Fr. Nate Wills, CSC: Education, Blended.

Think. Pair. Share. Podcast Transcript


0:00:09.7 Audrey Scott: Welcome to this Modern Education Podcast that explores learning from the everyday exchange of thoughts and ideas to the theories and practices behind entire systems. Think education is cool? So do we. So we pair two conversations; learn about our guests, then learn from our guests, share your takeaways and come back for more. You're listening to Think. Pair. Share with me Audrey Scott.


0:00:43.8 AS: Fr. Nate Wills is the director of the Alliance for Catholic Education's Blended Learning Initiatives Faculty, and the Mary Ann Remick Leadership Program, and chaplain for the Notre Dame football team. His research and scholarship support ACE's understanding of how technology and other lovers for change can help empower Catholic school teachers and leaders to have the greatest impact. And after a busy season of studying the ND sidelines for the player to hold each week's prayer medal, I'm glad to welcome him in the off season to Think. Pair. Share. 
Hi, Fr. Nate.

0:01:14.2 Fr. Nate Wills, CSC: Hi Audrey. Thanks so much for having me. Glad to be here.

0:01:17.5 AS: Thank you. How are you today?

0:01:19.2 NW: I'm doing great. How about you?

0:01:20.5 AS: Oh, I'm really well, thank you. Well, welcome to season 3 of Think. Pair. Share. You are the first guest and we're so excited to kick off a new season with everybody.

0:01:30.0 NW: Thank you. Season premiere, I'm honored. That's great.

0:01:33.3 AS: Yes. Yeah, you get like top billing, like this is must-listen-to podcasts versus must-see TV. Well, we're honored that you are taking an a little aside in our guest today. So thank you so much for being here.

0:01:45.6 NW: Absolutely.

0:01:46.0 AS: I have so many things I wanna ask you about. I'm gonna pretty much jump right in.

0:01:49.7 NW: Okay.

0:01:49.8 AS: But every season we sort of, the first one which is kind of fun. We had some rapid fire, we had some various little questions. A lot of people love this section because it's just a light way to listen to you and get to know you a little bit.

0:02:02.3 NW: Okay.

0:02:02.5 AS: So, but there's no pressure.

0:02:04.7 NW: All right.

0:02:04.8 AS: So just know that. The second season was grab bag and so we had a bag and sort of pulled out questions often seasonal, et cetera. But this year, this season, excuse me I guess it sort of equates to the year 2023. But I'm doing Notre Dame trivia.

0:02:21.0 NW: Oh no. All right, go for it.


0:02:23.0 NW: This may be tragic and a total disaster, but, all right, I'll, I'm not, not always great at this stuff, but go ahead.

0:02:32.2 AS: Well, I tried to stack the deck a little bit in your favor, but we'll see. We'll see.

0:02:35.2 NW: Okay.

0:02:36.3 AS: Okay.

0:02:37.1 NW: When I'm on a trivia team and they're like, it's Catholic, this section is Catholic trivia, I'm like, "Oh no, my whole team's gonna be looking to me and then I'm gonna like, fail or something." And so, anyway, go ahead. That's great.

0:02:49.0 AS: The pressure.

0:02:51.2 NW: I know.


0:02:53.6 AS: Well, no pressure here. And I...

0:02:54.6 NW: You can edit it out if it's terrible, it's fine.

0:02:57.2 AS: It's not gonna be terrible. It's just, I appreciate your sense of humor and going along with it. I often freeze up when even asked my name, I swear sometimes if I'm in a nerve-wracking situation, I said I'd be horrible on Jeopardy. I might know the answer, but I would not be able to come up with it in a quick fashion. So I feel you on this, but I think, I think you're gonna know the first one at the very least, so, okay. True or false. Fr. Sorin's first name is Elliot.

0:03:23.2 NW: Oh, that's false. It was Edward. And I used to live in St. Edwards Hall his Patron Saint.

0:03:29.5 AS: Good. See. And you got the bonus points. It was bonus points for naming what it really is. So...

0:03:34.2 NW: There you go.

0:03:35.3 AS: You're off to the races. Oh, okay. Erected in 1843, what is the oldest building currently standing on campus?

0:03:43.0 NW: Yeah. So that would be Old College. And [laughter] this is, this is definitely second to that, 'cause I actually lived in Old College for three years when I was an undergraduate seminary. But, it's been a million different things that it's built with the brick of the lake, as you know. And, it's been everything from the campus bakery to the actual, you know, first building. And now it's where our undergraduate seminarians live.

0:04:06.9 AS: That's awesome. I love the extra history that you're giving folks too, because it's much better coming from you. So I appreciate that. But yes. Good. Oh, good. So I was right in the first, I was like, you know what? I think he has a pretty close tie to both of these, both of these...

0:04:19.5 NW: A lot of low ceilings in Old College. I banged my head on the ceilings there coming down the stairs a lot, which is not fun.

0:04:26.4 AS: You know what? I've never been in it and I know that it's for seminarians. So I guess I don't ever feel like I might be able to knock on the door, but I would love to see the inside sometime.

0:04:35.8 NW: Yeah. I'll take you on a tour sometime. It's really great. Yeah, the little chapel is lovely and yeah, it's great. It'll take about three minutes to walk through the whole thing.


0:04:44.3 AS: Well, I'm gonna take you up on that. I'm gonna hold you to that, so thank you.

0:04:47.6 NW: Absolutely.

0:04:48.2 AS: Okay, great. Nice. Okay, let's see what the third one is. This was another alternate for the first, excluding Old College. What is the oldest building on campus currently being used as a residence hall?

0:05:02.3 NW: I'm gonna say... All right, so this is interesting. St. Edwards Hall, is the oldest building that's being used as a dorm, but the oldest dorm is actually Sorin Hall 'cause it's been continuously used as a dorm since it's creation. But Sorin Hall was actually... Notre Dame, most folks don't know this, but until the 1920s, Notre Dame actually ran a grade school here on campus. And those are the kids, they called them minims. Like minimums, you know, like little, little guys. And, the minims lived in St. Edwards Hall.

