Tag: teacher (page 2 of 2)

Seven Characteristics of Effective Catholic School Leaders

As the Associate Superintendent for Leadership Formation in the Archdiocese of New York and a national consultant serving Catholic schools throughout the United States, I am often asked what makes an effective Catholic school leader. While I don’t claim to have all of the answers, I can proclaim that I have worked in thousands of Catholic schools in more than 120 of the Catholic dioceses throughout the United States and my observations are as follows:


All Effective Catholic School Leaders do these 7 things…


  1. Understand that the primary job of a Catholic school “and therefore the primary responsibility of the principal“ is to build disciples for Christ. Everything else is secondary.
  2.  Encourage parents to assume their role as the primary catechists of their children. Parents cannot outsource religious instruction to schools or parish religious education programs. For better or for worse, children will follow their parents’ example.
  3. Recognize that they are responsible for the spiritual formation of their staffs. This means more than just the occasional diocesan formation class; it means forming them through prayer, retreats, and spiritual reading, and inviting them to participate in the faith.
  4. Ensure that the catechetical textbooks and materials used in their school conform to the teachings of the Catholic Church.
  5. Model an example of joyful faith and holiness to their staff, faculty, and students.
  6. Hold high expectations for all students, staff and families.
  7.  Create a climate hospitable to education and shape a vision of academic success for all students

Secular Criteria for Colleges Can’t Tell the Whole Story

With a recent article published by Newsmax on the top 40 Traditional Catholic and Jesuit Colleges in America, some debate has been raised on the topic of secular college standards versus faith being the defining factor in choosing a school. Managing editor of the Newman Guide to Choosing a Catholic College, Adam Wilson, argues that a college’s Catholic identity should be of paramount concern.


“Students must weigh all options, including a school’s selection of majors, its location, post-graduation job success rate, class size, and student-to-faculty ratio.” Says Newmax, but then it also goes on to say that legacy and influence are subjective criteria compared to statistics like student retention rates. While these factors are great to take into consideration, do they accurately portray the Catholic structure of the college and the ideals that it espouses?


A Newsmax rep spoke with The Cardinal Newman Society to explain “that special consideration was given to “institutions that allow students to give back or care for others while growing spiritually,” but that they ultimately “wanted the list to feature exceptional institutions that ‘strike the perfect balance between integrating faith and reason with a rigorous academic education.’” Only one of the universities in the Newsmax ratings is recommended by the Newman Society for its commitment to a faithful Catholic education. Georgetown University, on the Newsmax list as the number two top Catholic college has actually had a canon law petition filed against it due to the numerous Catholic identity abuses, demanding that the university either remove it’s Catholic affiliation or take significant steps to restore the Catholic identity it once held.


So where should you look to for a college that is based in spirituality but also hits the academic criteria desired for success of the students? Keeping in mind that it is not just a college of faith that is important, and if they adhere to what the Church envisions for Catholic universities, but also that the students will enroll in institutions that aim to strike the perfect balance between integrating faith and reason with a rigorous academic education. The legwork here mainly falls to you. The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops has compiled a list of Catholic Colleges and Universities in the United States that gives you a base to jump of from, and everyone looking into a Catholic institution should read the apostolic constitution on Catholic universities, Ex corde Ecclesiae. It is important that the institutions and bishops in the United States are understanding and using the application of that document to bring their identity in line with the Church’s vision. The only way you can know if the needs of the college are aligned with the needs of your family and your faith is to ask the important questions yourself. Class size and student retention, while important factors to consider, simply are not representative of the ideals of a college or it’s ability to nourish a student’s faith. Campus ministry and residence life, as well as the faculty and percentage of Catholic students in attendance are all integral to the process.


As Pope Benedict XVI addressed to Catholic educators in 2008 where the Holy Father stated that “Catholic identity is not dependent upon statistics.” Instead, Catholic identity “demands and inspires much more: namely that each and every aspect of your learning communities reverberates within the ecclesial life of faith. In this way, our institutions make a vital contribution to the mission of the Church and truly serve society,” he continued. “They become places in which God’s active presence in human affairs is recognized and in which every young person discovers the joy of entering into Christ’s ‘being for others.’”


