Reflection and Awe
2020 is a year many of us won’t forget; a year of difficult challenges and profound change; a year where many of us were forced to slow down, reflect and re-evaluate our daily lifestyle and our life’s choices. It was a year of great suffering and at the same time great humanity, solidarity and kindness. So, in the words of Nate Radomski (Executive Director of Magis Americas) “When we look back and reflect on 2020, I would invite each of us to remember not the struggles, but the victories. Not the social distancing, but the new forms of community. If this year has taught me anything, it has been the overwhelming capacity that we share as individuals to act as global citizens in the most difficult of circumstances. The number of individuals who have come together to not only support those they love, but also those they have never, nor will ever, meet continues to astound and inspire me”.
It has been a pleasure and a privilege as the Educate Magis team to watch the global community of Educate Magis coming together, supporting, inspiring and sharing with each other. In a year where there was much fear and isolation, we also witnessed many beautiful moments of connection and community. We saw how educators connected with compassion and a deep shared understanding both of our faith and of our vulnerabilities, helping each other to find their way through the darkness and into the light. The words ‘how are you?’ took on a new depth of meaning and people took the time to enquire with genuine care about the wellbeing of the other.
We watched in awe as teachers around the world adapted to new challenges with great courage and creativity, finding new ways not only to teach their students but to accompany and support them on this unexpected journey. As Fr. Vitangelo wrote in his essay on Distance Learning within the Framework of Ignatian Pedagogy as Italy began to emerge from one of the most devastating incidences of the virus “The word “accompany” is essential in Ignatian pedagogy, and expresses an attitude that is the foundational approach of the teacher-educator, namely a human and spiritual posture that is rich with respect and attention”. This deep respect, attention and care for the students was perhaps even more central than ever before to the incredible work teachers did throughout 2020.
When we began the year, we had no idea of what lay before us. Hundreds of educators from around the world participated in the JESEDU-Jogja Virtual Colloquium from January to March in preparation for the second International Colloquium of Jesuit School Leaders which was to take place in Indonesia in July 2020. As educators shared their reflections on the topics of Choosing Purpose, Cultivating Depth and Building Reconciliation we could not have imagined that these topics would take on a new meaning in the months to come. The Colloquium was later postponed and will now take place virtually later this year as JESEDU-Global 2021.
Although it felt strange to celebrate at the time, in April, we quietly acknowledged the 5-year anniversary of the Educate Magis platform. Again, this was another opportunity to reflect on our journey thus far as a global community and the opportunities which may lie ahead.
Online Accompaniment for Teachers
As schools adapted to online/distance learning in its various forms across many different platforms, we too considered new ways in which we could connect and accompany educators across the world. Some schools who did not have access to their own online platforms began to use Connected Classrooms to teach their students remotely and host staff meetings. Through many conversations with you, the members of Educate Magis, we decided to open a conversation for you to share with each other, gather and share useful resources and host a number of online events. The first was a webinar titled “What would St. Ignatius do? Taking Jesuit Education to the Covid Frontier” facilitated by two of our wonderful community members from Brebeuf Jesuit Preparatory School in Indianapolis: JD Ferries-Rowe (Chief Information Officer) and Jen LaMaster (Assistant Principal) who had done extensive research and work on Distance Learning and amidst their crazy workload kindly took the time to share some practical information and advice on how to adapt to Continuous Online Learning.
Following that, two wonderful Jesuits from Boston College and Boston College High School with experience in retreats, Fr. Casey Beaumier and Fr. Pat Nolan, adapted a 4day retreat for the virtual world and offered it to the Educate Magis community. On Earth as it is in Heaven was attended by educators from all over the world who, at a time when the term ‘screen fatigue’ was being used more and more shared how nourished and energized they felt by this experience of connecting with each other, with themselves and with God through the gentle and skillful accompaniment of Fr. Casey and Fr. Pat.
It was my first time to take part in a virtual retreat and I felt quite privileged to have had the opportunity. A couple of things stood out for me each day but I will limit myself to five aspects. First is a statement that was shared by one of the retreat leaders which I have reflected on deeply: “I am not God. I cannot control everything”. What we are going through right now forces us to accept the reality that we are not in control of what happens in the world and as educators we cannot control what happens to our students in their homes. This is a reality that is both terrifying and consoling. It is terrifying in the sense that we just need to constantly remind ourselves that sometimes things will happen contrary to our plans.” Janet Namara Gabone, Teacher at Loyola High School in Tanzania. Read more reflections from other teachers here
As it became clear that this new reality we found ourselves in would be with us for some time and educators around the world became tired and worn out by the continuous work of adapting, learning, planning, waiting and hoping, we hosted another webinar. This time to focus on Cura Personalis not only for students but also for teachers who so often put themselves second. Fr. Brendan McManus (Irish Jesuit, author and ex-school chaplain) facilitated this next global webinar Cura Personalis in the Crisis: How can we Take Care of Ourselves and our Students? which offered the reflective and nourishing qualities of a retreat together with practical and useful information.
