The Marist Way

Fellow blogger Judy O’Connell (from the HeyJude blog) recently started working at a large Marist school in Sydney, and she was kind enough to share some insights about her new school on her blog recently. St Josephs Hunters Hill is not just “a Marist school”, but is really THE Marist school. It is the flagship school for the brothers here in Sydney and has quite the reputation for providing a quality educational experience. For anyone who may not know, Marist schools were founded by Marcellin Champagnat in the early 1800s, a Frenchman who saw a specific need for boys’ education and proceeded to set up schools to meet that need.

I read Judy’s post with interest as I attended a Marist school as a kid. I also spent 8 years teaching in a Marist school. So as an ex-Marist boy I can personally vouch for both the strength and the gentleness of the Marist way of doing things. Because the Marists have a particular devotion to Jesus’s mother, Mary, there is a perceptible gentleness to the way they view education, with a certain respect for, and influence from, the feminine point of view.  It’s not a “girly” thing at all, but it seems to manifest in a respectful gentility that is usually considered softer than some other religious orders.  I do think “the Marist way” of education has a very special quality to it…

I once asked Brother Tony Butler, a Marist brother and good friend, what exactly was “the Marist way”, and how he felt it differed from the educational approach taken by other orders of brothers, such as the Christian Brothers or the De La salle Brothers… Tony explained it like this…

“Most teaching orders tend to think of the relationship between a teacher and the student as one of Master and Apprentice, in that the teacher is the “master”, full of special knowledge that is passed along to the “apprentice” learner, a sort of empty vessel waiting to be filled.

The Marist approach is subtly different, and instead treats that relationship as not one of Master/Apprentice, but of Big Brother/Little Brother.”

Big Brother/Little Brother. I like that way of thinking about the student/teacher relationship. Thinking about the relationship between the teacher and student in those terms implies that there is far more than just knowledge transfer taking place in the classroom… there is also trust, respect, wisdom, care and love.

Not a bad recipe for a learning environment.

CC BY-SA 4.0 The Marist Way by Chris Betcher is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

2 Replies to “The Marist Way”

  1. Hi Chris,
    What a coincidence. I went to Central Catholic High School in Lawrence, Massachusetts and was taught by Marist Brothers. Small world. Related to the comment you quote, I was in New Orleans listening to some educators speak ( about their work in Texas using technology to provide professional development. They quoted a student: Do you know enough about me to teach me Here a story thst illustrates the importance of the question from one of the teachers.

    Last year I had a student who was apathetic and would not do work to his capability. He has special services so had never taken the real TAKS before. After seeing glimpses of his true potential I was determined to unlock his brain. I used his love of guitar to spur his interest in reading. I made passages that dealt with the development of a particular brand he adored. I asked him to play his own guitar for the class. I began to see a different side of him as he began completing work and answering questions in class with depth and thought. He took the real TAKS for the first time and guess what!!! He missed being commended by one question. We all celebrated!!
    Wednesday, February 20, 2008 – 03:11 PM

  2. Hi Dennis,

    I totally agree, and could cite you case after case after case of students I’ve taught (or seen taught by others) where the defining factor for measuring the effectiveness of the teacher was not academic success, but the sense of respect, appreciation, interest, trust, care, and dare I say, love, was clearly evident between student and teacher.

    I cringe when I hear that old piece of “advice” given to new teachers – ” Don’t smile till Easter” (In Australia, this put you about 8 or so weeks into first semester). I find it incredibly shortsighted that some teachers would think that the way to maintain control of their classroom can only be attained by being unsmiling, hard nosed, strict and ultra-serious.

    Of course the teacher needs to be the adult in the relationship, and they need to know where the boundaries are and insist that they not be breached, but these boundaries should be based on mutual trust and respect, and “do unto others” thinking… You can’t win respect and cooperation of students by ordering them to respect and cooperate with you, at least not in the longer term. Kids might seem to comply with you if you act like a dictator in the classroom, but that cooperation won’t stick in the long term. Without exception, the best classrooms are those where the teacher is able to be a little transparent, a little silly at times, a little fun and flexible, be able to know the kids well, knows what they like and what their interests are. Little comments like “how did you hurt your foot?” when you see a kid with a bandaged foot, or “did you win your grand final on Saturday?” when you know they played a big game at the end of the season… kids really like it when you take enough of an interest in them that you know what’s important to them. Even little things like knowing their names… I’m always amazed at how many teachers can teach kids for a term and still not know all their names. All theses little things just say “I care about you”.

    And when a kid knows you care about them, you don’t need to demand their respect and cooperation. they WANT to give it to you, because kids innately know what’s fair and what isn’t. And respecting someone back who clearly respects you is fair.

    It’s sad when you see teachers whose kids give them a hard time and clearly don’t respect or cooperate with them, and the teacher’s strategy is to just push back harder with bigger threats and removals of privileges “If you don’t be quiet you won’t be going out to lunch!”… In the short term it might seem like the obvious thing to do, but like many things in life the obvious thing to do is not always the right response for success in the longer term.

    One of the other things Champagnat said was that “To teach them, first you have to love them.” Lots of truth in that.

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