There is a post which has been doing the rounds of social media recently in which a mother bemoans the modern parent’s lot. How to be a parent in 2017: Make sure your children’s academic, emotional, psychological, mental, spiritual, physical, and social needs are met while being careful not to over stimulate, underestimate, improperly medicate, helicopter, or neglect them in a screen-free, processed-foods-free, plastic-free, body-positive, socially conscious, egalitarian but also authoritative, nurturing but fostering of independence, gentle but not overly permissive, pesticide-free two-storey, multilingual home preferably in a cul-de-sac with a backyard and 1.5 siblings spaced at least two years apart for proper development. Also, don’t forget the coconut oil. How to be a parent in literally every generation before ours: Feed them sometimes. While the comparison may be a little simplistic, it does resonate. It does feel sometimes that we overcomplicate things. With all the best intentions in the world, as parents, we can all fall into the trap of giving our children too much, of trying to protect them from as much pain and as many obstacles as we can. Even if we know that this is not always the best thing to do, the temptation and pressure to do it can be enormous. We want the best for them. The problem is, that instead of children who are always gloriously happy and grateful for our tireless efforts, we can find ourselves dealing with young people who lack the resilience and display a sense of entitlement.
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.