A Uniting Church coeducational independent day and boarding school on Kaurna Country, Adelaide, South Australia

Early Learning to Year 12

From the Principal - Edition 13 - 2023

Every year, Intercol provides our children the chance to play in what is, for us, a collective grand final. It is the chance to pit themselves against other students and really have fun in a caring and competitive environment. Win or lose, there are great learning opportunities. We can learn to win with humility, lose with graciousness and celebrate appropriately. We can learn to be an integral part of something bigger than ourselves, how to take care of others and appreciate the importance of preparation and dedication. We can also learn that sometimes other people and teams are simply better than us at that sport or activity, possibly on the day only.

The media has again been awash with NAPLAN data, the sharing of school’s achievements creates an unhealthy ‘league table’ where schools are compared against each other and ‘experts’ share their opinion on what schools must do to improve. While the NAPLAN is a useful tool to track student, teacher and school achievement against a set of standardised criteria, its usefulness is radically diminished by the media frenzy that is whipped up every year.

If a school chooses to build its academic program solely around the NAPLAN test and dedicate resources and energy to this, it will show great improvement in the testing results. But it will do nothing to prepare students for life in their VUCA world. It will not allow schools to be VUCA Prime institutions where there is Vision, Understanding, Clarity and Agility, nor will it allow for experiential learning. The evolution of AI in education is happening at an alarming rate. Our ability to generate research and gather information through AI has grown exponentially. One outcome of this is that students today have the capacity to gather and present in a manner that has never existed before. Synthesis, one of the highest forms of learning, is being carried out by AI. As this occurs, education must behave in a VUCA Prime manner. Education must focus on discernment, analysis, applied understanding and emotional intelligence among a myriad of other focal points. Rote learning and knowledge regurgitation is becoming less and less important and useful. Experiential learning is perhaps one of the most versatile epistemological practices that teachers have at their disposal. Allowing student to learn through doing, through pushing boundaries and by learning through their mistakes is becoming even more important.

For students to really engage in experiential learning, parents have to let them do so. Of course, we all care deeply for our children and by sending them to a school like Westminster, we can be drawn into their lives vicariously. We want our children to achieve, we want to them to excel, we want them to be happy and we want to be there for and with them. We also don’t want our children to fail in any context, academically, socially, behaviourally or in sport. But we have to accept that sometimes our vision of achievement, excelling and happiness is completely different to theirs. Our desire to see our children fulfil what we believe is their full potential, can often far exceed their desire and, to be brutally honest, we need to back off. We need to remember this extract from the Gestalt prayer: I do my thing and you do your thing. I am not in this world to live up to your expectations, and you are not in this world to live up to mine. You are you, and I am I…

If our children do something wrong, the last thing we should do is try and justify their behaviour. It is their behaviour and they need to own and learn from it. We should, when appropriate, explain that we love them but not their behaviour. We should let them face the consequences of their actions and make accurate attributions. If we want our children to be prepared for life, we have to let them learn experientially in every aspect of their lives. We need to be like bumper lanes at ten pin bowling - a set of barriers to crash into, correcting their path but always from the outer edge of the bowling lane.

We should not live vicariously, we should not engage in over-protectionism. Instead, we should know that our School is one with a strong, caring culture where all students have the opportunity to learn in a manner that helps them achieve more than they thought possible. This learning will only be fully achieved when we, as parents, let our children experience the highs, the lows and the problems life can throw up. In doing this, we help our children through experience to develop immunity, resilience, persistence, emotional intelligence and empower them to live wonderful lives in an ever-changing world.

Simon Shepherd