Catholic School Matters

September 14, 2020

Connecting the Disconnected

How many decisions have been made in the last six months that are truly student-centered? We seem to focus on parents, teachers, or even what the institutions need to survive. Rare is the conversation about how to improve teaching and learning amid the chaos and uncertainty. I have heard more conversations about types of hand sanitizer, cleaning products, and temperature scanners than I have about instruction.

Our reality is that we’re all distanced and disconnected. Some of us are learning remotely, some of us are face-to-face but socially distanced, and others are somewhere in between. The distance threatens one of the foundations of education—connection.

So let’s focus on one thing that every teacher can do to improve teaching—building stronger connections with students. If a school were to make this a priority, it would certainly improve teaching and learning and would go a long way toward reducing stress and anxiety. I have come across resources that offer suggestions on how teachers can build better relationships and how schools can center their efforts around building community.

This harkens back to our mission as Catholic schools. As we pointed out in the “Value Proposition for Catholic Schools During Uncertainty,” Catholic schools are uniquely positioned to personalize instruction because of their size. This level of personalization should carry over, so that every student is known and loved.

Dave Stuart, Jr. leads things off with his incredibly well-written “How to Build Strong Relationships with Students if You’re Starting the Year Online.” Extraverts like myself forget that some teachers need to be taught how to connect. Stuart offers tips for teachers in any environment—the framework to understand the importance and techniques that can be used today.

If you aren’t reading and consulting Larry Ferlazzo’s online content, give it a gander. He’s a gifted curator, writer, and teacher. He provides a building block for community with his blog post about “Individual Meetings.” Scheduling one-on-one time with students is essential for building relationships.

Susan Yergler in Edutopia makes suggestions for elementary school teachers in “How to Create Community in a Virtual Classroom.” Icebreakers, classroom routines, traditions, and collaborative projects all contribute to building community. It’s a great overview filled with practical suggestions.

Arianna Prothero in Education Week offers suggestions on “How to Build Relationships with Students During COVID-19.” She argues that the uncertainty and anxiety present today should be confronted by all teachers, no matter the setting. Suggesting that relationships with adults help students build resilience, Prothero outlines a “relationship mapping” exercise for teachers and administrators to ensure that all students are connected. She also mentions the value of daily and weekly checkins.

I pulled out Tom Barrett’s blog post from last year “How to Build Better Relationships” because he explores some great ideas about the value of relationships and how to do it. Jennifer Gonzalez offers a “4-Part System for Getting to Know Your Students” and Dave Burgess offers “50 Back-to-School Activities for the Remote Learning Classroom.” Even if you’ve been in school a month, it’s never too late for these activities.

Julie Cantillon and her team at the Office of Catholic Schools (San Diego) have curated a list of 16 great articles centering on building community. Though there are some repeats, there are also some gems worth your time.

Pick a few articles, focus on strengthening connections with students, and see how this changes your focus and your school.

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Dr. Tim Uhl

Focused Reflection


Why people fall for misinformation - Joseph Isaac

Catholic School Matters podcast

Wednesday on the Catholic School Matters podcast I'm going to release a conversation with Dr. Tim McNiff, the former superintedent of the Archdiocese of NYC. Tim describes his latest efforts to bring STEM and engineering into Catholic schools through Engineering Tomorrow.

Check out my past episodes from this season:

What I'm Reading

    The Last 5 Books:

    1. With God in America: The Spiritual Legacy of an Unlikely Jesuit (2016) by Walter Ciszek SJ
    2. Tapping the Power of Personalized Learning (2016) by James Rickabaugh
    3. The Eight Concepts of Bowen Theory (2004) by Roberta M. Gilbert
    4. American Dirt (2020) by Jeanine Cummins
    5. Resilent Leadership: Navigating the Chemistry of Organizations (2009) by Bob Duggan & Jim Moyer.

            Click this link for a full list of my professional reading

            Past Issues of Catholic School Matters

            Aug 31, 2020 "Racial Injustice"

            Aug 24, 2020 "Figuring it Out"

            Aug 17, 2020 Serenity Prayer

            May 24, 2020 Value Proposition During Uncertain Times

            For previous newsletters, click this link

            Orchestrating Conflict

            Orchestrating Conflict: Case Studies in Catholic Leadership is now available on Amazon or on the Barnes & Noble site in print or e-book formats. The book explores issues in Catholic school leadership and the tensions between building community and following Church policies and introduces deliberate practice as a method for leadership formation. This is my first book and has been an ongoing project for the past couple of years.