0:05:41.3 AS: I did not know that.

0:05:42.3 NW: Yeah.

0:05:42.4 AS: That's really cool. Different from minions though.


0:05:47.3 NW: I feel like they probably would've matched the energy of minions, but yet definitely a different look. Hopefully less violent.


0:05:56.6 AS: Maybe just add a little blue. They're already gold, kind of right?


0:06:00.4 AS: Less violent. Less violent for sure. That's good. That's great. Oh, cute. I think you might have been teasing us 'cause you're actually really fabulous at this. So...


0:06:08.0 NW: I give a lot of campus tours, which I love to do. I love to show Notre Dame to folks. Catholic Disney World. Right? So it's pretty fun.

0:06:16.0 AS: Absolutely. [laughter] This is a tough one, but I think you, not a tough one, but I think a lot of people don't know the name of it, but I think you will. What is the official name of the Touchdown Jesus mural on the south side of the Hesburgh Library?

0:06:27.0 NW: Yeah, so it's actually, the real name for it is The Word of Life. And it is, it's a towering mural. It's really lovely, all made up of different pieces of granite and you know, it was built at a time when Notre Dame, just had young men here. So it really, when you look at the mural itself, it's supposed to be, you know, Jesus with all these saints and scholars throughout salvation history around him. But it's all guys and it's kind of a, it's, as we know throughout church history that is not the case that it was just, just affected by men, obviously from the very beginning, from Jesus' time, women played a key role. So my favorite part about The Word of Life mural on the library is that it ends above that main entrance to the library. So I always tell my students that I think the folks who go in and out of the library become sort of part of the mural and they become a part of the next generation of saints and scholars building up the church and continuing to be brilliant and to do all the things that the saints and prophets did throughout salvation history.

0:07:37.7 AS: That's a very nice thought actually.

0:07:40.1 NW: Thanks.

0:07:40.8 AS: I appreciate that. Okay. See, now I feel a part of it.


0:07:44.9 AS: Now I feel more of a part of it than I already did. And I think it's so iconic. I often thought growing up, I'm like, is that sacrilegious that we're calling it Touchdown Jesus?


0:07:54.8 AS: Hopefully God has a sense of humor too.

0:07:56.4 NW: Exactly.

0:07:57.9 AS: Okay. This one might be a little harder.

0:08:01.3 NW: All right.

0:08:01.4 AS: Fr., [laughter] sorry, Fr. Hesburgh once served as the rector of which residence hall? Was it... I know, right?

0:08:09.8 NW: I don't know this. Okay.

0:08:10.8 AS: Okay, well, I'll give you...

0:08:10.9 NW: Okay. Oh this is multiple choice. Go for it yeah. Yeah.

0:08:11.0 AS: This is a multiple choice. Yes. I figured I better make it multiple choice. Was it Farley, Flanner or Fisher?

0:08:20.4 NW: I'm gonna go with Farley.

0:08:23.6 AS: Yay.

0:08:24.3 NW: Is that right? Okay.

0:08:24.4 AS: Yes. You got it.

0:08:26.3 NW: Yeah. I mean, Flanner would be too young because he would've already been present when he built Flanner. And Fisher, Fisher, my older brother lived in Fisher, God bless Fisher Hall. But if he would've been rector there, they would've touted it long ago, I'm sure. So.

0:08:45.4 AS: Yes, it was Farley and I'm sure at the time it was all male.

0:08:48.8 NW: Yeah. That's interesting.

0:08:49.8 AS: I don't, I should have looked up the year, but yeah, I didn't realize that either. So. Which university president served as the chaplain of the famous Irish Brigade during this civil war?

0:09:00.3 NW: I'm gonna go with Fr. Corby.

0:09:01.8 AS: Yay.

0:09:02.3 NW: Yeah.

0:09:03.3 AS: Yeah. So, namesake for also...

0:09:05.0 NW: Corby Hall.

0:09:06.7 AS: Yes. Corby Hall and Priests... Will you tell us a little bit about Corby Hall? You probably know better than I.

0:09:11.8 NW: Yeah. So Corby Hall, it's funny, it's one of the oldest communities on campus because that's where the priests, and brothers live and eat and and pray together. But it's actually one of the newest buildings on campus because they took down the old Corby Hall and built a new one. Though most folks when they look at it, think like, "Oh my gosh, that's a old building in really good shape." 'Cause they did such a nice job of really making it match the other buildings on campus. And it just looks great. Named after Fr. William Corby, two-time president of the university. There's a great statue of him outside of Corby Hall absolving the troops at Gettysburg. And there's actually a replica of that statue on the battlefield at Gettysburg, which is pretty cool too.

0:09:58.1 AS: Yes. It's a wonderful tribute in both places. So, yeah, for sure. Okay. And one more, this also might be stacked in your favor, but I have to make the nice segue. Can you name the 30th head coach of the University of Notre Dame's football team who went to Ohio State and along with his wife has six children.


0:10:21.2 NW: That was good. Nice, nice lead up to that. That is Marcus Freeman.

0:10:25.8 AS: Yay. We're so excited to have him as the head coach and we are so excited. Which our listeners, if they don't know already, will learn about you, is that you're the chaplain for the football team and we're excited to talk to you about that a little further on in the podcast, but...

0:10:39.4 NW: Great.

0:10:39.8 AS: First, thank you very much. You're a wonderful participant and I think you got 100% plus plus plus plus. So you ruined the curve for anybody else.


0:10:49.8 NW: I'm grateful. I've lived here for like, more than half my life, so I'm glad that got some things right.

0:10:56.1 AS: Great. I'm gonna take your tour. I think that's great. You know a ton. Okay. Well, thank you so much for that. I enjoyed it. And hopefully, so you'll have to tune in...

0:11:04.6 NW: Likewise.

0:11:05.7 AS: Thank you. Each month and see what other stuff. 'Cause I'm gonna have to eventually come up with some stumps because I [laughter] I can't use the easy ones, although...

