Blended Educator

Blogging about blended learning

LA RE Congress Day 3 – Discerning God’s Will and Engaging the ‘Nones’ — March 25, 2018

LA RE Congress Day 3 – Discerning God’s Will and Engaging the ‘Nones’

The final day of the LA RE Congress was excellent with two final sessions and concluding with Sunday Mass. My first session was with Fr Timothy Gallagher, an Oblate of the Virgin Mary, who are dedicated to the giving of the Spiritual Exercises of St Ignatius of Loyola. The second session was led by Paul Jarzembowski, a Catholic youth ministry leader who spoke of how to best engage the ‘nones’, ‘somes’ and ‘dones’.

Fr. Timothy Gallagher – Discerning the Will of God: An Ignatian Guide to Christian Decision-making

GallagherT1_Headshot_NOBG_250.jpgFr Timothy Gallagher OMV

I was really looking forward to Fr Tim Gallagher’s session as I had read his book Discernment of Spirits, on Ignatian Spiritual Discernment and I really found it valuable. This session focused more on discerning God’s will and applying this to our decision making in our everyday lives and in our Catholic institutions. I think that a clear and prayerful discernment process is really something that is missing in some of our Catholic institutions when it comes to making decisions around our work. Fr Timothy also has a book on this topic, called Discerning the Will of God, which I really need to read now. Below is a summary of my thoughts but this will by no means adequately represent what Fr Timothy presented.

Fr Timothy began by explaining the difference between the discernment of spirits and discernment of the God’s will.

Discernment of Spirits refers to the distinguishing of our ongoing spiritual experiences. Are we in consolation or desolation?

Discerning the Will of God refers to determining the will of God in all of the important decisions we make in our lives, particularly in relation to our vocation, career, family, etc.

The discernment of God’s will is underpinned by the Ignatian Spiritual Exercises, which, at their heart, are focused on removing that which impedes the path to God’s will through methods such as the examination of conscience, meditation and exercises.

When faced with smaller choices, Fr Timothy provided the following simple scaffold:

  1. Pray – ask for God’s help in making the decision
  2. Review the factors – where will the choice lead? What impact will it have?
  3. Make our best decision – following the review, use your judgment to make a choice
  4. Do it with peace – trust in the workings of the Spirit
  5. Review and learn – what were the fruits of the decision? Was it the will of God? What would I do differently if faced with the same choice again?

For larger choices such as determining career and vocations, there is a more in-depth process comprising of a number of steps. These steps are enacted for significant choices, for which both options are good, and the person is free to choose either. I think this process would be invaluable for leadership teams in schools when discerning whole-school change initiatives.


  • Question: what choice does God want?
  • Foundation: why do I want to do God’s will?
  • Disposition: openness to whatever God wills through a variety of means
  • Discernment (through 3 different modes)
  • Fruit


Question: what choice does God want?

Once we have determined that both choices are objectively ‘good’ and that we are free to choose either option we can ask further questions. We need to then determine other factors. Does my state of life allow for this choice? Can I keep up with the good work I am already doing if I make this choice? How will this impact on my family, my first vocation?

Foundation: why do I want to do God’s will?

Fr Timothy recalled the passage from 1 John 4:19 “we love because he loved us first”. God created all of the other things on the earth for us so that we may attain the purpose for which he created us. Therefore, we should use the gifts He has given us to further His will.

When we are free to choose from among ‘good’  choices, we need to hold ourselves as in a balance with regard to these gifts. We should not be desirous of  health over sickness or wealth over poverty, etc. Our desires and choices should be ordered towards what leads us to the purpose for which God created us. Our choices need to praise God and serve his will on earth.

As Blessed John Henry Newman said:

“We are all created to his glory—we are created to do his will. I am created to do something or to be something for which no one else is created; I have a place in God’s counsels, in God’s world, which no one else has… God knows me and calls me by my name. God has created me to do Him some definite service; He has committed some work to me which He has not committed to another. I have my mission.”

Disposition: openness to whatever God wills

We can place ourselves in a position to be more open to the will of God by aligning ourselves through prayer and the sacraments:

  • Participating in the Holy Eucharist
    • Through the Mass and Eucharistic Adoration. The Eucharist gives us the Grace to follow God’s will.
  • Prayer with Sacred Scripture, particularly the Gospels
    • Particularly the Gospels and preferably daily. Having an intimate knowledge of our Lord helps us to follow Him all the more closely.
  • Silence
    • The stilling of the voices. We often need to ‘create silence’ as Søren Kierkegaard would argue. We need to find opportunities for silence in daily life and in retreat.
  • Spiritual Accompaniment
    • Engaginging in conversation. We need a guide and dialogue to advance ever closer to God’s will. We cannot rely solely on our own reflections. Accompaniment also relates to the ecclesial nature of our Catholic Faith.

Discernment: three modes

Three distinct modes exist for the actual discerning phase of decision making:

  • The First Mode: Clarity beyond Doubting
  • The Second Mode: An Attraction of the Heart
  • The Third Mode: A Preponderance of Reasons


The First Mode: Clarity beyond Doubting

This can be categorised as a movement of the heart by the will of God. After undertaking the above steps, the decision is so clear and obvious that no other decision seems possible. Three aspects are involved here:

  • Something may be ‘shown’ to the person.
  • The person’s will is drawn to what they are shown.
  • The person has no doubt about their decision, either in the moment or thereafter. They never waver in their choice and never change their mind.

An example of this would be Blessed Solanus Casey in his discernment to approach the Detroit Carmelite community to be admitted to their seminary. After question, foundation and disposition, Casey, after praying, ‘saw’ Detroit and felt God drawing him there. He had no doubt about this decision and his mind never wavered.

The Second Mode: An Attraction of the Heart

This mode involves Discernment of Spirits over time to determine how the person feels about their choices but only when in moments of Spiritual consolation. It is important to discern the Spirits to determine whether it is the Good Spirit or the Bad Spirit that is moving the decision making.
Fr Timothy provided the example of Ignatius himself when trying to discern whether his order should commit to an extreme poverty or a more moderate poverty. He committed to saying Mass for forty days and the discernment of spirits throughout the forty days and kept a journal of his experiences.
Consistently, over the forty


Paul Jarzembowski – Engaging the “Nones”: Evangelization of the Inactive and Disaffected

PJ-headshot-1zPaul Jarzembowski

This session was unfortunately interrupted by a fire alarm which forced us to evacuate the building for ten minutes so we didn’t get to spend as much time with Jarzembowski as we would have liked.

Jarzembowski began by presenting some interesting statistics regarding USA church attendance and participation. For example:

Mass weekly Mass attendance:

  • Pre Vatican II – 55%
  • Vatican II era – 23%
  • Post Vatican II – 22%
  • Millennials      – 14%

Clearly, we have some challenges…

The majority of Jarzembowski’s .  sources were from the book Going, Going, Gone: The Dynamics of Disaffiliation in Young Catholics, by Robert J. McCarty. I haven’t yet read this, but it is on the (ever growing) list of books I need to read soon.

What is clear from this text is that this is a dynamic challenge with no single profile of the disaffected and disaffiliated.

Jarzembowski also introduced us to some of the labels being used around disaffiliation:

  • ‘nones’ – the label we are used to – have absolutely no more affiliation with the Catholic faith
  • ‘dones’ – those almost done with the Catholic faith
  • ‘somes’  – those somewhat done with the Catholic faith

This is important as if we only look at the ‘nones’, we are ignoring the many, many people who are very close to separating themselves from their faith.

