On the School 'As a Community'
I first thought of this expression when defending the behaviour of students of our school to critics in the community. I realised that the population of our school is larger than that of many smaller towns in the district, say, Nimmitabel. When you consider a group of 1,000 people, you naturally think that there are going to be all types of people involved in that community: reasonable people, sad people, happy people, upset people, people from broken homes, people from happy homes and even people who occasionally misbehave themselves. They're all here, all mixed up together and we, in some cases, barely know a thing about them.
I started to think that since we are all here together, we should look at ourselves as a community and that the things that we do should be for the good of that community. For example, we don't pick up papers just for the sake of picking up papers. We have a community, so we like to think that this is what people might do when they leave school and go out into that other community.
On the School Appraisal
Appraisal means to determine the worth of. This school is a publicly owned organisation that employs over 70 people. In terms of real estate, it is worth, very conservatively, $500,000. The wages of the staff and the maintenance of this organisation are paid for by the Government. But that's not all that is here. There are over 900 school students. I think that there should be some form of accountability, or appraisal - some assessment - to determine whether we are doing the job we think we are doing. The aim of the Appraisal Panel was to determine whether we are fulfilling our aims - and to decide whether M.H.S. is an efficient school. It is an efficient school according to the Panel. This Panel made many suggestions as to where we could improve: for example, advice to the School Council, to the Ancillary Staff, to groups of students. Incidentally, their praise of Kunama was high.
A big change in my time has been in my approach to nit-picking discipline situations. I've tried to avoid where I can picking for the sake of picking. I like students to realise that if we criticise them about school uniforms, for example, it's because it has been discussed at both student and parent level, and decided on as being a reasonable thing. As the implementer of those decisions I have to then follow them through. Another change has been the freeing-up of out-of-bounds areas - allowing pupils to use the oval more freely and perhaps not restricting seniors quite so much as was the case previously. I like to discuss matters with staff, say on the matter of school discipline, and then I've implemented what I think staff, in the main, want. I know not everyone agrees with what I do, but that's one of the prices you have to pay. I suppose one of the main things I look for is a happy school. I think that if you're not happy in yourself, you're not going to work well. Your social adjustment is important to the way you work academically.
On Social Adjustment
The school's role here is important. We have many services in the community that we can call on to help people who are having problems at school or at home. these services include the School Counseller, Mrs Mertens, the Community Health Services, Sr Marcell-Grimmond and her assistants, plus others. We've also got our own Year Masters, who in the first instance, locate problems through the class teachers and then refer those through the various channels. We've had a great deal of success with trying to help people socially. I hope that in the not-too-distant future, we will have social workers as part of the normal school staff. For example, there is often and adjustment problem with people coming to M.H.S. from remote country areas. Coming into a large community like ours each day is a problem that we don't often appreciate. One suggestion from the Appraisal committee which came from the pupils was to involve some of the seniors as mentors or counsellors for Year 7 classes in their first few weeks at school. Another idea would be to have vertical roll groups - i.e. a few pupils from school each year on the one roll. This way Year 7 pupils would be able to rely on Year 12 or other older pupils for assistance and guidance.
On Tone and School Spirit
I'd like to think that the Principal plays a significant role. I think it's probably a combination of the Principal and his basic ideas. These are then transferred to a staff who is prepared to act on these various procedures that encourage the development of Tone and School Spirit. For instance, active House Masters can be a tremendous influence on house sports. But not only that. School Spirit depends on a great deal of interplay between the Principal, staff and students. It doesn't end there either. Parents are most important too. If they are willing to participate in the school's activities with interest, the school's spirit and tone are enhanced.
I believe that where a wrong has been done, people should be punished. The reason for punishment is something that should be discussed pretty thoroughly, so that the person knows why he or she is being punished. It should also be a reasonable form of punishment. I'm not a real advocate of the cane but I do think it has its place with, as Mr Harber calls them, naughty little boys.
On Changing Ideas and Attitudes
I think my attitudes in general have changed considerably. When I came here I was a fairly free thinker as far as Education was concerned. I considered the teacher in the classroom could do the job totally, without external examinations, without half-yearly or yearly examinations. Since than I've found that the community needs, student needs and teacher needs do not agree with this. Recent discussions on T.V., newspaper reports confirm community concerns in relation to the present standards of education. There has been particular emphasis on literacy and numeracy standards (or lack of) of our pupils.
After much consultation with the school executive, I agreed that examinations should be re-introduced into all forms. I see these as giving more purpose and direction to pupils in their studies and in many cases, to teachers who have been concerned at drift from the more prescriptive courses.
I don't entirely agree with some of the criticisms being levelled at Education. I think that students are just as literate now, or more so, than they were in my school days. However, my own views have changed to meet the demands of the community. We have changed with our own system at M.H.S. to fit into a tighter educational scene, with more specific goals in mind. I still think there is a great deal going for the freer style of education, particularly in the classroom situation.
On the Student Council
The Student Council is a worthwhile body. Most of the people in it are willing to take the bit between the teeth and do something about changing things. Ever since I've been here, I've tried to encourage the Student Council: I am willing to support them in what they do. The School Appraisal committee came up with some reasonable ideas which we may be able to implement. The Council has to be active; it has to achieve positive results so that people can say "We did that" and it has to have an active attitude from the Council itself. They have got to be convinced that what they are doing is worthwhile. If it turns out to be the same as when we had prefects, students won't want to be in it. They don't want to be disciplinarians, and I commend them for that. I think we can get around that situation by other methods, including cooperation. Students are asking for more say in what's happening to them. This good to see but it's a matter of how it's done.
Do You Miss Teaching?
Less and less each year. In the classroom, I had a specific role as a teacher and I thought I was very happy fulfilling that role. As I moved up to Subject Master, I found the role of Administrator of a Department a challenge. You had an opportunity to influence your subject throughout the school and also to make it a pleasant subject for the pupils to learn. Then, when you are promoted further to the role of Deputy, you become involved with staff, pupils and parents more. That became a very satisfying role to fulfil, but you still had some teaching. Then, in the role of Principal, you find you are where the buck stops. Your responsibility and influence probably becomes more widespread when you become a Principal. I get the same satisfaction out of being an administrator as I did as a classroom teacher. I feel my role as being more concerned with the pupils and teachers than as an Administrator. The role of the Principal should be concerned with the pupils and the teaching staff and improving education. As a result of that, if I were to go back to the classroom, I would probably experiment more with teaching methods. Teaching is probably one of the hardest and most maligned professions. Someone who has never taught is usually quick to criticise the teacher. I think that there is a closer rapport between pupils and teachers than existed when I started teaching 25 years ago.
The King's Silver Jubilee Message
You get as much out of education, and teaching, and the school, as you are prepared to put into it. To enjoy the freedoms that you are now allowed you must be willing to cooperate, and have a reasonable (and reasoning) attitude and a sense of responsibility. The more you demonstrate there attributes the more your real freedom will increase.