By Karen Albuquerque (CHIJ Our Lady Queen of Peace)
This is my first year as a principal in a Catholic school. My personal educational and work experience have taken me through a few Catholic all-girls schools over a total of 23 years (10 years as a student, 10 years as a teacher and 3 years as a vice principal). Throughout these years, I have had varied faith experiences, enabling me to always be in the presence of God and to be grounded in Christian values. As a Catholic, I firmly believe in the important role which Catholic schools play in the development of our students.
Being a principal in a Catholic school now, I ask myself the following questions:
- How can I be the Light of Christ to my staff, students and parents?
- How can I enrich my students’ and staff experiences through the teaching of Christian values?
- How can I enhance my school environment through the Word of God?
- What can I do to strengthen the Catholic ethos in my school?
I would like to use this study trip to gather the answers to the questions above, and to learn good practices from the Catholic schools. In the sharing and collaboration during the week, I hope to be able to adopt and adapt practical strategies, so as to provide faith-based experiences in bringing my school to the next level of progress and success.
I would also like to align the learning with the mission of the founder of my school and that of the religious order. In doing so, I hope for the staff, students and parents to deepen their trust and belief in the education which we provide for the girls.
The study trip has been an enriching journey for me. I was able to witness Catholic Education in practice in all the schools we visited. The visits and dialogues with the educators provided me with insights and answers to questions I had prior to the trip.
The schools included liturgical services and classroom lessons encompassing the scripture and sacraments. Through these consistent practice across schools, the Word of God is visible through the school routines, structures and programmes. This enables all staff and students to be Christ to one another and to live in the light of Christ. In bringing the light of Christ to the staff, students and parents of my school, I will need to, strengthen the Christian practices and programmes in my school. I will begin by establishing the School Chaplaincy Team and working with them on the future direction of Catholic Education in the school. We will work towards greater vibrancy and to welcome parents as partners in the children’s faith formation.
The schools have also been strong advocates of the beliefs of their founders, e.g. St. Mary MacKillop (to develop “Mackillop Women”) and the Dominican Sisters. The characteristics, school values and ethos are anchored on these beliefs. The staff and students are thus able to share a common language in living out the traditions and legacy of their founders. Bringing this learning back to my school, I can make closer connection between our Christian values and that of my school’s founder, Blessed Nicolas Barre; at the same time connecting these to the school’s direction for the future. More emphasis can be given to the values and beliefs of Blessed Nicolas Barre, and staff and students can be guided more deeply to live and work according to his mission for the IJ schools. The IJ Sisters can be used as living examples of what Blessed Nicolas Barre had begun.
The physical environment of the schools showcased many artefacts, icons and symbols representative of the Catholic faith, the Word of God and the school’s beliefs and values, e.g. the use of the Celtic cross at an Ecumenical school and Sacred spaces in all schools. I can see the great potential of this in my school as my colleagues and I work on using free and open spaces to develop a stronger Catholic identity. With an IJ history of 165 years and my school approaching its 65th anniversary celebrations in 2020, I would like to capitalise on these joyous occasions to build up the Catholic ethos and culture for deeper faith formation and unity among the staff, students and parents of the school.
This study trip has been a blessing and an affirmation of some of the thoughts I have had since I joined the school at the beginning of this year. God has shown me the possibilities through the people in our study group as well as through the staff from ACCS, Brisbane Catholic Education Office and the schools we visited. I am filled with awe and renewed strength, and move forward with greater conviction, knowing and believing that all things are possible with God and that God will provide.
By Nisha Ann Anthony (CHIJ St Joseph’s Convent)
I have been thoroughly inspired and heartened by the tours given by the various catholic schools in Brisbane. Their notion of Catholic education is all-encompassing; focusing more on individual growth and empowerment rather than merely on didactic aims. This has been achieved through the use of space, architecture and literature as elements that are fused with Catholicism, in order to impart a sense of moral instruction and social sensibility to their students. With the use of labyrinths, teachers and students embark on spiritual walks where they are given time to connect with nature and to ruminate over the gospel teachings. This is more profound and possibly healing, as it encourages one to engage in reflection while connecting to their physical surroundings. Through the use of literature and art, students are familiarised with gospel texts thereby bringing out the messages of the bible in a more fun and memorable way rather than a highly rigid and instructional one. Using these mediums allows one to use their imagination freely, thereby allowing them to make deeper and more personal connections to Catholicism. Thus becoming closer to God and forming deeper ties with him.
In the upcoming semesters, I am more inspired to teach religious education in a more engaging and fun manner and also give students the opportunity to work more with the bible. The trip to Brisbane has been an eye-opening experience and it has reiterated to me the importance of infusing Catholic ethos into our everyday thinking and routines- through a visual stimulus, or a school/ staff prayer or even providing a scared place for our students.
To end of my reflection, I would like to quote a popular saying mentioned by many of the principals of the various schools I have had visited : “ The Catholic school does not seek to convert student into accepting our faith but rather we seek to make them a better human, or a better person in the faith that they have chosen to be.” This statement truly resonates with my belief as an educator.