Three Pillars of ExCEL
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.
Learning to practice equity-oriented teaching is challenging, so ExCEL teachers receive intensive support in their pedagogy. First, 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 members learn how to be effective teachers for all students, especially those who have historically been underserved in schools. This coursework meets the California state requirements for a teaching credential and Master of Arts in Teaching. Second, members receive biweekly instructional coaching and mentorship so that they can begin to adapt approaches and strategies to their own classroom context. Finally, ExCEL teachers take part in weekly support seminars, where they share problems of practice, devise solutions to these classroom challenges, and provide professional support to one another through the growing pains of learning to teach.
The development of one’s spiritual life is one of the cornerstones of the ExCEL program for several reasons. Much like ExCEL teachers are called to teach the whole child in their classroom, the ExCEL program recognizes that quality teacher education must attend holistically to the development of each dimension of a teacher: their pedagogy, their social-emotional growth, their dispositions, their professionalism, and their spiritual life. ExCEL understands the faith and spiritual dimensions of a teacher as the essential “battery” for powering one’s work through the day-to-day endeavors and challenges of classroom teaching.
ExCEL’s commitment to developing its teachers spiritually also stems from its vision of Catholic school education. While the pedagogy practiced in public schools and Catholic schools often looks the same, the reasons for teaching in those respective contexts is drastically different. From a Catholic lens, the interaction between teacher and student is a holy encounter—a space for Christ-centered communion with one another. ExCEL teachers teach because they recognize that their relationships with student create opportunities for encountering Christ in others on a daily basis. In short, ExCEL teachers are called to create sacred classroom communities with their students, and these communities are what make the work of teaching spiritually meaningful
across one’s lifetime. Teaching in Catholic schools is also different because Catholic school teachers reveal God by teaching students about God’s creation—the world. Every lesson—no matter how small or trivial the objective may be—helps students learn more about the world that God created and therefore reveals more about God and God’s nature. Thus, while teaching in Catholic and public schools may appear similar, they are done for entirely different reasons, and this distinction requires ExCEL teachers to attend to the spiritual nature of Catholic school teaching.
Because spiritual development is so critical to the growth of Catholic school teachers, ExCEL asks its teachers to make two specific commitments: To spend the time and effort to deepen one’s relationship with God, and to walk with other ExCEL teachers along their individual path of faith. Inspired by its Jesuit charism, ExCEL assumes that every individual walks their own unique spiritual journey, and ExCEL accepts and welcomes teachers of various faith traditions. However, ExCEL calls on each of its members to continually reflect on and advance their spiritual journey throughout their time in the program. Additionally, ExCEL teachers “walk with one another” by collaboratively praying, reflecting on, and sharing their faith lives with each other. Importantly, because each person’s journey of faith is so unique, ExCEL teachers anticipate differences will arise between how members view and practice their faith, and they embrace those differences as opportunities to more fully understand how humanity makes sense of the immense and beautiful mystery of God.
ExCEL members carry out dual commitments—to work on one’s relationship with God and share this journey with others—by going on summer, fall, and winter retreats with one another; sharing a moment of prayer each week with a prayer partner (fellow community member); attending Masses together; engaging in monthly spirituality dialogues and practices; taking part in prayerful reflection during SCU courses; and seeking spiritual direction from Jesuits on campus (optional).
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; these apartments are all in close proximity, thereby allowing ExCEL teachers to gather easily and frequently—for shared meals, community nights, anti-racism workshops, Masses, and adventures around Northern California’s amazing cultural and natural resources.
ExCEL members commit to critical transformation centered on our growing awareness of the
world, on our recognition of our shared human dignity, and on the creation of a more just human society.
Three mysteries of the Catholic faith anchor this pillar.
- The Paschal Mystery reminds us that Christ suffered while on earth, experiencing a painful, lonely demise; yet He rose from death and opened eternal life for us all. This mystery teaches us that the experience of suffering is inextricably tied to the human experience; all of us will fall prey to the pain and anguish caused by others, and all of us will intentionally or unintentionally hurt ourselves and others. We are called to rise above this in love.