Jarzembowski also pointed out the long-held view that many young people would distance themselves from their faith, only to return for marriage and to bring their children up in the Catholic faith. The data for millenials, however, would demonstrate that this trend no longer holds true. Baptism rates are down, but not they have not fallen as far as those who have opted to be married outside the church. Even the rate of Catholic funerals is dropping…  The trend of cycling back to the faith is probably done… if we don’t keep our kids in the faith, we risk losing them forever….

Jarzembowski also presented some interesting views of millennials, which offered some reasons for hope. Millennial trust for institutions (especially big institutions) was down. This isn’t great news for the Church… However, trust for small local businesses was incredibly high and this is how we need to view our local parish.

Jarzembowski then presented for us a Gospel Framework for engaging the ‘nones’. This began with the fifteenth chapter of Luke’s Gospel, or as he called it, the ‘lost’ chapter. In this chapter we see three parables all about those who are lost: the lost sheep, the lost coin and the prodigal son.

The Parable of the Lost Sheep (Luke 15:1-7) reminds us that we need to broaden our focus. We are no longer looking for the lost one sheep out of one hundred, we are now looking for the lost 86%!

The Parable of the Lost Coin (Luke 15:8-10) reminds us that we need to be audacious. Be audacious in our attempts to bring back the lost and to celebrate joyously when we do.

The Parable of the Prodigal Son . (luke 15:11-32) Luke reminds us to learn his methods of bringing the lost back into the fold.

  1. There must be first a reasoning and a human need, based on the state of life one is in, not necessarily a need for God. We see this in Luke 15:17 “But when he came to himself he said, “How many of my father’s hired hands have bread enough and to spare, but here I am dying of hunger!” The son ‘came to his senses’ in a very human way and recognised the need to be with his father.
  2. We must run towards those who are lost as the father ran to the son with compassion, seeing him a long way off in the distance. In Luke 15:19 we hear: “But while he was still far off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion; he ran and put his arms around him and kissed him.” The father had clearly been waiting for him to come home and had been watching for him. We was filled with compassion and initiated first contact.
  3. We must celebrate the return of those who have been lost. In Luke 15:23 we hear “get the fatted calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate”. How often do we celebrate so vigorously the return of someone to Mass at our parish?
  4. We must reach out to the other lost son, the brother who is angry and refuses to come into the house. We hear in Luke 15:28 that “his father came out and began to plead with him.”

Jarzembowski then linked the story of the prodigal son with the 2017 document Living as Missionary Disciples: A Resource for Evangelization. This document posits four aspects of reaching out to the ‘nones’.

  • Encounter
  • Accompany
  • Community
  • Sending Forth

Each of these he relates to the parable:

  • Encounter – Looking – the father sees the son from afar and runs to him
    • We must assess the territory without judgement.
    • We need to seek the other with compassion,.
  • Accompany – Listening – the father hears his son’s admission of guilt ‘I have sinned against you’.
    • We need to accompany and walk with those on their journey home.
    • We need to be full present, with an open mindset and be prepared to learn from their story of isolation and disaffiliation.
  • Community – Loving –  the father runs to the son and kisses him with raw emotion.
    • We need to connect parents and family or BE family to those who were lost.
    • Patience, forgiveness and tolerance are all essential.
    • We need to build strong communities so people are not lost again.
  • Sending Forth – Leading – the father celebrates and rejoices in the coming home of his son.
    • We help the lost to develop a deeper understanding of our community and aim for a joyful life in their discerned vocation. We send them forth on mission.

Lastly, we must remember to trust in the work of the Holy Spirit. I really liked this framework and the analogy to the parables of Luke 15.

Reasons for Hope

Moving on, Jarzembowski began examining some reasons for hope for the future. He began by looking at the reasons millennials are staying in the church.

First, they stay if they have a real relationship with adults outside of their families.

Secondly, they stayed if they had learned discernment skills, especially in relation to engaging with the culture, rather than dismissing it. Interestingly, those who are dismissive of the culture are the first to jump ship.

Thirdly, to stay, young people need to be taken seriously. They need to have their gifts used in leadership within the church.

Fourthly, the church needs to support young people in the discernment of their vocation and how God intersects with their work, careers and passion. This is particularly important from grade 10-12.

Lastly, they need to see God integrated into all aspects of their life. God in all things, as Ignatius would say. This was very affirming for the work we are doing in our diocese to permeate the mainstream curriculum with a Catholic worldview. This can really support students to see how God intersects in all of our lives.

Youth Ministry

Jarzembowski pointed to Youth Ministry as another important aspect of maintaining affiliation. Young adult ministry, post high school, he regarded as particularly important. Every diocese needs to invest in this because it is effective.

Moments of Return

We also need to be looking for the moments of return. Jarzembowski showed a graph of Mass attendance in the USA week by week throughout the year. The high points obviously being Christmas Day and Easter Sunday. Interestingly, Ash Wednesday was also incredibly high. This is a cultural phenomenon in the USA, with many people, though no longer identifying as Catholic, still attend Ash Wednesday services and still even give something up for Lent. We need to take advantage of these opportunities when we have people joining us in our churches. In Australia, the perfect time to be welcoming is the Vigil Mass at Christmas. What a great opportunity to engage the ‘nones’.

Church Initiatives

Other signs for hope exist in the upcoming synod for young people as well as the upcoming Apostolic Exhortation on youth and young adults. The Church is clearly prepared to listen to the young people

Concrete Strategies

Jarzembowski provided some brief but concrete strategies to support this important work:

  1. We need to assess with compassion, the reality of our community.
  2. We need to listen to the stories of the disaffected.
  3. We need to support young people at particular times of uncertainty (particularly important for Australia are those transition periods – Primary – High School, High School – beyond – we don’t do enough here).
  4. Invest in young adults at university.
  5. Support those people who are maintaining their engagement.
  6. Equip and support the parents and carers of the youth and young adults – maintain the domestic church.
  7. Maintain our groundedness in our own vocations.

This was an interesting session, unfortunately cut short by the fire alarm. Although our context in Australia is similar, there are some differences we are experiencing, particularly when we are looking through the lens of Catholic education. Many of our students  are currently two generations removed from any firm Catholic faith. This trend will only worsen, and so our strategies will need to take this into consideration.

Final Liturgy – Sunday Mass

We finished the week with Sunday Mass once again in the main arena. The Mass was presided over by Archbishop Gomez and was an extraordinarily beautiful Mass.

Screen Shot 2018-03-25 at 8.18.10 pm.png

The Gospel reading was the story of the raising of Lazarus, from which the Congress drew its theme ‘Rise Up!’ The call was clear; we need to ‘rise up’ out of our tombs, whatever our tombs may be and engage in the Mission of the Church.

You can watch the closing liturgy below:

Final Thoughts…

The RE Congress was an amazing experience and one I am still processing. More learning will come the more time I have had to reflect on the workshops and our own context in Australia.

If you have been thinking of sending people to the RE Congress, I can highly recommend it!

LA RE Congress – Day 2 – Social Media, a Bishop and a Cardinal — March 24, 2018

LA RE Congress – Day 2 – Social Media, a Bishop and a Cardinal

The second day of the RE Congress was a terrific opportunity to hear from some Catholic personalities I particularly admire in LA Auxiliary Bishop and media evangelist Robert Barron and the Filipino Cardinal Luis Tagle of Manila. Both were men with extraordinary intelligence and both were skilled orators. I also heard an excellent talk from Theologian and social media personality John Ronaldo.  Being the Feast of St Patrick, the day concluded with a beautiful Mass of St Patrick in the arena with a 4,000 strong congregation.

