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The Light Within

Bill Hobbs is the Director of the Jesuit Retreat Centre in America. I have had the great pleasure of meeting and working with him. He is warm, generous, and intelligent. He recently wrote a heartfelt blog titled ‘The Brokenness of the World’ in response to the most recent US school shooting tragedy in Uvalde. In his writing, he quotes LR Knost who says:

“Do not be dismayed at the brokenness of the world. All things break. And all things can be mended. Not with time as they say, but with intention. So, go. Love intentionally, extravagantly, unconditionally. The broken world waits in darkness for the light that is in you.”

These are powerful words, especially the last sentence: “The broken world waits in darkness for the light that is in you.” The older I get and the more I see my children become young adults, the more I worry about the world in which we live. Unlike the quote from Knost, I can’t help but be a little dismayed. It is broken. It is divided. It is biased. It is selfish. It is over-competitive. Unfortunately, this brokenness permeates into our education systems as well. The rise in student wellbeing and mental health issues continues to be of concern in our schools. I don’t think there is any coincidence that this coincides with an overemphasis on school and student performance measures such as national and international benchmarks, student rankings, and ATAR results. Fortunately, there is work being done in the space – internationally, nationally, and locally. This is necessary work, as highlighted by education author Valerie Hannon who states:

“Schools do need to be reinvented as a key part of learning eco-systems: webs of civil society institutions powerful enough to enable humanity to address the problems which both threaten it and offer spectacular opportunities. Schools…are already innovating their foci and their methods to help their learners – not just pass tests, or even get a job – but to thrive.”

However, change is difficult. It requires ‘buy in’ from all stakeholders – staff, students, families, and the community. It requires us to look beyond our own beliefs or perceptions of what we think ‘education’ looks like, or what our memories of our school experience were. Rather, we need to seek out contemporary, reliable, evidence-based perspectives. It is easy to get stuck in tradition: a tradition that over time may become misinterpreted. Don’t get me wrong – tradition has its place and is an important part of a school’s fabric, but it is important that we always look to build on those traditions. Innovation educationalist, John Spencer, refers to the concept of ‘vintage innovation’: taking what has worked in the past and ‘value-adding’ to it through innovation so that we meet the changing needs of the time.

Last term, we responded in a small way, with intention, towards a reframing of what is important in education and student learning. Our Senior School reports introduced a commitment to learning rubric for each subject. In a change from the traditional, this rubric was not graded; there was no final score. Its intention was to act as a feedback tool, a conversation starter, an opportunity to identify future growth, rather than a competitive performance measure. Even more importantly, the behaviours represented in the rubric reflect the ‘light that is in you’. They are some of the ‘human skills’ that our broken world needs our children to inherently have and use. If we are to mend the broken pieces of our world, then we need to be intentional in valuing and equipping our children with these skills.

In response to our first application of the rubric, we have made some minor changes to it for this term and beyond. Specifically, we have simplified the language used in the quality criteria to enable more accurate interpretation of each behaviour. Please find a link to the rubric below for your perusal.

To conclude, I’d like to draw together the threads presented in this article into a call for collaborative community action. If we are to build the capacity of our children to be young people of conscience, competence, compassion, and commitment, who will act ‘intentionally’ to mend our broken world, and if we are to speak of a common language of contemporary education, then I encourage all in our community to support the following.

  1. Encourage your children to strive for moral excellence in addition to intellectual excellence. It is only the combination and value of both that bring about our ultimate desire for ‘human excellence’.
  2. Appreciate that all children learn at different rates. There is no need to compare your child with others as there will never be a set of parameters that are equal for all. Therefore, a comparison is invalid.
  3. Encourage the development of your child’s wellbeing, and apply strategies that will enhance it. Adequate sleep, meditation, prayer, social engagement, and recreation are a few examples of many ways to build positive wellbeing behaviours.
  4. Talk to your children about the importance of social and emotional intelligence. It is not surprising that the most highly respected and valued people in the world are those who have a deep interiority and who are able to act in a manner that is outward-focussed, inclusive, and well considered.

I am not naïve enough to fail to recognise that we live in a competitive world, and one might argue that our children need to be ‘competitive beasts’ to survive. However, where has all that competition got us as a society and as a world to this point in time? If we are to truly animate our Ignatian mission, then perhaps now is the time, more than ever before, that we be countercultural to bring out the light within us.

Mr Kain Noack
Head of Studies and Innovation

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