Browsing The Northern Cross

Schools: Focusing on virtues helped our schools as 2020 comes to an end

By Jesse Murray
Guest columnist

As we approach the end of 2020, we reflect on the goodness that can come from a pandemic year. The tenets of our Catholic faith guide our instruction and eventually our perspective on life. We see challenges as opportunities and grow closer in our relationship with God and with each other.

One of the key factors in a positive outcome of this year has been the result of using the “Virtues in Practice” curriculum, developed by the Dominican Sisters of St. Cecilia. This curriculum focuses on a key virtue for each month. Below you will see how the virtues have guided our efforts, challenges, struggles, and suffering to provide clear purpose and show positive end results that look more like thriving than surviving.

Hope was the virtue of the month of September (and the key virtue for the year — quite appropriate). Hope was visible in the hallways, on bulletin boards, in student activities, and in communication with families. Through the virtue of hope, a beautiful foundation was established to know we can trust in God’s plan that he has for each of us. We approached each day onsite as a blessing. Smiling behind their masks or attending online, eager students entered their classrooms, and teachers, principals, priests, board members, and parents were reminded and inspired that light will shine and prevail amidst the darkness in our lives.

Studiousness, the virtue of October, inspired us to seek knowledge to grow closer to the truth. With all the discussions of adjusted instructional methods and limitations to teaching subject area standards, now more than ever, the desire for truth through knowledge had the opportunity to stand out. Teachers rose to this unique challenge, not by simplifying to the basic but zeroing in on the most important. “Knowledge for truth” has always been the “standard” for Catholic education and proved to be the shining guiding factor in selecting educational content and experiences. Students started to face new in-school challenges that opened the door for guidance that went beyond the facts and grades and entered into deeper conversations with a purpose that will be life-serving.

Humility led the way into November. We started to experience frustrations with the election event and fatigue with maintaining the new procedures and expectations of the year. People found limits they never knew existed (good ones and challenging ones). Together we were humbled by the circumstances and placed focus on gratitude and the awareness of our blessings. With All Saints Day, All Souls Day, and Thanksgiving, the focus went away from ourselves and toward others.

Patience is the virtue for December, fitting as we wait for Christmas and spend more time in the isolation of darkness, or with an increased separation from our friends and families. This virtue challenges all of us to step up and hold back the complaint when the going gets tough! The culture of the Catholic school classroom complements suffering with the encouragement of empathy and compassion. Service projects, acts of kindness, and increased prayer are the hallmarks of Advent activity in our schools. Through prayer and serving others, we find compassion and patience.

In a recent survey of teachers, our educators spoke of seeing students’ resilience and perseverance in this year, increased grace and appreciation from parents, students articulating their thankfulness to be in school while successfully transitioning between learning onsite and remote. They increased their confidence to reach out for help and become more independent in problem-solving. They were more willing or had greater opportunity to support each other, and, ultimately, students are becoming more responsible for their self-growth rather than depending so heavily on their parents or teachers to do it for them.

Through these difficult times, it is up to us to choose to turn to God, and the virtues can help guide us in our choices. We have found that this positive and Christ-focused approach not only gets us through these times in our lives, but can make us stronger and more faith-filled people.

The upcoming virtues are fidelity, cheerfulness, temperance, obedience, and diligence. They will guide our teachers, our students, our perspective, and our future. As always, we are in good hands, through the love of our Lord. We are guided in virtue to come out of this pandemic stronger and closer to God. May Jesus live, forever, in our hearts.

Jesse Murray is principal of the St. John’s campus of Stella Maris Academy.