Our Collective Obligation to be a Community of Learners – (Teaching and Learning in Context: Blog #1)

The continual interplay of experience, reflection and action in the teaching and learning process lies at the heart of Ignatian teaching practice. 

It is a new academic year here in the Southern Hemisphere. We have returned from a long summer break back to school, to begin again, anew. In the beautiful words of T.S Elliot, “We shall not cease from exploration and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time.”

We prepare to learn again.

With new beginnings comes excitement and possibility. New uniforms, new classrooms, new teachers and new subjects are symbols of these new beginnings. For some the unknown can be exhilarating and presents opportunity and growth. For others, beginnings can also bring unease and a yearning for the familiar. Once we begin something new we can feel the pull to look back and to stay within the safety of what we previously knew.

This comfort of the known and well worn can call us back to continue as we did in the past. We can resettle into old habits simply because the new present is uncomfortable. Even as teachers we can fall into long held patterns if we teach the same subjects and content for years over and over. As a new year begins we need to acknowledge that the familiar constructs of the past have served us well to begin anew and to recalibrate our way of proceeding in this new year.

As a Jesuit school we often speak of academic excellence, of striving for the Magis. At our College Academic Assembly last week we heard our Principal Dr Hayes speak of the deep Ignatian call to set hearts on fire through academic rigour and application, in order to achieve our very best, and to pursue, resolutely, the capacity and capability that we each have. In House meetings each student also heard the powerful mantra of the three pillars of Effort, Respect and Service from Mr Nicholls, our Head of Students and his challenge to all students to be the best version of yourself possible. These are powerful statements about what it means to be educated at a Jesuit school and to be formed as a whole person with Christ at the centre.

Academic Assemblies are a reflection of our school’s tradition of academic excellence but they also speak to something deeper, which is the value we place on learning and the culture that surrounds that. Carolyn Taylor in ‘Walking the Talk’ (2015) says that “culture is the patterns of behaviour that are encouraged, discouraged or tolerated over time. It is what is created from the messages that are received about how people are expected to behave. Cultures develop in any community of people who spend time together and who are bound together through shared goals, beliefs, routines, needs or values.”

As a learning community, we must strive to develop a culture of academic excellence, which is embodied by the achievement of the men we celebrated last Wednesday. In particular we celebrated the significant achievements of our three duces whose application exemplifies not only the traditions of this school but the culture of learning that we want to inspire in others.  Yet the challenge still exists for each of us to contribute to the shared values and beliefs embedded in this culture and this community.

The continual interplay of experience, reflection and action in the teaching and learning process lies at the heart of Ignatian teaching practice. As teachers, it is our responsibility to constantly reflect on our practice and to act by sharing our experiences with each other. As students, their responsibility is to be open to growth and open to learning. When we gathered at the same assembly last year our Director of Campus Mr Lewis spoke to the students gathered and stated simply and succinctly: You are here to learn. But within the beautiful simplicity of that message lies a deep obligation on all of us to be a community of learners.

As a school this year we have made significant changes with internal structures to shift and ignite a culture of learning. It is our collective responsibility as members of a thriving learning community to be open to growth that encourages the head, heart and hands to value and celebrate excellence in learning. Fundamental to this is this year’s theme Cura Personalis which emphasises care for the individual’s identity and balance this with each individual’s gifts, needs and educative readiness to learn.

As we embark on a new year and embrace equally both the uneasiness and familiarities that a new beginning brings, I encourage all students in our care to reflect on their own contribution to our College’s culture of learning. Men of Xavier: are you pushing yourself to achieve your best? Your very best? How can you achieve your best if you do not apply yourself? Are your results reflective of what you have learned or are your results reflective of what you still have to learn? I encourage you to start the year with a new determination of mind, heart and spirit; to reflect on the achievements of the award recipients we honoured last week and within this reflection aspire and commit to being the best version of yourself that you can possibly be.

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, 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.