‘The Art of Teaching’ – Mary MacKillop

Mary was an outstanding educator, in many ways ahead of her time. She saw teaching and learning as a reciprocal process whereby the teacher ‘must understand what she is about’ and the children ‘must also know their duty’. [3]


  • instilled a culture of order and self-discipline through praise and encouragement rather than corporal punishment
  • rewarded exemplary behaviour and achievement with daily marks, coloured ribbons and boiled lollies
  • appointed the most advanced, courteous and punctual as monitors, a position of trust and responsibility
  • knew from experience that rote learning without oral instruction was ‘useless’, because children need to ‘understand what they learn’ [4]
  • asserted that most subjects ‘should be taught orally’, [5] with maps and science charts, for example, carefully explained
  • secured the children’s attention by insisting that their eyes be ‘fixed upon herself’ and ‘their hands and feet in their proper position’ before she began a lesson
  • organised feasts, bush picnics and games for special occasions also enjoyed by parents.

‘A good teacher makes good children and a good school where punishment is rarely required.’ [2] 

Julian Tenison Woods

Intelligent, warm and personable, Mary developed positive relationships with her pupils.


  • respected their personal dignity and treated them fairly
  • was patient and tolerant, but very firm
  • was compassionate and reassuring
  • had a sense of humour and laughed readily.

Above all, she LOVED them and was KIND.

Josephite Education exhibition text: Margaret Muller, Mary MacKillop Penola Centre, 2010

– 1. MacKillop to Woods, Penola, 13.4.1867
– 2. Woods, ‘St Joseph’s Schools, Rules for Teachers’, Adelaide, c1870
– 3. MacKillop, ‘Timetable Explained’, 1875
– 4. MacKillop, ibid, and Woods, ‘Rules for the Institute of St Joseph’, October 1867
-5. MacKillop, ‘Timetable Explained’, 1875