8 Ways Early Childhood Teachers Can Help Ensure a Smooth Transition for Students from Home to the First Few Days of a New School Year

teachersIn the south, Midwest and west coast the new school year is already in full swing. The new school year in the northeast corridor is just beginning this week. Transitions are exciting opportunities for children to learn and grow. Parents and early childhood professionals share a role in making children feel safe and secure as they move to new educational settings. Of course, such milestones in children’s lives can cause anxiety, too. Strengthening the ties between educational professionals and families will help create smooth transitions for both adults and children. Making a smooth transition between home and school requires teachers and early childhood professionals to help children feel good about themselves and learn to trust other adults and children. Helping children adapt to new situations can ease parents’ minds and give them a chance to become involved in their children’s education.

Over the past several weeks, Steve Virgadamo offered suggestions for parents as to how to ease the transition from the lazy, hazy days of summer to a more rigorous and structured day in an academic setting. Below, Steven offers practical advice as to early childhood professionals can do their part to help each student transition smoothly from summer to the first few days of school.

8 Ways Early Childhood Teachers Can Help Ensure a Smooth Transition for Students from Home to the First Few Days of a New School Year.

  1. Set up an area for photos of parents and family members that children may “visit” throughout the day. Also, include items that reflect the cultural experiences of the children to help promote a sense of mutual respect and understanding. Children, just like adults, need time to adjust to new people and situations.
  2. Hold an orientation for children and parents. Small groups encourage children to get to know each other.
  3. Experience helps to ease transitions but change can still be stressful. Patience and understanding on the part of parents, caregivers, and teachers help children learn how to approach new situations with confidence—a skill that helps them make successful transitions throughout their lives.
  4. Show children around the new school or program, introducing them to other adults who are there to help them become acclimated.
  5. Make an effort to get to know each individual child as quickly as possible. Parents can provide information about children’s likes, dislikes, and special interests.
  6. Welcome suggestions from families, particularly those of children with special needs. Parents can offer specific suggestions they have found useful for their child and advice on classroom setup and modifications.
  7. Make sure activities are developmentally appropriate for children. Activities that are interesting, challenging, and doable will help children feel comfortable in their new setting.
  8. Work with your administrator to have a cry area for parents – remember the first day of school can be as hard or harder time of separation anxiety on some parents than their child. Allowing parents to gather for awhile proves to be an opportunity for the school administrator to befriend new parents.

Thank you for reading!

Steve Virgadamo

14 Tips For both New & Veteran Catholic School Teachers

teacherBy next week, every Catholic school in the United States will be open and thousands of Catholic school teachers will renew their commitment to preparing students for not just College, but heaven as well.

Last week Steven Virgadamo had the opportunity to welcome new teachers to the Archdiocese of New York – many of them are first time teachers. He spoke to them about the Trinitarian aspects of a Catholic School and how successful Catholic schools are about relationships – relationships – relationships.  By the time the day was done, the cohort of new teachers adopted the mantra of “Not Under my Watch.” Imagine several hundred new Catholic school teachers being asked:

  • Will it be said that in your classroom children were denied an opportunity to encounter the Risen Christ?
  • Will it be said that the test scores of your children declined during the 2015-2016 school year?
  • Will students in your classroom withdraw from the school because parents are dissatisfied with your willingness to partner with them on behalf of their child’s education?

And all responding with an unequivocal – “Not Under My Watch.”

 Virgadamo said, “Teaching is a noble profession! Nobility includes in its meaning the very notion of beautiful. Therefore, noble work is beautiful work. But what is beautiful can sometimes be sullied.”  While working at the University of Notre Dame’s Alliance for Catholic Education Program Steve Virgadamo was often presented with opportunities to talk to new Catholic school teachers. Below are some of the thoughts he would share with them in an attempt to help each new teacher maintain the beauty and luster of his/her own vocation as a Catholic school teacher. We provide you with them today as a resource for every Catholic school teacher and  hope Catholic school leaders across the country will consider sharing with their new teachers.  Some of the thoughts might be good for veteran teachers to hear again as well.