Bishop Robert Barron – Evangelising Through Beauty

Bishop Robert Barron, most notable for his Catholicism series and his evangelisation apostolate (and soon to be movement) Word on Fire, presented the first talk of the day on Evangelising Through Beauty. 

KCssVakQ_400x400Bishop Robert Barron

Bishop Barron began by discussing St John Damascene’s victory against the iconoclast controversy and its importance in the way this allowed for the flourishing of grand traditions of art and architecture in the Catholic Church. No John Damascene: No Michelangelo, Medieval Cathedrals. Barron recalled Woody Allen’s line in the film Hannah and her Sisters, when in an existential discussion with Priest about why he was considering converting to Catholicism: “Well, you know… first of all because it’s a very beautiful religion.”

He went on to discuss the conversion from Judaism of Jean-Marie Lustiger who would go on to become the Cardinal of Paris. Lustiger saw first hand the beauty of Christians who sheltered him during the Shoah, but his conversion came when he entered a Cathedral in Orlean and witnessed the beauty of the liturgy.

Capture-3-690x450Cardinal Jean-Marie Lustiger

 Similarly, Paul Claudel, the French poet, dramatist and diplomat experienced his conversion upon listening to the choir chant vespers in Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris while gazing at the famous rose window.

3564034923_097ff6ff9b_b.jpg Notre Dame Cathedral’s Stained Glass Rose Window

Barron went on to discuss the beauty of gesture exhibited by Pope Francis in his many actions such as kissing and washing the feet on Good Friday. He reminded us that Pope Francis’ apostolic exhortation Evangelii Gaudium (Joy of the Gospel) is the frame of his pontificate and its call to follow the via pulchritudinis (the way of beauty).

Every form of catechesis would do well to attend to the “way of beauty” (via pulchritudinis). Proclaiming Christ means showing that to believe in and to follow him is not only something right and true, but also something beautiful, capable of filling life with new splendour and profound joy, even in the midst of difficulties.

Evangelii Gaudium 167

article-2300490-18FAD30B000005DC-370_964x640.jpgPope Francis – washing of the feet

Barron then introduced one of the most prolific theologians of the 2oth Century Hans Urs von Balthasar. von Balthasar reversed what was considered the primary pathway to evangelisation through the transcendentals of Truth, Goodness and Beauty.  Traditionally the pathways was to teach the undeniable truth of the Catholic faith, which would show one how to act in a good way, which would allow them to appreciate and enter into the beauty of the faith. Von Balthasar reversed this notion, positing that an exposure to objective beauty will lead one to seek to act in a good way which will in turn lead them to the truth of the faith. Barron, agreeing with von Balthasar argues that whiles the truth is undeniably important, we do not need to begin with the ‘rules and regulations’ to evangelise and in many cases, this can be polarising and counterproductive.

timthumb.jpgHans Urs Von Balthasar

Beauty, argues Barron, is less threatening. Beginning with the beauty of Christ leads us to imitate Christ which then leads to an understanding of Christ.

To explain this further, Barron then introduced Fordham theologian Dietrich von Hildebrand who argued that we need to see true beauty as not the merely subjectively satisfying but as the objectively valuable.

The merely subjectively satisfying is something that can be perceived by different people in different ways. We can elect to have or appreciate the subjectively satisfying or I can choose not to.

True beauty, however, is that which is objectively valuable: it rearranges my subjectivity to align with its objectivity. I do not elect to choose that which is objectively valuable, it elects me, changes me and sends me forth on mission, having been altered. This is what Paul Claudel experienced in gazing up at the rose window in Notre Dame. It is what we experience in looking at the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel or when listening to Mozart’s 7th Symphony.

Hildebrand-pic-660x350-1425972365-660x350.jpgDietrich von Hildebrand

Pressing our understanding of beauty further, Barron took us to St Thomas Aquinas, who argued that beauty occurs at the intersection of three things:

  1. Integritas (wholeness)
  2. Consonatia (harmony)
  3. Claritas (radiance)

When these three are present, we experience something of beauty that is objectively valuable. It is the search for this form of beauty which moves us towards greater levels of beauty. The soul is objectively more beautiful than the body and the soul’s creator infinitely more-so.

Bishop Barron then took us to other examples of the path from beauty, through goodness to the objectively true. In Evelyn Waugh’s Brideshead Revisited, atheist protagonist Charles is initially drawn in by the beauty of Catholic Sebastian. This leads to want to adhere to the moral demands of the Church he is discovering through the beauty of Brideshead. This in turn leads him to accept the fullness of the truth of the faith by developing a relationship with Jesus and becoming Catholic.

Jesus himself, Barron explained exemplifies the understanding of beauty as the fullness of expression of Integritas, Consonatia and Claritas. Jesus was wholly devoted to God’s will, He is a perfect harmony of divinity and humanity and is the perfection of radiance as he IS the Light of the World.

When we read the gospels, we come to know and fall in love with Jesus Christ.

John Rinaldo – Technology and Social Media: A Primary Means of Evangelisation

ukyI7062_400x400.jpgJohn Rinaldo

I was very excited for this workshop as I really believe that technology is such an important avenue for the New Evangelisation. As Pope Benedict XVI explains in his address on the 44th World Communications Day:

The world of digital communication, with its almost limitless expressive capacity, makes us appreciate all the more Saint Paul’s exclamation: “Woe to me if I do not preach the Gospel” (1 Cor 9:16) 

Rinaldo’s workshop was very affirming of the work that has been done in our diocese and my own understanding of the approach to using social media to spread the Good News.

The main takeaway from this session for me was that Face-to-face communications, built on relationships of trust and love remain and will remain the primary source of evangelisation.

Rinaldo highlighted the importance of what we put forth on social media. It is easy to feel anonymous when posting on Twitter, Facebook or Instagram. However, this is dangerous as it can lead to less charitable posts and responses. We need to always ask ourselves if our posts are truly showing the face of Christ. We also need to be wary of our tone, which is hard to regulate on social media. It is important to remember to promote Truth, but this can and should be done from a position that avoids judgment. We need to remain charitable and inclusive in all of our encounters online.

Rinaldo also highlighted the importance of receiving and listening to feedback from our users in social media platforms, particularly those designed to promote and provide information about parishes and schools.

In regards to a strategic social media approach, Rinaldo suggested that the organisation’s website should be the ‘hub’ from which the ‘spokes’ of all other social media platforms we utilise should emanate. This is because our website is really the only digital platform over which we have total control. Facebook, Instagram and Twitter can determine what our audience sees and can change their algorithms without notice. Our website should therefore be the backbone of our evangelising work. Our website should direct visitors to our social media platforms and our social media platforms should always refer the audience back to our website.

The importance of email was also highlighted by Rinaldo. This was something I hadn’t really considered. Despite what some may think, email will continue to remain the tool for businesses; it is not going anywhere. Catholic organisations need to think about how they are collecting email addresses and using these to invite them to join your community for key events.

Text messaging too is such a powerful strategy for gaining the attention of our community. While Rinaldo explained that an email open rate of 20% should be considered a very high rate, text message open rates are generally as high as 90%!

One of the most important points raised by Rinaldo was to recognise who we are reaching through our social media efforts. He asked the provocative question:

Have we turned more people away from the Church through our social media efforts than we have brought into the Church?

