“The real I look at. I do not analyse or argue it, describe or define it, I am one with it…. to look wholly means that my whole person reacts. Not only my mind, but my eyes and ears, smelling and touching and tasting. Contemplation is not study, not cold examination, not a computer. To contemplate is to be in love.” Fr Walter Burghardt SJ
In April 2016 I had the great privilege of accompanying thirty students and three staff on the Arts Tour to the US. We travelled to Los Angeles, San Fransisco and New York City, visiting some of the world’s most famous art galleries and museums. The cultural experience for these boys was life- changing, many of them experiencing overseas travel for the first time.
One of the highlights of the trip was visiting two Jesuit schools located in the Upper East Side of Manhattan. Of particular note for me was Regis High School, a school that provides a tuition-free Jesuit education to boys from all over New York. Regis has an interesting story with distinct differences from our own at Xavier College, but there is a shared context. As two schools belonging to the 450 year old tradition of Jesuit education, we are both deeply connected to the philosophical constructs of the Ignatian Pedagogical Paradigm, better known within Jesuit education circles as the IPP.
Over the course of the year I have spoken with the staff about the significance of the IPP in our own context and our story here at Xavier College. This meshed with the messages Father Michael Smith, SJ conveyed earlier in the year, when addressing staff on the first day of first term, he urged us to ‘take a long, loving look at the real’ in order to become contemplatives in action. As a teaching staff, we need to acknowledge that we cannot form ourselves nor transform our world without contemplation of the real. By explicitly applying the IPP in our teaching and learning context, the student as a contemplative will emerge via reflection, experience, evaluation and ultimately, in action. As a Jesuit school we have a responsibility to research and investigate current and contemporary trends in education and assess if and how they can be applied to our context, in order to improve our practice at an individual, collective and cultural levels. In sharing this conversation in New York, I found this to be equally challenging to the staff at Regis High School.
How do we marry the ideals of an Ignatian education with our fast-moving and at times self-serving society? At a time when other schools are being identified as ‘thinking schools’ or ‘positive psychology schools’, it can be tempting to find an overarching construct and retrofit our curriculum to it. Yet we already have one. Ignatian pedagogy challenges us to produce students who seek wisdom, not simply knowledge. As with any significant ideological shift, we have to be courageous and committed to looking at our own practice in our own classrooms. We need to be challenging our students in every class, in every assignment, in every assessment. The role is ours to engage our students towards both to action and to reflection – to become contemplatives.
As teachers in a Jesuit school we must look to embed the IPP practices into our classrooms via innovative and cutting edge teaching practices, drawing on current research and data. All contemporary research around improving student outcomes comes back to the importance of teachers working collaboratively and reflecting on their practice in groups, rather than in isolation. Therefore, as a staff we are exploring new ways to improve student outcomes via communities of practice, professional learning and companionship. This action, this move towards becoming Contemplatives in Action, is part of a broader vision for teaching and learning at the Senior Campus, as we seek to move forward as world leaders in Jesuit education.
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 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.