Catholic Identity - Not by Accident

THIS STORY APPEARED IN THE AUG. 31 ISSUE OF THE ARLINGTON CATHOLIC HERALD:

Carl Patton is the assistant head of school and the director of curriculum and instruction at Bishop O'Connell. Over the course of the last year, he has been engaging teams of faculty and administrators in a comprehensive curriculum audit.

"This is a best practice that enables us to take a look at what is being done across disciplines, how and for what purpose," said Patton. "It opens up great conversations among the Catholic education professionals in the building about how learning is happening and it's steps and sequences."

"There is no doubt that the educational landscape is always changing and these audits allow us to be deliberate in how we move forward," added Dr. Joseph Vorbach, Head of School. "Our school is committed to providing a rigorous, relevant and student-centered curriculum with intentional focus on how our students experience the Catholic mission of the school."

Initial efforts earlier this year provided an articulation of a sequence of guiding principles for each grade level:

9th Grade – Dignity of the Human Person

10th Grade – The grace of being a Catholic community

11th Grade – Using your faith as a guide

12th Grade – Living your faith in the broader world

"These themes ensure that we weave our Catholic identity in a systematic way," added Patton. "They build on each other and eventually prepare our students for life beyond O'Connell."

Over the course of the upcoming school year, teachers, instructional coaches, and administrators will take part in collaborative working times by department, looking at ways to enrich, improve, and—and some cases, revise—the school's existing curriculum to fully integrate these guiding principles into each of the courses and units of study offered in all departments throughout the school.

In the spring of the 2016-2017 school year, four teams of freshman teachers from different subject areas—English, history, science and religion—were the first cohort to begin to dig into the audit. They viewed the freshman curriculum using three basic questions:

1) Why is this particular unit included in our curriculum?

2) What are the specific skills that will be the focus of instruction for this unit?

3) How can authentic student mastery of these skills be assessed? (Beyond rote memorization)

Working with the support of the instructional coaches and literacy specialist in school's "igKnight" professional development program, the group discussed cross-curricular and interdepartmental idea-sharing and support initiatives. They also brainstormed the ways that the grade-level themes can be woven into each of the subject areas during the course of the year. In the end, each of the four teams delivered a full-year pacing guide for a newly enriched freshman curriculum—driven by 21st century research skills, student-centered classroom activities, and common essential questions that challenge students to speak directly to how each unit of study connects to the school's broader Catholic identity.

As students return to O'Connell this fall, they may be unaware of the efforts that go on behind the scenes to ensure their success across all curriculum areas. Having leveraged best practices to get to this point, Patton is looking forward to sharing the experience and the outcomes with other Catholic educators at next annual NCEA Conference—scheduled to take place in Cincinnati next April—when he and English teacher and instructional coach John Meehan will be presenting a spotlight session on the subject of The Catholic School Advantage: Implementing Faith-Based Curriculum in Every Classroom at Every Level.

Pictured below: Members of the igKnight professional development team, including Siobhan Dannaher, research coach and librarian; Sam Vulcano, social studies teacher and literacy coach; and John Meehan, instructional coach, work with Susanna Dawyot, a new English teacher.

professional development