Reflective Approach: Global Student immersion
In his first encyclical, ‘Deus Caritas Est’ (God is love), Pope Benedict XVI's words on social mission offer some guidance to those of us engaged in conducting immersion programs.
Pope Benedict XVI describes the characteristics of someone engaged in a social mission to the poor or vulnerable. He states that in addition to being professionally competent, these workers must;
- be guided by the faith which works through love,
- work in harmony with other organisations
- respect what is distinctive about the service which Christ requested of his disciples
- share ones humanity with others- not just skills (a heart which sees #31b, sharing heartfelt concern #31a,
- allow a formation of the heart #31a),
- be humble
- be people of prayer (#36).
A global or local student immersion is often designed as part of an educational initiative to teach students about the social mission of the church.
Caritas Australia, as the Catholic aid and development agency of the Catholic Church in Australia is engaged in the social mission of the church. Reflecting on how we invite Australian Catholics to stand in solidarity with us in this mission, is of great importance. Our ultimate goal – to end poverty, promote justice and uphold dignity- will be undermined if our practise strays from our principles.
It is also of great importance for schools to critically reflect on what kinds of initiatives or organisations with whom they choose to engage and partner. Discussion and reflection should occur regularly about whether they align with the school charism or social mission of the church, whether the initiative develops a justice perspective, supports good development practice and is having a meaningful, positive impact on all involved.
Pope Benedict's words on being a people that work competently, humbly and prayerfully also provide guidance. We are all easily swept into the current of daily practicalities, we learn from others as we go, we carry on doing something if it seems to be working and if the anecdotal feedback is positive. We don't always have the luxury of time to stop and think and pray about every step of our instruction.
This can be particularly true of service learning initiatives such as student immersions that are developed or perhaps even inherited.
What does Reflective Practice involve?
The work of Schon (1983) and Dewey (1993) highlights the importance of continuous, reflective practice in professional development:
Reflective practice involves; a committed and active focus on goals, a continuous cycle of monitoring, evaluating and re-visiting practise, open minded and responsive attitudes, the capacity to re-frame practice in light of evidence and reflection, dialogue with other colleagues and external networks and the capacity to adapt, defend or challenge existing practise.
A lack of pedagogical reflection can result in the adoption, repetition and implementation of practise that drifts from the original philosophy and mission.
However, taking a reflective practice approach to student immersions can enhance our capacity to participate and understand the social mission of the church.
We will consider each of the Catholic Social Teaching Principles as a basis for a design, evaluation or audit framework for a school partnership or student immersion program.