Demonstrating Faith Identity

In 2008, I was privileged to be a presenter at the National Catholic Education Association (NCEA) Convocation in Indianapolis, Indiana, and to be associated with a conference where Daniel Pink (“A Whole New Mind”) was the keynote speaker. The February/March 2008 issue of “Momentum,” the publication of the National Catholic Educational Association (NCEA) which was published right before the conference, contained an article which spoke to speaks to “four pillars” that could be used to position Catholic education in today’s society: lifelong learning, passion and curiosity, playing well with others, and, in the spirit of the Daniel Pink presentation, using both sides of the brain.

In my experience as both an educator and a musician, it’s long been documented that students participating in music program perform at higher levels in school precisely because music helps to develop both sides of the brain (meter, rhythm and time signatures on the left, and melody and compositional creativity on the right). Yet, isn’t it amazing how public schools want to increase educational performance, yet cut the “extras” like band? To me, it’s even MORE amazing that many faith-based schools consider music an “extra.”

My wife and I were in a Marriage Encounter follow-up community (an exercise in lifelong learning) which taught us to describe our feelings by relating an abstraction (right brain) with a concrete experience (left brain). Communication improvement? You bet!

From a development (as opposed to fundraising) standpoint, “playing nice with others” is what it’s all about. One of my most recent favorite phrases is that “everyone needs to play nice in the sandbox” when it comes to grantsmanship, planned giving and major gifts. If we look at generating funds as simply “what’s in it for us,” we’re missing the opportunity to minister to those who have been blessed with time, talent and treasure. Development needs to be “Donor-centric,” just as business needs to be “Customer-centric.” However, many schools still don’t think of themselves as businesses today…and that’s a problem.

As for passion – well, that’s a topic that is more extensive than what can be included in a weekly article.  I cover it a bit in my book on Retention.

I’ve been quoted as saying that there are indeed four pillars of the Catholic school, and, as time has progressed, not just the Catholic school, but ANY faith-based school. These pillars form the acronym FACE: Faith Identity and Formation, Academic Excellence, Community, and the “Experience.” Relating those to NCEA’s aforementioned four pillars, the comparison parallels: The “Experience” is the passion; “Community” is playing well with others; “Academic Excellence” is using both sides of the brain, and “Faith Identity and Formation” is lifelong learning in not just the cognitive domain, but in the affective, kinesthetic, conative and spiritual.

As for our schools, we can demonstrate an outstanding experience by the number of students we retain and the number of people that are engaged in the mission of the school. We can demonstrate community by how we we get along with one another, respecting one another in a safe and caring environment. We can demonstrate academic excellence by test scores and vibrant, quality learning experiences and programs. But how do we demonstrate the lifelong learning associated with faith identity and formation since it’s an ongoing and continuous process?

Perhaps we need to look at what we do, and how we do it.

Many schools have a group or groups of students that get together and provide service – visits to soup kitchens, neighborhood clean-up days, trips to disadvantaged communities, etc.  In many faith-based schools, there are “groups” which are formed to do these kinds of things.  “Group” sounds appropriate for a public school, but in a faith-based school, the entire school population should be able to put the commitments of its faith into action, and walk the talk.

Before you get into the fact that you might have people of different faiths in the school, this has nothing to do with worship. EVERY faith involves providing service to others, caring for those in need, those who are hurting, unclothed, imprisoned and ignored.  And since this is Lent, what an appropriate time to “rethink” about what we’re doing.

Impossible to engage the whole student body of the school? Don’t think so. Several years ago, Conn-Area Catholic School in Connellsville, PA received a service award from its local county government’s Chamber of Commerce. More correctly, the award was presented to “The Students of Conn Area Catholic School.” That would be all the students, and not just the community service group.

Another example? Father Ryan High School in Nashville. When the city was flooded a number of years ago, the school, like others, was closed. When most of the schools reopened, Father Ryan stayed closed for a few more days so that the students could put their faith into action and help others in the community that still needed assistance. Now THAT’s a faith-based school.

© Michael V. Ziemski, SchoolAdvancement, 2008-2018 (Original Publication Date: 20080303)