From the Principal

A belated welcome back to Term 3 and thank you to Tom Ryan who wrote the Principal’s article for the last Duce for me as Acting Principal while I was on long service leave in the first two weeks of term.

During the two weeks of the school holidays I was privileged to attend the second year’s program of the Buttimer Institute for Lasallian Studies course at St Mary’s College, Moraga in California. Last year’s two week course focused on the history, biography and works of St John Baptist de La Salle and this year we looked at Lasallian pedagogy. In short, this involved a critical analysis of three of the Founder’s key texts he wrote for the first Brothers and the first schools 300 years ago. These were studied in conjunction with a vast library of contemporary literature along similar themes and most importantly, applying the lessons therein to our current work.

The Buttimer course provides a terrific opportunity to work with genuine scholars of our unique approach to education. A variety of principals, religious education and Lasallian formation leaders, counsellors, teachers, university lecturers, Brothers and others from myriad educational roles provided a rich mix of experiences and backgrounds. United in our ministry of Lasallian education we were all able to learn a great deal from each other, then reflect and plan how to infuse our schools even further with the most valuable features of our charism.

On the final day we were asked to prepare a vision for Lasallian education in our schools, based on our studies, research, discussion and writings of the previous two weeks. I thought it appropriate to share my contribution with our community:

To Give a Human and Christian Education: My Beliefs and Vision re: Lasallian Education

Buttimer 2 has been an outstanding opportunity for genuine professional learning across all spheres of our Lasallian charism. With clearly visible practical application to the roles of all in our school, the course has provided an invaluable source of broadened knowledge and depth of understanding around the critical issues which ensure St John Baptist de La Salle’s fundamental themes remain at the core of all our operations.

The research, analysis, discussion and presentations have reinforced my view of our responsibility to each and every student in a Lasallian school. De La Salle College must continue to develop its living heritage, ingrained in our founding – but of critical importance – continuously adapt to be responsive to today’s realities. Our obligation to the young men entrusted to our care is to provide a holistic education for life in contemporary society, an education which is engaging, rigorous and inspiring. This is shared in an environment where the inherent dignity of each child is recognised and he feels valued, safe, encouraged and there’s always someone who believes in him. Inspired by Christian maxims and Gospel values, De La Salle creates opportunities to live this practically for service, leadership and the betterment of others.

The nature of our student/teacher relationships in a Lasallian school is pivotal and provides a point of difference. De La Salle the man invariably viewed learning as a relational process. Teachers must be aware of and committed to their obligations as a role model and demonstrate commitment, competence and passion to the students before delivering content. The Lasallian student’s classroom is characterised by warmth, humour, interaction and rigour. Contemporary and relevant wellbeing structures, guidelines and processes create a society of solidarity and fraternity – brothers and sisters to one another. We can continue to build on this rich tradition at Malvern. We educate for a life filled with promise – providing challenge, extension and support, where each pupil is encouraged to identify, develop and use his skills. Through this partnership we cultivate viable pathways for all.

Building on the Founder’s insistence on the provision of a human and Christian education, De La Salle College’s mission extends well beyond the formal academic work. As a Catholic school in the 21st century we must ensure students’ faith experience keeps up with the complexity of their lives — keep it contemporary, challenging, engaging and relevant.

Strong, effective and visionary leadership is required at all levels of the College and all must be very clear about their roles, obligations and accountabilities. To assist what de La Salle referred to as “Order with purpose” in schools there must exist an interdependence, an attitude of all being in it together for unity of purpose. Common and shared expectations — collective responsibility — reduce tension for both students and staff.

The holistic education at De La Salle is part of a bigger picture around character, citizenship, respect, decorum and civility – respect for self and others, for the school, owning and upholding our agreed expectations and standards to establish a sense of belonging to our community.

St John Baptist de La Salle could well be construed as pretty firm in his dealings with Brothers and students in his day, but he also implored his staff to treat the students with gentleness. How do we in 2016 ensure our firmness does not degenerate into harshness and our gentleness not degenerate into weakness? The following simple points from over 300 years ago, advice for teachers in dealing with students, provide the answers:

  • personalised knowledge;
  • an ability to listen and to discern character;
  • closeness which makes possible transparency and tenderness;
  • witness which convinces and attracts.

