Communal discernment for Ignatian decision making in schools

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Ignatian educators from four countries in Asia Pacific recently gathered in the Philippines to learn how to apply communal discernment as an added dimension to the decision making process in their schools.

The “Workshop on Communal Discernment and Ignatian Decision Making” held from April 17 to 21 at the Good Shepherd Spirituality Center in Antipolo was the second module of the Workshop on Ignatian School Leadership (WISL) offered by the Ignatian Initiative for Teacher Excellence of the Jesuit Conference of Asia Pacific (JCAP).   

“It’s a timely workshop since the 36th General Congregation called for ‘discerning communities with open horizons’,” said JCAP Education Secretary Fr Johnny Go SJ who designed the workshop with Eva Galvey of the Emmaus Center for Psycho-Spiritual Formation and long-time formator of Jesuits in the Philippine Province.

Workshop on Communal Discernment and Ignatian Decision MakingThe 37 school administrators from Australia, Indonesia, Japan and the Philippines who participated brought with them a wide range of experience and diverse perspectives. For many of them, it was their first time learning about and experiencing the communal listening required in common discernment. The small group discussions allowed for a more personal sharing of experiences, and the role-playing activities and improvisation exercises helped the participants to learn active and compassionate listening.

Herman Lagon of Ateno de Iloilo – Santa Maria Catholic School in the Philippines remarked that the sessions on individual discernment, active listening and nonviolent communication enabled him to achieve “a painful yet more discerning level of conversation” with the participants. “The whole affair was a truly communal activity charged with the common Jesuit mission of saving souls through the life-giving ministry of education,” he said.

“I experienced being actively listened to and understood by my co-participants,” shared Paul Isaka of Rokko Junior/Senior High School in Kobe, Japan. “This experience made me realise that I, myself, need to listen more attentively to my own students and colleagues, as well as to the voice of the Lord Christ. As an administrator, I’d like to keep thinking how I can nurture this attitude among my co-teachers.”

WISL small group activityArlene Choo of Xavier School Nuvali in the Philippines realised that discernment is not just about decision making, but is an attitude and a way of life. “One must gain sufficient understanding of one’s self to be able to exercise active listening and create meaningful dialogue,” she said. “The conversations with fellow educators were very helpful in reflecting on how we can overcome challenges that we regularly encounter and how our disposition to prayer directs us to achieve mutual respect and trust.”

For Bong Galvan of Sacred Heart School – Ateneo de Cebu also in the Philippines, “becoming an effective Ignatian school leader is challenging in the 21st century landscape, like ‘fishing all night without a catch’ but it is graced with the wisdom that the catch will be abundant if we cast our nets in the Lord’s command and desire. The joyfully discerned life and mission of St Ignatius that continues in us manifest this truth for me.”

In addition to new knowledge gained, many friendships were formed during the workshop and it is hoped that they will be a source of greater collaboration among the Jesuits schools in the Asia Pacific in the future.

Peter Ryan of Xavier College in Melbourne, Australia shared, “I had a most rewarding time and personally the timing was perfect and I was able to reflect on the past year and be so grateful for how far we as a family have come”.