The End of a Great Term One

The Abraham Institute had a strong start to the school year, doing seven Pursuing Peace (P2) presentations in Term One.

Our first presentation for the year was at Tatachilla Lutheran College, where we presented to the entire Year 8 - 12 cohort during chapel. It would not have been possible without the use of technology so we took on-board some new skills at the same time. The staff and students made us feel very welcome and we’re keen to go back and work with individual classes.

We received an invitation to be involved in a Year 11 seminar during Harmony week at Mercedes College. The Year 11 Religion classes were looking at the Abrahamic faiths, as well as harmony and diversity, and what happens in societies where there is none. It was the first of our collaborations with the Adelaide Holocaust Museum and Steiner Education Centre (AHMSEC) and we hope there will be many more. Mercedes College now refers to both the AHMSEC and Abraham Institute as “dear friends.”

Most of our presentations were to the Year 9 students at Scotch College. Our contact there jokingly suggested that we might need to wear school t-shirts since we’re there so often. We presented to four classes at Scotch College and most of the sessions involved extended Q and A. We were very pleased with the students’ curiosity and openness, and feel we learnt from many of them, as well.

We also did a P2 at Thebarton Senior College to the Year 11 and 12 Peace Studies class. What a morning that was! Thebarton Senior College is a school of high diversity so we had a huge variety of cultural backgrounds in one room. We did some activities that looked at the need to feel part of a group, how -despite one’s background - our human values are very similar and then had a long discussion on issues that were important to the students. We were blown away by the maturity and openness of the students.

If you’d like us to come to your school in Terms 2 or 3 or both, please register your interest before Friday 3rd May in order to receive a fully funded presentation.

Rachel Gillespie

Director

Abraham Institute

Going with the Flow

I used to be a secondary school teacher and would go into most lessons with a comprehensive lesson plan, as well as an extra activity, in case we got through everything early. I also used to go into most lessons knowing that there was a chance that my carefully prepared plan could be blown out of the water by things out of my control. Things like immunisations, excursions, inter-school sports and instrumental lessons meant that there were some days when, despite my careful prep, I just had to “go with the flow.”

This year we’ve been doing an increasing amount of “going with the flow” during our P2 school presentations. We always arrive with a carefully thought-out plan for the class to whom we’re presenting. The fact is, however, that we don’t know the students yet so the plan may look great in theory but might need to be restructured, added to or subtracted from on the day.

A couple of weeks ago, we did back to back presentations at Scotch College. We ran out of time during the first lesson so the students barely got to ask us any questions. We believe that the time spent doing a Q and A is extremely beneficial to the students and we usually do it at the end because, by then, we’ve all gotten to know and trust each other. We made a quick decision between the two classes to do the Q and A in the middle of our presentation rather than at the end. It worked. The students asked a lot of questions because they had time to do so. A week later we did back to back presentations to the remaining two Year 9 classes at Scotch College and went to the Q and A early during the first class. We didn’t get to our next activity with them and, at the end of the class, the students had many more questions to ask so that class was able to join up with the next class to continue asking questions. The plan was to spend the first part of the lesson answering questions and then move on to our other activities. The students were so engaged, curious and receptive that we ended up doing a double lesson Q and A to two Year 9 classes.

It was not what we arrived thinking we would do but we believe - particularly in the wake of the Christchurch and Pittsburgh murders - that demystifying “The Other” is the most important thing we can do. Those lovely students now know much more than they did before about Judaism and Islam. We also have a Catholic educator who was with us on that day. In the wake of the George Pell case, it’s important also to separate Catholics from what some of their priests have done. We’ve been able to address that, too.

In between our two Scotch dates, we did a P2 presentation to the Year 11 & 12 Peace Studies class at Thebarton Senior College. Again, careful planning went into it as TSC is a school of high cultural diversity so we needed to approach it differently than we would at a low cultural diversity school. Furthermore the students are older. Our first activity went well and - as planned - it opened the students’ eyes to the fact that very few people have not been treated unkindly for one reason or another. We sat down on the floor to “unpack” that activity and the conversation, questions and comments just organically flowed. We did another activity, after which we sat down again. From then until the end of the double lesson, the students were so open, honest and curious that we discussed many more topics than I’d have thought possible. We did so from both a secular and religious point of view. Among the topics we touched on were good and evil, mental health, homelessness and sexuality. It was a fantastic morning and I was very glad we’d gone “off script.”

Most of the time, our presentations go as planned. It’s important, however, to “read” the room and make any necessary changes so that the students can fully benefit from a P2 presentation.

Embracing technology

Today we did a Pursuing Peace presentation in a format that was new to us.

A usual P2 presentation involves us working with one or two classes for a double lesson. In that time we do a variety of activities. In some there is a whole class Q and A, in others we get the whole class up and moving and in some we break into small groups.

Today we presented to all the Year 8 - 12 students in a large gym at Tatachilla Lutheran College. Instead of getting the students to stand in certain places to signify how they felt about a certain issue, we used phone polls with live results on a large screen and instead of intimate Q and A, school captains went around with microphones so the students who wanted to ask or answer questions could be heard. We used microphones, as well, so we could be heard by all the students. We usually end with a Q and A with questions about us and our cultural/faith backgrounds, which we do in stations in a classroom. Today questions could be sent through via text message.

It all ran almost seamlessly. Kudos to the school.

We love doing our Pursuing Peace presentations and have done enough in a classroom setting to be very comfortable. Today we were taken out of our comfort zone. Even more importantly, however, we know that we can offer schools large presentations and use technology to do so. This adds the ICT capability to the others that we cover.

Rachel Gillespie

An introduction to me :)

rachel at GH.jpg

My name is Rachel Gillespie, and I am the director of the Abraham Institute, which I took over from the fabulous Kitty Goode in 2017.

I love the fact that I’m the director of an organisation that reinforces on a daily basis that we live in a state where it’s possible for any Australian to become whatever they want to, regardless of where they were born, what their first language was or what colour their skin is.

It is true, however, that many Australians live in a state of fear in relation to “The Other,” and politicians, the media and forces on social media often try to take advantage of that fear, and lead us into mistrusting one another. I believe that the Abraham Institute is one of many organisations that are working hard to combat that fear and mistrust.

We do so in the form of our P2 presentations, which can be used as an adjunct to any curricula or pastoral care topics that look at identity, cultural diversity, intercultural understanding, conflict and racism. As the facilitator, I liaise with school staff prior to a P2 presentation in order to pick activities that reinforce students’ learning outcomes, using informal education techniques, small group work activities and brainstorming solutions to problems caused by intercultural assumptions. I usually have three educators working with me. Each presentation is unique, depending on the wishes of the school.

We’ve had some wonderful feedback from the schools where we’ve presented and my favourite is this from Michael Mattei at Paralowie R - 12 School, “I would recommend this cultural diversity session to all Middle-High School sites in South Australia. You are promoting such a powerful message to all young Australians about acceptance and diversity. In our current world climate, this is the type of program which needs to be at the forefront of education.”

We love what we do and are very passionate about it so please contact us and we’ll answer any and all questions you may have about P2. 

Rachel Gillespie

Director

Abraham Institute