0:11:13.2 NW: You gotta come up with some prizes too. I mean, I'm gonna, I wanna know what I won here. What's...

0:11:18.1 AS: That's a good idea.

0:11:19.5 NW: Maybe at the end of the season you can say highest scoring person gets... I don't know, a prize.

0:11:27.5 AS: All right. I like that very much. All right. Well, I'll be a little friendly competition between colleagues here. So what if I make it ND football tickets? I'm just kidding. [laughter] We already know, that's not happening. [laughter] That's 100% a joke.


0:11:40.6 NW: You know, I'm definitely up for raising the stakes after I know I got all of them right.


0:11:46.6 AS: Okay. That's well played. All right. Tell us about your path to Notre Dame. Yours is, I know an interesting one.

0:11:52.7 NW: Yeah, that's great. Thank you. I grew up in St. Paul, Minnesota, and I went to Catholic school my whole life. My older brother and a younger sister, and my parents really all my extended family lives in Minnesota. And, it is great. We, I love, I love Minnesota. I think it's, it was a great place to grow up. And my mom says that when I was a kid, like probably every kid who went to Catholic school, I would play mass and whatever, but I don't think I was really serious about thinking about priesthood until I was in high school. I went to a great Catholic high school called St. Thomas Academy. And while I was there when I was a sophomore the Pope came to Denver in 1993, and a group of folks from my high school actually went to see the Pope in Denver.

0:12:37.5 NW: It was great. There were three priests who went with us. One, from my school was Fr. John Ubel, who's now the rector of the cathedral at in St. Paul. And then the other two priests, actually have become bishops since that time. So it was kind of a, an all-star cast.

0:12:53.8 AS: Oh my gosh.

0:12:53.9 NW: It was pretty incredible. And they were just so inspiring. And I remember John Paul II speaking to us from this huge Cherry Creek State Park, and he said something, I should look it up because I wonder if he actually said when I remember he said, but it was a simple line that he said, "Jesus Christ expects great things from young people." And it really kind of shook me to my core thinking like I thought he meant adults or older folks. And I hadn't really thought of myself as having a vocation and being called by Christ to live that out in any way until really that time. And it really stayed with me. And I just kept coming back to that, in a really powerful way to say, what am I gonna do with my life? How am I gonna live in a way that builds up the kingdom of God and He uses my gifts? And so I kept coming back to maybe I'd think about being a priest. No, no. That's, I don't know. You know, and I ended up having several of my teachers at St. Thomas say, "Hey, have you ever thought about being a priest?" I'm like, how did you know that? That's, you know, and so it was really great to have that confirmed. Our Holy Cross constitutions talk about the call of God coming from within and from without. And I experienced that with other people kind of saying, "Hey, have you thought about being a priest?"

0:14:08.9 NW: I was grateful to God that I was led to Holy Cross. My older brother actually came to Notre Dame the year before me, and I was like, "Oh, I wanna go anywhere but Notre Dame, that's his place, and I wanna go somewhere different." And then I came to visit here and I was like, "Yeah, yeah, this is really terrific. I think I wanna come here too." So, and then I found out that they actually had an undergraduate seminary program. My, turns out my parents had met this great and charismatic Holy Cross priest when they had dropped my brother off, and he told him about the undergraduate seminary program. And that priest interestingly twist here, that priest will be ordained a bishop next week, Fr. Pat Neary. So he was, yeah, he's a great, a great priest. And he was eventually my rector in the seminary and a great mentor and model of faith. So anyway, all those things just kind of lead to me feeling called. And honestly, I wish I would, you know, that one moment of feeling called to the priesthood is, was great. But really, honestly, throughout my life, it's been the slow movement of God's grace that really has led me to eventually take final vows and then become ordained a priest.

0:15:15.3 AS: Wow. Thanks for sharing that. I just got chills. That is so nice. I've known you for a while, you know, just like sit down. "So, hey, how did you feel called?" It's not normally what we chat about maybe at the water cooler, but that's so nice to hear. I really like that.

0:15:31.1 NW: I love it when people will ask me that question and we're like, in an elevator or something, and you have like 20 seconds... "Felt called by God. Okay. Great. Thanks. Have a good day."

0:15:40.1 AS: Oh my gosh. One of the reasons I love being the interviewer in this podcast is that I do get to have a section of time where I get to actually ask you questions that I've always wanted to ask. But, you know, it's too important a question to sort of say, hey, as we're passing in the hallway.


0:15:55.4 AS: Well, thank you for sharing that, 'cause I think that's really important. Some people search their whole life for feeling a calling or a vocation. What does that sound like? Or what does that feel like? And I know it's different for everybody, but that's wonderful to hear how you felt about it and to have that outside validation. I think it was huge. Wonderful. Okay. So that brought you here. You are part of the Institute for Educational Initiatives and the Alliance for Catholic Education, Remick Leadership Program, Higher-Powered Learning. You're involved in so many things. Can you kind of tell me how you got started?

0:16:26.2 NW: Yeah, it's actually a nice segue from our previous question because I really felt like, as I was going through the seminary, I mean, I was really young. I entered when I was 18, and I thought, you know, gosh, I really want to live the vocation I've been discerning, right? And want to actually see what's out there. And so I ended up doing ACE, the Alliance for Catholic Education as a part, when I was in the seminary. And that hadn't really been done before, which is really exciting and fun. So I took two years off of my normal formation progression and asked if I could do the Alliance for Catholic Education Program as a teaching fellow. And I taught for two years up at, what was called Notre Dame High School back then. Now it's called Notre Dame College Prep a great, great high school on the north side of Chicago where I taught with some really wonderful friends.

0:17:15.9 NW: And it truly allowed me to find a vocation within a vocation. So education for me really became the vocation within the vocation to find that God was calling me not only to be a Holy Cross priest, but to participate in the mission of education that has been really at the heart of who we are as Holy Cross priests and brothers. And so, it was wonderful. I loved it. I had a great time. I don't think I was a great teacher, but I think it was a lot of fun. I had a lot of energy at least, and it left me with a lot of questions too, right? Like I taught religion and I taught computer skills, left brain, right brain type thing. And I was really fascinated, especially with using technology and how some of these kids who were just not at all interested in school, would come alive in my web design class.

