Most of us can recall a favourite teacher from when we were young – someone who had a lasting impact on us, either because they were infectiously passionate about their subject, or took a special interest in our learning, or encouraged us to be more than we thought we could be. Not all my teachers had such a positive impact – there are some that I would rather forget, people who did not seem to enjoy their jobs or even like children, and who left scars. They too shaped me, I suppose, and inspired me to be a better and more compassionate teacher through their negative example. Teachers have such powerful impacts on their students; it is our huge privilege and a great responsibility. In my time at Camberwell Grammar I have been very lucky in recent years to have worked with two extraordinary women. Each of them, in their own way, have been inspirational teachers, and I suspect that many of our students will remember them one day as one of their favourite teachers. Unfortunately, both of them are leaving us at the end of 2017.
One of the most impressive scholars our School has produced since 1886 is Professor Sir Walter Murdoch, who was Dux of our School in 1889. He pursued an academic career at Melbourne University and then, for most of his career, in Western Australia, where a university now bears his name. Given his eminent academic career it is appropriate that a new research and development arm in our School will be called ‘The Walter Murdoch Centre’. Educational thinking and practice is moving very quickly at the moment, and the implications of technology and how it can be used to help teaching and learning are only just now beginning to be understood. In order for us to keep up with the rate of change, and also to help prepare our students for the world they will enter after school, we need to devote some resources to research and innovation, and the Murdoch Centre will provide these.
Our Year 11 students recently participated in a one-day conference called BODi Day. The title is an acronym for 'By Our Deeds: Inquiry'. There were sessions on healthy eating and physical well-being, emotional self-control, mindfulness, yoga and meditation, social connectedness and integrity. In the evening, parents and students were invited back to the school to discuss the nature of ‘meaningful relationships’. The focus of this conference though, was on a couple of big questions: what does it mean to be a ‘good man’, and how can we find happiness and contentment in our lives? Such questions are central to all of us as we navigate through difficult times, and are surely as important in education as Mathematics or History.
In a wonderful TED talk on the ’Transformative Power of Classical Music’, the conductor of the Boston Philharmonic Youth Orchestra, Benjamin Zander, confesses that at the age of 45, after twenty years of conducting orchestras, he had a revelation. He realized that the conductor of an orchestra is the only person on stage who does not make a sound. The conductor’s entire power lay in his or her ability to make other people powerful. He recognised that his job was to ‘awaken possibility in other people.’ In many ways, his revelation applies equally to Headmasters. Despite Winston Churchill’s lament that ‘Headmasters have powers at their disposal with which Prime Ministers have never yet been invested,’ the reality is somewhat more prosaic. Headmasters are often ‘behind the scenes’ in a school. The bulk of the work that takes place in classrooms is done by teachers, not headmasters. Most of our time is taken up with administration and unending meetings - meetings with teachers, with parents, with students, with architects, with local council officers, planners, neighbours, educational theorists, people who want you to buy something or convince you about something. Our role really, is to provide the structures and support to enable others to become powerful. Our teachers in turn, carry out that role with their students.
When a passer-by reportedly once asked Michelangelo what he was doing, as he saw him hammering away with a chisel at a large block of marble, the artist is famously said to have responded: ‘I am freeing the angel which is trapped inside this stone’. Sometimes it seems that our work is also one of freeing the angels trapped inside young boys! One of the aims of education to give each student the skills and confidence to discover his true essence and to be able to articulate what he really thinks. By giving students wide and varied experiences, by pushing them a little beyond their ‘comfort zone’, we hope to expand their vision, and help them to find passion and joy and develop their character. We also hope to give them the knowledge and intellectual rigour to be able to make sense of the world and to find their place in it. We hope to be able to teach them to think and to feel and to engage fully in the world, to release their inner angel.