What is Franciscan Pedagogy?
Our pedagogy in The Francis Project has been drawn from repeat methods that have been historically recorded within early Franciscanism, which were exampled by St Francis himself, and which can be directly linked to his evangelical vision. To effectively lead renewal this pedagogy is practiced at three levels: individual (micro-identities), structural (meso-identities) and cultural (macro-identities). Franciscan pedagogy seeks to hit ‘three home runs’ at each level by practicing the following key components:
Transforming Micro-Identities through Experiential Reflective Practice
Our practice begins by attending to the human experience of those a leader is seeking to influence. This means sitting alongside a person, identifying with their hopes, pain-points, needs and questions. It means getting under their skin, so to speak, and seeking to respond to their experience, rather than imposing a pre-existing agenda onto a person in a didactic fashion. In the life of the Church, this is the opposite of ‘Bible-bashing,’ for example. It asks, “Can I help?” or “What would you like to work on?” rather than forcing ‘help’ onto someone which may not feel helpful to them, or forcing ‘truth’ onto them, without first hearing their truth.
We create flexible learning spaces for students to engage in silent reflection and then move into group work where we engage in active listening and step out a process of conflict analysis. Time for group supervision are centred around and aimed at discovering a point of metanoia, meaning a change of thinking, understanding or behaviour. Once we have attended to the student experience, we are ready to engage in our curriculum material responsively.
transforming Meso-Identities through Itinerant Communities of Practice
The way that Francis led systemic change in the life of the Church was by embedding a community of practice (the Franciscans) within the structure of the institutional Church itself. That community became like the yeast that leavened the dough. Systemic change is still achieved this way: by gathering like-minded people from within the organisation/industry, who have a shared interest or vision, to work consistently on their practice over an extended period of time. In the language of pedagogy, they are a community of practice which have a shared domain (a sphere of influence), community life (relationships that last longer than a conference) and practice (they are developing skills in their shared craft over time and learning from each other).
What sets a ‘community of practice’ aside from an association, club, business or organisation, is that in addition to being a community that practices a skill or develops a shared area of interest, they are an intentional learning community. They periodically come together to reflect on their experience in the field, debrief, support each other, but also learn from each other and co-create solutions.
Another distinctive of the early Franciscan communities is that they were intentionally itinerant. Like any good politician, Franciscans got out of the office and practiced their art on the road, at the kitchen table, in the piazza, at the leprosy hospitals and on the ‘factory floors’. To be Franciscan, this itinerancy finds geographical, social and cultural expressions.
transforming Macro-Identities by Curating Street Art (seriously)
As well as their bare feet and grubby tunics, the Franciscans were known for their songs, poems and dramatic gestures during street preaching, from dancing before the Pope to stripping naked in the piazza (except we don’t do that). They were cutting-edge in the way that they engaged the arts in minimalist and culturally accessible ways. Their robes weren’t embroidered; instead they embodied the poverty of Christ. Their songs were in the vernacular and easy for anyone to sing along to. They drew from nature to create props and illustrations that the average peasant could relate to. In a sense, they reclaimed the arts as a part of human nature and therefore, the learning process. The arts were no longer restricted to professional performances that form the icing on the cake of the business of everyday life. Rather, the arts were re-embedded into community life and learning, recapturing the power of singing by a campfire and street preaching that more closely resembled stand-up comedy.
The third element of Franciscan pedagogy is engaging the arts to write a new meta-narrative. This is still primarily how cultural change starts: symbolic events, public apologies, fundraising concerts, films and documentaries that detail the truth of history, and songs that envisage a better world. In The Francis Project we work with students to develop creative, embodied and visual ways of expressing stories, lament, confession and transformative narratives. The performances that we develop aim to be beautiful, moving and inspiring, but not necessarily professional. They can be simple and inexpensive.