This is such an important point. How are we representing ourselves as Catholic and our Catholic faith online? If we present only the ‘pretty’ aspects of our faith, without showing the reality of the challenges of developing a relationship with God, do we risk isolating people who feel they can’t possibly live up to the ‘perfected’ church we represent?

Finally, Rinaldo presented two last points that I think we can all be reassured by:

  1. It is OK to NOT be on all social media platforms: there is not the time and we are better remaining where we are comfortable.
  2. Turn off the social media notifications on your phones: we can spend too much time on our devices without remembering to engage people face-to-face.

A great overview from John Rinaldo which provided some keen insights into this work.


John Rinaldo – Ways of New Evangelisation in Asia

Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle is the 32nd Archbishop of Manila. I was fortunate enough to be involved in the planning of the Parramatta Diocese Filipino Chaplaincy Mass when the Cardinal visited Australia in 2014 and so I had heard him speak before. I could not miss the opportunity to hear from this energetic and charismatic preacher again and so jumped at the opportunity to hear him talk of the New Evangelisation in Asia.

maxresdefault-1.jpgCardinal Luis Antonio Tagle

Cardinal Tagle commenced by reminding us of what we mean when we talk of Evangelisation. He reminds us that evangelisation is the spreading of the ‘Good’ News. It should be accompanied with great joy and that we need to work to recover this.

Tagle is a master storyteller. He crafts narratives which have his audience at one moment laughing hysterically and at the next on the verge of tears. I’ll do my best to recount some of the tales woven into Tagle’s presentation.

Tagle began with a cautionary tale for catechists. He spoke to one of the young catechumens from his parish about her religious education teacher, in the hopes of affirming the teacher’s excellent work. He asked the young girl, ‘what do you remember most from your lessons with your teacher?’ Without pause the young girls replied: ‘Quiet! Quiet! Quiet!‘ The Cardinal reminded us that if our Church is to grow, we should be hopeful for the sounds of children. This is the sign of life for the parish.

The Cardinal then sought to clarify what is meant by ‘New’ in the New Evangelisation. The Gospel is always new, he reminded us but the emphasis on the ‘New’ reminds us of this fact and calls us more urgently to spread the Good News. Tagle recalled Pope John Paul II’s call for new settings, new conditions, new methods and expressions and a new fullness and ardour to accompany this New Evangelisation. Tagle reminded us that we need to remember this when we engage our students, particularly through digital media.

Tagle went on to discuss the unique challenges of the New Evangelisation in Asia. Two thirds of the people in the world are Asian and Asia is the birthplace of the most refugees in the world. If we include the Middle East in our categorisation of Asia, we can even argue that Jesus was born on Asian soil. He spoke of Asia as a land of great dichotomies. Of vast wealth and debilitating poverty. Asia is also a place of great conflict: ethnic, political and religious. An enormous number of people are displaced due to causes both natural and man-made. This context means there are great challenges when it comes to spreading the Good News in Asia.

These challenges mean that the stories of the people of Asia are crucial in bringing to them the Word of God. Tagle spoke of ‘weaving stories’, of weaving in the story of Jesus as we listen to the stories of the lives of the people. In our attentiveness to the stories of these men and women in our evangelisation efforts, and by weaving in Jesus’ story, we are weaving the divine into the human.

Tagle continued by acknowledging the importance of building community by sitting together at one table. We each bring our own gifts to the table and while the gifts we bring are important, we must always be prepared to receive from the gifts of others at the table. To illustrate this, Cardinal Tagle spoke of his experiences in Nepal following the earthquake that claimed 9,000 lives in 2015. Tagle visited a remote Nepalese village to mark the one year anniversary of the earthquake, a village where there were no Christians and no one had heard of Jesus. The visit was a day of celebration, of the locals welcome, dance and poetry. After five hours without a break, the delegation was starving. It was then they realised that at this table, the Nepalese did not have food to bring to the table. However, they brought what they could, specially choreographed dances and composed poems and songs. These people gave what gifts they could to share at the table. I their recognition of this, the delegation was spiritually filled… The Nepalese remembered that ‘the Christians’, in Caritas, had arrived to help them only two days after the earthquake. They asked ‘who are these Christians to think of us?’ Now the story will always be told of the Christians who came and gave what they had. The table had been opened, community birthed and Jesus shared.

Cardinal Tagle spoke of the importance of letting go. He told the story of the daughter of a friend of his whose parents parents felt that she was experiencing a difficult time. With some reservations, he agreed to talk to the girl. Eventually she opened up to him, explaining that she felt her parents were hypocrites! Her father forbade her from smoking, while he himself chain-smoked. Her mother expected her to be frugal, while she herself shopped all of the time. This was a reminder of the importance of listening and of avoiding judgment. This young girls was not going through a difficult time, she was a modern day prophet, struggling with the hypocrisy of her parents. Can we let go of these preconceived notions of how an evangelist looks and what an evangelists does? Can we let go and let new life come?

Finally, Tagle spoke of joining in community on a common pilgrimage, through walking with the other and sharing our lives and stories together. We need to see one another as brother and sister. We need to open our hearts to journeying with those who have been scattered and left behind.

Liturgy: St Patrick’s – The Immigrant Saint

This liturgy was incredibly special. The Mass was celebrated in the main arena with around 4.000 other congregants. Fittingly, the presider was Irish priest Fr David Loftus, pastor of Our Lady of Lourdes Catholic Church in Northridge CA. Music was composed and sung by multi award-winning composer and Catholic Priest Liam Lawton.

In light of the Mass’ theme and the circumstances of saint whose feast we were celebrating, the liturgy began with a an audio-video montage of the trials of refugees and immigrants from across the world. This was an incredibly moving experience which reminded me of Pope Pius XII’s elegant words:

“The exiled Holy Family of Nazareth, fleeing into Egypt, is the archetype of every refugee family. Jesus, Mary and Joseph are for all times and all places, the models and protectors of every migrant, pilgrim and refugee of whatever kind who, whether compelled by fear of persecution or by want, is forced to leave his native land, his beloved parents and relatives, his close friends, and to seek a foreign soil.”

Pope Pius XII Exsul Familia Nazarethana

The Mass commenced with a beautiful rendition of The Lord of the Dance led by Liam Lawton and accompanied by liturgical movement, Irish dancers and a procession of a dozen cardinals and bishops and scores more clergy.


It was an incredibly moving Mass with a compelling homily from Fr David. Concluding with the Breastplate of St Patrick was a particular highlight.

If you are an RE teacher or leader or a Parish RCIA leader, I can highly recommend attending the LA RE Congress. This is a truly inspirational and formative experience that will linger in my memory for many years to come.

LA Congress Day 2 — March 20, 2018

LA Congress Day 2

The first adult day of the LA Congress began with a short opening ceremony in the arena for the 6,000 Catholic RE teachers attending the conference. After prayer, the head of RE in the LA Diocese Fr. Christopher Bazyouros welcomed us and introduced the theme of the 2018 congress Rise Up! To be free from our tombs, as Jesus freed Lazarus in the Gospel reading from the Sunday liturgy reminded us. Fr Christopher reminded us of the time Jesus also spent in the tomb, something we sometimes forget, but that he rose up and through Him, so shall we.


You can watch the opening ceremony below.

My first workshop session of the day was with rockstar priest Fr Mike Schmitz who is a university minister and speaker and most known for the Youtube videos he makes for Ascension Press.

