Guided by Santa Clara University’s Jesuit foundations and the School of Education and Counseling Psychology’s guiding principles, Excellence in Catholic Education and Leadership (ExCEL) supports Catholic school educators through a program committed to developing teachers pedagogically, spiritually, and communally; and working for social justice through educational equity. Through generous support of the Sobrato Foundation, ExCEL members work as teachers for TK-12 Catholic schools in the Diocese of Monterey and the Diocese of San Jose, while also living in community with one another and taking coursework at Santa Clara towards earning a state teaching credential and Master of Arts in Teaching.
ExCEL's Three Pillars of Success
A foundational goal of the ExCEL program is to recruit and partner with individuals who open to a vocation in Catholic school education. ExCEL understands the work of teaching in Catholic schools as a holy mission—one that shapes the future Church and brings about the Kingdom of God on earth. Thus, the program aims to partner with individuals who are excited by and take seriously the prospect of a career in Catholic education, who envision their opportunity in ExCEL as not just an chance to engage in temporary service, but as the first step in a lifelong calling to work with Catholic schools.
ExCEL also aims to develop teachers who learn about and practice social justice through a commitment to educational equity. In accordance with Catholic social teaching and the Church’s preferential option for the poor, ExCEL seeks to place teachers in Catholic schools where they are most needed: schools serving students from historically marginalized populations, schools that have been traditionally hard-to-staff, and/or schools that have fewer resources than neighboring communities. We in ExCEL believe that working, teaching, and learning with the least privileged sisters and brothers of our society not only brings special purpose to a vocation in teaching, but helps give each child of God what he, she, or they deserve (that is, seeks equity) and aligns with the Christ’s challenge to find himself in the “least” of our communities.
To help prepare and develop teachers for equity-oriented teaching, ExCEL requires its members to take two years of teacher preparation and induction courses at Santa Clara’s School of Education and Counseling Psychology. In these courses, ExCEL teachers study the practical methods of effective teaching; explore the pedagogical, social, and psychological theories underlying such methods; and engage in professional reflection towards lifelong development. These studies meet the California state coursework requirements for a teaching credential and Master of Arts in Teaching.
Communal living encourages each ExCEL teacher along his/her journey of faith by creating spaces and relationships for members to practice shared prayer, express their joys/ doubts/ fears, and find inspiration in the spiritual practices of others.
Moreover, we believe that communal living holds the potential to make us more fully human; that is, living in community necessitates that members practice dispositions—beneficence, awareness, empathy, humility, and honesty—that are the hallmarks of Christ-centered humanity. Perhaps more directly, sharing meals and spaces, sharing time and existence, sharing moments of love and of struggle pulls members into tighter relationships with one another, and the Catholic Church holds that being in relationship with one another is what makes us more fully human and is what Christ calls us to at all times. In turn, by living out community with ExCEL members, each teacher is more prepared for the communal life in the classroom, where dispositions like beneficence, awareness, empathy, humility, and honesty are essential for good teaching.
Although experienced teachers who have been in the profession for many years will openly acknowledge that good teaching is a collaborative “team sport,” often times new teachers in traditional teacher education programs experience a profound sense of loneliness and isolation in their first few years in the classroom. They teach by themselves, lesson-plan by themselves, grade by themselves, and then are left to face the struggles and frustrations of classroom life by themselves, without any support network outside the faculty lounge (if that even is a supportive space). On the other hand, ExCEL teachers—because they live with other teacher—have a built-in pedagogical support system. After coming home from a challenging day of teaching, ExCEL members can vent to one another, help each other with ideas for lesson planning, assist in grading enormous projects, and give advice about classroom management or dealing with parents. In this way, ExCEL teachers have continual opportunities to learn about the work of teaching, a major advantage over more traditional approaches to teacher education.
In the Diocese of San Jose, ExCEL houses pairs of members in two-bedroom apartments operated by Santa Clara University graduate housing. In Monterey, our teachers live at the Julia Center, a former convent on the grounds of Moreland Notre Dame School in Watsonville. Additionally, each ExCEL teacher belongs to a “small community” made up of 3-4 members, who gather twice each month for community and spirituality activities. Members from the entire program also gather two additional times each month to partake in activities that help build cohesion, sustain community, and develop spirituality across the small communities.
The development of an adult spiritual life is one of the cornerstones of UCCE and the ExCEL program. Drawing on the Jesuit tradition of balancing lives of contemplation and action, students admitted to the program are expected to proactively attend to their spiritual lives through formal and informal prayer and reflection. SCU will assist in the spiritual, mission and vocational transformation of the program participants.
Beyond daily, personal practice of prayer, ExCEL members commit to participating in several regular (i.e., repeated) activities meant to promote their development as spiritual beings and followers of Christ.
Members attend a retreat once in the summer and again in the winter. While the summer retreat is meant to build expectations for community and establish a sense of belonging and solidarity, the winter retreats provides an opportunity for deep spiritual reflection and a “re-missioning,” or opportunity to return to the underlying reasons for engaging in the vocation of Catholic education.
Each month, members commit to attending a Mass together as a program. Known as “Mass-and-Lunch,” members use this participation in the sacrament of Communion to reaffirm their collective spiritual journey and their collaboration efforts toward building the Kingdom of God here today.
Members also commit to meeting once a month in their small communities with the specific intent toward engaging in spiritual reflection. While these “spirituality nights” may include a variety of activities (e.g., attending a campus ministry event, reading and discussing scripture or other spiritual writings, engaging in mindfulness in the Jesuit tradition, reflecting in the presence of nature, etc.), they nearly always involve some time in personal and group prayer and/or reflection.
Members participate in Jesuit spiritual reflection activities that begin and end their External Practicum courses at Santa Clara University.
"It was fruitful to see that out of our first graduating class, 9/10 graduates stayed at their placement and continue to be leaders within the Diocese. To me, that speaks volumes to our mission. We may be a new program still building our church, but like the disciples, we have faith. We believe in what we are doing, and we have the technology and kinship to always try and do it better."