0:18:04.1 NW: And it stuck with me. And after I was ordained a priest after my first assignment, usually the provincial comes to you and says like, "Okay, well, now what? Well, how will you contribute to our shared mission?" And I thought I would teach high school the rest of my life and really, we ended up pulling out of Notre Dame High School and so I'm like, "Oh no, what do I do now?" And my friend Sean was like, "Why don't you look into graduate studies?" I'm like, "What? I don't, I don't think that's, no, I don't think that's for me." I mean, I'm a first-generation college kid. College was a stretch, in many ways. And bit by bit I realized that I could study the effect of technology on education in, yeah, in graduate school and ended up really, really enjoying that.

0:18:52.0 NW: I did my doctorate at the University of Wisconsin, Madison. Go Badgers, I loved that. Rich Halverson, was my advisor at Wisconsin. He was really wonderful, and really one of these guys who kinda pushes the envelope on thinking about how we can use technology really creatively in schools. And he connected me with folks who were doing really thoughtful things with video games and learning there at Wisconsin. It was just a wonderful and really generative time in my own academic development. And now I get to use that knowledge as I teach in the Remick Leadership Program, and then I work within the larger Alliance for Catholic Education, directing a program called Higher-Powered Learning. So it's a lot of fun.

0:19:33.0 AS: My gosh. What do you do in your free time? I'm just kidding. [laughter]

0:19:36.3 AS: We haven't even gotten to the chaplaincy part. I love that how you describe it, a vocation within a vocation. Or like I was thinking before, I'm like, "I wonder if he feels like a dual call." Because you have this passion obviously, for the priesthood and also for education. And I don't know where you find the time, but I would like to learn more about some of these things. So help us understand what Higher-Powered Learning is.

0:20:00.8 NW: Yeah, thanks for asking. To your earlier question, I really do see this as a vocation within a vocation. And Holy Cross, and the congregation of Holy Cross, we see one another in ourselves as educators in faith. And so it really is, in everything we do. Whether it's parish work, mission work, working explicitly in teaching, it really is with an eye toward bringing people to know, love, and serve Jesus. But my work in Higher-Powered Learning, it really came out of a desire to help teachers use technology meaningfully in the classroom. And I use that word specifically because there's a lot of technology used in classrooms, but not all of it is used meaningfully, I would venture to say. And much of it came out of my own frustration. When I went to grad school, I started studying what people were talking about with technology, and it was pretty incremental. It was, "Should we use clickers in the classrooms?" Or, "Are Chromebooks effective?" And it wasn't until I really saw the advent of this idea called blended learning, which was using adaptive computer programs that had really been built for e-learning or cyber schooling. Teachers started to use them in the context of a classroom.

0:21:16.9 NW: And I thought like, "Wow, that is doing something that's really unique." Because it's solving a frustration that I had. The frustration was kind of twofold. One, that all the good tech out there was being used in video games. When I was a teacher, I looked at people playing Halo on the Xbox. And Halo would figure out how good of a player you were, and then put you with other players that were that same level of skill. For me that was like 10 year olds. [laughter]

0:21:47.9 NW: And you're playing against these people online. I'm like, "Why doesn't this exist?" These algorithms that would figure out how good you are in school and help you to get better. And the other issue that I've been frustrated by is the invitation to differentiation in the classroom. As a teacher going through ACE Teaching Fellows, my professors would always say, "It's really important to differentiate your instruction to meet every learner where they are, and to help them to go from there." And I was like, "Yeah, yeah, yeah, I wanna to do that, I wanna do that, I wanna do that. That sounds really important." And I gave up on that on day two because I couldn't... I couldn't put one lesson plan together, let alone 30. And it's so tough to do.

0:22:25.5 AS: Right.

0:22:27.6 NW: I think we often tell teachers, "It's really important." It gets down to the mission of Catholic education. We wanna really serve the kids as unique children of God, as created in His image and likeness. And as being unique, they're not widgets on an assembly line, and we shouldn't treat them as such. The differentiation that I was seeing in teachers who were using technology meaningfully in the classroom empowered them with data in the context of a classroom to make really targeted interventions and really helpful ability groupings and to maximize what they do best, and to let the technology do what it does best. That's the empowerment that we talk about, and that's why we call it Higher-Powered Learning.

0:23:09.0 AS: I'm amazed amazed. It's newish to me. I certainly was in school way before they were probably even using clickers. [laughter]

0:23:15.2 AS: But I love all the advancements.

0:23:21.7 NW: The history of Higher-Powered Learning and how this came about was really looking at blended learning in Catholic schools and seeing the best of what was being done. And I owe just a ton to my original thought partner in this, which was TJ D'Agostino, and then my advisor Rich Halverson helped out a lot. And then Elizabeth Anthony came to work for the Alliance for Catholic Education and the whole Institute for Educational Initiatives. And she was amazing and just... She and I were the... Kinda the folks who originally started Higher-Powered Learning. And I've had such a privilege to work with wonderful people. Kourtney Bradshaw-Clay, Francesca Varga, Brian Scully. And now I get to work with this great team of, Dan Bremer, Louis Poche and Megan Cerbins. We're trying to bring together innovative folks within education and give them resources of the best of what's out there, so that they can continue to do what's best for their kids.

0:24:14.2 AS: That's great, thanks. Tell me about some of the successes, some of the challenges.

