Director of Kolbe’s Online Elementary Program, Nicole O’Connor, responds to a series of interview questions by the Kolbe Academy Student Newsletter Team. In this interview, she reflects on her new role and the impetus for this transition.
How was the start of the school year for you?
Fall 2020 is a year that no family will forget. It challenged me both in my home and in my career to look outside of my norms and approach life with creativity and unyielding trust in the Lord. I am filled with gratitude for the families who put their trust in Kolbe Academy in the midst of a stressful, pandemic year, and for the teachers who rose to the challenge and joined our team knowing that this year would be a “building year.” We worked hard all summer to prepare, but only the first week would tell what this year would bring.
Watching students and teachers work together to bring this program to life has been one of the most fulfilling and humbling experiences to date. There were unforeseen challenges, which was inevitable in 2020, but it only gave me more confidence and peace in the strength and grace of the Kolbe Academy community. My role is certainly different this year, and I miss my students and our chats about rhetoric and fables, but I love getting to work with families, teachers, and students to build up a school that has had such a profound impact on my family and my life.
How was the transition from being a teacher to being the director of the entire elementary school?
In my time at Kolbe, I have always loved supporting the school’s mission as a whole and so I have tried to get involved at many different levels within the organization. Since early on, I have been working with homeschool families in our grading and evaluation services department; I have worked with our content creators in developing new course plans and curriculum for homeschool and online courses; I have worked with the online school to build new clubs and programs, homeroom, for example. Kolbe is more than just a school to the teachers here. It is a vocation. The way the teachers collaborate and work together to build a better program for families is one of the reasons I say that I am a “lifer” at Kolbe. Many teachers can feel as though they are on an island, but that is not the case here. It is such a gift to be part of a faithful community whose mission is to form the whole person, and in doing so, supports teachers and staff to grow in holiness. I love working behind the scenes to make the school come together, so to take on a more “big picture” role was a natural transition and something that I had been working towards and praying about since my first years at Kolbe.
Another part of my journey towards this role was my other teaching and directing role outside of Kolbe. When I wasn’t teaching my wonderful Classical Composition students, I was teaching Preschool in a classroom and serving on the board for a local homeschool co-op. In my spare time, I worked with friends to develop a home-based phonics and reading curriculum for pre-kindergarten families seeking to develop a love for learning. I also ran small reading groups for students ages kinder to third grade. I find great joy in the grammar stage of education, so it is fitting to find myself directing a program with that age group now. When I completed my graduate studies at Franciscan University, my degree had a focus on teaching K-12 students in the online classroom. I am happy to be putting those years of study to good use.
Some of my youngest and sweetest students to date.
What are the pros and cons of being the director?
The pros of being a director are working to continuously grow and improve a school that I love! The only con is not teaching AMAZING Kolbe Academy students every day. Although, I try to pop into classrooms as often as I can.
What is the reality of being director and did it live up to your expectations?
I don’t know that I had any real expectations about being the Director of Online Elementary Learning. It was something that God asked me to do with great clarity, and so I jumped in without hesitation. The only real expectation that I had was that I would be able to work with passionate teachers to bring Catholic education to more families around the world, and that piece of the job has absolutely been fulfilled. The Elementary Team is full of kind, faithful and talented teachers who I am proud to work with, and the families that have enrolled are doing such amazing work to help further the mission of our school within their homes. My only hope is that this program will continue to grow and improve. I would love to see more families experience a home-based Catholic education. It is a rare and beautiful model of education which holds family life and whole person formation at its core.
What were the guiding principles behind Kolbe’s online elementary program?
Virtue, Beauty, and Intentionality. The grammar stage of the trivium is such a unique time in a child’s educational journey. Focusing on foundational concepts, memorization, and obedience in the earliest years of development allows students to work towards mastery of all subjects as they progress through their studies. The goal of the elementary program at Kolbe Academy is to ignite a love of learning in young children while reminding them that all their actions are ordered towards Christ. The beautiful integration of subjects, faith, and virtue makes teaching elementary education at a Catholic, Classical school true, beautiful, and good.
It is with great intentionality that we sought to bring the beauty of our curriculum to the online format. With targeted and focused live time, specific to the needs of each age group, and with prioritizing fine motor skills, direct instruction, and hand-written assignments, we bring the beautiful and formative habits of Classical education online. The goal is to use technology as a tool, not a distraction. The online format allows us to reach students globally with an education that is truly good; it does not allow us to distract and entertain at the sacrifice of beauty and quality. In my time teaching and working at Kolbe, I have come to know some of the most amazing families and with a shared mission of forming tiny saints, we are all edified through the experience. The guiding principle behind it all was to expand access to this unique and rich educational mode with family life at its core.
For more information on the Kolbe Elementary Program for 2021-2022, please visit: https://kolbe.org/courses/online/courses/elementary-school/