This was a terrific presentation on how we should be praying the Mass. We often lap into general apathy and passivity in the Mass, where we go through the motions without much thought as to our participation as Kingdom Priests. He reminded us that worship doesn’t need to be entertaining or personally fulfilling, as the worship is about God, not about our own personal gratification. At the heart of worship is sacrifice and we need to come to the Mass to offer to God our own sacrifices. But what does this mean? It means we need to offer up the best of us… and the worst of us… This was a great reminder of the purpose of the Mass and our role as members of the Body of Christ in participating in the Mass. We managed to meet Fr Mike briefly after his session. He was very generous with his time and a very humble man.



My next session was with international speaker Sherry Weddell from the Catherine of Siena Institute, an organisation designed to form lay missionary disciples in parishes. She is probably best known for her books Forming Intentional Disciples and Becoming a Parish of Intentional Disciples.


She spoke of the importance of moving through the stages of discipleship from being a Seeker to a Disciple and then finally becoming an Apostle who knows his or her vocation  and is sent out into the world to fulfill the Church’s mission.

Most of our parishioners are very much still seekers, and very few members of our parishes are apostles. Sherry reminded us that this is a process and a journey and that our focus cannot rest solely on building a Catholic Identity as this is not the same as discipleship.

She also spoke of the fact that the fruit of our work will bear more fruit, which in turn will bear more fruit. The other big takeaway from this session was that rather than focusing on our institutions, we need to focus on leading more to discipleship. If we have more disciples, the institutions will take care of themselves. This made me think that we need to work even more to evangelise the parents of our students, through the children.

My final session was from Dr Leonard De Lorenzo, a theologian from Notre Dame on how Mary shows us the way to be Missionary Disciples.


This was a dense lecture but incredibly rich! Dr Leonard reminded us if the importance of encounter and accompaniment as in the story of the Road to Emmaus. But what does accompaniment look like? He reminded us of the nature of the men in this story. They were disoriented – they were leaving the city. They were confused about the events that had occured. They were chatty – they were talking together. They were scared – they were not sure where they can find hope. Does this not sound like our young people today?

Dr Lorenzo reminded us that we need to both Hear and to Act. He aligned the Emmaus narrative to that of Mary’s story in the Annunciation. He compared Mary’s Fiat with the response of Zechariah. Mary’s Yes was conforming herself to God’s plan, while Zechariah wants to form God’s plan around his context. We also see the importance of deep listening in the other infancy narratives in the Gospels in the story of the Presentation in the Temple and Finding Jesus in the Temple.

Our day ended with an African American cultural Mass. This was a very rich display or colour, movement and call-and-response. The music was bright and the pastor was incredibly energetic. It was a very special liturgy!



LA Congress – Youth Day —

LA Congress – Youth Day

Our first congress day was the Thursday Youth Day. This was an amazing experience with 13, 000 teenagers from across the USA converging on Anaheim for a day of praise, worship and learning about their faith.

Screen Shot 2018-03-19 at 9.58.37 am

Started commenced the day with Mass celebrated by LA Archbishop Gomez in the main Arena with 6,000 students and their teachers. The Theme of the day was Dare to Believe, which was the focus of Archbishop Gomez’ homily (below).

He challenged the youth to bear witness to Christ and to work hard to be a saint and to recognise those things that take us away from God. He also spoke of the witness of Venerable Madeleine Debrel a French woman who left her faith but returned to a relationship with Christ through prayer, daring to believe.


The liturgy was beautiful with the music and liturgical movement led by the youth who did an amazing job!

The keynote of the morning was from Katie Prejean McGrady, a young on fire speaker who gave a testimony to the challenges she experienced as a young woman and the graced she received through developing her relationship with God. One key takeaway from her session was the importance of praying through the difficulties we experience. She was a terrific storyteller and a wonderful role model for the students there. She spoke of having a daring faith, of bravely stepping out of the boat like Peter did to walk on water water with Christ.

My next session was with Jesse Manibusen, a vibrant evangelist and musician. He is a larger than life figure who presents a striking image in his smiley face tee shirt and guitar.


Jesse’s message was of living a life of meaning by believing deeply. Between songs he spoke of rejecting the apathy that we often lapse into and reminded us that we don’t go to church, but that we are the Church.

My final session was with Joe Melendrez a young school-based Catholic hip-hop artist and speaker and founder of God Swag Apparel, a company dedicated to having youth wear their faith literally on their sleeve.


Joe’s session Mark My Words was a high intensity mix of music, dance, singing and personal testimony. He spoke of the power of words to build people up and to tear people down and the importance of witnessing to the truth through our words. The highlight of his session was his performance with Fr Rob Galea, an early look at an upcoming collaboration between the two performers.

One of my key learnings from the day was the difference between the USA and Australia in terms of religious education. The majority of groups attending the youth day were parish-based, rather than school-based, with their leaders being the parish catechists, who are often volunteers for Saturday morning Catechesis. For many students, attendance at the youth day was a compulsory aspect of their Confirmation preparation program. The Sacrament of Confirmation is offered much later in the USA, with children confirmed in their mid teen years. This highlighted the importance of ensuring students maintain their engagement with their faith and their local parish. This is particularly important with the age children begin distancing themselves from their faith becoming lower and lower.

The Youth Day would be a terrific experience for some of our CSYMA students to attend along with perhaps some of our Youth Ministry Officers.


LA RE Congress – Visit to St Pius X St Matthias Academy — March 16, 2018

LA RE Congress – Visit to St Pius X St Matthias Academy

The second part of our first day in LA saw us visit the coeducational academy of St Pius X St Matthias in Downey California.


While I have visited a number of charter schools in the United States, this was my first visit to a Catholic school. St Pius X St Matthias was unusual in that is was an amalgamation of two schools.

St Pius X was a coeducational school operating from 1953-1998. When the girls school St Matthias High School was facing challenges, this was amalgamated wit St Pius, with the boys fazed out over four years to become a single-sex girls school again. The merger was met with great protest from students, parents and staff, with students arranging a protest walkout in February 1995.

Following a study in 2011 from Loyola Marymount University, the decision was made to return to a coeducational campus.

Since then, under the leadership of President Eric Rubalcava and Principal Veronica Zozaya, the school has undertaken a significant campaign to unite not only their current students, but their old-students network, to ensure the school has a strong Catholic identity into the future.

This school is identifiably catholic from the moment you are ‘buzzed-in’ to the administration building. The foyer (seen below) is a testament to this and Catholic imagery adorned the walls of all the halls and classrooms and statues of the Saints were visible everywhere on the grounds.


One special tradition that the school has developed was the keeping of s ship’s bell in their school chapel, which they saw as the heart of their school. Students were encouraged to enter the chapel and to ring the bell if they were encountering a difficult time. The peal of the bell was a calling to other students who may be around to find them in the chapel and to pray for them.

The day we visited marked one month since the Stoneman Douglas High School shooting in Parkland Florida. Students across the country were preparing to walk out of school on this day to voice their protests over the growing gun related violence in US schools. the Students of St Pius X St Matthias were no exception but rather than staging a walkout the students and teachers collaborated to have a day to hear their students voices and to act. Students gathered to pray for the victims and then spent time engaging in activities such as writing letters to the families of the victims of the shooting, writing to their government representatives calling for action or making posters for the larger protest march taking place later in the month. It was heartwarming to see the school united by their shared Catholic values in the face of such a tragedy and acting to promote positive social change.

