A brief introduction to the Door of Encounter.

The Door of Encounter -- Rheims

Welcome to the Door of Encounter. In 1679, a wealthy French priest named Jean-Baptiste de La Salle opened this door in Rheims to a man named Adrian Nyel, who had come to ask De La Salle for assistance in starting  free schools for impoverished boys. In the years that followed, De La Salle founded the Brothers of the Christian Schools to run these schools. By the time of his death in 1719, he had:

  • committed his entire fortune to running these schools,
  • invited the teachers — young men from the communities they served — to live with him “in association” in his family home,
  • dedicated himself to developing transformative educational experiences for vulnerable members of society (including adjudicated youth and refugees),
  • collated contemporary best practices in education and created new practices, 
  • developed extensive teacher education programs to train and support his community of Teaching Brothers,
  • and invented the scholarship of teaching and learning by documenting the Brothers’ practices and philosophies to ensure that Lasallian pedagogy would endure.

It’s no wonder that he is now the Patron Saint of Teachers. The full scope of De La Salle’s impact and the ongoing charism of the Brothers of the Christian Schools is beyond the scope of this inaugural post (though I’m sure I’ll revisit it; if you’re interesting in learning more in the meantime, check out this short video about De La Salle’s life and legacy). But the image of De La Salle opening the door to an unexpected and profound detour in his life’s trajectory resonates with me.

We all have our own Doors of Encounter, those moments that set us on path that we could never have imagined, those dots that can only be connected retrospectively. Importantly, we are also often Doors of Encounter for our students. Those can be constructive, affirming, transformative encounters — but that’s not a guarantee.

The doors of McShain Hall, La Salle University. Photo from the La Salle University archives: https://www.facebook.com/lasallearchives/photos/a.380306425444374/760945437380469/?type=3&theater

The door to McShain Hall at La Salle University was a significant Door of Encounter for me, in more ways than one. Through that door and down the stairs, I was invited into the first academic space I had ever inhabited where I felt like I belonged. Ten years further on, I was not just permitted but encouraged to pursue the research that became my dissertation project. The door to McShain introduced me to the world of Lasallian education, and many of the people I met as a result of stepping through that door became my Lasallian mentors.

This blog will be an exploration of these Doors of Encounter that we share with our students. I will use this space to unpack and demystify pedagogical strategies, educational theories, best practices, and obfuscating jargon. Transformative praxis is a life-long endeavor, and I have learning yet to do myself. So, we’ll learn together and by association, in keeping with 300+ years of Lasallian tradition. Thanks for accompanying me on this path!

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