Dear PLC Sydney Community
Thank you very much to our student and staff community and to the Presbyterian Church for their collective assistance in enabling the off-site evacuation to be completed successfully this week.
With the spate of hoaxes across NSW schools we worked with the police to update our evacuation plans, just in case we received an indication that our school site was potentially unsafe.
Evandale students evacuated to Arlington (our home) and missed 30 minutes of school. Older students evacuated to Glendale Aged Care Facility - 200 metres from the College - and missed one hour of school.
The Police provided us excellent feedback on the drill and everything ran smoothly.
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I am reading a book called Flourishing by Miloslav Volf. Volf is responsible for the Centre of Religion and Culture at Yale University. His latest book has a powerful theme – it concerns the positive place of religious belief in a globalised world and the insight that to flourish on earth human beings need both meaning and pleasure. It has many applications to schools – I am focusing on one.
Here is a quote that captures the primary theme:
‘In (believing that we have to choose) between meaning and pleasure we always make the wrong choice. Pleasure without meaning is vapid; meaning without pleasure is crushing. In its own way each is nihilistic without the other. But we don’t need to choose between the two. The unity of meaning and pleasure, which we experience as joy, is given with the God who is Love. It is a reason we need religion in a globalised world.’ (p.201)
Meaning and Pleasure…
I think I can understand this in regard to education. We all want our daughters to be happy as they learn. One could think that if the teacher could always create a happy classroom, then our daughters would flourish.
This is the vision of the classroom which prioritises your daughter’s good feelings at the time of learning. It measures the classroom as successful if students are enjoying the class.
On the other side is the classroom that is first and foremost purposeful. A teacher returned from long service leave with the story that he had worked for hours on a piece of art and was proud to show it to his mentor. As the mentor came in the door the teacher expected a pat on the back. Instead the mentor told him that he would have to start again. He had not yet achieved what it was he was supposed to have learned. He felt for a time like giving up, but gathered himself and did achieve the goals.
This is the vision of the classroom which prioritises your daughter’s long-term success and capacity to change and grow. It measures the classroom as successful if she grows into a person who is accomplished and sure, even if it took pain for her to ‘get there’.
To apply Volf to these scenarios, the first classroom could be vapid if all that matters is her happiness; the second classroom could be crushing if all that matters is a very challenging final outcome.
The challenge for the teacher is to deliver both.
Of course, the teacher is open to criticism if her classroom is either too challenging, or too soft. The excellent teacher combines challenge with pleasure, without compromising the final outcome or abandoning students who find it hard to keep up.
Just like parenting, this is a significant task. Yet it is also part of the joy of the profession. I know that the culture of PLC Sydney is to seek to engage students in both challenging and enjoyable learning experiences. Yet each class has many students trying to ‘read’ it and it is possible for students to lose their way.
As we come to the beginning of a new academic year, I ask parents to consider their own predilections: do you hope your daughters’ classroom really tests and challenges her, or do you hope first and foremost she finds it a place of great security? Please be aware that we have parents on both sides of this divide, and we are seeking to find the right balance.
We really welcome conversations with you about what works for your daughter. Each story helps us understand how best to help her learn. The teachers will create a tapestry that is the best fit for the class. Your encouragement in this process both rewards and inspires them.
Dr Paul Burgis