‘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, 13.4.18672. Woods, ‘St Joseph’s Schools, Rules for Teachers’, Adelaide, c18703. MacKillop, ‘Timetable Explained’, 18754. MacKillop, ibid, and Woods, ‘Rules for the Institute of St Joseph’, October 18675. MacKillop, ‘Timetable Explained’, 1875