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.

franciscan pedagogy is a thing


It’s true that ‘pedagogy’ is a term used in the context of education, to describe the theory and practice of teaching and learning. Whilst those who work in different contexts, who aren’t teachers, might find the word left-of-field, we believe we are living in a time when the Church and leaders in our world, need a developed pedagogy for taking individuals and groups to a place of metanoia, of changed hearts and minds. In addition to developing cultural intelligence and change management principles, world leaders need literacy in the pedagogy of change and renewal. Change, at its most basic level, occurs as a process of teaching and learning. We change our minds by learning to think differently, and persuade others to do so by the way we teach.


People who lead change are in the business of educating people, not only to combat ignorance with new information, but rather to facilitate a change of heart and mind, not only about what’s true, but also about what is desirable, achievable and measurable. Effective leaders of change always have a growth mindset, are oriented towards lifelong learning and are, by nature, gifted teachers, though not necessarily in the traditional or academic sense. It was this kind of teaching that St Francis was brilliant at and so our working theory is this:


If a young guy in the thirteen century, with no money, few friends, no family support or social status, could change Church culture and shift the classism embedded in the feudal system in the space of ten years, then his methods are worthy of attention. His ability to shift mindsets and turn hearts that were disillusioned with the Church, back to community, streamed from a pedagogy that could surely be useful in change leadership today. If his practice could be authentically distilled, classified and practiced, it might just be the gold, frankincense and myrrh that many change leaders are seeking for the twenty-first century.