Respect • Equity • Diversity

2020 is truly proving to be ‘An education for life.’ The devastation of fire and flood quickly followed by COVID-19 preceded the events that have generated the Black Lives Matter campaign.  We have, in a matter of months, been confronted by the adverse impact of humans on the environment, health and racial equality.  These events have given us cause to reflect on our understanding of all essential issues and the processes and sources we rely upon to help form our beliefs and our responses.  I am uncertain as to which stage I am currently holding in my adapted version of Shakespeare’s Seven Ages of (Hu)Man, though I am hopeful that it is neither of the final two stages!

The helpless infant, the whining schoolchild, the emotional lover, the devoted soldier, the wise judge, the old persons till in control of their faculties, and the extremely aged, returned to a second state of helplessness.

What I have noticed about myself, is an increased need to identify the oracles of knowledge and wisdom capable of guiding my thoughts and my actions on many and varied matters for myself, my family and for those whose lives are impacted by my decisions.  It has been evident that the official agencies and normal reliable sources of timely and accurate information have been challenged by speedier, and at times, more accurate digital media platforms.  In reflecting on these experiences, I have recognised that it has elevated my levels of scepticism and increased the frequency with which I ask the question, “How do you know that to be true?”

These reflections have also caused me to recall the far too often repeated words of my late boarding Housemaster, “Davis, what has this experience taught you?”  A question that I acknowledge was not asked when I was making sensible and rational decisions, and so it required a moment of reflection on my actions.  Whilst we might all recognise that learning from our experiences is, theoretically, a key to our development, we should acknowledge that we humans have not always demonstrated this to be our strongest trait.

Educators are familiar with Kolb’s Experiential Learning Theory which champions the significance of learning through experience. It has gained strong support from the likes of Vygotsky, Piaget and Jung who recognised that it was applicable beyond the realms of the classroom and reached into all arenas of life.  Experiential Learning is a central component of an education at St Leonard’s College and provides the opportunity for our students to share experiences locally, nationally and internationally that will undoubtedly shape their lives.  Only time will tell how our recent experiences will shape the thinking, behaviours and actions of our students and more broadly, our entire College community. What I fear, is that we will pass through this tempest and arrive in a place of relative safety and comfort that will, once again, condemn us to disregard the catalysts of recent events. It is, therefore, timely that we refocus in earnest on our College Theme for 2020: Respect Equity Diversity and ensure that the impact of our College Theme for 2019: Cultivating Environmental Virtue is not diminished.

This requires that we not only provide our young people with the opportunity to have a voice, but that we encourage in them a moral obligation to use their voice to bring change as and when they deem it appropriate.  One only has to consider the current local and international political landscape to recognise that we are in dire need of leaders with the traits that have formed the ‘four pillars of character’ for thousands of years: Courage, Temperance, Justice and Wisdom.  Our young people will need our guidance and encouragement to develop the tools and the motivation to think outside of the realm of self-interest and to embrace their responsibility to act for the good of all humankind.

I have shared previously that Bob Johansen in his book, ‘Leaders Make the Future’offers some useful guidance when discussing the required leadership qualities in conjunction with the opportunities and threats that will exist in a world characterised by VUCA – an acronym for Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity and Ambiguity.  To be effective, our young leaders will need to develop the capacity to consider the multitude of variables and interrelationships that place Complexity at the heart of the current challenge, whilst also developing in them the resilience to address the current tensions that create Volatility, and which continue to be fuelled by the Ambiguity and the Uncertainty borne on distrust. Johansen recognises that, “The ultimate dilemma is to take the VUCA world and change it from a threatening thing, which it certainly is, into a world that is not only threatening but also laden with opportunity.” We must also recognise that this is a formidable task.

Johansen suggests that to successfully educate and develop future leaders we should not merely provide a library, but a set of values, instincts and thinking habits that will support them in the many and varied challenging contexts in which they might find themselves, so that they can identify new opportunities for human advancement.  It is helpful that many of these competencies have been a requisite for success during our period of online learning, including respect, empathy, responsibility, digital literacy, problem solving, resilience, hope and critical thinking among many others. It is important that we capitalise on this opportunity and engage with those prepared to reflect on their experiences and who are open to adopting new behaviours and responses to replace age-old practices and conventions.

The recent participation by a selection of our students in an online conference with teachers, government officials and fellow school-aged children from 35 OECD countries has provided the impetus for them to proactively engage in shaping the future. Year 12 students have recounted their experiences in written form and expressed their opinion of future hybrid models of asynchronous and synchronous learning that they will forward to James Merlino, the Victorian Education Minister.  Our Academic Directorate, that has our 24 educational leaders from ELC to year 12 as its constituents, has been actively engaged in drawing on the wealth of educational wisdom possessed by our teaching staff in conjunction with the professional insights of our non-teaching staff following the recent disruptions.  In my role as Principal, I have provided a submission to the Association of Heads of Independent Schools Australia (AHISA), which has formed a forty-nine-page paper to be submitted to the Australian Curriculum Assessment and Reporting Authority (ACARA) in the hope that it might influence educational change.

Whilst we can all readily address matters of educational philosophy and pedagogical practice, we must also look through the various lenses that make evident the socio-political environment and climate in which we currently live and be prepared to wholeheartedly challenge those elements that do not reflect our values.  It is for this reason that we have extended our focus beyond the academic curriculum and sought to address the urgent need to tackle discrimination head-on in our College, our broader community and within Australia.  If we are to change the hearts and minds of people we must lead by example, demonstrating love and recognition for people of all race, religion, colour, creed and caste.  Angela Davis, the American political activist makes the point that “In a racist society it is not enough to be non-racist, we must be anti-racist.”

We are, through our four Heads of School undertaking a review of our explicit and our implicit curriculum to better understand how we might work towards an eradication of the racist commentary and behaviours that appear very much like COVID-19 to pop up unexpectedly, but invariably in clusters.  We recognise that if our children are to be successful as the leaders of tomorrow, it is important that they are taught more than a factual, anti-racist curriculum which seeks to make evident the complicated legacies of our nation’s history. It must also be supported by the programs and experiences we have adopted to encourage global citizenry and responsibility such asour Global, Indigenous and Leonardian Scholarships, Lennie’s Van, the Big Experience and the provision of the capital and operational costs of running our schools in Bangladesh.

The question I pose to you as a parent, is “What might you do differently to prepare your child(ren) for an increasingly VUCA world?” By way of example I encourage you to engage in conversations about the future of democracy and the Australian political landscape; potential economic partnerships Australia might enter into; the representation of First Australians; our treatment of Black Asian Minority Ethnic (BAME) people; the rights of refugees; and not forgetting, how will your children care for you in the future?  I just wanted to make sure you remembered to secure your future!!

In a previous article I shared VáclavHavel’s reflections in his 1995 paper shortly after his time as the President of Czechoslovakia and as the first President of the Czech Republic. He stated, “I have been given to understand how small this world is and how it torments itself with countless things it need not torment itself with if people could find within themselves a little more courage, a little more hope, a little more responsibility and a little more understanding and love.”

I think this reflection, accompanied by the Serenity Prayer, which after 45 years as a teacher I can fully appreciate the reasons why it was my late Housemaster’s favourite prayer, are appropriate final thoughts:

God, grant me the


to accept the things

I cannot change


to change the things I can

And the


to know the difference.



Stuart Davis
St Leonard’s College Principal