0:24:17.4 NW: I think teachers are hesitant, just in general about innovations in education because they've seen a lot. And so I think there can be a lot of burnout among teachers who really wanna do what's best for kids, but find that they don't wanna do what's latest and trendy and then have it be... Have it go out of style the next year. So one of the challenges that I face in helping teachers to think about using technology in the classroom is that hesitancy. Innovation fatigue. But I think often, there's a lot of teachers who look at what we're doing and say, "This isn't about the tech, it's about really good teaching." And it's about using the best of what's out there to empower teachers. We've really been working hard with teachers. We saw some incredible growth in our blended learning schools right before the pandemic hit, and we're building back in a lot of those schools and it's been wonderful. We've been really blessed to have the support of the GHR Foundation in the Archdiocese of Saint Paul and Minneapolis. A home... My home Archdiocese, place near and dear to my heart. The Bush Foundation has been really sportive too. So it's been great to see really big names in education get behind our work and support Catholic education. Because the work that the teachers and the principals in those schools are doing is transformative, it's absolutely critically important.

0:25:42.9 NW: They're working with wonderful and great populations of the next generation of the church, and we think it's awesome and wanna just empower the teachers as much as we can.

0:25:52.6 AS: Perfect. I was wondering about that because it feels like with the pandemic that people were online more, and maybe we're, I guess ultimately are more accepting of some kind of a tech situation. How has that affected Higher-Powered Learning?

0:26:07.3 NW: The pandemic... You're exactly right, the pandemic, in many ways pushed a lot of folks online. Well pushed everybody online. It had a couple effects of really forcing a lot of schools to increase the number of devices that they had, so that they could go one to one, so kids had devices at home. And it really pushed folks into some online learning. Now, the way that that happened, is some people, I'm sure stood back and said, "Never again. I'm not touching that stuff, that was a disaster, I didn't like it." But I think some teachers really did think about, "Wait a minute, maybe there's ways in which I can utilize some of these tools of technology that I had never thought about before." Either way, there's a lot more technology just in Catholic schools in general, and I think that makes people ask the question, "So what do we do with this?" I think there's a lot of schools that have said, "Alright, we're beyond the pandemic, mothball it. Put it away, we're just gonna get back to business as usual in the classroom." But I think a number of schools have said, "Wait a minute, maybe we can use this meaningfully." Now I'm... Again, come back to that word meaningfully, 'cause I really do think that we've bridged the gap of connectivity. We bridged the gap of getting kids devices. But what we haven't really bridged the gap of is the purpose.

0:27:35.2 NW: What is the purpose of using technology in the classroom? And I write about this purpose gap a little bit in my own scholarship. And I think that purpose gap is really the thing that we have to answer. And in my humble opinion, I think that's really using technology to empower teachers with actionable data about student performance, not just to put them on as a digital baby sitter, but to really get helpful data that they can then use to change, shift, and amplify their pedagogy. So I think that's the heart of how we bridge that purpose gap. And there's also things that technology can do that it's really hard to do in a classroom. It's very difficult on a kid to get an answer wrong in class. When their... When the teacher asks a question in front of the whole class, and a kid raises their hand and they get it wrong, it's very difficult for some kids who might not have a huge self-esteem to recover from that. And the next day when the teacher asks a question, that kid's like, "No way. No way am I putting my hand up." So there's an author, Jim G, who writes about what school can learn from video games. And one of the things, he borrows a term from Erikson, called the psychosocial moratorium. And basically that's the social cost of failure. How high is the cost for you to fail?

0:29:02.9 AS: And kids fail in video games all the time, it's like part of what you do. You re-spawn, you restart, you go at it again. And when kids work on these adaptive computer programs in the context of a classroom, they don't mind failing, they don't mind restarting because it's just them and their headphones. So the social cost of failure is low there, and it allows them to fail fast and to get right back up and to make mistakes and to recover. This is how we do like language acquisition. When you tell a child who's learning to speak a different language, "No, you did it wrong." They correct it right away. And I think that's a really helpful thing that technology can afford learners, that we can't always afford them in a live one on one teacher situation. There is a difficult shift sometimes, especially initially for kids when they're working on computers to be like, "Okay wait, this isn't super fun all the time. This is actual work, this is cognitive load." And I think if you can get them past that initial frustration, I think they really enjoy it because it is fun to learn and it's challenging to learn.

0:30:17.7 NW: There's a great author, Jane McGonigal, she talks about the right hard work being something that's exciting to us. We tend to think that what's gonna be really fun is that I sit down and eat chocolate and watch Netflix. And she quotes these studies that says, that actually has a mild depressive effect on us. What we like to do is the right hard work. We like to do a challenging thing, a puzzle, or we like to... I think this is the rise of escape rooms where people are like, "Ooh that's fun, because I can do... Get these little things right. I can learn something, I can challenge myself and to keep growing. That's what's really fun."

0:31:00.6 AS: Wow, I'm learning all kinds of things today, Fr. Nate, thank you. [laughter]

0:31:04.4 AS: But that's very true, I've just never named it, I guess. I love to do that. How can I get my mind engaged in one of these things? I appreciate that, very good. Okay, well, thank you so much and I would love to keep talking about this, but I wanna continue on the long list of things that you're fabulous at. And so maybe we'll jump over to Remick, the Remick Leadership Program. You're a faculty member there. Can you tell me about that work?

0:31:26.4 NW: Yeah, so I'm a faculty member in the Remick Leadership Program and it is just a wonderful program, I can't say enough about the program. The courses I teach are really their personal and spiritual formation courses. I get a chance to be a priest and to be a spiritual guide to these folks. The Remick Leadership Program is a 25 month program where we help aspiring Catholic school principals, some are actually current principals, to know kind of basically what they need to know to be a principal. And we break those down into four main areas. One is instructional leadership. How do they coach their teachers from good to great. Executive management, which is how to run a school from budgets to dealing with the board, to fundraising and HR, all that stuff. A third area is school culture. How to create a Catholic school culture that is supportive, robustly Catholic and really aligned to the values that are a part of... Are at the heart of their school.

0:32:27.2 NW: To make sure that everything from the way that kids are greeted in the morning to the way that they're disciplined and you communicate with parents is all aligned and really authentically Catholic. And then the fourth area is what I work in, which is their spiritual formation in. And as we know that the principles are a really key component, not only in the educational success of students, which they are, but they're also spiritual leaders in their school, they set the tone. They're the ones who can really prepare teachers and prioritize our Catholic faith and really bring young people to Christ in a beautiful and powerful way.

