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Choices and pathways, discernment and decisions have become words used frequently in the hope that we are guiding our boys towards studies that will not only extend them but also enable them to lay foundations for the future. We all share in the common experience of learning, albeit in different contexts. This shared experience is what enables us as educators to become reflective on our own time in the classroom and to draw on this as the basis for reflective practice in our actions as educators.

Thinking back to my own choices for subjects when I was in high school I am reminded of the seismic shifts in curriculum and pedagogy. In 1990, when I was in Year 10 and attending Mercy College, a Catholic girls school in Melbourne’s northern suburbs, I was genuinely ecstatic to finally be allowed to choose one elective subject. One. The choice became easier considering I only had three options to select from: Typing (on actual typewriters), Home Economics or Textiles. At the time I didn’t lament that I could only choose one, nor did it occur to me that my three choices were reflective of girls education and vocations at the time. I was just so happy to finally be able to make a choice and to individualise my learning. Truth be told, it was probably the first time I had become excited about studying something that I had chosen for myself. I was excited about learning something different.

learningAs I progressed through High School and into University, I have studied a range of subjects that held my interest, dropping ones that I had no need, passion or talent for. I was very blessed to have parents whose only wish for my academic path was to be happy and to learn for the love of it. I remember telling my father that I wanted to study Philosophy at university. Rather than ask the rather obvious question of what career path that could possibly open up, he encouraged me to learn for learning’s sake, to immerse myself in an area of study just for the sheer delight of learning. With this gentle guidance I enrolled and my studies in Philosophy at an undergraduate and postgraduate level remain some of my most treasured experiences of learning to date. Had I thought about the practicalities of finding a career in this field and I would have sacrificed this opportunity to grow exponentially as a scholar and as a human being.

So what happens if we learn for the love of learning? What if, as some tertiary academics have been debating lately, university entrance requirements did not exist? Do we tell our students enough that learning that enables academic and spiritual growth is what should ‘count’? Are they aware that academic excellence will follow learning if it has moved the heart? When I think of the choices I made I now realise that when I chose from the heart I was happiest at school and achieved my very best because I really wanted to learn.

So which elective did I choose? If I had chosen an elective based purely on what would be advantageous for my career then I should have chosen Typing. If I had chosen an elective based only on life skills and domestic survival then I should have chosen Home Economics. Instead I chose Textiles. I learned how to design, cut and sew garments and the difference between machining cotton and polyester fabrics. Have I ever needed to draw on these skills in my career as a Media teacher or educator? No, not directly. But the passion to design and create something completely individual has stayed with me. I could have chosen to learn skills that would have been helpful and advantageous in my career, had I any sense if it then. Instead I chose to express myself and to love what I was learning.

Whilst subject selection is paramount in the minds of our boys currently, it is important that we look at the ways that the learning experience at the Senior Campus will complement a life past the college, it is also important to consider the importance that learning brings to the whole person.

I still can’t type, cook or sew very well, but I do remember the thrill of individualising my learning for the first time. To have a choice. To swim against the tide in my own direction. And this I still do.

In this blog series entitled “Conversations in Context: Teaching and Learning in a Jesuit School” or in short “Teaching and Learning in Context” we present articles written by Melinda Roberts. These originally appeared in Xavier College’s fortnightly newsletter, written for the school community and published on the school website. We are happy to share these with the wider Jesuit education community. To read the previous blog click here

Melinda Roberts Xavier College’s Head of Teaching and Learning.

Melinda Roberts is the Head of Teaching & Learning at Xavier College in Melbourne, an all-boys Jesuit high school in Australia. In the last twelve months, she has led a number of significant changes at a physical, philosophical and ultimately cultural level, with the aim of ensuring Xavier remains committed to its mission of excellence in education and the formation of reflective, compassionate and articulate men and women of Christian faith, hope and love who will provide outstanding service and leadership in our world, while still producing excellent academic results. Her articles in this blog series provide an insight into this challenge, one which is invariably shared by Jesuit schools across the globe.