From the Principal

This time of year brings many roles and responsibilities for our students and in this week’s Duce I would like to reflect briefly on the students’ mindset as they approach the end of the year.

While many students will have one eye on Christmas and its associated holidays and festivities there is still a lot going on in the school as we prepare for the end of the academic year, and, crucially, for next year.

Current Year 10 and 11 students have finished their exams and have now moved into the Headstart program as the 2018 Year 11 and 12 students. It is critical these senior students approach the six days with a positive mindset and most importantly, a sense of purpose. For the Year 4 – 9 students, end of year assessments and preparation for the transition to the next year level also provide opportunities for reflection and planning.

One of the key ideas we are working on this year is the development of a broad range of skills in all our students, regardless of their age or year level. Personal strengths such as persistence, resilience and purpose, and social skills encompassing the domains of collaboration, empathy and communication are becoming an everyday feature of De La Salle student’s learning environment. Courses are currently being redesigned to move from basic knowledge, basic skills and core content to higher order, interdisciplinary concepts.

In a seminar earlier this year I was taken by some comments from Professor Yong Zhao, Presidential Chair, University of Oregon and global author on powerful pedagogies for 21st Century schooling. Professor Zhao proposed education should be strength‐based, not deficit‐driven, where we give each student the challenge and opportunity to build on his strengths and passions. His definition of a great school was one that provides:

  • A sense of belonging
  • Springboard for success and contribution to society
  • Opportunity

I encourage our students to approach their education with a strong sense of purpose and agency, to value their experiences at school, to take advantage of the opportunities presented and give themselves a reason for getting up and achieving something each day.

I would like to refer you to an email we received this week from Br Bill Firman, Principal at De La Salle from 2005 – 09 which in every sense of the word exemplifies that notion of living your life with a sense of purpose. Br Bill has been living his mission in South Sudan for a number of years supporting communities there under incredible hardship. His email this week really typifies the importance of resilience, purpose and making a contribution to society, a terrific example for our boys as a true Lasallian.

A Reason to Rise

My great friend and mentor, Br Damien Harvey, used to say: ‘A man has to have a reason to get up in the morning’. He was reflecting on the Brothers’ way of life. I am sure he would be equally comfortable with the more general statement: ‘Every person needs a reason to rise in the morning’, to get out of bed and start the day with optimism. The reason may simply be that you have something you really like to do that you are anticipating, e.g. an outing, going to a concert or for a meal with friends. The reason may also be one of deeper motivation that you really believe in what you are doing and are prepared to face whatever confronts you to achieve your goal.

The German philosopher, Friedrich Nietzsche, who published extensively in the 1870s and 1880s, offered many criticisms of traditional morality and religion. I am no expert on this very complex thinker whose views, as I understand them, often conflict with my own, but he was a master of thought provoking aphorisms. One fanciful one was, ‘And those who were seen dancing were thought to be insane by those who could not hear the music.’ As a metaphor, that rings true to me. Too often we only see half the picture and make misjudgements based on our limited insights.

I have often observed the incredible efforts made by highly motivated students who want to succeed and once again, a Nietzsche aphorism comes to mind: ‘He who has a why to live for can bear with almost any how’. It is amazing how much can be achieved and how long and hard we can work if we really are focused on a clear goal. Yes, there are often problems, obstacles, distractions along the way and we can make the mistake of focusing on those rather than our goal.

Which brings me to the situation in South Sudan. Too many have been killed or driven from their homes, hundreds of thousands too many. But we cannot bring back those who have been so unjustly and mercilessly killed. What we must do primarily is to focus on those who are still able to dance. In 2005, the published statistic for South Sudan was that only 23% of children ever got to attend primary school at some stage – not finish, just attend long enough to be registered. Only 35% of those were girls. So only 8% of girls ever went to school.

By independence in 2011, the percentage had risen sharply to 46% of children going to school. Good progress, but still the majority of children were not going to school. But let us think about the 8 percent. It takes 12 years to complete primary and secondary. 12 years added on to 2005 takes us to 2017. So every young woman undertaking tertiary studies now was lucky enough to be in that 8% who were attending primary before 2005 – or they were educated outside the country in refugee camps such as Kakuma. This week, 14 women and 18 men will graduate as registered nurses or midwives, after three years of full‐time study in residence at our Catholic Health Training Institute in Wau. That is quite a select achievement.

On a similar theme, Pope Francis dedicated last Sunday 19 November as the World Day of the Poor. This recent article from Pope Francis implores Christians everywhere to consider in practical terms what we may be able to do to support the poor in our own communities and further afield if practical.

As a group of our Year 12 students head to Diyagala Boys’ Town in Colombo to bring material, physical and spiritual support to that community, Pope Francis’ message is a timely reminder that we can all do something somewhere to support those less fortunate than ourselves. This, of course, can be very rewarding and regardless of how we live our mission individually, service in any form gives us all a reason to rise.

Mr Peter Houlihan

Back to The Duce Issue 2017 18 - 23 November 2017