Rector's Address

By Richard Hall | Posted: Monday November 2, 2020

Below is the Rector's address from Senior Prizegiving held this week.

Ki ngā mana whenua, Kai Tahu, Kāti Mamoe, Waitaha a hoki
Tēnā Koutou
Ki ngā Rangatira kei te pae
Tēnā Koutou
Ki ngā Poua mā, Taua mā, mātua mā
Nau mai haere mai ki te pō nei

Good Evening;

It gives me great pleasure to address the gathered staff, students and parents of Otago Boys’ High School, the representatives of our community, a community that does much to nourish us. Already this evening we have been treated to performances and acknowledged special levels of attainment from a talented group of young men. More of this is to follow.

Twenty-twenty became the year where a new normal was established. Where things we thought would never happen, did. For instance, it became normal to track everywhere you had been during the day yourself, rather than being tracked by Google, it became normal to space at least a meter apart and ‘moist zone’, ‘breath zone’ and ‘bubble’ became part of the country’s lexicon. We became more polite - for a time - we stepped around people rather than through them.

Most significantly I feel an illustration of this new normal; is that Aotearoa’s hero of 2020, was not a 125kg winger, dressed in black hurtling to World Cup glory, or a leader bathed in empathy, but a 65kg academic, dare I say it a slightly nerdy figure, with glasses - but a man now more recognizable than any All Black.

Ashley Bloomfield is an example of a hero, someone who I believe all of the young men in this audience could aspire to be.

Heroes are important to boys, and often they can be missing - or hard to find and often not associated with a boys perception of himself. We will never know if we will run into a burning building or complete superhuman feats and most of us will never be called upon to do so.

But this year an ordinary man has led the way with what he has done and I believe he is a hero; most ordinary people are.

Why? Because Dr Bloomfield is first and foremost an academic, a person of intelligence who helped steer this country through its hardest days since the 1940’s. His knowledge of public health, not the sexiest of subjects ordinarily, has been the most important knowledge this country has needed.

He also appears to do it in a way that manifests itself as part of the Good Man qualities; he oozes respect, speaks calmly, honestly, is reflective of the importance of what he does and not out to gain personal glory. His goal is larger than himself.

Counter that with the other side. Row after row of mainly male politicians, too afraid in 2020 to say or do the hard thing, who hid behind sound bites and fake news in a desperate attempt to hold onto power and relevance.

To see the impact he has had look at the numerous posters, t-shirts, or for one local politician the cost of telling him off in public.

If we believe in the Ashley Boomfield’s of this country, we are on the right track.

This evening is unashamedly a celebration of who we are and what we stand for and much of what has been achieved this evening has been through the efforts of the staff and students. They, given the opportunity and tools have thrived.

The key tools I have to work with, to craft with are the staff of both the school and hostel. Each one of these people have toiled, in trying circumstances to keep this year as positive an experience as possible. It is at this point that I wish to recognise three staff in particular - firstly the sad passing of one of our teachers Mr Tony Gabbusch - his work in our school since 1988, my last year is a pupil here, was all about his passion for the classroom, his friendliness, his openness to try new things if it gained traction with the boys, his willingness to adapt and to improve for the benefit of students. He will be missed.

I wanted to thank all of those in the community who have given us support through this difficult time and I wanted to acknowledge especially the students in his classes replacement teacher Mr Peter Eaton and the wider staff of Otago Boys’ High school who dealt so well with this very difficult situation.

Next is Mrs Tina Fridd, known to many of us here in the audience. As has been mentioned this evening she has been an excellent servant to the boys and staff since 1999. Students may not know her, but she is the reason we have been able to put together so many excellent opportunities for you all.

In fact, reflecting on the sort of staff that has got us through this difficult year, I think is important to highlight the blueprint of an OB’s education.

I value the balance between knowledge and skills, the teacher, only as facilitator is not a method which I subscribe to. I believe more in the craftsman or craftswoman who knows when to be up front, leading new knowledge or dare I say it content, beside discussing, exploring and developing and often too, behind pushing.

This is the craft of teaching. At OBHS we will push back against the big experiment of the student as sole leader of learning, an unproven philosophy, and until it can be proven that it does enable students to get results that are just as good as more traditional methods.

