Dear PLC Sydney Community

issue1916-paulIt is wonderful to be back at school after my sabbatical. I am very grateful to Mrs Linda Chiba for leading the school in such an effective manner in my absence, and to Mrs Maria Halkidas for stepping up so well into the Deputy’s role. I also thank my P.A., Mrs Sabita Mathews for organising the sabbatical so exceptionally well.

College Council offers a sabbatical to its principal, and fully supports long-service leave for its staff, based on the biblical model. It represents two of the understandings of work that emerge from the Judaeo-Christian tradition: ‘work as vocation’ and ‘work as charisma’.

If work is vocational, it is seen as inherently purposeful. As parents we take on child-rearing as a vocation. We see our role as inherently valuable no matter the circumstances. The educating of young people has a similar inherent value. Therefore it requires a serious personal commitment.

We get the word ‘charismatic’ from the Greek ‘χάρις (charis), or ‘grace’. It is the notion that everything in life is a gift, that things have a ‘givenness’ to them. Work too has this potential for joy, to be very fulfilling. To be such it needs to be understood as being about people and relationships. Work is the joyful engagement with other minds, other people.

The idea of ‘rest’ is therefore also significant. We need time to recoup with our spouse, time to spend with our families. Time to pray and read and think. Time to enjoy creation. When Susan and I lived in Zimbabwe we came to understand the tremendous importance of giving rest to people as a matter of justice. Some workers in homes there worked every day of the year except public holidays. They were not given time to develop an inner life, to ponder, to relax. 

Thus whilst our society has moved in significant ways away from the biblical model of rest, we find that it actually works. It really refreshes people if we can encourage them to both work hard and to rest well.

I am now 20 months into in my second contract. I am grateful to College Council for allowing me six weeks of sabbatical at the end of my first contract with the College. I added three weeks of my holiday leave (in case you aren’t aware, I am at work in school term time and the student holiday period, and like you, receive a set holiday allocation each year) and my wife and I went away.

In the six week sabbatical period I spent three weeks studying at Regent College in Vancouver, Canada. They run summer schools and many of my principal colleagues have recommended them to me. The courses were fantastic. I read extensively and engaged with the faculty there. I think there is scope for seeing how our PaTH courses (Philosophy and Theology) can link with Regent.

Perhaps the best way to summarise my study is to recommend some books to you. I undertook a course on the work of Marilynne Robinson, the award-winning author whom Barack Obama asked to meet at the conclusion of his presidency. I would highly recommend her fiction, but my study focussed on her non-fiction:

Absence of Mind – a beautifully crafted argument that we require a high view of the human mind in our society and schools

The Givenness of Things – a series of essays on science, religion, language and literature

When I Was a Child I Read Books – a series of essays. The title essay looks at the importance of a reading.

I also read and studied Craig Gay’s Dialogue, Catalogue, Monolgue: a punchy book on the importance and methods of creating institutions based on dialogue rather than monologue

And I studied the history of Europe in the 16th and 17th centuries. I would highly recommend Brad Gregory’s Salvation at Stake.

For the other three weeks I wrote the first draft of a book on education. I am asking an editor I know to now critique this very rough work.

For our three weeks of holiday we decided to have an adventure. We went to Iceland, Faroe Islands and Denmark. I love birds and I went looking for different species: puffins, gannets, eagles… I am very keen to further develop our environmental education at PLC Sydney.

I would highly recommend Iceland – it is spectacularly beautiful. Seljalandsfoss, Skogafoss and Gljufrabul are astonishing. You can walk behind Seljalandsfoss and look out through the rainbows of light at the sun through the waterfall. Skogafoss is dramatic and powerful.

To see Gljufrabul you must walk on stones, with the water rushing past your feet, into a crevice in the cliff face. Inside it opens up to a skylight where the falls rush down through 360 degree rainbows. And the vegetation is verdant. 

Then there are geysers and lakes of icebergs and naturally heated pools, and canyons created by earthquakes.

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But my favourite day was on the Faroe Islands. We actually arrived on Faroe Islands on their national day. Everyone dresses in traditional attire. One could be mistaken for thinking you were on a Game of Thrones set. Here is a group of teenage girls, and a couple.

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The highlight though was a trip to Mykines. There are almost one million puffins on the Faroes and many of them are on the tiny island of Mykines (population 11). On one extraordinary day Susan and I walked along the mountain top with three hundred metre cliffs on either side – just metres away. I went on alone further down a path on the cliff edge and around the western side of the island to a tiny track that went carefully through the middle of hundreds of puffin burrows. I felt the whizz of their wings flying past me and saw their awkward attempts to land. Further on I saw thousands of gannets. 

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It was so very refreshing to spend time with my wonderful wife alone. We had a great adventure. And to also have time with family. Our family joined us for two weeks.

We are home now. I feel refreshed and ready to take on the exciting task of the next strategic plan. I love working at PLC Sydney. I look forward to engaging again with students and staff. And you as families. And I am also very thankful for rest and refreshment.

Dr Paul Burgis
Principal