Stay close to the Lord

Throughout your career, you will experience crises of confidence, exasperation, frustration, unreasonable parents, troubled students, bad classes, poor liturgies. You will be misquoted, misrepresented and for some periods of time, mistrusted. But you will also get the unparalleled gift to see the world with wonder again, through the eyes of young people. You will be made a confidante by a young person seeking advice, feel the joy of a weak student who does well on an assignment, cheer for your students in athletic contests, beam with a near parents’ pride as your students graduate. To keep yourself rooted, to keep your ideas fresh, to be the kind of faithful person our young people need to see firsthand, stay close to the Lord, both in your daily prayer and in the reception of the sacraments. If you do, the Lord will bless you in your work and you will go to bed each night exhausted, but with a smile on your face.

Be yourself

If you’re young, you’ve probably never been called Mister Jones or Miss Smith, and that will take some getting used to.  But you can be yourself within this role. I have never agreed with the maxim “Don’t let them see you smile until Thanksgiving.”  The fact is, students respond better to authenticity. It’s OK to laugh at something the students say which is amusing—in fact, it’s quite disarming to them. It’s OK to let the students see you having fun.

Admit your mistakes and learn from them

Zero in on your strengths, not your weaknesses. (Remember — nobody’s perfect!) Principals also suffer from human frailty and need to learn from experiences. School leaders need to be supported not weakened by gossip and other toxic behavior which is destructive to the Catholic School community.

Remember, it’s not about you; it’s about the students

So learn how to spell the word “concupiscence”. Concupiscence is a tendency to put yourself first. Only divine grace enables us to rise above it. But unless you declare war on it, you are bound to succumb to the illusion that teaching is all about you.

Be professional

Model desired attitudes and behavior. Make sure you dress in professional attire. Remember that you teach students first, and then you teach whatever academic discipline you learned. You are a role model for the children and partner with the parents in the formation of each child.

Empower your students and engage them in the teaching/learning process

Listen — both to what the kids are saying and to what they’re not saying.Make sure  that assessments are frequent and fair, that work is graded in a timely fashion, and that classes are well prepared and taught from beginning to end  – every minute matters.

Don’t “go it alone”

Get to know all the teachers in your school and make friends with the cafeteria staff, custodians, aides, and secretaries. We are all formators of children, just each with a different role to play in that formative process. Volunteer to share projects and ideas, and don’t be afraid to ask others to share their ideas with you. Understand that the learning process involves everyone — teachers, students, colleagues, and parents — and get everyone involved. Seek the advice of your colleagues, share your frustrations with them, and ask questions. Remember we are promised that whenever two or more are gathered in His name that he will be with us to enlighten and guide us.

Jump in with both feet!

Some classrooms don’t have walls. So, don’t be a person who clocks in at 7:30 and clocks out at 3 each day. Come to afterschool activities. Nothing connects you with your students faster than to be able to say “Nice hit,” or “great singing,” or “I was impressed with your artwork at the show.” You can’t be at everything; but make a point some days to just stop in at after school care to say hello.  You’ll see kids in a whole new light, and I think you’ll enjoy it, too.

Pray for your students and their families

Your most important work is to bring a piece of heaven into the classroom with you.

Think before you speak

if you do, you won’t speak very often, for there is a great deal to think about in education.

Let the data guide your decision making and instructional strategies

Have the courage to try something else if what you’re doing isn’t working.

Thirty plus years from now, your students will not remember all that you taught them, but they will remember who you were and how you treated them

You have a choice to become a minister of justice or an angel of peace. Be an angel of peace.

Keep a journal and take pictures

Some highly regarded Catholic school teachers share excerpts from their journal and images from the week with parents in a weekly email blast.