Because for us the fact is boys still achieve better academically in boys' schools. This was borne out again this year by a further independent study of NCEA results nationally. A study which found that no matter what the decile, no matter where in the country boys in boys' schools academically achieved better results than their counterparts in a co-educational environment.

It is due to the passion that our staff have for boys learning, that special brand that our very best have in spades. One of these retiring this year is Mr George Kay, the last of the three I wanted to signal tonight. George’s retirement is the end of significant era, as an old boy of the school, football coach, record club guru and as a teacher, Mr Kay can be said to be a craftsman. In recognition of his craftsmanship I have asked him to hand out the dux medal, a role I jealously guard. But if you have been here for over 45 years as a pupil and teacher - there has to be at least one perk!

As always the proudest achievements are in the successes the students have achieved. Be it a commendation in class, a first in subject, a school record or, the top award of the evening, Dux, the effort that is put into the opportunity our boys get to be successful is key.

Academically our school continues to do well, compared to all of the national markers. Indeed boys education, the opportunity to learn in a boy friendly manner, with high expectations and a sense of purpose is thriving, we feel it every day in the classrooms, on the stage, in the hallways and playgrounds. Many of you in this auditorium have toured the school on an ordinary day and seen, heard and felt the culture of brotherhood that supports our learning. We are what we are and what we are is pretty damn good.

There are 6 key things that are the ‘secret sauce’ of education in our boy’s school. These are:

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.

Each one of these 6 has been a focus for our leadership team and staff. In each of the 6 we can point to clear, evidence based programmes that support our overall 'Man of Oak' culture. For instance 100 hours of professional development for teaching staff on BYOD practice emphasises the opportunity for teachers to learn in a community of inquiry and practice.

It is though the journey that we are on that is most exciting, the introduction of BYOD to compliment the teaching, never replace it, means we are able to be more creative, collaborative and inclusive. The behaviour code, 'Above the Hoops' continues to strengthen and the absolute commitment shown by our staff a month ago and by our sports teams three months ago to a diversity of our culture and a culture of acceptance and tolerance will be the standard for us all. As I said to the boys, our commitment to Black Lives Matter, and other important causes ring hollow when we cannot speak to each other respectfully.

The work and leadership of the staff, board members, community organisations such as the OBHS Foundation is the work of education - quality education that is 'best for boys'.

More than ever it is the leadership of boys that is the key work, developing them into people that the community can rely upon, because as a wise person once said:

“How one plays, and what one plays for, that alone reveals the man.”

This is all about character and attitude. Your approach and outlook will define how well you do, what people think of you and what success looks like in your career - far more than you might expect, and perhaps more than specific results in any one job.

In the book The Road to Character, David Brooks reflects on how society’s values have changed for the worse, and shares the deeper values we should start filling our lives with instead.

He encourages us to rebalance our scales between our “resume virtues,” or achieving wealth and status, and our “eulogy virtues,” which are those deep within us such as honesty, bravery, and kindness.

He points to four ideals that all should be shifting back towards, and it is that idea of back to the future that I mean to highlight. I don’t know about you, but most of us during the lockdown were able to shut out the noise, to slow down, to listen, to think and to be quiet, and now I believe we miss that.

We might not be able to quiet the noise, but Brook's four points are worth exploring - especially for our Year 13’s who will leave us next week - but I believe they are equally important to the parents in the room, the heroes of their children.

1. Work for something bigger than yourself.

Give yourself to a cause, be passionate about issues, become well-read, be articulate, listen closely and be prepared to work beyond your everyday work.

2. Be the most hopeful person in the room. I don’t mean naivety, but hope. That there is pathway forward, is much more likely to accomplish anything -

3. Do the small things really well and be proud of the fact that you do the small things well. Be it Admiral McRaven’s famous speech, which I play in assembly every year, or balancing the register at the end of the day, small things do add up to big things.

4. Embrace responsibility, don't duck it, it is coming anyway. Be responsible for what you do, say and feel, because without you taking responsibility you will never be able share responsibility.

And finally for all OB’s boys - know that:

As Napoleon Hill, the American author said “The strongest oak in the forest is not the one that is protected from the storm and hidden from the sun. It’s the one that stands in the open where it is compelled to struggle for its existence against the winds and rains and the scorching sun.”

Year 13 I wish you well for your future, you are 'Men of Oak'.