I spent part of my weekend on retreat with the leadership team from my school planning for the future and beginning to put words on the page for a new Strategic Plan for 2020-2022. This was bittersweet for me as I will not be a part of seeing this through, as I will embark on a new adventure in Melbourne. There were some valuable ideas in our planning that I think will be helpful for all teachers in Catholic and Christian schools. We decided that in our directions, the these particular priorities all come under the overarching priority of (in draft) ‘evangelising in the way of Mary to allow encounter with the living Spirit of Jesus Christ’ or… ‘to be a beacon of the Marian face of the Church’. How will we do that? There is significant overlap between the ideas I want to outline here. But first, this was our venue:
Now, the ideas we discussed are:
- Prioritising holistic growth for all members of the community
- Service and Prayer as opportunities for encountering the mystery of God
- Integrating Religious Education into a broader understanding of Mission and Evangelisation
1. Prioritising holistic growth for all members of the community
Teachers are not just teachers of their subjects. Of course, that is important, and professional development to help teachers teach their subjects better is undoubtedly a great aim for any school, but that is not the only goal. Teachers are also role models to students through their interactions, relationships, and life. Moreover, in a Catholic school, as a staff, we are a community of faith leaders. It is therefore our aim to be authentic witnesses of the Gospel through our actions and words. Staff thus need opportunities for reflection and development in their spiritual lives. There are ways we can do that. One way is individual retreats and programs – and the Marist formation team are particularly good at leading these in my experience – but that fact is that a small number of staff can experience these in any year, so we try to have staff bring back their learnings and share through prayer and in staff meetings some of their growth. More important is to have opportunities for the whole staff to share in development sessions and mini-retreats. These might be on the theme for the year, or another pertinent topic, and will allow staff to share their experiences in order to build the culture and charism of the school.
2. Service and Prayer as opportunities for encountering the mystery of God
Michael Green talks about the doorways into faith in his book on charism. Service and prayer provide the opportunity for staff and students to step into the door, to understand better the charism of the school, to encounter the faith tradition in a meaningful way. Over my three years as Director of Mission, I am particularly proud of drawing in a wider range and increased number of staff involved in service activities. These opportunities can be as powerful for the staff as they are for students, and allow them to share their experiences together with students and discuss their impact. The best opportunities for service are when we also put them in the context of prayer – of being connected to the greater mystery – through encounter with our deeper selves and others, especially those most on the margins in outreach service.
By developing a broad range of service activities, such that each person can find something that appeals to them according to their interests, we offer the possibility of encounter – encounter with self and other, and for some, God. At my school, these include work for Catholic charities such as Vinnies, outreach charities such as Rosies, secular charities such as Cancer Council, and local organisations such as parkrun and sports clubs.
3. Integrating Religious Education into a broader understanding of Mission
You may have read my other posts which mention the new Senior Religion curriculum in Cairns Diocese, which I was involved in planning and writing. This program – Catholic Faith in Action – represents a new way of thinking about Religious Education. Instead of focusing solely on the academic elements of faith traditions, it seeks a personal encounter with the tradition, and through it, to grow in all dimensions of life – academic, emotional, spiritual.
This is all well and good, and Year 11 report that, on the whole, they are more engaged in their Religious Education lessons than previously, and most are positive about the impact of the program on their development and learning. However, it as a significant shift from the style of learning that has gone before. If students are more engaged in this more relevant for of learning, and if this program will assist them to grow into ‘good citizens and good Christians’ (to use St Marcellin) then we need to backward map it through Year 7-10. This means we need to include opportunities for students to be involved in the ‘active’ elements of encounter through their younger years, including participating in service activities, planning and experiencing different liturgical forms, dialoguing with members of faith communities, to name a few. Moreover, the opportunity to reflect on these activities in a meaningful way is key to understanding the impact of the activities on the growth of the person.
The new program for senior years has had a positive impact on staff engagement around Religious Education, as those who do not teach the subject have heard about the program from the students and through the school social media, and have made an effort to talk to the teachers about it. They are interested and engaged with what is happening! It is then a small step to help them understand that they too are the Mission!