Share this page 

Keeping the Faith Through Open Consultation

For teachers in Catholic school boards, an AQ on religious education serves a dual purpose, says Mark McGowan, a professor of history at the University of Toronto and principal emeritus of St. Michael's College. "It's not just about teaching religion, but could be valuable in informing Catholic teachers generally, where one would hope the values of the faith would permeate," he says.

The Religious Education in Catholic Schools AQ updates material around these areas: scripture and bible; sacraments; liturgy and spirituality; church past, present and future; ethics and morality; faith and action; pedagogical knowledge and skills; and the ongoing faith journey.

McGowan served on the provincial writing team for the AQ, which included classroom teachers, religious educators and principals from both the English and French boards.

"Teachers, administrators, consultants and students all had a voice in articulating what should be part of this AQ. We had a huge wellspring to work from — more of a fountain. The whole process was one of shared wisdom," says McGowan, who's also a former trustee of the Durham Catholic District School Board (DCDSB).

Reita Lucia Goodwin, OCT, a principal in the DCDSB, was part of the process. She invited two Grade 6 students to the open space consultation. Their experiences were instructive.

"It was affirming to many people in the room that they wanted more religion, more about the scripture. They wanted more of the meat. The students spoke highly about how well we integrate religion into all of our subjects," says Goodwin.

She says she found it useful to step out of her principal "bubble" and be involved in the AQ development. Aside from contributing to the outcome, she says the opportunity helped in her leadership development.

Sanjida Rashid, a Thunder Bay Catholic District School Board student trustee, was also invited to the open space session. She shared that religious education should be even more hands-on, around giving back to the community and learning by doing.

"I hope the AQ instils passion in teachers to be as excited as I am about improving religious education for the engagement of students," says Rashid. "I felt valued to be there as a student voice."

Patricia O'Reilly, OCT, director of the teacher formation program at Regis College (the Jesuit faculty of theology at the University of Toronto and one of the bodies accredited to teach the Religious Education in Catholic Schools AQ) was also involved in the consultation.

O'Reilly feels that with all the consultation, the AQ represents the diverse Catholic community. She says the AQ builds on the foundation of previous guidelines, while incorporating emerging topics such as Indigenous issues and climate change.

"The course is crucial to a Catholic school's mission to provide religious education and offer pastoral activities through which students can integrate this intellectual approach," says Cécile Dicaire-Trottier, OCT, an AQ co- ordinator at Le Centre franco in Ottawa.

Le Centre franco (formerly the Centre franco-ontarien de ressources pédagogiques) has been involved with the religious education AQ for 10 years. Dicaire-Trottier says that for the Catholic school community, the revised AQ fosters some key concepts such as a culture of dialogue, critical inquiry, responsibility, and ethical and shared leadership. It "models ways of experiencing faith in action," she says.

McGowan talks about that importance too. "One of the old adages in Catholic education is ‘it's not taught, it's caught.' It's caught in witnessing and modelling the educator," he says. "[This] AQ is recognizing that and building it in for a new generation of teachers."