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Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Culture at Saint Ignatius College, Riverview

While Saint Ignatius College closely resembles the mission and values at Boston College, the school’s culture is unlike any other primary school I have previously attended or taught in. Saint Ignatius is a Jesuit middle school and high school, and therefore strives for the ideal of educating the whole person. One of the first things my supervisor told me was that the school’s central desire was to raise young gentleman for others. Although academics certainly still remain central to education at Saint Ignatius, the administration places more stress on social, physical and moral development. When I attended middle and high school I felt immense pressure to perform well in school and the teachers and administration at the schools I attended always taught us that school comes before all else. It was not until I set foot on Boston College campus when I began to experience the philosophy of educating the whole person and the mission of creating “men and women for others.” Both Saint Ignatius and Boston College therefore place emphasis on community service and acting for the good of all in an academic context.

The culture of Saint Ignatius College is not only affected by the Jesuit ideals it was made for but also by Australian culture itself. In America, all schools are highly structured and students, at most schools, must follow a strict set of rules and take on the traditional “student role” in order to be successful. Australian classroom life is much different, in that all of the teachers and students are much more laid back. After all, the Australian motto is, “No worries, mate!” Stemming from this relaxed phrase that defines Australian culture comes more freedom for students in primary education settings. Teachers are also much more willing to change their original plans as new things come up. For example, on my second day at Saint Ignatius all of the teachers in the staffroom told Kelly and I that they were more than happy to have us in their classrooms teaching whatever we wanted to teach, whenever we wanted to teach. At the end of the day, the teacher’s classroom we were in also had Kelly and I speak at the end of the class to close the day instead of following his normal schedule of ending the class with an afternoon prayer. Another difference I have noticed between Saint Ignatius school culture and my cultural experience in American primary education is the student-teacher relationship. While students display a high level of respect for their teachers just as they are expected to in America, I believe that students and teachers have a much more personable relationship in Australia than in America. The teachers are always willing to talk to students about personal experiences and seem open to developing true friendships with their students. I believe that this helps students feel more comfortable and confident in the classroom, and thereby helps them reach higher levels of achievement in all respects of their education.

Along with the laid back and friendly atmosphere, Saint Ignatius culture is also highly centered on sport. In a class I am taking at the University of Sydney, called “Sport and Learning in Australian Culture,” my professor had all of us write down who they thought the most influential American was. Answers ranged from presidents to legendary war heroes to famous figures who fought for the rights of others. Very few people named a sports player, which directly made my professor’s point. He explained that if you asked the same question to a classroom of Australians about the most influential Australian, every single answer would be an athlete. While sports certainly are a large part of American culture, in Australia, sports define culture. The centrality of sports in Australian culture is seen clearly at Saint Ignatius, as almost all of the boys participate in sport at school. During recess the boys group together to play a variety of different sports including cricket, basketball and rugby. Most of the conversation the boys have either with each other or with the other teachers and myself also involve sports and their experiences with sport. For example, when Kelly and I closed the class by talking to the students about what we are doing in Australia we also let them ask us any questions they wanted. After over fifteen kids eagerly raised their hands, the only types of questions we had to answer involved American education and American sports. Another observation I made about the influence of sport in defining the culture at Saint Ignatius is that during the all school assembly the head administrator asked students to stand up who had performed well in sport or who had made a sporting team so that all of the other students could acknowledge their accomplishment and applaud them. Coming from America where education is incredibly structured and academic-focused, teaching in Australia where the laidback motto and sporting culture strongly influences education will be a very different but incredibly fun and valuable experience!


  1. Heather, it is very interesting to me how much sports influence the Australian culture and the culture at St. Ignatius. I had always thought that America had a sports obsessed culture! I was particularly struck by your observation during the school assembly. The head administrator asking students who were excelling in sports to stand up really show how integrated sports are in their culture. I remember having similar assemblies in my own middle school however they were always to acknowledge academic achievements. Reading your post got me to wondering if this love of sports affects the classroom beyond personal conversations. Is sports integrated into the curriculum at all? For example, do students study famous athletes or have math problems involving sports?

    Also reading your post, I noticed a parallel in regards to the classroom culture I have found in Spain. Like the Australian culture, the Spanish culture is much more laid back than the American and it shows in the classroom. The classrooms have a more laid back atmosphere and while education is considered important, the Spanish feel there are other life experiences that are equally important. And although the students highly respect their teachers, the relationship between them is also very personable. I wonder if people teaching in other countries have also noticed a more relaxed atmosphere in the classroom…

  2. I really enjoyed reading your post, and it is very interesting to see all of the connections between your school and BC, since most posts (including my own) have been comparing abroad schools to our American pre-practicum schools. Obviously, elementary schools match up better with other elementary schools, but your post has definitely made me think more critically about how my Irish Catholic elementary school does have some similarities and differences relating to BC. Thanks for the thought-provoking post!

  3. Margaret, I'm sorry for responding to this so late - I only just now saw that I had comments here! The value of sports in Australian culture is definitely reflected in the Australian curriculum. All over the classroom walls are posters of famous Australian athletes who are meant to inspire the children to strive for their best. They also learn about these athletes in history - although I unfortunately never observed one of these lessons myself. The children are also, however, required to play a sport as part of the Riverview community. They also hold sports practice on Thursday afternoons instead of classes, further showing how important sports are in the Riverivew community and in Australian culture. I'm glad you both enjoyed reading my post!


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