Below are a series of reflections from Sir Brother Patrick Lynch. Click on the titles below to reveal the content.
Education for emotional maturity
Social wellbeing education is now regarded as an indispensible component of the education offered in the compulsory school sector. A person’s emotional quotient is regarded as a fundamental component of the human personality.
Most educators recognise at one level that the new national curriculum requires schools to address the emotional quotient issue. However, the reality is that not many schools systematically educate their students in this area.
The proponents of social emotional learning speak of deepening student engagement, promoting competencies and developing skills for living. Where these skills are consistently taught the outcomes for young people are often quite outstanding. Simply asserting that skills are caught, not taught, no longer applies, as both explicit teaching and application in day-to-day teaching are now known to be necessary for success.
Appropriate educative experiences are central to successful social emotional learning. Leaving such learning to chance could be seen to be irresponsible and less than professional.
In Catholic schools, with our spiritual and faith foundations, we have the scaffolding to enable students to grow into adults with well-rounded personalities. Service opportunities in the community, as well as being able to observe teachers and other staff, will help students to develop strong emotional maturity.
Leaders of schools know that introducing new ideas to staff, students and their communities can sometimes be an easy ride, while on other occasions it is anything but smooth.
How we individually stand in relation to the acceptance and support of new ideas depends on a range of factors, including our personalities and our temperamental disposition. There is one outstanding fact in the equation, however, and that is if we do not continuously change we stagnate at best, or worse, simply wither into ineffectiveness.
We are also aware that if all we do is what we do, then all we'll get is what we've got!! The new Government has signalled publicly that it will better realign its education and economic goals, because the nation is in the 'can do better' category, even though our high flyers can compete with the best in the world.
In our Catholic schools we are coming to know what works to enable all students to achieve, irrespective of socio economic deprivation. Several of our schools are outstandingly successful with student achievement, despite their low socio-economic status.
There is no doubt that the leaders of these schools have persuaded their teachers, students and communities that poverty is not a destiny nor is it preordained.
We all want the best for our children. Yet are we prepared to have courageous conversations at Board and teacher level and to embrace the Best Evidence Synthesis research that is the blueprint for superior student outcome?
Catholic schools across the nation could lead the way in addressing the stubborn achievement gap which is tarnishing our international reputation.
We have to be bold in accepting new ideas and good practice which we know does work, and be courageous in implementing it. Best practice can easily be common practice if the status quo is challenged.
Our Catholic identity in the 21st century
New Zealand's Catholic schools have a good reputation in the market place as attested by a number of indicators. We know what supports our academic success. It is the strong Catholic identity that exists in our schools.
Catholic education is based on the Gospel message that all humans are made in the likeness of God. It seeks to address the development of the whole person. It presents an education for life, remembering the transcendent purpose of our lives and our hope to spend eternity with the God who loves us.
In order to be authentically Catholic and unabashedly so, it is important that a strong Catholic culture is built up in the school. This is done by the school leadership and each member of staff interacting with students. While the Religious Education syndicate or department is at the front end of strengthening the culture and identity of the school, the entire school community ought to be the breathing manifestation of this identity.
Taking all this seriously is crucial to the long term health of each Catholic institution. Staff professional development opportunities in theology and the enhancement of the practical manifestations of Catholic Special Character are sacred responsibilities of the Board of Trustees, the principal and others in various leadership roles in the school.
Catholic traditions associated with the Church's liturgical year, the marking of Feast Days and the various significant saints are all part of celebrating our Catholic identity.
In this Year of Faith when evangelisation is to the fore, maybe we could keep this Gospel passage in mind: "The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring the good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord's favour." (Luke 4: 18-19).
Catholic theology is strong in emphasising that all of creation is good. Our spirituality is one that affirms the world. The world and society are not bad!! As members of the human race we live out our lives as Christians in the world, since we are on a spiritual journey.
None of us has a monopoly on enlightenment. We are part of a world of immense diversity with different cultures, ethnicities, religions, philosophies and ways of doing things. It is not overly difficult to seek out progress and solutions to problems, most of which can be negotiated.
Very clearly, we always need to be listeners, interacters and affirmers of life which is fundamental to being human.
Pope Francis keeps urging us to engage with the world and not simply navel gaze in relation to ourselves and our particular community. It is from this simple view that the strong Catholic 'common good' principle emerges. Goodness is found in many places and amongst diverse people.
The world's most effective diplomats commence with the premise that peace begins with a smile. This sounds simplistic, but it is indeed profound.
In the final analysis we will be judged by others on what we do as opposed to what we say, and this equally applies to our relationship with our God.
Harnessing the evidence of dramatic change occurring before our very eyes
New Zealand's overall productivity, economic growth and Gross Domestic Product, while good, are not at the top of the international indicators. We rank highly in other indicators such as well being of the population, lack of corruption and being a desirable place to live.