Despite the excellent work the school is doing, it is not without its challenges. The school is still trying hard to build its identity and to re engage their families and their network of past students in the face of poverty and the impact of gang violence. Through their motto (seen below) is ‘Recognise Your Significance; Seize Your Opportunities’, the teachers are trying to build a positive identity for their students by helping them to realise that they are created in the image and likeness of God and that they have limitless potential.


Funding in US Catholic schools is a huge challenge. The School is a diocesan school, but receives no funding from the state or federal government, except for students with additional needs. Subsequently, the schools are funded entirely from the school fees and often require support from the Archdiocese. The school fees are around $8,000 per year but the majority of students are on partial payment plans. The teachers are also paid substantially less in the Catholic system. Teaching in a Catholic school is clearly seen as a calling and teachers are committed to their faith and to witnessing it to their students. This particular challenge is what led to the creation of the role of the President of the academy. Eric’s role is now to reach out to the community to find philanthropic organisations and individuals who might be interested in offering financial support for the school. This made me particularly thankful for the financial stability we enjoy as Australian Catholic schools.

Before we left, we spent some time in their school chapel before the Blessed Sacrament to pray for the the students, teachers and family members of the St Pius X St Matthias community. It was an excellent school and it was a privilege visiting them for the day.

LA RE Congress – Homeboy Industries Visit — March 15, 2018

LA RE Congress – Homeboy Industries Visit


Before we head to the LA RE Congress on Thursday, we visited Homeboys Industries in Downtown LA.

Homeboy Industries is an apostolate designed to allow former gang members and incarcerated men and women to have a fresh start. Each year, they support over 10,000 men and women with legal assistance, employment in their bakery and cafe, study opportunities and even tattoo removal!

Reoffending rates in this region is incredibly high and the gang culture has captured many young men and women, drawing them into a cycle of recidivism. As our 24 year old tour guide Jason explained “Before Homeboy, I was either heading to gaol for life or going to die in the street”.

Jason talked to us of his experiences as a 12 year old, dragged into the gang culture at 12 when his mother passed away, followed buy his grandmother a month later. He explained how he sold drugs and guns, robbed people regularly and was shot at almost daily.

For Jason, in 2015 marked the year of his transformation. He watched his best friend die from a gunshot wound on the street across from his house. Shortly after, his brother was the innocent victim in a gangland fight.

Fr Greg Boyle, a Jesuit priest and founder of Homeboy Industries attended Jason’s brother’s funeral and suggested that Jason come in and see him. It took time for Jason to be ready to take this step but when he did he found a new family and new role models. Jason is now attending college and is looking for employment beyond Homeboy Industries. He has even had the opportunity to study at Oxford in the UK.


Fr Greg Boyle SJ – Founder of Homeboy Industries

This visit really provided an opportunity for me to reflect on the how lucky we are to live in a relatively safe part of the world, unaffected by the challenges these young men and women face to survive on the streets of LA. It made me think of those marginalised members of our own community, particularly single mothers who are struggling, and what we can do to provide them with love, dignity, family and opportunities to grow.



LA RE Congress 2018 – Arrival in LA — March 13, 2018

LA RE Congress 2018 – Arrival in LA

I’m spending the next week or so in LA for the LA RE Congress, one of the biggest RE congresses in the world. While the congress doesn’t start until later in the week, I thought I would blog a bit about my experiences in LA so far.

The flight over was one of those mythical flights that friends tell you about. The plane was virtually empty and everyone had a row to themselves. A miracle! Consequently, I actually slept pretty well and arrive in LA feeling pretty good!

The first day we came together as a group to discuss logistics and, more importantly, to share the projects that we will implement as a result of our experiences at the congress. The ideas were many and varied, but the central theme seemed to be engaging our sometimes disengaged RE students and helping them to come to know Christ in what is an increasingly secular world.

We then ventured to Our Lady of the Angels Cathedral in downtown LA for midday Mass. The Cathedral is a contemporary masterpiece of architecture. Designed by Prof. José Rafael Moneo and built in 2002, the cathedral is flooded with natural light, space and with an ambulatory that takes visitors on a pilgrimage around the nave. One of the most striking features of the cathedral was the tapestries that adorned the walls. Above the baptismal font, a subdued image of John baptising Christ appears. Along the walls of the nave are tapestries of saints interspersed with young men and women, symbolising the whole mystical body of the church.

The Mass was well attended, beautifully sung and with an excellent homily from Fr David Gallardo. It was a very moving experience.

Rest day tomorrow, looking forward to visiting some local schools on Thursday!




The 1 Hour PBL Immersion for Teachers — May 9, 2017

The 1 Hour PBL Immersion for Teachers

Context, context, context…

I was recently spent a day working with a school on Flipped Learning and Project Based Learning. In the second session of the day I was asked to run a session to help teachers with little or no understanding of PBL to have somewhat of an understanding of the broad strokes of the approach.

For teachers to really ‘get it’ the session really needed to model PBL, as much as possible in such a short time frame. I’d done this in PBL Project Design workshops over two days before and have used a day-long problem to model Problem Based Learning, but the catch with this session was that we only had one hour together!

Some brainstorming with a recent colleague Gavin Hays (if you don’t follow him on Twitter, you really should at @gavhays) and we had a solid foundation for something that would serve as an intro to PBL for the uninitiated in one hour or less!

I’ll link all the resources I used below and a list of the contents in the mystery box.

The Mystery Box…

The goal…

With only an hour together, I really wanted these teachers to experience a modified form of PBL from the students point of view. This was an immersion into the processes of PBL without a true grounding in the specifics. With the short time, I needed to be clear on what I wanted them to take away and what were experiences I was willing to leave out due to time pressures. Here is what I came up with:


  • Sustained Inquiry – with not enough time to do this justice, it was left out.
  • Group Norming and Contracts – again not enough time to do this justice I’m afraid.

There were also some non-negotiables that I knew I wanted the teachers to experience. This list was very long, which would make this a bit of a challenge.


  • Learning – This should ALWAYS be the goal! I really wanted them to leave with some tangible learnings from the immersion experience, so they could see that their students could learn this way too.
  • Minimal teacher-led work – the last thing I wanted was for them to listen to me for any more than 5 minutes.
  • Presentation – Teachers needed to experience what it is like to present in front of their colleagues.
  • Time Pressure – I hoped they would feel the slight pinch that comes with meeting a deadline.
  • Group Work – Even in the hour, I hoped that they would experience the excitement and challenge of completing a task which was impossible for them to do on their own in the same time.
  • The Importance of a Marking Guidelines – they needed to see how these helped to guide students towards their end products (more on this later…)
  • Learning the Language of PBL – I hoped that this might be a good introduction to the PBL vernacular. The language of PBL is what helps to demystify the learning process for our students
  • Fun! – The immersion needed to be a fun experience

The Sustainable House Project

The Entry Event…

The context for the project immersion was the European Solar Decathlon for 2017. This is a real-world event where university students work together in teams to design sustainable houses. The challenge was to design a model to be submitted for consideration for entry into 2017s Solar Decathlon. I borrowed from their video to make the short entry event video below:

Screen Shot 2017-05-08 at 9.42.47 pm

This context was a good idea from Gavin as most teachers have at least some prior knowledge around sustainability in housing. This would at least get us started when working through the knows and needs to knows.

The Driving Question…

Screen Shot 2017-05-08 at 9.46.36 pm

This was designed to provide some clear parameters for the teachers to work in as well as providing some needs to know for them to work towards.

The Launch…

After showing the Entry Event, introducing the Driving Question and a short discussion, our teachers were placed into teams, given their marking rubrics, mystery boxes. In lieu of research, I provided each group with some infographics on sustainability and house design to draw ideas and inspiration from. We then put 5 minutes on the clock for teams to work on their know and needs to know lists.

