Engaging All Learners, From the Director

Teaching at a Jesuit University: A Brief Introduction

by Debra Rudder Lohe, Director, Reinert Center for Transformative Teaching & Learning

If you’re new to the context of a Jesuit institution, you are probably wondering, What’s a Jesuit? And how does a Jesuit university differ from other kinds of schools? And perhaps even more important, for many, is the question, What do the religious traditions of the institution have to do with how I will do my work as a faculty member (or a graduate student)? As you make your transition, I encourage you to learn all you can about your new context, particularly as it is related to education.  Whatever your personal beliefs or views about religion and spirituality, the Jesuit educational mission can shape your interactions with students in deep and meaningful ways.  Below, I offer a few brief reflections on three key Jesuit concepts and how they can inform one’s teaching.

1)  Cura Personalis: Translated as “care for the whole person,” this Latin phrase reminds us to treat with dignity and respect all individuals we encounter. In the context of the classroom, it can be especially helpful in reminding us that our students are whole persons, experiencing a variety of life events, and are developing not just intellectually during their time with us, but also spiritually, physically, and emotionally. As members of a Jesuit educational community, we commit ourselves to understanding the sometimes-divergent processes of whole person development and to guiding students to appropriate resources, should we discover in our work with them, a need for assistance and support along the way.

2) Magis: Latin for “the more” and derived from the phrase Ad majorem Dei gloriam (meaning “for the greater glory of God”), this term represents for Jesuits, as it did for their founder, St. Ignatius of Loyola, a commitment to constantly seeking to do more and be more on behalf of God.  For the purposes of education, it can be thought of as a commitment to continuous improvement and quality, as well as a way to strive for learning that moves us outside of ourselves, into a connection with the larger community beyond the classroom.  With this lens in mind, the purpose of an education becomes more than simply a way to inform ourselves, and more than just a way to make ourselves marketable for employment.  For students, then, magis may perhaps best be thought of as a deepening – a deepening of experience, of learning, of commitment to service and social justice.  For educators, it reminds us continuously to seek new ways of challenging students to engage in meaningful inquiry, to see how what they’re learning in class can enhance their connections outside of class, and to avoid complacency in our own teaching practice.

3) The Ignatian Pedagogical Paradigm: The elements of Ignatian pedagogy are derived from the Spiritual Exercises, a set of reflections and scriptural contemplations meant to guide a spiritual retreat.  As with the Exercises, the crux of Ignatian pedagogy is the constant interplay between one’s experience, reflection on that experience, and action that follows from one’s reflections.  Within the Ignatian Pedagogical Paradigm, effective teaching is rooted in a deep understanding of context – where individual learners are on their journey, what their previous experiences have been, and what they are prepared to learn.  With close attention to context, a teacher (or, in the case of the Exercises, a spiritual director) creates learning experiences, facilitates students’ reflections on what they’ve learned, and helps students put what they’ve learned into action.  Ultimately, the process culminates in evaluation – and in the best cases, self-evaluation – as the student considers what has worked well and what hasn’t.  Drawing on the results of this evaluation, the student engages in new learning experiences, and the process begins again.  (Fortunately, whether you call them “Ignatian” or not, the elements of Ignatian pedagogy are also the same ones supported by the research on what constitutes effective learning.)

While there is much more to a Jesuit education than this, these concepts can get you started.  For a fuller understanding of these and other key concepts for Jesuits, see Xavier University’s glossary, Do You Speak Ignatian? For more on Ignatian pedagogy, have a look at these resources.  And to find out more about SLU’s Jesuit mission, read In Perspective: An Overview of the Intellectual, Ethical and Religious Foundations of Saint Louis University.  To talk with someone in the Reinert Center for Transformative Teaching & Learning about how you can use the framework of Ignatian pedagogy more intentionally in your own classes, contact us by phone (314-977-3944) or by email (cttl@slu.edu).