Accompaniment for Students
Quite early on in the pandemic two members of our community (Cora Antonio, teacher from the US and María Oliva Garcia de Cassasola a teacher from Spain) came together to find a way in which they could “journey with the youth” through this difficult time. They designed a simple but powerful initiative A Day in My Life: Living Under the Covid-19 Pandemic which invited students from other Jesuit schools around the world to share their reflections on what it was like for them to live through this time and to read reflections from their peers around the word. Deep, insightful reflections poured in from students in Jesuit school across the world; some heart-wrenching, others heart-warming but all containing their personal observations of a shared experience which affected every single one of us in some way.
Celebrating St. Ignatius Day
As most of the world was either still teaching and learning remotely or on holidays, our St. Ignatius Day celebration looked a little different this year. Instead of inviting classes to connect with each other via Connected Classrooms for students to share their learnings and reflections, we invited students to share their paintings, drawings, sketches, photos or poems inspired by some of St. Ignatius’ most well-known phrases. The response was overwhelming with almost 800 students from different ages and backgrounds in Jesuit schools in different corners of the world sharing their beautiful creations. The result was a wonderful, colourful Virtual Art Exhibition which was shared with the entire community and could be accessed not only by teachers but also by students and their families.
Global Learning as a Global Community
After many teachers finally had a chance to have some rest we came together once again as a smaller community this time to learn together. In August and September two members of the community, Bob Stephan (Director of Ignatian Formation and Adult Spirituality at Loyola High School, LA, US) and Brendan O’Kane (Director of Ignatian Mission and Identity at Loyola Blakefield, Maryland, US) generously took the time to facilitate our first global cohort of a new online course “Four Key Practices of Ignatian Spirituality” which was piloted with a small group of educators and is being prepared to be launched to the wider global community this year.
Throughout November and into December, together with another global cohort, we piloted the first Ignatian Intercultural Communication Training Module. In response to the growing need for respectful and meaningful dialogue amongst people of different political, religious and other views, a global group of Ignatian Educators together with Educate Magis and the Secretariat put together this 4week training module, designed using the IPP and based on the model of Ignatian Spiritual Exercises. We look forward to developing this rich experience further and offering something to the wider community in the coming months.
Today’s session gives so much clarity to the fact that each person is unique, each has his or her own context, each has his or her identity that is as important as anyone’s. And so because of this, I am invited (or even compelled) to communicate and interact with others with genuine interest and respect — there is always something to hear if and when we truly listen. And I might be surprised that in doing so, I might hear my own thoughts or see my own experiences or connect my own uniqueness with the other”. Training Participant
As we began looking towards the end of the year we hosted our second virtual online retreat, this time facilitated by Anne Slingo (Religious Education and History Teacher in Xavier College, Kew, Australia) and Bob Stephan (Director of Ignatian Formation and Adult Spirituality at Loyola High School, LA, United States) and titled “Accompanied by the Spirit of Healing”. This Advent retreat held once a week over the 4 weeks of Advent gave participants a chance to experience the First Spiritual Exercises, pause and reflect together in community in preparation for the birth of Jesus and at the end of a long and tiring year.
As we moved closer to Christmas, the Secretariat in collaboration with Educate Magis published a new infographic Jesuit Schools at the Service of Our Universal Missions: An Integrated Perspective which offers an integrated perspective of the work schools are doing to serve our Jesuit Mission. The circular graphic presents a schematic approach to the documents which outline our contemporary understanding of the characteristics and goals of Jesuit Education and how these all relate to each other and to our Mission.
Sharing Students’ Joy
With the awareness that Christmas might look quite different for many students this year, we once again invited students to share their artistic creations with the global community, this time to express their love, joy and hope. Once more students impressed us with their incredible creativity through beautiful art pieces, poems, prayers and videos. What better Christmas gift than the love, joy and hope of our students? This reminded us again that we are not alone and have much to be grateful and hopeful for. These messages from students around the world warmed our hearts as we celebrated Christmas and closed out this strange year.
Gratitude and Hope
So, although it was a year like no other, a year with many struggles, a year when time seemed to both stand still and fast forward, it was also a year of incredible compassion, creativity, solidarity and hope. We saw once again the power of community and kindness.
These are the messages we choose to take with us from 2020 and which we hope to continue sharing with you all during this new year.
Thank you for being here with us and for the incredible work you continue to do!