From the Acting Head

As I drove from home to school Monday morning of this week, I caught the end of a discussion on talk-back radio about what had been a particularly bad weekend for violence in Melbourne. Stories of gatecrashers at a party, fighting at a sporting event, shocking behaviour on a train and other disturbing tales were recounted. Men behaving badly. Discussion then followed about what is wrong with young people today, with various members of the public offering their opinions. Just as I turned into my parking bay, one caller, with great frustration, asked the question, “What are schools doing to teach boys about good behaviour?”
My immediate and rather annoyed response was to say, “Why is it always the schools’ and teachers’ responsibility to solve the problems of society?” There are so many other factors at play. Parents and family circumstances are critical in the formation of any child. However, we also know that the school is significant in a young man’s personal development and that we do more than teach subjects and cover the curriculum. Indeed, it is the quality of the partnership between home and school that has, I think, the greatest influence on a boy. Together, we take on the responsibility of moulding character and shaping values and attitudes of our boys as they move to adulthood.
The question the talk-back caller asked, “What are schools doing to teach boys about good behaviour?” has sat with me all week and I offer you the following observations of life at St Kevin’s as one answer to that query. The students are given very clear expectations about their behaviour and these are reinforced in many ways. First and foremost, they know they are in a Catholic school, built on the ethos of Edmund Rice. The EREA Touchstones set the tone of our College, reinforcing values such as justice and peace, compassion and respect, inclusivity and acceptance, compassion and understanding. These are qualities we hope our students will embrace and take with them into adulthood.
Relationship-Centred Education at the College is focused on the belief that boys need to be taught how to lead a good life. The Community Rights and Responsibilities Charter states clearly the standards of behaviour expected of all members of the College community. Staff and students are included as ‘we’, because respect for each other cannot be dependent on such factors as age, status or role in our community. It is for everyone. This Charter is published in the College Diary, as well as being on display in every classroom in the College, along with the College rules, which specify aspects of student behaviour that need to be addressed in a more direct way. Boys understand that failure to live up to these expectations can put their membership of the school community at risk. We know this influences the decision-making of our young men and we hope that it sets them up for future life.
As well as teaching our students about right behaviour, the staff are charged with the responsibility of role modelling this. The EREA Code of Conduct details, clarifies and affirms the standards of behaviour expected by Edmund Rice Education Australia for all members. Further expectations are imposed on staff by the Code of Behaviour from the Victorian Institute of Teaching. Staff Feedback Surveys completed by students provide an opportunity for teachers to reflect on their practice and relationships within their classes. Our staff know that they have the responsibility of modelling appropriate behaviour in conflict resolution and participation in restorative practice.
As in so many aspects of their education, students watch and learn. The life lessons that happen are incidental and many, often undocumented and sometimes unnoticed, but nonetheless significant. Last Saturday morning at a Year 8 Basketball game, I watched a skilled staff member teach her young and enthusiastic team how to cope with the pressure of a tightly fought match, to remain disciplined and, with a few strategic moves and good listening by the boys, the team remained composed in the face of that pressure and went on to have a great victory. On the next court, a similar situation led to a narrow defeat for the St Kevin’s boys but the Old Boy Coach gathered the disappointed team together afterwards, found some positives to focus on and commended them on their good sportsmanship. On the ovals, I witnessed a senior Football Coach encourage his team to persist in the face of a large defeat. He continued to urge them on, to play out the game with a spirit of endeavour and competition. His efforts were rewarded with a goal on the final siren, which didn’t change the outcome of the game but enabled the boys to walk off the oval with their heads up. I saw a Rugby Captain, gracious in victory, exchange a tie with his opposing Captain, at an after-match function, and generously acknowledge the efforts of the losing team. At the Guitar, Piano and Percussion Concerts this week, I watched students from Year 2 to Year 12 perform. Some were clearly nervous about playing in front of an audience but had been well prepared by their teachers and instructed in the art of public performance. Some stumbled in their playing but took a deep breath and continued on. Some triumphed in performance and accepted applause with good grace. Each boy gave of his best and learnt from the experience.
At the Old Collegians Annual Dinner last Friday evening, over 100 Old Boys of the College gathered at Kooyong LTC to share their stories and their pride in their school. The age span was great but they had much in common as they celebrated friendship and fellowship. At the Rugby President’s Lunch on Saturday, where 250 gathered, I was able to see the impact of a St Kevin’s education again, as the Old Boys from the 1999 Premiership Team gathered. Their genuine delight in being with each other, with coaching staff from that time and other teachers, was very evident. Many had their own sons with them and it was wonderful to see what fine fathers these boys have become.
Much is being done at St Kevin’s to ensure that our students graduate with a strong and confident sense of who they are, what is important in life and how to live a good life.
The prevalence of violence amongst young men in the community is a cause for concern but I see in the boys of St Kevin’s College, not the problem, but the solution. The focus on relationship-education is at the heart of the school and our policies and practices seek to develop in our students a respect for the dignity of each person they encounter. The partnership with parents is strong. Year after year, I have witnessed the graduation of young men equipped with the values, attitudes and skills that will enable them to be law-abiding and responsible members of our society. I never lose hope.
May I urge members of the St Kevin’s community to support the 2019 Annual Zimele Dinner on Saturday, 3 August at 6.30pm in the Smith Hall. This is a wonderful opportunity for families to support the College in our commitment, as an Edmund Rice school, to make a difference to those who don’t have what we take for granted. Please see booking details in this newsletter.