Learning and the application of learning to diverse contexts is at the heart of the Ignatian education experience

2016 was an extraordinary year for the unsung, the underdog and the unlikely. Whilst I am not much of a sports fan, it would be hard to miss the incredible stories of Leicester City winning the Premier League, the Australian Football League’s Western Bulldogs winning the Premiership, the Chicago Cubs winning the World Series in Baseball and Ireland beating the All Blacks in Rugby. Politically of course, the world watched on with initial mild bemusement at the unbridled ambitions of an American billionaire’s bid to become President, culminating in an election that was won and lost largely via social media. All in all, it has been an extraordinary year that has signaled monumental change in a variety of fields. The impossible had become possible.

The perception of winning despite significant odds has dominated our culture’s discourse for much of the year. It now appears that anyone, any team, any leader, regardless of the appropriateness of his or her leadership, could possibly win the ‘unwinnable’. The concept of winning is shifting as the world adapts to the disassembling of previously held sacred norms and expectations of what winning actually means. Does it mean to be the best player, the best student, working constantly and consistently? Or is it about tapping in to the mood of the moment, of knowing how to lead, or about what to learn? 

As a student it can be easy to look on as your peers and classmates seem to achieve better results, better grades and better opportunities. It’s easy to disengage and to adopt the mindset of “that will never be me. I’ll never achieve that grade.” But surely the incredible world events witnessed last year challenge our previously held concepts of ‘winning’ and what it means to be successful. As a global community we can see that what we may have previously associated with success has shifted seismically.

Because success isn’t always about winning. As academic years come to an end we celebrate students who have achieved outstanding results but we also celebrate those who have worked diligently, who have improved and who have simply tried as hard as they could. Their success challenges what we conventionally consider what it means to win.

How we approach our path to success is critical. It is said that if we fail to prepare, we prepare to fail. But surely the All Blacks were well prepared before playing Ireland, just as Hilary Clinton was well prepared as she responded to each of Donald Trump’s shrieked barbs and accusations. Again, globally speaking, we can see that success and indeed readiness to learn is much more than about just being prepared.

To borrow again from the sporting world, success is as much about preparation as it is about anticipating the play and preparing to respond to the movement of the game. In our own academic context we can see that it is not enough to simply memorise quotes from an English text and not be able to use them appropriately and with authenticity, nor memorise history dates without being able to understand how they frame and inform critical moments in time. Memorising is not learning, it is simply knowing and is about being safe. Knowing has its place, as does recall, but learning and the application of learning to diverse contexts is at the heart of the Ignatian education experience and at the core of what we want our students to possess: an ability to discern knowing from learning and to know success as humble and generous men.

Ad majorem Dei gloriam.

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. 

Melinda Roberts

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.