My name is Jomon and I am a Jesuit priest working in Nepal. Currently, I am involved in the formation of young students and staff at St. Xavier’s College (SXC), Kathmandu, Nepal.
Since its founding in 1988, SXC has played an invaluable role in the field of secondary and tertiary education in Nepal. At any given academic year over 3000 students attend Higher Secondary (Science), Under Graduate and Post Graduate Courses here. SXC has students from all the 75 districts in the country. It has 28 students and 7 office staff who practice Catholicism. Every member of the teaching staff is a non-Christian.
SXC’s success as an academic institution is attributed to the Jesuit values that are instilled in every student and staff. Students who graduate from this institution are known to be academically excellent, morally upright and socially responsible. SXC has been highly successful in imparting such a holistic formation to its beneficiaries because of its dedicated teaching staff who are imbued with the Jesuit educational values of Competence, Conscience and Compassionate commitment.
Lately, it came to the attention of the administration that close fifty percent of its teaching staff belongs to the newly recruited group which has not completed even five full working years at SXC. This has caused a problem as far as most effectively imparting the value based education, and specifically maintaining the Jesuit way of doing things in academic institutions even while thirty percent of the teaching staff does it profitably. Relatively rising number in the turnover of the staff in recent years meant that the beginning of the year staff seminar, which mainly consisted of educating the newly appointed staff in Ignatian Pedagogical Paradigm (IPP) over two days of interactive sessions, had little impact on the actual teaching methods and modus operandi of Jesuit education.
Hence, the SXC administration decided that a person who has the knowledge in what Jesuit education is all about and the skills to share it with the teachers and the attitude to inspire the teachers to make it a non-negotiable part of their class room praxis and personal and social life must be appointed; and I was assigned to achieve this task.
Keeping in mind a formation period of 10 years, I devised a systematized and formal plan of action which includes the following.
A. Stage 1
a) Staff seminar on IPP
One of the first things I undertook was to bring the entire body of teaching staff together for a day of workshop in which I laid out very clearly what SXC was expecting from each one and how to achieve them.
b) Departmental meetings on implementing IPP in the class rooms
As a follow up to the seminar, a one-day gathering of all the teachers was held department-wise in which a highly practical demonstration of how IPP is applied in actual situations was conducted by me.
c) Meeting of the Head of the Departments (HODs) and Deans
As the third step, a two-hour conversation was held among all the HODs and Deans. I gave a session on creating a strategic plan for each department.
d) Meeting of the HODs with their faculty members
The next step in the first stage involved several days of interactions among the staff members of each department led by the HOD for several days. These days were spent in getting to know each other, evaluating the performance of everyone in the light of the IPP guidelines and planning for the coming year in the light of IPP. This also involved a day of field project in which all the members of each department undertook a one-day educational project of their liking as a group. (For example, the Social Work Department visited a highly successful non-formal education center; The Biology Department visited an Eco park.)
B. Stage 2
a) Revision of the format of the lesson plan
Once the teachers, especially the newly appointed ones, had a good grasp of the IPP, the next step was to find ways to practice it in the class room. It was found that the existing format for the daily lesson plan for the teachers needed to be revised and made more teacher-friendly.
b) Departmental discussions on the lesson plan
I then went to each department and sat together as group with all its faculty members and discussed with them how to plan their lessons effectively using the revised lesson plan format. After demonstrating how it is done, every faculty member was asked to do a lesson plan of their own and submit it to me.
c) Discussions with individual staff members on their lesson plan
The next step involved sitting with each staff member to evaluate with them the effectiveness of their lesson plans in the light of their execution of it in their classrooms. This was highly effective in determining what worked and what did not in a particular class room. Adaptations to the lesson plans were accommodated accordingly.
C. Stage 3
a) Weekend retreats
Once the modus operandi of Jesuit education was set in motion in all the classrooms, it was time again to internalize it as an individual faculty member and as a department. For this purpose every department was taken to the Jesuit Ashram outside the city for a weekend of recollection, personal and professional sharing and departmental evaluation and planning.
D. Stage 4
a) Self-evaluation by the teachers
In the middle of the academic year, every teacher was asked to conduct an evaluation of his/her own performance based on a questionnaire. These were then discussed with the individual teachers.
b) Evaluation of the teachers by the students
Every teacher, then, was evaluated by the students of their classes based on a performance indicative questionnaire. The findings were tabulated and compared with the findings of self-evaluation. An individual conference of the teacher with the Principal of the College was set up for every faculty.
a) Coffee with Ignatius
A teacher from each department, over a cup of coffee, shared about his views on an Ignatian concept. Life as a pilgrimage, the importance of social service in education, education for life, magis, being more and doing more and solidarity were some of the topics for such discussions. This program kept the thread of Ignatian ideals weaving through the minds of the staff throughout the year. The informal setting made the sharing frank and personal.
In order to be faithful to my observations as to what worked well and what did not, I am aware that an evaluation of all the five stages together will have to be conducted; I have not undertaken an evaluation of such nature and so am reserving my comments regarding the fruit of the entire year for later.
As I look back from the flag end of the academic year, I realize that while all the activities were extremely well participated and accepted, the weekend retreats and the individual conferences were the most beneficial of all the activities. Perhaps, a serene environment outside the work situations and a departure from the daily pressures of life, facilitated the retreats to be more conducive and effective; and the latter, I feel, was very effective because of the personal interest I demonstrated in the growth of each staff member. Wonders can happen when the teachers are valued and appreciated for their personhood, hard work and their inherent dignity.