0:33:03.7 NW: And you can't do that if you don't have that. You can't give what you don't have.

0:33:08.5 AS: Yeah.

0:33:09.3 NW: And we really see it as our responsibility within the Remick Leadership Program to help increase our leaders' prayer life. To really inform them of tools of self-knowledge and to help them understand themselves and others around them, so that they can be more compassionate, loving. And some people come in already really well formed in the faith. We have some national Dominicans in our program right now. I do not pretend to think that I'm having any effect on them. They... I think I'm feeding off their holiness, which is absolutely wonderful. But really, that's the work that I do in the Remick Leadership Program. And we see this as a really unique program within Catholic education nationwide, and worldwide. We teach folks from Canada and Ireland, and we really do see this as a holistic approach to forming Catholic school leaders. Not just to be smart and good and competent, but to be holy.

0:34:04.9 AS: Done. [laughter]

0:34:09.1 AS: Well, with your passion, and I know the wonderful folks that you work with on that team, just...

0:34:15.6 NW: They're the best.

0:34:16.7 AS: Fabulous. Yeah.

0:34:16.8 NW: Yeah.

0:34:16.9 AS: And I've seen the people come to Remick Summer and just be transformed. It's so wonderful to be on campus and being present with you guys. And then throughout the year, just having that connection, I just... I keep hearing from folks that that's wonderful so...

0:34:26.5 NW: It is such a privilege. Honestly, you're totally right. Our core team is fantastic, brilliant, just committed to the mission, fun-loving. They're just like my friends, my colleagues, people who I learn a ton from all the time, I just love them. And the fact that we get to work with these Remick Leaders who come to us every year, they are incredible, just incredible. And to be able to stand back and witness the movement of the Holy Spirit in their life. To teach them and to be with them is an incredible privilege, and one of just my favorite parts of my whole life.

0:35:07.4 AS: I see you guys and I see them, and I know it can sometimes sound like, "Okay, well, that's the tag line or whatever." But it truly feels transformative for them, and so we certainly thank you and your whole team, obviously...

0:35:18.7 NW: Yeah.

0:35:19.6 AS: For what you guys are doing.

0:35:20.3 NW: Leadership in Catholic education is tough. And it's... That's a really difficult thing to do, and it's often very lonely. In the same city there's often very little incentive for collaboration. Schools are competing for the same students, and they just don't have the time. So to have a network of folks to call upon, it really is one of the best parts of Remick too. And they help each other out all the time, sometimes on a daily basis. It really is an incredible nationwide, in other cases, worldwide network of school leaders who are really trying to build each other up and to build up Catholic education.

0:36:00.8 AS: I've heard so much about that cohort and having somebody else that understands, maybe it's just a shoulder or an ear sometimes across the miles, but...

0:36:09.2 NW: Huge. It's huge.

0:36:13.0 AS: Yeah, absolutely. And right now, obviously, dedicating your life to education, the people who continue and choose to and want to get better at it and stay with it, they're called to it. So grateful to you and all the folks that you work with.

0:36:26.5 NW: Me too. [chuckle]

0:36:26.6 AS: All those leaders. Okay, I don't think this is the first radio program you've ever been on. [laughter]

0:36:34.0 AS: A little birdie told me that you might have been on the Delilah show. [laughter]

0:36:44.1 AS: Is that true? And is it something you're willing to talk about?

0:36:46.4 NW: That's really funny. Yes, that is true. Gosh, now 16 years ago. No, this is very funny. A priest buddy of mine, Fr. Steve LeCroix and I always used to joke about Delilah. 'Cause I totally love listening to Delilah in the car. She's this call-in person and she's... It's all about love songs, and it's pretty funny. He actually... He laid out the scenarios, it's either I'm falling in love for the first time but we're too young, or my boyfriend is a soldier/trucker/something where I can't be together and I really miss him, or my mom is my rock and I just wanna shout out to her. There's these categories. And he said, "If you throw her a curve ball, there's no way she'd be able to respond." And I'm like, "Okay." [laughter]

0:37:35.2 AS: Challenge given.

0:37:36.7 NW: Challenge accepted. So yeah, it was pretty funny. I was actually coming back from a mass, after I had just been ordained, literally two, three weeks ordained. And I called and she picked up.


0:37:52.5 Delilah: Who's this?

0:37:52.5 NW: Hi, this is Nate.

0:37:54.0 Delilah: Hi Nate, what can I do for you?

0:37:56.5 NW: And I spent the first 30 seconds, being like, "I can't believe it's you," but it was really fun, and it was actually kind of a cool chance to evangelize.

0:38:05.0 NW: I was ordained two weeks ago, it was just an amazing experience and yeah, I just kinda wanted to share my joy with you and with your listeners.

0:38:15.8 Delilah: Wait, wait, wait, wait, wait. Backup.

0:38:17.9 NW: Talk to me.

0:38:18.5 Delilah: You are an ordained priest.

0:38:21.0 NW: Yeah, I was ordained a Catholic priest.

0:38:22.7 Delilah: You are Fr. Nate.

0:38:26.1 NW: She kinda let me monologue a couple of different points. She was fascinated by the fact that I was a priest, and it was really fun. I got to talk about the fact that her callers call in with a deep longing in their life, and we all... Like St. Augustin says, "Our hearts are restless until they rest in God alone." And yeah, I was able to just put that out there and give her a little bit of a different caller for her show, and so it was great.

0:38:52.5 AS: That's cool. Oh my gosh, did you ask for a song to be played?

0:38:57.9 NW: I didn't. So this was the point. I said, you have to pick the song, and this didn't make it on air, but we had a 10-minute conversation that she edited and whatever, and she actually said she was between a couple of different songs, and she ended up picking this Michael W. Smith song called 'Give it Away,' which is like, "Love isn't love till you give it away," it's not that the Red Hot Chili Peppers "Give It Away, Give It Away."

0:39:25.3 AS: That's what I thought of...

0:39:26.1 NW: Is that the Red Hot Chili Peppers? I don't know... Whatever. But... So it's a lovely song. It was great.

