the barriers and expectations that principals and schools go through, so that we can support, not just the teachers directly, but principals, in supporting their teachers."

Meaghan said, "It's not just education for Catholic schools. It's formation as well. So we need to be forming out students in the faith in a way that connects them to current society. Students need to be able to see that technology and modernity can coexist with being a faithful, spiritual person. At ACE, we talk about our root beliefs: each child is made in God's image, we're all in this together, we're better together. By focusing on each student's needs and personalizing instruction, students receive an education that is worthy of the person God created them to be. That's a core component of my mission and why I work at LMU.

"It is Catholic, but it's also tech. I think it's really an important space," said Meaghan.

Understanding Catholic school teachers make many sacrifices, Meaghan is hopeful her work offers a win-win in the classroom. "The teachers are there for the mission. They're there for the kids. So in our professional learning, we reintroduce them to best practices and research, but we sneak it in through the guise of technology engagement and excitement, and we bring passion back to the work that they're doing," she said. "It makes a huge difference in their own self-efficacy and their own enjoyment of being a teacher. They feel better because they're meeting their students' needs better. 

"It's not coincidental, because ACE is so intentional. But I don't think they realized—by putting me at the Expeditionary Learning school, by supporting me when I was struggling to learn Expeditionary Learning, or by talking to me when I was trying to navigate learning how to teach—the impact it would have on my life."

In gratitude, Meaghan wrote a letter to Donna Pressley that reads in part:

"I wouldn't be where I am today if it wasn't for ACE. ACE's commitment to Catholic education and to preparing both teachers and leaders has profoundly impacted my path. So much like your husband and the work he did during his time in ACE, they were a guiding light in my own journey. (ACE and Remick) helped me see my potential and how I could support the Church's mission here on earth. I feel so blessed to have received such an award in honor of your husband. Although I never had the opportunity to know Dr. Pressley personally, I have heard so many wonderful things about him and his work. I hope to someday make a lasting impact on Catholic Education as he did."

Meaghan is well on her way.

Two awards are given annually to ACE graduates who have distinguished themselves in making significant contributions to the ministry of Catholic education. Dennis Rankin, the principal of St. Peter Catholic School in St. Paul, Minnesota, and a member of Remick cohort 16 with Meaghan, also won the award for 2022. 



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