By Kathy Schmugge
COLUMBIA — If the goal of the first in-service for the Charleston Diocese Catholic Schools’ staff was to motivate, John Novak, Ph.D., was the ideal choice.
The professor and former chair of the Department of Graduate and Undergraduate Studies in Education at Brock University in Canada exercised the mind and body with his vivacious sharing of ideas about inviting school success.
Novak is the author of “Advancing Invitational Thinking” and co-authored “Inviting School Success and Phi Delta Kappan Invitational Education” with William Purkey, Ph.D.
Margaret Adams, Ph.D., superintendent of Catholic schools for the Diocese of Charleston, said she was pleasantly surprised by Novak’s ability to get his message out in a fun and entertaining way.
“Our job is to make ideas come alive not just in the abstract,” said Novak to a room full of Catholic school educators who gathered in Columbia at the Fairground’s Morris building to be challenged to make their school the most inviting place in town.
“It takes lots of energy to make it happen,” pointed out the speaker who relayed the results of a study correlating physical fitness and high-performing teachers.
According to Novak, experience, methods of teaching and knowledge alone do not guarantee a good teacher, but the right attitude about students, teaching and themselves is a common denominator for successful teachers whose students learn what is taught in the classroom.
How one views the students is also important. A teacher should not see students in a negative way but must see the “light and the possibility in them.”
Language can also play an important role in making the invitation according to Novak. He said teachers often say they plan to “cover” certain material for the class.
“As educators, we don’t cover; we uncover, discover and rediscover,” said the professor. He also said the word “reinforce” should be avoided because one reinforces concrete, not people.
Words can also kill the dream and have lifelong consequences. Novak shared the memory of one of his graduate students, a 52-year-old woman who recalled her first-grade teacher calling her a “stupid little girl who would never learn to read.”
A self-confident teacher acknowledges when she bombs in the classroom and is willing to change methods if the old way is not working, whereas a poor teacher may deny the problem or blame the students.
“Most of all, a quality educator believes they are making a difference,” said Novak, who believes that after creating an inviting atmosphere, the teacher can begin to show the order of things and to crack the code for each student.
“We don’t expect sainthood. Teachers have over 1,000 interactions a day and not all of them are going to be perfect. But if we make a mistake, don’t justify it. When you justify it, it is worse because you set the stage for it happening over and over again,” he warned.
Novak, whose teaching experience ranges from preschool to graduate level, sees the inviting approach as a human approach where the teacher and student know they are participating in something that is worthwhile.
Nothing could be more fundamental to Catholic education, and Jim McIntyre, principal from Cardinal Newman in Columbia who attended the in-service, believes it renewed everyone’s focus on their role as Catholic educators.
In the afternoon, school secretaries and administrators received a much-deserved dose of recognition for their dedication to the schools. Bishop Robert J. Baker and Msgr. Joseph R. Roth presented each of them with a gift.
Also recognized were two elementary teachers who have been principals for more than 20 years. Our Lady of Mercy Sister Stella Maris Craven from Christ Our King-Stella Maris School in Mount Pleasant and Notre Dame de Namur Sister Christina Murphy from St. Joseph School in Columbia were also given a token of appreciation for their continued, dedicated service to their schools.
“Today was a special day to recognize teachers too, for all their hard work,” said Adams. “Let us celebrate our ministry as educators.”