The great art of companionship

Spanish SistersFor the past year, we have been fortunate to have two Spanish sisters working in the agile learning space at St Monica’s Primary, North Parramatta.  It’s been a great cross-cultural experience for all involved.  They say the children are helping to correct their English!

In Spain, Sr Maria and Sr Teresa were the principals of two progressive K-12 Catholic schools in Barcelona.  Their congregation is dedicated to the education of children in Spain and abroad. Youth unemployment in Spain is among the highest in Europe – a staggering 54.9%.  The Sisters recognise that they have to educate their students to be global citizens.  Many of their students will need to move to other European countries or further abroad to obtain meaningful work.  Such is the reality of life in Spain today.

What impressed me was that every single teacher is proficient in using technology.  As a congregation of 9 schools and a university, they developed a model eight years ago whereby every school has a small technology team that coordinates learning for teachers either online or face to face.  As teachers become ‘expert’, they share their expertise within and across schools.   The Sisters accept that students will always know more about technology but to ask a student for help shows a “humbleness that teachers are also in a continual process of learning.”

As school leaders, they see their role as primarily helping others to flourish.  They believe that knowing your staff well leads to building greater levels of trust and transparency.  Sr Teresa says that teachers need to feel at home just as much as students when they come to school.   Teachers not only model collaboration but they model what is to be a learner.  The question they ask themselves continually is ‘how can we do this better?”  They are not afraid to look outside their communities or country for inspiration or ideas.  They’ve had educators from Finland and Reggio Emilia visit their schools to share ideas and practice.

Their mission (like Sir Ken Robinson) is to make schools places where creativity flourishes.  They admitted that not every child can change everything but some children can change somethings for the better.  Their staff see this as a great achievement and testament to the value of education in modern society.

In Spain they work across K-12 because it enables them to have a deep understanding of their students and the learning environment. In a week, each school leader in their system spends approximately 20 hours teaching across primary and secondary.  After school, teachers and leaders meet to plan and learn together.  It is a continuous cycle of learning and improvement.

They have been very impressed with the standard of education here and the support of our state and federal government.  The Spanish government has cut education funding, which is never the solution.  Despite this,  teaching is a popular vocation for young people.  They see good teachers as Spain’s great hope.

I asked each what they were most proud of as school leaders.  Both agreed that it was the quality of the relationships with students, with teachers and with parents.  They told me that students in their final year of high school don’t want to leave and when they do, they come back regularly to visit.

This reminds me of Maria Montessori’s wonderful quote that teaching is ‘the great art of companionship’.





6 thoughts on “The great art of companionship

  1. Greg, it has been a great pleasure to see these wonderful nuns at work in our school. They have so much to give and have provided enriching and exciting experiences for our children, whilst supporting and complementing the teachers at St Monica’s. We are richer for having met them and hope that we can continue to link with them in the years to come. As a parent, it is satisfying to know that our children have opportunities to experience this broad range of skills from educators from across the globe. I have worked with the nuns personally within the school at school events and their wonderful creativity and ability to bring children’s contributions into artistic forms and displays has been a joy to see. Many of our liturgies and lessons have been enhanced and captured by the nuns, with their ever present cameras. They have created mosaics, collages and huge displays relating liturgy and academic concepts, which involve major contributions from the children and they are all proud of the outcomes. Our children and parents will have loving memories of our time with these wonderful nuns to share for a lifetime.Thanks!

    1. Neil, that is wonderful feedback and I agree with your comment that we are all the richer for having met them. They are great educators and I know they both feel the same way about your school community. They told me that Australians were among the most generous they had ever met.

  2. Thanks Greg – this has set up some thinking for me. I’m the principal at St James Catholic Primary School in a country town in the Sale Diocese of Victoria. I’m new this year to this community and have been thinking of ways to make links with our school’s namesake. The students here engage in Spanish lessons. I was wondering if the nuns you affectionately spoke of can help us with contacts over in Spain to possibly set up some communication between our school students and students in Spain?

  3. Hi Greg. This is an inspiring story. It links our ideas with ideas within our Diocese and ideas from other parts of the world. I will be making an appointment with Louise O’donnell to explore the process of PBL in our Primary context but I would also like to connect with the Sisters Maria and Teresa to explore the personal side of learning – “the great art of companionship”, I believe this is the part that connects purpose to learning and makes learning most powerful.

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