0:39:33.9 AS: That's awesome. Well, I thought she really enjoyed that song.

0:39:36.9 NW: I had fun.

0:39:38.3 AS: I'm sure she loved it too. I'm sure she loved it too. Well, thank you for being a good sport and telling us about that. All right, back to our seriousness or actually, this is a little bit more of a fun... We started with fun and now we're closing with a little bit of fun, I suppose. It's also very serious because you're the chaplain for the Notre Dame football team, and I think that that's so wonderful. Tell me a little bit, I don't know if you know anything about the history of that kind of an appointment.

0:40:00.2 NW: Yeah, it's a tradition that goes way back in Notre Dame athletics to having a chaplain on the sidelines or on the team for a lot of different sports teams, not just football, so it's a really great tradition and I think it's important. It says a lot about who we are and what we value, that we're not just having coaches and doctors on the sidelines, but also a priest or a chaplain, I should say, not all of the chaplains for Notre Dame sports teams are priests, some of them are lay people, which is pretty great. My great friend Stacy Nome is the chaplain for the fencing team, and so she does a great job with them and it's a really wonderful role and not something I ever, ever thought I would be doing, but I'm really happy and joyful to be doing it. I got a call from a...

0:40:54.8 AS: Yeah.

0:40:56.0 NW: Yeah, this is...

0:40:56.7 AS: How did this come about? You have a red phone?

0:40:58.0 NW: Well, the funny part is, I actually lived with... When I was in Wisconsin, in grad school, I lived at a parish with Fr. Mike Burke, who was the chaplain to the Wisconsin football team, the 40-year chaplain, and I had a blast with that and learned a ton from him and thought like, well, that was a cool chapter whatever in my life, and then I came back here to Notre Dame and several years passed and the chaplain to the football team, Fr. Mark Thesing, was taking on some new responsibilities, and so he and Fr. Pete McCormick, the director of our campus ministry program got together and came up with names. And they said, hey, you know, let's ask Nate. And I was shocked. It was in the middle of Remick summer and teaching courses and whatever. And they called me and said, you know, "Hey, would you consider being the chaplain for the football team?" And I was like, "What?" I said... I said two things. I said, "First of all, I'm honored. Second, you know, I don't know that much about football, right?" And he was great, he said, "Nate, we don't need you to call plays, we need you to bring them to Jesus."

0:42:07.7 NW: "We pay a lot of people a lot of money to know everything there is to know about football, that's not what we want here." So it was a really great thing, and it was one of those moments too, where I just... I would often say, initially, I don't know why I'm here, I think this is... They got the wrong person or whatever, and just because I didn't know what I was doing, but really it's been one of those moments to me to look back on that request from Pete and from Mark, and to have them call out something that they saw in me that I didn't even see in myself, was really, really beautiful.

0:42:41.5 NW: And I think this is at the heart of religious life, like living with other priests and brothers, being a part of religious community, we're often to do what's in our constitutions that call tasks beyond talent, but it's because... It's because somebody says, I think you can do this, that you really might be able to live into some reality that you wouldn't otherwise see in yourself, and I've been so grateful that that's been a part of this role as a football chaplain, it's been a part of getting my doctorate and teaching at Notre Dame, I never thought those things would be possible with the encouragement of people along the way, you learn that I can do more than I think I can do and the limitations we put on ourselves, I think are often our greatest enemies, and it sometimes takes other people to call out and say, you know, "God has more for you, and you can do more," and with His Grace, praise God, we can.

0:43:35.3 AS: Well, I think that you do a fantastic job. I've seen you on the big video board.

0:43:39.8 NW: Oh yeah.

0:43:41.2 AS: It reminds me a little bit of what you were saying at the beginning of our conversation where even though in this particular instance, maybe you didn't have a suspicion that outside folks who care about you and know you and see your talents. We're able to call that out a little bit and encourage you to step outside your comfort zone.

0:43:57.6 NW: It's been great, it's been a super joyful part of my life, and the guys have just been so great, it's such a privilege to be able to see the other dimensions to our student athletes, I think everybody sees what they can do on Saturday and the incredible hard work that pays off as they are just great players, and they see a sweet accord, they see the brotherhood, camaraderie among them, but I get to see the depth of their faith life, I get to see when things don't go right, and just really their character in the ways that they just... Even now in the off-season, you see the ways that they just... They're tenacious and they just grind through these workouts and they keep coming back and encourage one another, it's really... It's all consuming, and it's a big commitment, and I'm just in awe of the work that they do and how committed the coaches and staff are, it's amazing, and I wish everybody could see how really wonderful and good these folks are. I mean coach Freeman, don't get me started. That guy is amazing. And to know him is to love him. He is just incredible. I've had so many people come up to me this season and just say like, I hope Notre Dame wins 'cause I really like Coach Freeman, and so...

0:45:19.9 AS: I'm sure I was one of those.

0:45:21.3 NW: Yeah. He's the real deal. Like he really is a wonderful person, a great dad, a great mentor for our student athletes, and I really have appreciated the chance to get to know folks, and it's been an enormous blessing in my life and something like I said, I never thought would come about, but maybe that's how God's grace always is in our lives.

0:45:44.9 AS: Yeah, quite often, but I do love seeing those other elements of people, and there's a lot that is necessary to get each one of them there every day, and I can only imagine the amount of effort and work that goes into it, and we see that heart, and I think that's why when someone like the Coach Freeman comes along, you could just see that he loves it too, and it's just been great to watch, but I'm so glad that you're there walking that path with them, what does it feel like in those moments where you're about to pray with them before they go out on the field, and my guess is that the room gets quiet even though it's filled with all this energy, maybe you can kind of help paint that picture.