The Rubrics… A curve ball…

It was so important for the teachers to see how close reference to the marking rubric can help to guide students to better end products. To highlight this more effectively in the short time we had together, the teachers were thrown a curve ball…

Of the 6 groups, 2 groups received a rubric focused on the content knowledge displayed and the execution of the model:

Screen Shot 2017-05-08 at 10.18.15 pm

Another 2 groups received a rubric focused on presentation and critical thinking.

Screen Shot 2017-05-08 at 10.17.48 pm.png

The final group were not provided with a rubric at all. I hoped to see whether the lack of guidance had an impact on their project work…

Some Guidance with Group Work…

While we didn’t have time to formalise group roles or to collaboratively design group contracts, I still wanted the teachers to be mindful of their group roles. I referred the groups to the slide below and suggested a couple minutes should be spent developing a plan of attack.


Screen Shot 2017-05-09 at 8.23.55 am


Project Development Time

I then put just 35 minutes on the clock! Needless to say this time limitation created a strong sense of urgency among the participants!

I spend my time working my way between the groups. Questioning rationales and design approaches, asking about role responsibilities, challenging hypothesise, redirecting groups back to the Driving Question and asking them to reflect on how their progression towards the End Product was being reflected in the elements of the rubric.

The time went very, very quickly! Below is a snapshot of the teachers working on their End Products.

Presentation Time

With about 5 minutes left on the clock, I suggested that team prepared for their presentation and reminded them of the expectation that all group members be involved in presenting their models.

Below you can see the slide which was the focus for the presentations.

Screen Shot 2017-05-09 at 8.30.39 am

Groups presented in round robin style, to save time. We only had 5 minutes for each presentation, including 2 minutes of critical friends feedback in the form of likes and wonders.

For the presentation, feedback was focused on the dot points of the rubric and for this I have all participants the full rubric. 


The session, despite being a bit rushed, I think met the design intention. While the participants were by no means ready to start introducing PBL into their own classes at this point, they had at least experienced a taster of PBL so that they could better understand the work their PBL colleagues were undertaking in their classes. The feedback from the experienced PBL teachers who were also engaged in the session was that they also gained something from the experience and were reminded of some practices in facilitation that they may have been neglecting.

Interestingly, at least in my observation, those teachers who did have the rubric focused on model design and content (and who actually used it!) were a little more ‘tight’ in terms of how they approached the End Product. Similarly, those groups who had the communication rubric were much more polished in terms of their presentation than those groups without it, or those with the content focused rubric. This was interesting to unpack with the participants at the end of the session.

The session was a lot of fun to facilitate and I’d love to hear how you think it might be able to be improved! Leave your comments below.


Mystery Box Contents: – for 6 groups, this cost around $200

  • From Office Works
  • From the Bargain Shop
    • Mini glue guns  and glue sticks x 3
    • Modelling Clay
    • Paddle Pop Sticks
    • Foam shapes
    • Small mirror things
    • Pipe cleaners
    • Small containers and boxes
    • Metallic paper
    • Party favours (little windmill things)
    • Utility knives

The top ‘five’ considerations when starting your PBL journey — January 30, 2017
Effectively scaling the flipped classroom and accurately measuring student perceptions — November 30, 2016

Effectively scaling the flipped classroom and accurately measuring student perceptions

This post was written following a presentation given at Clickview Australia’s first Flipped Learning Round Table on October 7 2016.

The post will likely also appear on the Clickview blog. 


At Parramatta Marist High School, we have undertaken a significant program of pedagogy change over the past decade. While the focus for our junior students has predominantly been Project Based Learning (PBL), we have moved towards models of Problem Based Learning (PrBL) and Flipped Learning for our senior students. In 2013, we undertook a whole-school shift to Flipped Learning for our Year 12 HSC students. Every lesson in every subject throughout the HSC is flipped. This was a significant undertaking and one that taught us numerous lessons as we refined our practice. 2016 saw us introduce a hybridised Flipped/Problem Based Learning approach for our Year 11 Preliminary HSC students. This model aimed to address some of the limitations of our One Day One Problem approach, modelled on that pioneered at Republic Polytechnic, Singapore allowing students to go deeper with the content when solving the problem. Parramatta Marist High has seen some significant improvements in one measure of academic success, the HSC examination, over the past 10 years of implementing a variety of pedagogy changes. While it is very difficult to attribute the improvement we can see to one particular school-based intervention, we can make some generalisations regarding the impact of some of these changes. Finally, our school formed a partnership with Erasmus University, Rotterdam and four of our teachers have commenced doctoral studies under Prof. Henk G Schmidt, a world authority in pedagogy, particularly in PBL. One of the focus areas for our research has been to construct and determine the reliability and validity of an instrument to measure student perception of the Flipped Classroom.

The progression of pedagogy implementation at Parramatta Marist High


Scaling the Flipped Classroom as a Whole-School HSC Approach

We introduced a whole-school Flipped Classroom approach for our HSC students in 2013 in order to buy back class time for our students to engage in inquiry and to apply their content to better prepare them for the rigours of the HSC examination. Our students were also calling for a change as they had experienced three years of student-centred pedagogies. Surveys indicated that they were not engaged by the very teacher-centred traditional approach most HSC teachers had adopted in order to meet the content demands of the HSC. This shift was a challenge, as we needed to develop a model that promoted consistency across and within subjects whilst also respecting the professionalism of our teachers, allowing them to determine how the approach was adopted in their classes. Below are some reflections of what we felt are some of our key learnings from four years of scaling the HSC.


The importance of applying content prior to the lesson

 In our first year of implementation, in order to determine whether students had engaged with the pre-learning material, students were generally required to ask questions or to make generic notes. While this was a suitable accountability measure to ensure that students had engaged with the content, we found that their comprehension was still rather limited. We have now moved to a model where students generally answer questions based on the pre-learning material. While these questions are generally framed at the lower end of Bloom’s taxonomy, they still ensure that students are actively engaged in their learning and that deeper thinking is taking place. Student responses are generally collected electronically, affording the teacher the opportunity to read them prior to class and providing opportunities for the teacher to modify the focus of the lesson and to plan for differentiation.

The structure of the whole-school HSC Flipped Classroom at Parramatta Marist High

Short videos

Our original shift towards a scaled Flipped Classroom model was conducted hastily and did not allows us time to plan our video resource creation as carefully as we would have liked. Many of our original video resources were designed around whole syllabus dot points, or around all of the content addressed in a specific lesson. As such, the majority of our videos were over 15 minutes long. Student engagement surveys were used to determine student perceptions of the videos and the length was a factor that students identified was impacting on their engagement. This was supported by the work from Phillip Guo who investigated video watching habits of MOOC participants. We determined that, within our context, videos should really not be any longer than six minutes long. This led us to produce videos that were focused on maintaining their brevity and which were based more around single concepts and ideas, rather than broader topic overviews.

Median watching time vs Video Length – From Philip Guo et al. 2014


Curating or creating videos

With a scaled approach to Flipped Learning, incorporating all teachers, and with such a quick transition period in the first year, we did not stipulate that teachers were required to construct their own video content. However, this is something we have subsequently encouraged, though we also feel that it is unnecessary for teachers to compose all of their own resources. In a digital age where we see educators sharing their practice and resources more freely, I think it would be a retrograde step to expect teachers to work in isolation. The advice we give to our teachers is that if you can’t improve upon the video that you have found online, then why would we use our limited time to recreate something.