Remember that a good day is not necessarily smooth, painless and hassle free and that all the knowledge we give our students is in vain if they receive it without knowing they are good and loved by God

Each day is an opportunity to channel the divine love. Don’t waste an opportunity to do so. Every minute counts!

For many years Steve Virgadamo has provided thought leadership to Church leaders, Trustees and Board members. His expert counsel over many years has led to many Bishops, Chief Finance Officers, Superintendents, Pastors and Principals to consider him to be the expert in both Church and school management and the most premier consultant for Catholic schools, colleges and universities.  He travels throughout the United States and internationally to mentor and teach school leaders, teachers, pastors, and more. His domestic and international reputation has led to Steven’s selection as a delegate for the World Congress on Catholic Education sponsored by the Congregation of Catholic Education.

Thank you for reading!

Steve Virgadamo

Dog Days of August – Not for Catholic School Teachers and Administrators

steve-virgadamo-catholic-teacherThis is one of the happiest times of the year for school administrators and teachers. The classrooms in every school are being decorated, every school campus is pristine, families are registered, and as each day of August passes teachers all across the country are waiting to watch young people arrive excited and happy about learning. For Catholic school teachers watching the young people arrive renews their commitment to provide a quality academic education in an environment where each student has an opportunity encounter Christ.

Parents are the primary educator of their children so you can do your part as well to get your child(ren) ready for school. A little advance preparation can make the first week a lot easier. Tailor these strategies to suit you and your child as you prepare for the big day.

Practice going to school:

Make a dry run to help your child get familiar with the route and the routine. Point out interesting sights or places familiar to your child. Notice the swings, slides, or other fun stuff that your think your child will like — and try them out together.

Dedicate the school year to the Blessed Mother:

Take your child to Church. Remind them that this is where Jesus lives and the more time that they spend in His home, the happier they will be. Then light a votive candle and dedicate the school year to the Blessed Mother. Have your child to pledge to her to always do his or her best in school.

Describe what will happen on the first day:

Keep in mind that a child starting school for the first time or going to a new school may have a hard time imagining what it will be like (You’ve been to school before, but they haven’t.) “Talking about the basic sequence of the day will help your child make a mental movie of what to expect. Kids form pictures in their minds, and reviewing the process in detail will make things more familiar and less scary on the first day of school,

Ask your child compelling questions:

Specific questions will help your child imagine what school will be like and help you talk about the fun stuff and the hard stuff. You might ask,

  • “What do you think the hardest part of school is going to be?”
  • “Is there anything that worries you about starting school?”
  • “What are you really looking forward to?”

Renew meal schedules and bedtime routines:

Sometimes summer can place an irregularity to meal schedules and bed time curfews. Two weeks before school begins create a meal schedule and begin rolling bedtime back to a school schedule. Begin slowly, waking your child up 15 minutes earlier every day and going to bed 15 minutes earlier each night until she is back on track.

Meet kids in the class:

If your child is going to a new school, find out if there will be a class gathering before the first day; it can be helpful to see familiar faces when she walks into a new classroom. Even if your child already has friends at school, schedule some play dates with kids your child may not have seen over the summer.

Learn about the drop-off policy:

Find out about the policy for parents walking children into the classroom and how long you can stay. If you anticipate that your child will need extra time to adjust, talk to the teacher before school starts, if you can.

Give children control over what they can control:

Offering simple choices may help calm nerves and get kids excited. For example, if you pick out a new backpack or lunchbox, let your child choose the color. If you shop for school supplies, let your child find the items in the store and check them off on your list.

Plan ahead how you will say goodbye:

Think about what your child needs in a goodbye. What will be most helpful — a quick goodbye, or five minutes of cuddle time with you?

Steve Virgadamo is an educator and school administrator filled with a missionary zeal for contributing to education reform. Currently, he serves as the Associate Superintendent for Leadership at the Archdiocese of New York and he encourages every Catholic School Leader to share the tips above with all of the families they serve.

Thank you for reading!

Steve Virgadamo