This Wednesday I had the honour of addressing the Higher School Certificate class of 2019 at a service and breakfast meeting with their parents.

In my address I reminded them that as they enter the competitive world of the HSC, that they had certain advantages that made them more likely to graduate with distinction from Secondary School.

The text of my speech included:

The HSC is a competition and in this competition you have been gifted with certain advantages. Not just your natural talents but circumstantial advantages. Advantages that have been identified in multiple educational research projects.

 

The first is the support of their families. Far and away the single best indicator of academic success at school is having a family who places a high value on education and actively supports academic aspiration in their children.

 

Second is the quality of teaching. St Columba has teachers who are not only well trained, engaging, experienced and with a strong record in assisting students to get exceptional Higher School Certificate marks, they know how to support students in their endeavours.

 

The third advantage is their classmates. There is a growing body of evidence that shows that students in a class that is orderly, safe and populated by students who value the opportunities being given to them outperform those in classes where trying hard is socially unacceptable and teachers are not given the opportunity to do their best work.

 

These advantages are offered to you, and it is up to you to decide if you accept them and use them.

 

We will be there to support you.

 

We will watch to see if you develop and use your talents, are not afraid to ask for help and are grateful for the opportunities that are provided to you and how you support others.

 

Interestingly, at St Columba, these attributes are often the basis of achieving high marks. Naturally, good HSC results open doors, but we know that character, resilience, selflessness and effort mean that the opportunities behind those doors can not only be grasped but sustained long after school days have passed.

 

In almost exactly a year, a judgement of your efforts will come. This will come after you walk away from your last examination. Not from a marker in an overgrown shed marking centre in Sydney. Not from an algorithm that spits out an ATAR. Definitely not from me!

The best judgement will come from within – Did I face up to the challenge? Did I take advantage of the opportunities to succeed that I was offered? Did I sometimes do what I needed to do instead of what I wanted to do?

 

The answer to those questions will allow each student to judge whether he/she has the right to feel truly proud of what he/she has achieved.

 

And in the end that will be what really counts.

I reiterate that our assessment of “taking advantage” will not always be determined by something as simple as high academic results.

In our academic pursuits, as in our sporting endeavours, we are looking to support students who are constantly improving on their “personal best”.

We are watching for the development of character, effort, engagement, community mindedness  and the ability to reset after setbacks.

We know those are the signs of success!

In case you are wondering what some of the other predictors of school success are, here is a sample from the work of Tim Elmore: (Dr. Tim Elmore is the president of Growing Leaders, a nonprofit that provides 6000 public schools, universities, civic organisations, and corporations with resources that foster the growth of young leaders.)

Getting connected to the right people: We continue to find that students who fail to graduate or succeed in school are ones who fail to engage with others outside of class or don’t get involved with activities then don’t have a support system to make them want to continue. They also have no accountability strong enough to prevent them from quitting.

Possessing adaptability and resilience: There is a growing body of research in the last decade suggesting that adults have created a fragile population of children. Because parents or teachers have not demanded they overcome adversity or we’ve not leveled consequences to their behaviour, kids often become brittle young adults, unable to cope with the demands of life. I believe we’ve failed to prepare them to cope with demands. We somehow felt that self-esteem meant we should affirm them consistently and prevent them from falling or failing. Sadly, this has had the opposite effect. We have risked too little, we have rescued too quickly and we have raved to easily about our kids—and now they find it hard to navigate transitions.

Developing high emotional intelligence: If a student has high self-awareness, self-management, social awareness and relationship management, they’re more likely to graduate, excel and become a leader. It’s more about life skills and soft skills than memorizing lectures and taking exams.

Making good decisions: This one is almost predictable. The students who succeed make right decisions in and out of class. These are decisions that determine their moral compass, their discretionary time, their study habits, their predisposition to cheat, their outside work and how they deal with setbacks and stress. All of these can be pivotal in determining whether a kid succeeds or surrenders.

We know that our truly successful graduates are those who develop and use their talents, who are not afraid to ask for help and are grateful for the opportunities that are provided to them and are willing to support others.

Interestingly, at St Columba, we have found that these attributes are often the basis of achieving high marks.


Mr Terry Muldoon
Principal, St Columba Anglican School