This is an extract from the address I made to staff on the first day of 2012.
A couple of weeks before the end of school, a group of students and staff crowded into the Hopwood room to discuss, deliberate and discern a framework to help our school community better reflect and grow throughout 2012. Over the last two years, we have examined the notions of “Strength and Kindliness” in greater detail. They have formed the basis of our prayer life, our reflections, and the key addresses to our community. The group decided that whilst one option might, be to spend the next five years looking at each of the Core Values in turn, a more prudent approach might be to introduce an annual theme, which could provide a lens, or a window onto the way we engender and live the Core Values and our motto “Strength and Kindliness” each day. To this end, it’s my pleasure to announce that our College theme for 2012 is “Be Aware. Be Courageous. Be More”.
I don’t know about you, but I find those six words very exciting and confronting. I’ve had the luxury of being able to mull over the theme for a few weeks now, and am startled by how many areas of our lives they apply to. If you think about your attitude to our Professional learning time together over the next few days, how can you be aware, be courageous and be more. If you think about the preparation of your classes, how can you be aware, be courageous, be more? If you think about your care of the students with whom you your spend time, or about your spirituality, how can you be aware, be courageous, be more. As a school, when we speak about respecting ourselves, each other and our environment, how can we, as a community be aware, be courageous and be more? When we talk about Strength, or Kindliness, or welcoming all, especially the most vulnerable, how can we be aware, be courageous, be more?
To be aware is an interesting challenge to attend to. Awareness implies that we are attuned to the moment, cogniscent of what has been before and with an eye to the future, but most importantly awareness is profoundly engaged in the people and events our any given moment. Awareness calls us to notice emotions, needs and dynamics in a more subtle way, and it requires our time, our quietened mind and our open heart, so as to most truly discern the most important instance in any given encounter. Awareness needs peace of mind and it grows when practised. To this end, every Friday morning, we will be gathering as a staff for meditation and prayer, to cultivate our awareness and give space to God to enter our hearts and minds, so as to increase our awareness of our own needs, and the needs of others. In each day however, the challenge lies with each of us to be attuned our call to “Be Aware” to our own needs, and the needs of others in our community.
To Be Courageous is a spectacular challenge in anyone’s books. Each day, there are little moments where we are called to step outside our comfort zone for any one of a number of reasons. As people involved in Catholic education, we are repeatedly called to be courageous in confronting things that are morally wrong – in our students, in each other, and in our world. This year we have committed to the development of “agreed behaviours”. Our growth as people and as educators will rely on our common courage to challenge behaviours and actions in each other that do not enhance the learning of our students, or the building of our community.
Building our personal courage and empowering each other and the students to do the same is scary, because it intrinsically acknowledges that we each know that we can do better, that we can expect more from each other, that we can dream of and build a school community that is better than the one we have now. Change requires courage, and being courageous calls us to new horizons and challenges.
For many months now, the Leadership Team have been using the book “Uncommon Gratitude” as the basis of our prayer during our meetings. The section we read just this week reminded us that “it is precisely those unstable eras of our lives that make or break us. They bring great changes to bear on us. They draw greatness out of us. They demand of us the holy audacity to believe that, having dealt with the past, I am equal to the future as well. Today I can handle, I know. Tomorrow may ask something of me that I have never been called to give before. I am not prepared for it; I am simply there. But every new day that I cope with well is another exercise in the courage I did not know I had.” Be Aware. Be courageous. Be more.
