Nearly 700 educators, including teachers and principals, gathered Sept. 19 at Cardinal Gibbons High School for Professional Development Day. They represented more than 25 Catholic Schools in the diocese.
Educators, some of whom traveled 150 miles to attend, began the day by filling a truck with backpacks and school supplies for Catholic Charities, which will give them to families in need.
Educators attended Mass together. Bishop Michael F. Burbidge celebrated Mass and delivered the homily; Father Tom Duggan, assistant principal for spiritual life at Gibbons, and Father John Alex Gonzalez concelebrated. The Cardinal Gibbons Choir sang at Mass.
Bishop Burbidge encouraged educators to be fixed on God as they work with students.
“When we are only looking straight ahead it can be easy to forget what we are doing and why we are doing it,” Bishop Burbidge said in his homily. “We can forget the meaning of our vocation, our work and our ministry. But when we look up, we are reminded that everything we do is for the glory of God, the One who sustains us.”
Bishop Burbidge asked educators to consider beginning the day by looking up to God, as well as pausing during the day for prayer and reflection. “Looking up helps us to create in our schools what Pope Francis calls a ‘culture of encounter,’” he said. “And for this to happen … we must be willing to shut off our phones … walk away from social media so that we encounter one another in real time, person to person, heart to heart.”
Musician Steve Angrisano delivered the keynote address, using humor and music to inspire educators.
“We received rave reviews about Steve,” Dr. Michael Fedewa, superintendent of schools, said. “He really hit home with our teachers through his music.”
Dr. Fedewa added that Mr. Angrisano’s personal talk about the massacre at Columbine High School was powerful. (Mr. Angrisano was a youth minister in Colorado at the time of the shooting, and knew four of the victims.)
After the keynote address, educators attended professional workshops. Presented by more than 90 speakers, workshops were geared toward specific subjects and included: “Revised Music Curriculum,” “Kindergarten General Discussion,” and “Applying Brain research to Leaning Science.”
Rhonda Fullerton, from Infant of Prague School in Jacksonville, was one of the attendees. “I love it,” she said of teaching religious education. “I get to share my faith every day. I get to talk about God every day. It doesn’t get better than this.”
Joyce Price, principal of St. Mary Catholic School in Wilmington, spoke of the "common support" teachers share at a gathering like this. "I think there's a feeling a sense of common support amongst us. It's wonderful to see one another at these events, but it's also great to share ideas. We can be the best teachers for each other as we share what's going on at our own schools. Beacuse our strong faith is the number one reason we exist, period, different from other schools, it's great for me to be able to bring my staff...to see that we are small piece of a much bigger school system."
It was "by the grace of God" that Sarah Panter, a teacher at St. Ann Catholic School in Fayetteville, ended up teaching in Catholic education, a blessing she is grateful for each day. One of the greatest benefits she has found in Catholic school education is that "the connection between the parents and the school is amazing. It's because the parents want their children at the school. The fact that I can share my faith with my students and instill my love of God with them [is amazing]."
Ms. Panter's principal, Rene Corders, has only one regret about Professional Development Day; namely, that all the teachers cannot gather more often. "We are grateful to be able to have this opportunity each year. It's great because teachers can get together and bond with people with whom they share a common language, and while the principals get together a little bit more frequently, it's always good to be able to sit down and share our ideas."
For Dr. Fedewa, the goals of Professional Development Day were for educators to share best practices, establish relationships with each other and feel part of a larger picture of many schools throughout the state.
“This day was led by their peers,” he said of the one-day conference. “It was a huge success.”