New book offers faith-based strategies to teach learners with disabilities

September 24, 2019

Charleen Katra, associate director in the Office of Evangelization and Catechesis, and John Barone of Strake Jesuit College Preparatory have co-authored a new book “The Adaptive Teacher: Faith-Based Strategies to Reach and Teach Learners with Disabilities” published by Loyola Press. (Photo by Sean O’Driscoll/Herald)

HOUSTON — Charleen Katra and John Barone believe that everyone can learn. But they also realize that those who teach are sometimes challenged by those who learn differently. 

So, when Loyola Press approached the pair about writing a book that would help educators better reach learners with disabilities, they eagerly said yes. The result is the newly published “The Adaptive Teacher: Faith-Based Strategies to Reach and Teach Learners with Disabilities.

Katra is an associate director in the Archdiocese’s Office of Evangelization and Catechesis, and Barone is the director of the Learning Resource Center at Strake Jesuit College Preparatory. Both have spoken extensively at conferences and events throughout the country, sharing both their faith and their expertise as educators. 

“We’re very much like-minded thinkers when it comes to learners with disabilities,” said Katra about her collaboration with Barone. “I’ve long been a proponent of person-first language — a child with autism, as opposed to an autistic child — and from little things to big ones, John and I are on the same page of the same book.”

“Charleen and I have partnered in providing training for catechists and teachers throughout the years, collecting and sharing best practices as we learned more about serving learners with disabilities,” said Barone. “We did some work for Loyola Press in their wonderful Adaptive Finding God series, and they asked us to share further about what we’ve learned in our ministry for those with disabilities.”

“The Adaptive Teacher” is designed to be a hands-on tool, that allows classroom teachers to make use of its theories immediately. Both Barone and Katra wanted a volume that would provide educators with tools they needed to make their spaces more inclusive and to understand better the needs of those who learn differently. 

The book isn’t only for traditional teachers in a traditional classroom, however. It can also be used by those who serve in youth ministry in their parishes. Katra said that often those who lead parish youth programs are simply unaware of how to help differently abled learners.

“Many of the programs in parishes are geared to youth and young adults,” she said. “The interest is there to learn more about the faith. But sometimes the services are not there for those who approach learning in different ways. We’re so fortunate here in the Archdiocese to have those resources in many places. Others around the state or the country do not.”

Barone and Katra both feel strongly called to their subject, and believe their work is a natural extension of Catholic social teaching and the Gospel value of inclusion. The information in their book, they feel, can provide teachers with ideas on how to adapt their environments to serve the needs of those with disabilities. Along the way, they think, those teachers will learn more about how vital inclusivity is.

“Adaptive environments and practices provide learners with more opportunities to share their strengths and gifts,” said Barone. “We count ourselves among the many ranks of Catholic leaders and educators who advocate for systems and practices that accommodate all of God’s children. And we understand that the community is made better by the presence of all of the members of the Body of Christ.