Tilling the soil: Exploring faith together
Alumni surveys often indicate that the personalities and influences faculty members have on students are remembered long after the content of their courses is forgotten. Alumni recall professors who, they say, helped them learn and grow as human beings and influenced who they are as adults. That experience is central to Ignatian pedagogy.
There is growing interest among Marquette faculty to learn and practice the traditions of Jesuit education and Ignatian pedagogy. During the past seven years approximately 70 faculty members — across disciplines — have joined faculty learning communities in person and online to read, discuss, and design assignments and even whole syllabi drawn from the model of Jesuit education that has flourished for more than 450 years. They explore the history as well as contemporary directions of Jesuit education and learn about the Ignatian pedagogical paradigm, to both focus on the purpose and goals and to use a teaching method of thinking and learning that has stood the test of time. They grasp the roots and purposes of Jesuit education, which seeks to fulfill Ignatius’ dream of transforming the world by transforming the lives of individuals to be more moral, competent and caring.
This teaching template is based on aspects of Ignatian Spirituality. In prayer St. Ignatius learned that using his senses of sight, smell, taste, touch and sound, along with imagination, helped him to meditate on and place himself in the Gospel stories about Jesus and experience them more deeply. He encouraged people to reflect on their experiences, to assess the movements in their lives that helped them become more or less aware of God’s presence in a daily “examen.”
Faculty at Marquette are adopting this framework as a pedagogy to help students learn ways to read and pay attention at deepened levels to what they are reading; to reflect at deeper levels on service learning and clinic experiences; to relive or imagine experiments and interviews, mock trials, internships, debates, and innovative approaches to problems.
They provide key words from the method to help students guide the process, such as context (the student’s personal life and the culture they live in); experience (reading a text, listening to a lecture, going to a clinic setting, doing service learning, performing in theatre or music, conducting an experiment); reflection (using senses and attention to think back on the experience); action (thoughts, beliefs and values the reflection suggests); and evaluation (contemplation of where all of this leads).
“Reflecting on experience” is a key concept in Ignatian Spirituality and pedagogy. The process of looking back to go deeper in responding to what one has learned, experienced, seen, smelled, tasted, felt and heard brings meaning to the experience that might not be immediately evident. This method draws us into becoming more human, more the women and men God created us to be. Ignatius had a dream for his companions summed up in the First Principle and Foundation of the Spiritual Exercises: “All the things in this world are gifts of God, presented to us so that we can know God more easily and make a return of love more readily.” Ignatian pedagogy provides tools to encourage students to engage that world, finding God in all things, especially their studies.
By Dr. Susan Mountin, director of Manresa for Faculty in the Office of Mission and Ministry