By Richard Hall | Posted: Friday November 1, 2019
Excerpts from the Rector's Prize Giving address 2019.
‘Let us do our work as well,
Both the unseen and the seen;
Make the house, where Gods may dwell,
Beautiful, entire, and clean.’
‘The Builders’ by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow 1850.
Each year I use a poem to frame the direction for our school. To connect the learning of the students and the staff with a solid base or purpose. Often in selecting the poem I start by thinking of the stage the school is at, the challenges that we face, and in particular, I like to concentrate on what I know of the young men of our school and the world that they inhabit. As always I think about Year 13 in particular and what kind of long term advice they might need.
In selecting this poem, "The Builders", the entire school was challenged to be a builder for our ourselves and our community. To put our hands up - not out.
The theme for students is that as people, especially people lucky enough to live in Aoteoroa, we are not passengers in our life, mere observers who have no control; rather we are the architects, the builders, and the sign-offs in white coats to our own lives.
So in selecting this poem I was challenging our school community to not be passengers – to not be passive. I know this evening we have already seen strong evidence of the outstanding heights our young men reach when pushed, and that a wide range of students achieve highly here. I am confident that these young men are fine examples of builders in their lives.
Without being dramatic, the world our young people are going out into is not an easy one, even in New Zealand, still a relatively peaceful and safe country. With climate change, the Christchurch massacre, high youth self harm and suicide rates and very real poverty hitched to the challenge of just making sense of who we are and what we mean amongst a bramble of media images about what we should be, there is enough negative energy to sink many a person.
Instead, as builders, people need the skills to build barriers to negative experiences. Tolerance is a tool that they need to develop and to use daily. Respect, courage, honour and perseverance are not just poster words, they will work. As Willie Apiata VC said in his presentation to a group of boys this term, "Once you have your values and you stick to them, decisions become easier and you have a greater sense of peace."
I also believe that boys education, through our school in particular stands as a positive point of reference. We are positive centres of excellence that allow young men to express positively who they are and what they can be. For instance, our 2018 academic results, the real measure of our success, were up in most areas. Clearly the work done by a wide range of staff, particularly in Year 13, paid off with our highest NCEA Level 3, University Entrance and Scholarship (23) results. Boys achieve well in this boys’ school.
In fact, boys in this boys' school still out perform boys in co-educational schools across New Zealand in every academic criteria. But it is not just in that area that we are justifiably leading young men as witnessed here this evening.
It is no secret that I passionately believe in boys' education as a tool to build a better community for all. I also believe now, more than ever, that it is actually up to a school like Otago Boys' High School to re-open the good men discussion for the 21st and 22nd centuries. To do that you need a starting point.
Last year I wanted to know in particular what it was that we did so well, so that we could maintain those elements against all of the noise and negative speak about boys. So in 2018, we all, including parents engaged with the academic research team at Circle Education in Australia to look specifically at the ‘secret sauce’ of an Otago Boys’ education. The result has shone a light on what we are doing well in six key areas of difference: what we do better than others.
1. School character, climate and culture.
2. Leadership of the educational programme.
3. Teacher effectiveness in growing the whole person.
4. Student educational experience and outcomes.
5. Strategic and operational alignment.
6. Teacher professionalism in a community of inquiry and practice.
A 2019 initiative connected to student educational experience, outcomes and character is this idea of 'Above the Hoops': our in-house standard for students and staff, that I think has gained the best foothold. Led by the students, the idea of 'Above the Hoops' is to understand how the banter so prevalent in a healthy boys' school can and does, at times, become bitter. That bitterness is destructive and we are wise to recognise it, to reset and to show more tolerance. 'Above the Hoops' can be shown through the small stuff: personal leadership of wearing the uniform well, 100% attendance, 100% completion, 100% of your learning to 100% of your best ability, 100% of the time, being committed to the small changes, through action.
For us, 2020 promises to be an exciting evolution for our school.