Open new horizons for spreading joy.
‘Learning as encounter is a dialogical, relational and optimistic pedagogy, one that opens up horizons of hope for the future for the individual learner, their school, the Church and the wider community’ (Catholic Education Melbourne, Horizons of Hope: Religious Dimension of the Catholic School).
Religious Education Conference
Our Religious Education Conference took place in July, with its theme aligned to that of the 2018 Australian Catholic Bishops’ Year of Youth: ‘Open New Horizons for Spreading Joy: Young People, Faith and Vocational Discernment’. This was inspired by an address Pope Francis gave at World Youth Day 2016 in Krakow, where he called us to ‘blaze trails that open up new horizons capable of spreading joy’. The conference responded to this challenge with the attendance of over 300 delegates (consisting of religious leaders, teachers, priests and parish educators) reflecting on our work with children and young people.
All were inspired by keynote speakers: Dr Emmanuel Nathan, Head of the School of Theology, ACU; Dr Maeve Louise Heaney, Faculty of Theology and Philosophy, ACU; and Angela Markas, Australian representative at the Pre-Synodal Meeting in Rome. Workshops and masterclasses were streamlined to highlight elements identified in Horizons of Hope: Religious Dimension of the Catholic School – praying, learning, celebrating, belonging and reaching out.
One of the delegates captured well the conference’s positive sense of mission: ‘The RE Conference has reinforced that our Catholic schools are in very good hands indeed! Teachers, principals and CEM staff alike were all fully engaged and ready to take on the challenge to further inspire our students with the message of Pope Francis.’
Enhancing Catholic School Identity
A comparison of the 2018 Enhancing Catholic School Identity (ECSI) data with those of 2011 shows clearly the secularising pressures so evident in broader society are being resisted in Melbourne Catholic schools.
ECSI data for 93 schools in the Archdiocese of Melbourne (67 primary, 25 secondary and one P–12) indicate that our schools are making a significant and positive impact in Catholic education. Faithfulness and explicit attention to the Catholic tradition, alongside a responsiveness to our cultural context, are hallmarks of the approaches that are successfully resisting secularisation. It’s because we are authentically Catholic that we engage positively with the cultural context.
At the same time, more still needs to be done in presenting an authentic Catholic tradition as culturally plausible. In particular, when the conditions for recontextualisation – theological legitimacy and authenticity, alongside graced and hope-filled possibility; cultural plausibility, relevance and meaning – are present, the offer of a Catholic worldview begins to shift from being distant to being near and personal.
While resisting secularising pressures, we are acutely aware of the need to continually form staff, especially those who are teachers of Religious Education. To this end, theological formation, retreats and attention to the prayer life of staff in schools and at Catholic Education Melbourne comprise a challenge to be addressed in an ongoing way. Similarly, formation programs and sponsored study for principals and school leaders continue to be a key priority.
Pedagogy of Encounter
In 2018, learning consultants worked with approximately 35 schools to implement the ‘Pedagogy of Encounter’. This process invites students to discuss matters close to their minds and hearts, with the Catholic tradition a point of reference when considering questions that call them to a deeper encounter with God. The dialogical nature enables teachers and students to reflect theologically on the context in which they find themselves. Schools have been exploring different learning architectures to facilitate the implementation of this pedagogy. The preference is to move away from planning for teaching and learning towards designing for learning.
The implementation journey is a slow one, with schools across the Archdiocese at various stages of the process. The bulk of schools tackling this are focused on understanding the Achievement Standards, which support the pedagogical method, and enacting rigorous evidence-based assessment of student work. Schools have also been using the ‘Teacher Dialogue Tool’ to assist staff in developing effective processes that attend to all aspects of the curriculum. They have embarked on a stepped program of staff and professional learning meetings to ensure readiness to report against the standards by the end of 2019. Besides working in schools to provide direct support, consultants were able to guide a further 55 schools through ‘Partnering to Learn’ – an initiative to form collectives of schools around the introduction of a renewed Religious Education for the Archdiocese.