Over 30 educators from nine European countries attended a four-day Conference on ‘Learning by Refraction,’ a 21st-century approach to Ignatian Pedagogy proposed in a book of the same title by Fr. Johnny Go SJ and Ms. Rita Atienza of the Ateneo SALT Institute. (Listen to an interview with Fr Go about the topic.)
Fr. Johnny Go SJ, one of the authors of Learning by Refraction, introduced the novel approach to the participants, walking them through the framework of the new approach and selected exercises from the workbook.
The participants were encouraged to focus on the context of their work, to reflect on their teaching practice, and to exercise their own judgment as to which of the strategies discussed could help them promote better learning among their students.
The four-day conference, organized by Ruth Douglas and Mr. Brian Flannery, Education Delegate of the Irish Province, was held at Mount St. Anne’s Retreat Centre in Killenard, just a couple of hours’ drive from Dublin, February 3-6, 2020.
Half of the participants were from Jesuit schools in Ireland, while the remaining half flew in from Austria, Belgium, Hungary, Lithuania, the Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, and Spain. The European delegation was led by Ms. Ilse Dekker, the Education Secretary for JECSE (Jesuit European Committee for primary and Secondary Education).
The discussions were frank and rich. Although the participants were all coming from different contexts, they shared the same strong desire to understand this Ignatian approach to learning and teaching and to allow it to inform their teaching.
The conference focused on the two defining ingredients of “refractive learning”: Reflection and Action. The teachers were challenged to design their courses in such a way that students would be empowered not only to construct meaning by reflecting on what they have learned but also to use them and apply them in the real world.
The participants took a break on the third day to visit the oldest Jesuit school in Ireland, Clongowes Wood College, County Kildare, founded in 1814, where they visited the newly built Bellarmine Centre for Learning and Teaching, a space specially designed for innovating learning and teaching.
The visit showed the participants the possible innovations they themselves could undertake if they promoted the practice of Ignatian Pedagogy.
As pointed out by Gabriel Codina, former Jesuit education secretary: “The first Jesuits went to ‘the supermarket of education’, to find the best ingredients and recipes for an educational approach consistent with their spiritual experience.”
One of the key takeaways from the conference is that we who are teachers in Jesuit schools are expected to do the same today.
Among the things best appreciated about the workshop was its practical approach. One participant said, “In my country we speak a lot about IPP, but we don’t know practical examples.”
Another noted “a much deeper insight regarding the IPP, and – as a consequence – a higher esteem for this approach of teaching and learning. IPP has become more concrete for me and more accessible, less ‘artificial’.”
Already there are discussions about a possible trainers’ training workshop especially after the publication of the Spanish and French versions of this teacher’s workbook.
This Conference on ‘Learning by Refraction’ was also a great opportunity for the participants to reflect on, and discuss, the Jesuit mission of education in light of the Universal Apostolic Preferences of the Society of Jesus.
It enabled them to discuss, in particular, what it might mean ‘to accompany’ young people and to ‘show them the way to God’ in today’s world.
The day after the conference, Fr. Go was invited to address the members of the boards of the Jesuit schools in Ireland during their annual school boards’ meeting.
He was asked to speak on the topic, ‘Building Innovation on the Jesuit Tradition of Education,’ and he took the opportunity to share with them the issues and challenges facing Jesuit education in Asia Pacific.