These are integral to a Lasallian educational environment and provide a platform to ensure the enhanced wellbeing of all in our care. One of the many questions and themes we worked on at Buttimer was, “What is most important, and what guarantees the smooth running of the school?” The uniform response was the quality of teachers, guaranteed by their professional learning and formation, their personal commitment and their work in association with others. This fits neatly with the major initiatives at play this year at De La Salle as staff work collaboratively in Professional Learning Teams to build improvement in a range of areas.

Developing our Learning and Teaching Program

All of us on staff, but especially Mark Gustincic and the four Directors of Learning and Development, are investing an enormous amount of time and energy into the enhancement and development of our learning and teaching program at De La Salle. I try to read as much as possible about school improvement and this week I came across an article on schools as learning organisations.

In driving the many changes in recent years you may have heard me say we need to respect the traditions of the past at De La Salle, but have the courage and initiative to build the future of our choice. Dr Simon Breakspear, known internationally for his practical insights on learning innovation and system reform, offered some helpful advice which I think fits with our current practices and endeavours in improving the learning landscape at our school:

• Having a simple mindset; getting better all the time.
• Knowing the core focus. What is your number one priority for improving student learning right now?
• Define the problem worth solving and consider what we need to stop doing.
• Spend more time understanding the problems and defining them, rather than creating solutions.
• Spend some time listening, rather than speaking.
• Do less, but better. Choosing the few things that matter shrinks the number of things we are going after.
• Start with the evidence base. What is already known and making progress on this problem?

As we progress, our learning leaders will move into more challenging and complex scenarios within the context of our Strategic Plan. By establishing the stable core and general direction for change, we lead ourselves and others to embrace the unknown and to ensure that every learner is engaged in a contemporary and skills-based education.

Year 8 Father – Son Time and Space

On Wednesday evening this week we hosted the Year 8 Father – Son Time and Space evening. On a very well attended evening convenor Bill Jennings led the father-son pairs through a range of fun warm-up activities, a panel session, group discussions and most importantly a structured and intimate discussion between the dads and their boys. This is our third year of running Time & Space programs at De La and including the Year 7 Mother & Son nights they have been a valuable addition to our community events and student wellbeing calendar.

Keeping Year 12 Studies on Track

On Tuesday Careers Counsellor Mrs Caroline Fitzpatrick and VCE Coordinator Mr Chris Windley ran the VTAC Information Evening for Year 12 student and their parents. With over 80% of families in attendance, a raft of crucial details regarding university applications and ATAR calculations was presented in concise and informative fashion. One of the key messages is the critical importance of consistent effort in all subjects from the Year 12 students. While third term and the depths of winter threaten the motivation of some, it is imperative all students have a plan, are organised, and seek the necessary support, advice and guidance to keep their studies on track. With only six weeks of this term to go, the trial exams in the second week of the September break loom large. The first two weeks’ revision in Term 4 are also an invaluable period where students must take advantage of every revision class, every conversation and piece of advice from teachers and work as hard as possible to prepare. There is a clear correlation every year between those who prepare well – and perform well – in the trial exams and those who achieve the best results at the end. There is still a significant percentage of assessment to come in all Unit 3 & 4 studies so each and every lesson counts. Now is the time for Year 12 students to begin working through trial and past paper questions if they haven’t done so already. Familiarity with the style and expectations of each exam’s questions is a non-negotiable in revision.

Join us for A Day at the Races – Saturday 13 August at Caulfield Racecourse

Finally, a plug for the Parent Network Day at the Races to be held at Caulfield on Saturday 13 August. This has been a terrific day out for the past two years and with a bigger than ever crowd booked in already it promises to be a great day once again. Click here for further details or to book.

Mr Peter Houlihan







Back to The Duce Issue 2016 11 - 4 August 2016