The phrase “Be More” is stolen straight from Caritas Australia’s campaigns over the past few years. It is aspirational. It encourages us to dream, and to be audacious in our goals. If we began each day, each class, each interaction with the simple maximum “Be more” quietly chanting in our souls, what possibilities there might be. I have this funny feeling that as we get older, the call to “be more” gets quieter and quieter in our hearts, as we settle onto familiar patters and expected behaviours. Our challenge this year is to reawaken that chant, and allow it to disturb and disrupt us. To allow it to open our inner eye to the possibilities we possess within, and to impel us forward into new ventures and new ways of being. Do you have a vision of what your “more” is. Have you every fully allowed yourself to imagine how different you could be if you unleashed all your professional, public and private purpose in the direction of “being more”. This year, our challenge is not only to open ourselves to “being more” but to encourage and support others to do the same. Our culture unconsciously hinders change and growth…the tall poppy syndrome in which Australians specialise is just one example of this, but we can and must overcome it, not just for the sake of our students and our professional integrity, but for the sake of ourselves, our unspoken dreams, and the private, persistent call in each of our hearts that we can, and must, be more.
I heard recently of a gentleman who had worked with teachers in some of the most dangerous places on our planet, the favaelas of South America, the slums of Gaza, the make-shift schools in refugee camps throughout Africa. He shared the stories of teachers who said goodbye to students at the end of the day, knowing in their hearts that there was a more than reasonable chance those children could be murdered during the night. In telling these stories, he asked a simple question: if you could know that the young person in front of you might not make it through to tomorrow’s dawn, how would you change your teaching and their learning? This might seem like an extreme example to make a simple point, but when it comes right down to it, what would you most want that child to learn, and how would you want to inspire and build that learning, so that the student left your care feeling valued and celebrated? Do we teach or interact as if today is that student’s last day? Do we ever enter the conversation or correct the behaviour thinking this might be the last time this young person hears our voice? Do we remember that our students are precariously vulnerable in so many ways, and that whilst it is unlikely that armed gunmen are waiting in the street for them, their mental, emotional and spiritual health could be far from stable? Be aware. Be courageous. Be more.
As educators in a Catholic school, we have a Covenant that is far greater than any contract. Contracts put boundaries and understandings around roles. Covenant is an ancient word, referring to the binding agreements that pertain to every aspect of ourselves: our character, our aspirations and our vocation. The Covenant of a Catholic educator challenges us to see the world as God sees it, full of potential and possibility. The Covenant inspires us to do better, to strive for more, to draw ourselves ever closer to the perfect version of ourselves that God so dearly wants us to be. When we prioritise our Covenant over our contract, we truly recognise ourselves as God’s hands, voice, feet and heart in our world. We understand that we are the conduit through which God brings light and justice, love and peace into dark corners and sad hearts. We believe ourselves to be the vehicles through which lives are changed. Be aware. Be courageous. Be more.
This year, in very particular ways, we have charged ourselves and each other with the responsibility of doing everything in our power to make our students learning experience more valuable and engaging. Whether you’re a classroom teacher or support in any of the many other roles within our community, essentially our eyes are all on the same prize – that the young people in our care receive from us an education that allows them to grow into the best person they can be. The Covenant calls us to ensure that every encounter brings life and possibility to the young people in our care. In this way, our commitment to developing a differentiated curriculum, our exploration of e-learning days, the undertaking of the acceleration program, the growth of the work of our PLTs , the introduction of Habits of Mind, and the rewriting of our Vision, Mission and Graduate Outcomes are more than the responsibilities we must undertake, they are our enacting of the Covenant we have with our God in very real ways. Luckily for us, covenants are a two way straight, and while we work hard ensuring that God has our hands, feet, voice and heart in this world, God steadily supplies us with the joy-filled and satisfying experiences and people that make life such a gift. In this respect, I really believe that here at St Joseph’s we are blessed many times over!
We have another busy and exciting year ahead of us. We will have our ups and our downs, both professionally and personally. None of us are perfect, but we together, we are a special and unique community, who make God present in our world in any number of ways. We have a rich heritage and an exciting future, and I for one, am seriously excited about the possibilities before us in 2012. I look forward to your input, your energy, your care of the students, your care of each other, the laughter, the adventures and even the difficult times. I look forward to sharing them with you, and I look forward to sitting here in eleven months time, celebrating the journey we have undertaken and the miracles and joys we have encountered along the way.