Sharing Insight into the Human Person

Throughout June, four Dominican Sisters of St. Cecilia of Nashville, Tennessee: Sister Beatrice Clarke, Sister Dominica Bickerton, Sister Elena Marie Piteo, and Sister Maris Stella Vaughan, joined ITCE at The Catholic University of America to produce Insight, the first Social and Emotional Learning professional development program designed for PK-12 Catholic school educators.

Rooted in the Catholic intellectual tradition, Insight is a 10-part video series that discusses the nature of the human person, several aspects of building trusting relationships, and how to understand emotions and their role in daily life. ITCE Director Sister Mary Agnes Greiffendorf, O.P. says, “It is a great joy to host on the CUA campus this joint project of ITCE and Aquinas College in Nashville. I pray that this collaboration in service of Catholic education will bear great fruit in the lives of the teachers, parents, and students in our nation’s elementary and secondary schools.” With these goals in mind, ITCE is excited to launch Insight in August as a free online resource for PK-12 Catholic educators.

The idea for Insight arose from “Education in Communion,” a framework for teacher formation developed at Aquinas College. Since this framework was developed in 2020, the benefits to the students and their teaching practice have been clear. And it was likewise clear that the foundational principles of a distinctively Catholic Social and Emotional Learning program could benefit all teachers. Thus Insight was developed as a simple and accessible resource for Catholic school educators. In addition to free videos, the program includes free supplemental materials for faculty, staff, and family formation. 

Sister Elena Marie Piteo, O.P., Ph.D., an Assistant Professor of Psychology at Aquinas College, serves as the Director of the “Education in Communion” Committee at Aquinas College, and is a member of the team developing Insight. The other Dominican Sisters working on the project are all former students of Aquinas College and are experienced elementary and secondary school teachers. The four sisters have taught in private, parochial, and diocesan schools staffed by the Nashville Dominican Sisters in Arizona, Indiana, Maryland, Ohio, Tennessee, Texas, and Virginia, and have served various apostolates in The Netherlands, Ireland, and Australia. As seasoned practitioners, they have prepared these lessons to be accessible to all Catholic school faculty, staff, and parents. 

Although the term “Social and Emotional Learning” can spark a variety of reactions due to its frequent reference in mainstream culture, Insight interprets the best of its key principles in the context of the perennial teachings of the Church. Sister Elena Marie comments, “While psychology can provide insights into the human person, certain aspects of what it means to be human have been neglected. And indeed, without the help of philosophy and theology, we can’t adequately explore those areas. Faith and reason are necessary if we are to provide a more holistic understanding of the nature of the human person.”

Insight is made even more distinct with its uniquely Dominican contribution. Sister Beatrice explains, “Insight is infused with our Dominican charism. We always love to talk about how Dominic himself would dialogue with people, meeting them where they were, but moving to greater understanding of Truth. Here we seek to meet the modern educational world, with its concerns and language; seeking the good, but never abandoning the higher purpose of the pursuit of truth.” By applying the principles of St. Thomas Aquinas to Insight’s lessons, the Dominican sisters emphasize the dignity of the human person and how “mental wellness” can be placed in reference to nature and grace.

With this balance, Insight will be the first Social and Emotional Learning program tailored to Catholic educators. Sister Elena Marie notes, “This program helps educators take a significant step towards reclaiming the objective essence of what it means to be a human person. By drawing upon psychology, philosophy, and theology, Catholic school educators will be formed in the principles of our Catholic intellectual heritage so that they can better guide their students to true flourishing.”

During the height of COVID-19 pandemic, students experienced a degree of turmoil that was especially unprecedented in their young lives. Sister Maris Stella remarks, “Adolescence is already a tumultuous time, but the pandemic introduced additional instability into the lives of the high school students I teach. Their increased anxiety and need for reassurance points to the need for a greater grounding in what is truly stable, and this project is such a timely response to that need.” In view of the pandemic and of the social challenges of our time, it has become critical for Catholic educators to provide support for their students that not only addresses psychological needs, but also guides them to the ultimate source of Truth.

ITCE prays that Insight will benefit Catholic educators and their students so that they might gain a deeper insight into their personhood through the lens of faith and reason. Sister Dominica expresses her own hopes for the program by saying “I think about Insight as a gift for all of us who are ‘in the trenches’ together as educators. To be able to step back from the daily tasks in the classroom, so that we can ponder the Catholic difference–that each student, faculty member, parent–is part of being a community oriented to eternity with God.” ITCE is thrilled to include Insight as the first product of the Resource Library, which can be found on the Institute’s website. May the patron saints of ITCE intercede for the work of Insight, and for all those who encounter its lessons!