Teachers and staff at some Catholic schools are learning new skills — and being recognized for them — under partnerships between the Office of Catholic Schools and DePaul University.
The two pilot programs focus on Catholic identity and social and emotional learning. The one on Catholic identity, with a program focused on the value of justice this year, offers a digital badge to the learning communities that complete it, whether those are schools or classes. The second offers a digital badge to the teachers or staff members who complete the program.
That badge can be displayed on social media or used as part of a resume, and readers can click on it to see what the recipient accomplished, according to Donna Kiel, director of the Office of Innovative Professional Learning at DePaul.
Microcredentials, she said, are distinct from traditional professional development programs in that they are customized to the learner, embedded in the jobs the learners are already doing and come with recognition of what they have done. Microcredentials were initially developed by the military to help former servicemembers entering the civilian workforce demonstrate their skills, she said.
The archdiocese already has worked with DePaul on two microcredentials, one for second-year principals and one around racial justice.
Work on the social and emotional learning microcredential began in February 2020, just before the COVID-19 pandemic hit, Kiel said. She was talking with Yesenia Maldonado, who had recently started as the Office of Catholic Schools’ director of social and emotional learning, about how to integrate social and emotional learning into the schools.
They came up with a plan, and a grant from DePaul, to pilot a social and emotional learning microcredential in 20 Catholic schools. At the suggestion of Dominican Sister M. Paul McCaughey, they included the school counseling department at DePaul to review materials and to help coach school staff members.
Sister M. Paul, a longtime education leader, suggested that any social and emotional learning initiative, especially now, had to be trauma-informed, especially since many children lived with trauma even before the pandemic.
The program is set up to encourage the adults in a school to focus on their own social and emotional development so they can effectively model it to their students, Maldonado said.
“It’s different from other professional development experiences, because this one is really with a Catholic lens,” she said. “We’ll talk about self-awareness and self-discovery, and we’ll talk about how Pope Francis does that. The modules are intensive. It’s a lot of reading great articles and watching great videos, and it’s all self-paced. DePaul staff meet with the school teams every other week to talk about the modules, do coaching, talk about how this is lived out in our faith.”
“It’s very much, ‘Put your own oxygen mask on first,’” said Sister M. Paul, who is coaching staff at Infant Jesus of Prague School in Flossmoor.
Social and emotional learning has to do with how people relate to themselves and to those around them.
“It’s how we feel, how we manage our feelings and how we are in relationship with one another,” Maldonado said. “I like to say it’s how we feel, how we deal and how we relate. It’s not something new. We’re doing it all the time. When we say, ‘Get in line and be quiet in the hallway,’ we’re teaching that. Our Fortune 500 companies, those are the skills they are looking for. They are looking for people who can work in teams with other people. The beauty of doing this in a Catholic school setting is seeing how this is rooted in our Catholic identity and our values.”
The schools participating in the social and emotional learning microcredential pilot are: St. Matthias; St. William; St. Ferdinand; St. Malachy; Our Lady of Tepeyac; Alphonsus Academy Center for Arts; Infant Jesus of Prague, Flossmoor; and Christ Our Savior, South Holland; St. Paul of the Cross, Park Ridge, and St. Sylvester plan to start in January.
Nearly all of the schools are also participating in a pilot program to implement social and emotional learning with their students.
The second microcredential is centered around Catholic identity and the value of justice, which has roots in Catholic social teaching but is also universal.
“The idea was to choose a Catholic value that everybody could relate to, whether or not a student and their family were Catholic or even Christian,” said Melissa Link, director of Catholic mission and culture for the Office of Catholic Schools.
The idea for it arose in discussions between Link and Kiel about ways to emphasize and promote Catholic identity even when schools were doing remote learning.
Unlike the social and emotional learning digital badge, which goes to individuals, this badge goes to learning communities, and it can be showcased on social media or websites. The program includes eight learning modules, all of which can be used from preschool through eighth grade, with mini-badges awarded for finishing every two-module subset.
“Once the kids finish a set of modules with their teachers, the teachers reflect on that and share evidence of the students’ project-based learning with DePaul,” she said. “The archdiocese and DePaul have collaborated to design a Catholic identity digital badge that the school can use to celebrate that. When people go to those social media sites and hover over or click on that digital badge, they can learn about what the students did.”
Lake said she was most surprised at the popularity of the program among preschool teachers.
“There is one module where the kids learn about champions of justice,” she said. “The preschool kids have identified, with the help of their teachers, Catholic saints and people who have championed justice, including people like Pope Francis, Dorothy Day, John Bosco. Then the students reflected on the stories of those people and they made paper bag puppets, and the students were very curious about how they could model in their lives what those people were doing.”
The microcredential is being piloted this year at Christ Our Savior, South Holland; Infant Jesus of Prague, Flossmoor; St. Benedict, Blue Island; St. Ann; and St. Ailbe.
Link and Maldonado hope to continue and expand both programs going forward.
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