0:46:19.8 NW: Yeah, it's really amazing. Those moments usually prayer is the last thing that they do before they run onto the field, and so coach will remind them of the game plan, encourage them, kind of just give them you a little bit of a motivation. At the end of it, he says, let's pray. And it's fun... Coach Freeman actually said, "Fr. Nate," and everybody is already kneeling and we all kneel together, we all hold hands, and we all pray the Our Father... It really is, it's a special moment because I'll usually wait, they don't start praying until I say, "Our Father," but I will give them a second to just sit in that silence and then pray. And I think that's a really important moment. Again, that says a lot about who we are as Notre Dame, that we take the moment right before we enter the field to say, "Remember who you are, remember whose you are, remember that this is about not just you, but this is about so much more. Everything that we do is for God's glory. Everything that we do is to allow our souls to magnify God's call within us, it's a great moment to say, remember, take some perspective and then go have fun."

0:47:27.9 NW: So honestly, I have to admit, they do that little Embolism like, "For thine is the kingdom, the power and glory forever," at the end of that. And that whole time, all I am thinking is, "Say the right thing, say the right thing, say the right... " 'Cause my job after that is to say at the beginning of the game, "Our Lady Queen of victory," and then they all say, "Pray for us," and run out there. And then at the end of the game, I say, "Notre Dame our mother," and then they say, "Pray for us." So I just gotta get that right in my head.

0:47:58.9 AS: That's what I'm saying, do you have... Maybe that sounds silly, but... Are there a little bit of butterflies? Each time it'd be like...

0:48:03.7 NW: Oh, 100%. 100%.

0:48:06.7 AS: Yeah, I don't blame you. I don't blame you. Especially that... I think it would be tough enough in that setting, let alone knowing it's being practiced out on the field and all over the country or world, I guess, but...

0:48:18.1 NW: No, and they've got such more of a reason to be nervous than I do, I'm just like... I'm nervous for them and everything, and you just want them to win and do their best and... Yeah, my role is tiny, but it is a lot of fun and...

0:48:34.1 AS: It's very, very important, I'm so glad that you're there doing that with them and that you're enjoying it, you can just tell you're enjoying it, and I'm sure they're enjoying you as well, so.

0:48:42.7 NW: I think it's a powerful witness to the stadium too, that sometimes they don't show it on the video screen because they're running late on stuff in the program, but I do think there is a powerful witness when they actually show the guys praying together, and I hope folks... If somebody sent me a video this year of people in the stands who are praying along with them, and that was absolutely wonderful. I was so moved by that, that people find that opportunity to pray together, and I just... I loved it, I loved it.

0:49:14.5 AS: I just got chills again... Yes, thank you. And we continue to look forward to seeing you on those days on the big screen.

0:49:24.2 NW: And follow me online @praylikeachampiontoday on my Instagram. I show the little Saint of the day medals for each one of the games. Tell a little bit about the Saint and then I'll have one of the players hold it in their hand, and so the first picture is the Saint medal in their hand, and then I'll zoom out and show who the player is, and so it's kind of fun, the guys get a kick out of it, and I actually had one player this year and I'm like, "Hey, can you hold the medal?" And he's like, "Oh, I've always wanted to do this. Oh my gosh, I'm so honored." It was really funny. But...

0:49:55.5 AS: That was such a nice thing to do. I like to heart those as well. I just saw Saint Monica, my mom went to St. Monica's School. And it's always a special Saint [0:50:05.6] ____. Yeah, but I love that tradition and that's so nice and I bet they do wanna become a part of that, that's really a tribute to you though, so...

0:50:15.7 NW: Thanks.

0:50:16.0 AS: Nicely done.

0:50:16.9 NW: I'm a teacher, I can't help myself. You know, you got to teach.

0:50:18.9 AS: You can't help it. It's the vocation with invocation. Wonderful. Well, on that note, I think this is a no-brainer, are you a hopeful person, but maybe give us a thought about how that might touch some of the aspects of your life.

0:50:31.7 NW: I am a hopeful person, I think, and our hope resides in Christ Jesus and in our faith, and I'm a Holy Cross priest, and the motto of the congregation of Holy Cross is "Hail the cross, our only hope." So it's beautiful to think about hope as a virtue and something that's just maybe more needed than ever, and we talk to our Remick leaders, and we tell them, your disciples with hope to bring into the world. And it's just really important, amidst all of the frustrations and darkness of our world, we need people who are beacons of hope and have their hope grounded in Christ and His promise, and in the victory of the Cross over sin and death, and I think... I have a ton of hope because I get to work with young people, I get to work with our hope-filled Remick leaders. I get to work with teachers in Catholic schools. I live with 277 young men in Keough Hall who are hilarious and hope filled. All of that gives me hope for the future. A packed chapel on Sunday night in my dorm at 9PM, I look around and I think about the ways in which people talk about the decline of the church, and all those are real problems, significant issues.

0:51:54.4 NW: But I see the hope of people here at Notre Dame, and I see the people who just come to our doors every year starving for... To have that fire within them lit, and I think it's just a privilege to be able to do that and to witness the hope that they bring them into our nation and world, and... I have a ton of hope, and it isn't Pollyannaish and it isn't ungrounded, it's rooted in our faith, and it's rooted in the people who live it out because they're amazing and extraordinary, and I'm blessed to get to see it within them.

0:52:34.6 AS: I don't know how to end any more perfectly, so I will just say thank you.

0:52:40.2 NW: You're welcome.

0:52:41.0 AS: So well said and thank you for all the things that you do and for being here with us today and sharing some of that with us. And we look forward to following you on Instagram, seeing you on Saturdays and in the hallways here, and just thank you so much Fr. Nate.

0:52:54.8 NW: Yeah, thank you Audrey. I appreciate the interest and I appreciate your time and questions are really thoughtful and...

0:53:00.2 AS: It's been my pleasure, so thank you.

0:53:01.0 NW: Awesome. Alright, have a good day.

0:53:02.6 AS: You too. Bye-bye.

0:53:03.8 NW: Thanks.

0:53:07.0 AS: And thank you all for joining us for Think. Pair. Share. If you enjoyed this episode, head on over to Apple Podcasts to subscribe, rate, and leave a review, it's very much appreciated. Check out our website at for this and other goodies. Thanks for listening and for now, off we go.