Holy Family 2022 Lasallian Educator of the Year Luke Olley grew up in a family of educators. His late grandmother was an elementary school teacher. His father, Christopher Olley taught social studies and is currently the headmaster at Chesterton Academy. Luke teaches English and his sister, teaches math.
Luke joined the Holy Family teaching staff in 2019 after completing his bachelor of arts in English education at St. John’s University. He is currently completing a Master of Arts in Education from St. Catherine’s University. In addition, Luke served as a volunteer teacher in Bogota, Colombia as a member of the Benedictine Volunteer Corps.
Luke met his fiance Maddie when they were both English majors in college. Following their wedding this summer, they will be relocating to Syracuse, NY, where Maddie will complete a doctorate in English.
We caught up with Luke to learn more about his Holy Family experience and the teaching philosophy that inspired our students and teachers to select him as the 2022 St. John Baptist de La Salle Educator of the Year.
What brought you to Holy Family?
I am a lifelong student of Catholic education, and I was really drawn to the idea of teaching at a Catholic school. The opportunity to share my love of reading and my Catholic faith was a huge plus in my career choice. I also was born in the area and had several college classmates that loved their time as students at Holy Family.
How do you approach teaching English?
I would say my approach to teaching English is to find a way for students to engage with complex topics and ideas beyond reading and writing mechanics. The written word is a wonderful medium, but it is a vehicle for students to demonstrate their knowledge and understanding. I try and facilitate discussion and critical thinking more than just grammar or vocabulary.
What do you enjoy most about Holy Family?
The best part about being a teacher at Holy Family is the genuine joy that the faculty and students have for being here. I work with incredible educators who share my passion for our subject matters and the belief in teaching the whole student. And it always brightens my day when students stop by to chat. I don’t know if this is replicable at other schools.
St. John Baptist de LaSalle listed 12 Virtues of a Lasallian Educator in his book, ” The Conduct of the Christian Schools.” Are any of these particularly meaningful to you as an educator?
I am drawn to the virtues of patience and gentleness. As a teacher, it is hard to forget that you are only 44 minutes out of a student’s 24 hours. They may be coming in with sadness, happiness, or a chip on their shoulder that you have done nothing to cause, yet it will be your responsibility to engage with them. Similarly, students will not want to come in and ask for help if they think that their teacher is judgmental or irritated with them. I accredit my ability to form and maintain relationships with my students to these two virtues.
What will you miss about Holy Family Catholic High School?
I will miss the daily interactions with my fellow staff members that keep me sane. I also will genuinely feel sad about being robbed of the ability to see my students grow into adults. I have taught the class of 2024 for two years now–I would have liked to see them develop into seniors and leaders and see how they will embark into the world.
Techno Teachers: Holy Family English Department’s Connected Curriculum
Today’s students are driving change faster than ever before with their intuitive use of technology. For Holy Family Catholic High School’s English Department, that means changing the ways of teaching too.
“Technology is a tool that cannot and should not be ignored,” says English teacher Carlee Kocon. “It’s our responsibility to help prepare 21st-century learners for the 21st century with tools that are applicable and relevant to their current and future learning.”
Holy Family’s English department has teamed up to make sure students are ready for the future, weaving in technologies that emulate what students will experience in college and through real-world experiences. Their methods are the result of a focused effort led by English teacher Case Unverzagt, who created an ad hoc committee to explore teaching with technology and best practices.
“Technology remains a tool that students use in every facet of life, so I figured our teaching must incorporate technology to better reach and teach students,” Unverzagt says.
The English Department’s fresh mix of teaching and tech is a peek into how the Holy Family classrooms are evolving in a time of rapid change driven by a digital revolution.
“Technology is a tool and will never replace the ‘teacher,’” says Holy Family President Michael Brennan. “And it is far more than hardware and devices.
“I view technology as a key with the ability to transform student learning. The right technology in the hands of the right teacher is a recipe for transformational learning.”
Tech Advances Language Skills
Unverzagt points out that technology, like English, is textually focused. Therefore, the correlation between them is natural and encourages stronger writing and communication.
“Code is syntactical, and so is English,” he says. “Mistakes in coding change or destroy meaning analogous to poor grammar that obstructs meaning—text messages, Tweets, message board posts and emails all require compositional skills for creation. Many an adolescent spends time pondering the tone and context of the last Tweet or text.
“The skills we use to analyze literature and communicate ideas effectively and clearly translate immediately to reading, analyzing and creating content on technological platforms.”
The marriage between language and technology, he points out, dovetails with the English department’s overall mission:
Develop each student’s reading skills
Encourage interest in the language arts as research and leisure activities
Introduce students to a variety of writing styles and authors
Hone students’ listening skills
And, most importantly, develop writing as a process geared to create written pieces for a variety of purposes and audiences.
English teachers at Holy Family have collectively found ways to thread technology into their current teaching methods. Unverzagt, who teaches AP English and Honors American Literature, relies on multiple digital platforms, including Twitter, MS365, MS Teams, OneNote, various Google platforms and digital content.
“I try to use technology to meet students where they are in the digital universe and help them learn with and through technology,” he says.
Kocon, who has a master’s degree in Learning Design and Technology from the University of St. Mary’s, is driven to help students use technology to advance learning and creativity.
“Using technology just to use it isn’t popular, and students can sense that,” she says. “However, if you can point out the usefulness the technology provides, they’re usually all in. It’s all about balance and finding the right technology tool for the task at hand.
“In my Freshman World Literature classes, we use technology to share and edit work,” she says. “We create short slide presentations regarding chapters of text we are reading in class. Students also create their own quizzes to share to prep for later assessments, and some make online flashcards. For my Senior Creative Writing classes, students write their pieces and share them during editing sessions.”
Kocon is also quick to point out that technology has helped from the teaching perspective, too, making her more responsive and timely with instruction and feedback.
“I use various software to edit their papers and give feedback more efficiently and more quickly with voice comments, video comments or stamped comments, eliminating lengthy return time on writing pieces,” she says.
Quizzes, Apps and Creativity
Zach Brown, who teaches Honors British Literature, Speech, Contemporary Issues and College Prep Writing, utilizes Google surveys, online quizzes and collaborative documents, so students can work together and participate in class in new ways.
“Kahoot! is a great app for making a review or quiz similar to a game, and it engages students far more than raising their hands to demonstrate their learning,” he says.
Brown also stresses the importance of discerning credible information sources from questionable ones, and making sure students are aware of singularly shaded information and insulated viewpoints. Instead of diving deep into the technology, he focuses on how students can use tech to better present ideas with substance. With this thinking, Brown has turned a new page on the way students “author” book reports.
“I can make the presentation of learning more inviting, so the reading and completion of the assignment isn’t as onerous,” he says. “For example, making a movie trailer in a video editing program encourages students to entice a viewer, so students work to make their work exciting and prove they can make something great. This requires students to read the book, but without the additional work of an essay looming ahead of them.”
The New Standard: Tech Competency
As Holy Family students move through various English classes, the staff has developed a benchmark of key technology competencies students need to master. Likewise, every teacher has been trained to help implement these competencies through their curriculum.
“Students need to know how to create meaningful presentations, so that they can convey their ideas in a powerful way,” Brown says. “Since new programs will always replace the old, I need to teach them how to navigate through confusion.”
“Ultimately, it comes down to successfully transitioning students from high school into college, so they are prepared to articulate their opinions and beliefs, which are subjective, as well as objectively present arguments and sides to issues. When students realize that technology can help give their voice a platform, I feel they are more engaged.”