Mixed-media resources

Some have tried to suggest that a lesson cannot be considered ‘flipped’ if video media is not involved in the delivery of content for the homework students complete prior to the lesson. I would argue that this is a very narrow understanding of this approach. It is clear that subjects like mathematics, which are generally process oriented, might lend themselves to instruction through the medium of video. However, other subjects such as English and History, I would argue, are better serviced with a mixed-media approach to presenting homework. These disciplines, among others, are based on engagement with and interpretation of the written word. Video media is a great supplement to such texts and can lead students to a deeper understanding of the concepts addressed. I think this is a more realistic approach to Flipped Learning and one that acknowledges the nuances of different disciples.


Application time in class

One of our earliest mistakes with scaling the Flipped Classroom was the use of class time. Out teachers lacked the confidence in the flipped process in ensuring our students arrived to our classes with a foundational understanding of the content. As a result, many of our teachers were using a majority of class time to re-teach content already covered during the homework. This became apparent when we surveyed our students. There was a general sense of frustration at being required to sit through a very teacher-centred exposition of content already covered. We used this data to realign our practices and to promote the suggestion that no more than 20% of class time be used to recap content and that the majority of class time.

The aim for the division of time in a flipped lesson

Hybridised Flipped/Problem Based Learning Model

In 2010, following the introduction of Project Based Learning in the junior years, we introduced a school-wide Problem Based Learning approach for Year 11 Preliminary HSC students. In this model, students were challenged with a problem to solve at the beginning of the day and then worked collaboratively to solve the problem throughout the day, presenting their solution for critique at the conclusion of the day. This approach was based on the One Day One Problem model introduced at Republic Polytechnic, Singapore.

What we found after a number of years of implementation was that students struggled to go deep with the content with this structure, as we were not adequately activating their prior knowledge. Students were exposed to important content and concepts prior to engaging with the problem itself, but we struggled to find the time to go deep enough with this content to prepare students thoroughly for the problem.

We also found that the presentations at the end of the one-day of problem solving session were often rushed and lacking in thoughtful preparation and rehearsal. We wanted to provide students with the time to think more critically about their presentation prior to the presentation.

In order to address these concerns, in 2016, we remodelled the structure of our One Day One Problem approach to introduce a Flipped Learning component and to provide reflection time for students prior to their presentation. Within a two-week cycle of learning students will meet as a class for four specific sessions which are outlined below and which are represented in the diagram.

Session 1 -100 minute lesson – Content Flip

  • Students introduced to new content via a flipped lesson.
  • Lesson time spent clarifying misunderstandings and applying the content.

Session 2 – 200 minute lesson – Problem Release and Problem Solving

  • Students are introduced to a challenging problem
  • Students spend 200 minutes working collaboratively to solve the problem.
  • Homework is for students to work collaboratively outside of school hours synchronously and asynchronously.

Session 3 – 100 minute lesson – Defence Presentation

  • Students spend around an hour presenting their solution to the problem and critiquing one another’s presentations.
  • Teachers then had an opportunity to provide explicit feedback and to present an exemplar solution to the problem.

Session 4 – 50 minute lesson – Test and Application

  • Students then work collaboratively on HSC style questions at higher levels of Bloom’s taxonomy, refining their understanding of the concepts and content addressed through the problem.
Hybridised Flipped/Problem Based Model initiated at Parramatta Marist High in 2016

We’ve found that this approach has allowed students to engage with the problem more quickly and to access the problem at deeper levels than we had found before. We also found that the quality of student presentations improved as our students were able to spend significant time reflecting on their solution and rehearsing their presentations.


Improving HSC Results: One Measure of School Improvement

One measure of school effectiveness is performance in the Higher School Certificate examination. While this is only one of many methods to determine student achievement, it is one that is easily tracked over time.

Since the introduction of the Flipped Classroom at Parramatta Marist High in 2013, we have seen a significant improvement in student HSC performance. In the HSC students are placed into achievement bands based upon their overall performance in each subject. These bands are represented below.

Band 6

≤ 90%
Band 5 80% – 89%
Band 4 70% – 79%
Band 3 60% – 69%
Band 2 50% – 59%
Band 1 > 50%

Since the introduction of the Flipped Classroom in 2013, we have seen the percentage of students achieving in the top two bands combined (Band 5 and 6) steadily increase from 48% in 2012 (prior to the Flipped Classroom’s introduction) to 63% in 2015.

Year 2012

Prior to Flipped Classroom


First Flipped Classroom Cohort


Second Flipped Classroom Cohort


Third Flipped Classroom Cohort

% Band 5 & 6 Combined 48% 55% 62% 63%

Performance in the lower bands is perhaps more pleasing. In 2012 17 precent of courses achieved were the lowest three bands (Bands 1, 2 an 3). Between 2013 and 2015, we saw this percentage decrease to 5%, with no students receiving results in Bands 1 or 2.

Year 2012

Prior to Flipped Classroom


First Flipped Classroom Cohort


Second Flipped Classroom Cohort


Third Flipped Classroom Cohort

% Band 1,2 & 3 Combined 21% 15% 9% 5%

While it is very difficult to attribute such improvements to any particular intervention or strategy, our feeling is that the introduction and refinement of the Flipped Classroom has had a significant impact on these results.


Flipped Classroom: Developing an Instrument to Measure Student Perceptions

As a part of Parramatta Marist High’s PhD program through Erasmus University, Rotterdam, under the supervision of PhD Promotor, Prof. Henk. G. Schmidt, I have been undertaking research into student perceptions of the Flipped Classroom. This research has taken the form of an attempt to develop an instrument to measure student perceptions of this pedagogical approach, as no such instrument currently exists.

A study of the literature and our own experiences with the Flipped Classroom led to the development of a 48-item survey instrument that sought to measure 9 distinct aspects or ‘domains’ of this approach. The survey was administered to 136 senior students and we were able to determine the reliability of the survey instrument using test-retest reliability coefficient and Cronbach’s Alpha coefficient. Moreover, student responses were strongly supportive of the Flipped Classroom. Students generally enjoyed learning in this model and they felt that this approach helped them to learn when compared to more traditional approaches. A paper entitled ‘Student Perceptions of the Flipped Classroom: Reliability and Validity of an Instrument’ has been written and is in the process of being peer-reviewed.

The next phase of the research is to administer the survey to a greater number of students from more diverse populations. This will then allow us to determine the validity of the instrument through structural equation modelling and factor analyses. In turn, this will help to determine that the questions measure what they were designed to measure and it will help us to further explore the relationships between question items within domains as well as the relationships between the domains themselves. From this, a more comprehensive understanding of student perception of the Flipped Classroom can be achieved.


Since the Flipped Classroom was introduced at Parramatta Marist in 2013, we have seen some significant changes. Our experience has led to a refining of our Flipped Classroom structure to design a model that fosters best practice while providing teachers with flexibility to use their professional judgment in regards to its implementation. The Hybridised/Flipped Classroom model we developed has afforded us more time to ensure our students can engage with the problems at a deeper level as well as ensuring a higher standard of collaborative problem-solution presentations. The introduction of the Flipped Classroom has also had a positive impact on our HSC results with both results improving both in the higher bands as well as the lower bands. Our research into student perceptions of the Flipped Classroom has also confirmed that students acknowledge the benefits of the Flipped Classroom and they feel that this approach prepares them very well for the rigours of the HSC examination.