- Another mystery - that of the Incarnation - explains that God not only entered the world and walked among us as Jesus, but God is also present in all things God created - nature, ourselves, our relationships with one another. God’s presence in us is what gives us goodness and brings human dignity to every individual on earth.
- The third mystery anchoring this pillar is found in the Trinity: the idea that God is relationship - Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Everything God created is part of this relationship, and everything God created is also in relationship with one another. As Fr. Ronald Nuzzi has explained, the purpose of Catholic education isn’t so much to build relationship, but instead, to reveal it - to help us more clearly understand how dependent we are on God and how connected and interdependent we humans are to one another. Because all of us have inherent human dignity, we are called to live in right relationship with one another, that is, to treat one another with loving justice.
Put together, these mysteries collectively teach us that suffering and evil will unfortunately be
present in our world. We must not turn away from it, but instead we must recognize the humanity of those experiencing suffering and help those perpetrating it remember their own.
And, most importantly, we must work to bring healing to our society through the work of right
relationship - the work of justice. In other words, this pillar of critical transformation calls on
ExCEL teachers to grow in their awareness of oppression in the world, recognize the human
dignity of those impacted by it, and work toward justice by promoting Christ’s call of radical
But what does this look like in the program?
ExCEL members commit to expanding their critical awareness about each other and the world we share. In courses at Santa Clara University, ExCEL teachers learn about educational
inequities endured by students from low-income families, students of color, students with
disabilities, students from the LGBTQ+ community, and other students harmed by forms of
oppression in schools. ExCEL members apply this new understanding of educational inequities to critically analyze their pedagogical practices and the structures that mediate them at their school sites. Through intentional living with one another, ExCEL members also learn about how forms of oppression (particularly race, class, and gender) have shaped each other’s lives, they examine their own personal biases, and they remain vigilant in preventing these prejudices from mediating their own relationships with one another in community. And as ExCEL members accompany one another on their respective spiritual journeys, they learn more about voices and cultures that have often been marginalized in mainstream practices within the Catholic tradition.
ExCEL members uphold the human dignity of all those they encounter. In SCU classrooms,
ExCEL members seek to understand and collaborate with their classmates, even when differences of viewpoints become apparent. At their school sites, ExCEL members hold an asset orientation toward all students, those students’ families, and the other teachers and colleagues ExCEL members work with, even when challenges and conflicts arise. In intentional community, ExCEL members commit to loving one another by being present for one another, seeing Christ in one another, and maintaining right relationship with each other, even when differences of work, faith, and politics surface. This work requires consistent and nonviolent communication, productive conflict, compromise, and forgiveness. And when ExCEL members uncover differences of religious beliefs among community members, they commit to authentic self-expression balanced with empathetic understanding, and avoid ever judging or proselytizing each other.
ExCEL members also channel their work toward making the world more “peaceful, fraternal,
and communitarian” (Second Congregation for Catholic Education, 1982). ExCEL recruits all
applicants who are committed to Catholic education, especially those who come from
historically marginalized communities, so that the field of education better reflects the rich
diversity of students found in our Catholic schools. In their courses at SCU, ExCEL members
encourage one another and their classmates to undertake more equitable teaching practices. In their work in schools, ExCEL members seek justice by using teaching practices that help every child - and especially students from historically marginalized communities - reach their maximum human potential. In intentional community, ExCEL members partner with one another each month to explore practices of antiracism through dialogues and workshops on the topic, and they encourage one another to undertake these practices in their lives and work. In shared engagements of faith and spirituality, ExCEL members value, expect, and contribute to multicultural and multilingual forms of praise and worship, including multilingual Masses and prayer services. ExCEL warmly invites families of its members to join in these shared practices of faith. And ExCEL members remember that Christ’s love was radical - it centered those on the margins - and it calls us to put our faith into action for those experiencing suffering.