Radical Hospitality

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Just a few days ago, I flew to Jacksonville, Florida to speak at the 2016 Catholic Educator Conference on Exceptional Student Education put on by IBCCES (International Board of Credentialing and Continuing Education Services) and the Diocese of St. Augustine…in particular, it was spearheaded and created as the personal vision of Kelly Noda. She had a dream and boy, did she make it come true!

If you build it, they will come.

The conference was held at the University of North Florida and the conference room was FULL. It was full of Catholic educators from Florida, south Georgia, Alabama and Charleston, South Carolina who all chose to take a day off of their summer vacation and learn.

THREE CHEERS FOR THEM!!

I had the honor, joy and privilege of getting to be the keynote speaker for this event. As I was flying over the entire United States on my way to Jacksonville, I felt my usual self-doubts…why am I leaving my family for this? Why is this really happening? What can I possibly say that will have any effect?

As the universe always does, as soon as I got off the plane I got a nudge from God. I saw a group of city names listed in the airport on a window and directly in front of me was Sacramento (pretty much the closest city to my hometown of Davis) and then Jacksonville and then Kansas City (one of the most inclusive dioceses in the nation) and seeing that blue and those three names helped me to feel, with tingles and goosebumps, that this effort is exactly what should be happening.

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I found my way to the hotel and ended up making it just in time for the dinner reception for all of the speakers. Kelly and I got to finally hug in person! 🙂 Talking to those passionate educators and truly beautiful people energized me and readied me for the next big day.

Early in the morning 7 of us took the hotel shuttle over to the university and we got to see what Kelly had created! A giant conference hall full of circular tables and smiling people…ready to learn…ready to connect. The superintendent of the Diocese of St. Augustine opened with a prayer and a warm, warm welcome…and then it was time. All I did was share my story. But, I’m beginning to see that it is a powerful story for others to hear. Truthfully, it’s not even my story…it’s Patrick’s story.

It’s a story of welcome…but more than that, it is a story of belonging.
Full participation.
A story of equity and mutual connectedness.
A story of God’s grace guiding the way – every step of the way.

After I spoke, an entire faculty from Charleston, South Carolina came up to share the story of their inclusive school: St. John’s Catholic School in North Charleston.
To see an entire faculty working together…dedicated to this vision…honestly, it just made my whole day.

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After I spoke, we had a panel of speakers from both the Diocese of St. Augustine and the Diocese of Orlando as well as an inclusion consultant from the Diocese of Toledo, Ohio (Kathy Conroy) and the Associate Director for Education for the Florida Catholic Conference/Florida Conference of Catholic Bishops. Together they answered questions about what inclusion looks like, how to handle the stumbling blocks, how to use the McKay Scholarship that is special to Florida. Because of the McKay, Catholic schools in Florida are seeing an increase in students.

The dynamic and inclusive-focused assistant superintendent of the Diocese of Orlando, Jackie Flanigan, made this statement when asked: “How can you welcome all students entering all Catholic schools?”

“Just stop saying no.”

Couldn’t have said it better myself…in fact, if I could have I would have stood up, like I was at a revival and shouted Amen!

The Diocese of Orlando is the only diocese in the nation creating a transition program for students with disabilities after high school. They have two programs. One for students 18-22 and one for students 22-28. They are using an old rectory and remodeling it so that there will be a kitchen and other rooms that will be used for both life skills courses and job skills courses. It is truly innovative and a bold step to stand in the margins with this often neglected group of students.

Three cheers for the Diocese of Orlando!

After the panel, there were three different opportunities to attend a break out session.

*****

I had the joy of listening to John Kyler, a liturgical musician and soon-to-be campus minister for the Newman Center for Fresno State University in Fresno, California.
He began his talk with this:

“God’s love transcends divisions and separateness.”

He asked us if we could say that we create a learning environment where every student belongs?
Everyone is not just welcome but that they belong…belonging transcends welcome.

This clarity was important and a central theme for the day…how do we create a school environment where everyone truly belongs?

He shared that Christianity is a new way of seeing.

And he shared this short video:

“It’s easy to miss something you’re not looking for.”
Who are we not seeing? What are we not noticing? Who is isolated? Alone? Separated?

He stated: “Every student belongs and that is non-negotiable.” –> my kind of guy

Non-negotiable.

I love that term…but the term that stayed with me the longest from John is this:

“As Catholic educators we are called to Radical Hospitality.”

YES! YES! YES!

I’ve never heard that term before but, have since Googled it and found that it is a cornerstone of Benedictine spirituality.

It might be my new favorite phrase.

While we were in that session, a middle school teacher generously offered up an insight: “I tell my students that they can always come to talk to me…then when they come talk to me, I find myself busy grading papers thinking that I need to get back to work…forgetting that they are the work.”

They are the work.

They are the work.

If we truly believe that they are the work…and I know for sure that every Catholic educator that was at that conference did, then we simply have no choice:
we must be inclusive.

We must show our typical students what Radical Hospitality looks like.
More importantly, we MUST give our typical students the chance to know what Radical Hospitality feels like.

*****

Next up was the session with Carol Guthrie, Director of Academic Support for Bishop Moore Catholic High School in Orlando, Florida.

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She shared so many great stories of the transformational power of inclusion…but my favorite insight of hers was:

“Belonging is a prerequisite to learning.”

That simple truth has snuggled in right next to my heart and made a permanent place there.
All teachers know this down deep…we know classroom and school community make the difference…but sometimes we fall short.
How can we create a feeling of belonging for every student?

Inclusion.

With inclusion we erase the idea of worthiness…of needing to earn our way in…the ache of not being good enough.

We create belonging as our baseline.

Carol also revealed a thought she holds dear: Jesus was a special educator.
She wasn’t being tongue-in-cheek.
She was speaking the truth.
Jesus taught all of us…by reaching out to the least regarded, the most needy, the most difficult.

*****

My final treat of the day was attending the session on Mindfulness and Movement with the amazing, funny, energetic and extremely awesome PE teacher, Natalie Bryan.

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Natalie opened up her session with these powerful words…taken from a PE teacher’s guide:
“Don’t change the child, change the environment.”

She had a million ideas of how to get exercise, stretch your brain and “play attention” in PE.

She did Speed stacking with cups (so fun!) – multiplication with hula hoops – played the dice game Tenzi – used Noodle bits for relay games – and yarn balls to practice vocabulary…she was the best mixture of fun and academics and accessibility.

Her final words were said while holding a toothbrush. She made the very astute point that we always make the time to brush our teeth every day, twice a day, and that as teachers we must find a way to care for ourselves…gift ourselves with things that bring us joy and nourish our souls.

Only by filling ourselves up will we have anything spilling over left to give.

Her kindness, her joy, her energy told us that Natalie knew some very good secrets to self-care…she has a whole lot left over to give.
I have no doubt that her ripples from that day will continue to many many schools.

*****

And then my sparkling glass slippers fell away…the clock struck midnight.
It was time to head home.

One last gift from Florida…this view:

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Time with the ocean, warm, breath-taking, calm and serene…such a gift.

That is some serious Radical Hospitality.

Kelly Noda, my heart is full…you did some serious good…you more than gave inclusion a nudge…a two-handed push is more like it.
Grateful for you…and the gift of grace found in your beautiful state.

Thank you to every single educator who came.

YOU are helping to create a world that is worthy of our children…a world where we are better together.

My violet and I thank you.

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