In considering our 'can do better' indicators, a look at the rapidly changing ethnic composition of the nation's population reveals that the possibilities and potential of the burgeoning numbers of Maori, Pacific Island and Asian students, particularly in the upper half of the North Island, are significant. Well over 50% of the nation's under-18 year olds are from these groups. Where will these students be represented among the entrepreneurs and leaders who make things happen?
Another area to ponder is the dramatic technological, services industry, scientific and nanotechnology revolutions that are changing the way we interact with the world. In these areas individual New Zealanders are doing cutting edge work. We can ask, how can we leverage off this?
Entrepreneurship is not just a state of mind, it is about doing something creative and/or productive. Leaders at every level of society have the responsibility to place expectations before young people about the importance of improving their own lives and the lives of those around them. As President Obama says, "Poverty is not a destiny and neither is it inevitable".
Fortunately large numbers of integrated schools realise that by building a school culture that is predicated on spiritual values, high expectations and hope, all children can make a success of their lives and contribute to the well-being of New Zealand. While intellectual values are vital, even more important are the values that enable things to be done and to happen.
St Augustine proclaimed in the 5th Century AD: "We are an Easter people and Alleluia is our song." This insight is pertinent as the Year of Faith gains momentum.
Easter joy comes from a recognition that Christ rose from the dead with all the hope this reality engenders.
Evangelisation is the responsibility of each of us to proclaim the reality that it is "in Him we live and move and have our being." (Acts)
You might say well, I understand all of this, so why should I do anything special in this Year of Evangelisation and Faith? We all know in our professional lives that if we are not committed to review, reflection and improvement we go stale. Surely this renewal and rejuvenation also applies to our faith. We all need to recharge the flame of our baptismal candle.
This can be simply done by becoming more of a person of joy in our relationships with others: people are sacred; life is sacred and life has worth.
By nourishing our spiritual lives through prayer and sacrament we will renew our relationship with the living God and at the same time renew our relationship with those with whom we live and work.
Joy inevitably is the honey that will attract others to say, "See how they love one another". (Acts) By following this example of the early Christians we can become more joyful Easter people.
Nelson Mandella’s Wisdom
The African continent has over a billion inhabitants and of course was the cradle of civilization. In recent times some of the wisdom of its peoples has become better known by the rest of the world. Nelson Mandela’s inspirational example will leave an indelible example for countless millions of people, not only those living today, but in the future.
Some of his wisdom is as follows:
- "A good head and a good heart make a formidable combination."
- "Everyone can rise above their circumstances and achieve success if they are dedicated and passionate about what they do."
- "Do not judge me by my success, judge me by how many times I fell down and got back up again."
- "Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world."
This man’s immense influence on his fellow human beings throughout the world was above all due to the inspirational way he acted.
He was possibly driven by the African concept of 'ubuntu' i.e. humanity, kindness, compassion – being human in one's contacts with others. President Barack Obama referred to this concept in his address at the Memorial Ceremony following the death of Nelson Mandela.
In our Catholic schools we can use the 'ubuntu' concept to assist students in developing their understanding of how to treat others – it is easily linked to the Gospel imperative to love one another.
African migrants are increasingly taking their places in our nation's Catholic schools and adding to the richness of ethnic diversity our schools now represent. Many of them have a cultural richness that could be shared more widely in the school community, if they are given the opportunity to do so. Herein lies a challenge.
The Joy of the Gospel
It is fifty years since Catholics were urged to think differently about their responsibility to go out and tell the Good News to others i.e. evangelise. Pope Saint John Paul II urged us in this regard to demonstrate a new "ardour, method and expression." How, as followers of Christ, can we go out and show God's love for each human being?
The new evangelisation, as illustrated by the leadership of Pope Francis, is focused on an openness to people outside of our Church or those who are not active members of the Catholic community. How wonderful is the inspiration Pope Francis displays with his gestures of simple humanity in our very secular world. He has succeeded in capturing billions of people through his demonstration of love for individuals.
Clearly, the world is thirsting to hear about the importance of love, kindness, compassion and human dignity, to combat blame, corruption and plain evil.
As Pope Francis has stated so succinctly, "There is an eclipse of the sense of God in the world's affairs." Hence the need for standing up and being counted in what we do and say!
In the Catholic community, local, regional, national or global, we stand with other believers in proclaiming the truth of the Gospel message. This proclamation is enticing for many people – think of the Beatitudes; our belief that we are all sons and daughters of the same loving God and that we are all sisters and brothers in God's human family.
Catholic schools are a statement of Christ's voice in the 21st century. Our students, their families and the wider community of our towns and cities are a tangible and visible presence of Christ in our daily lives.
May we boldly capitalise on the "Pope Francis effect." This is a great time to be a bold and confident Catholic.