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Shared Values, Shared Beliefs

This week provided a backdrop for me to look at the College through the lens of community. Here at ATC we are very deliberate in the use of the word community. We would hope that what we do collectively goes beyond the safe boundaries of what we traditionally understand about a school.

Our hope is that a community adds a depth and breadth to what we do. When we seek to define what the word ‘community’ means, in a classical sense we can define it as a group who interact with each other while sharing common interests or goals. In simple terms, for our community, the common link is no doubt the efforts we share in the education of the students, your sons. My hope was that there was more to it than that simple understanding. I would hope that the interaction we enjoy is based around some shared values and shared beliefs. As a Catholic school and more particularly a Catholic school in the Edmund Rice tradition, I would hope that the charism of our founder is core to this community.

This charism is the distinctiveness that draws us together. Without distinctive experiences the community does not relate and connect. Communities do not thrive because of the quantity of things we do, rather it thrives in the quality and the diversity of the relationships that are experienced. Building community and experiencing community is an active process. In many ways I think it would be beneficial to think of community as a verb rather than a noun. It is what we do that gives community. It is the quality of the experiences that allow us to grow.

On Saturday I had a variety of experiences that have led me to believe that our desire to build community is alive and well. On Saturday morning my first port of call was the high stakes cricket clash between the 7A and 8A cricket teams. If the pressure on the older students wasn’t great enough, sibling presence added to the interest. When one of our Year 8 cricketers fell without scoring, caught by his younger brother, the scene was set for real rivalry. The banter and the fun, by players and spectators was very evident and the good natured exchanges saw the game as the centre piece not the result.

From this game I ventured out to the Brookfield Showgrounds where our 9/10A Cricket team were taking on a very committed 10A Iona team. On arrival the Iona scoreboard of two down for around 80, was not evident in the high energy I saw in the ATC fielders. Rather than be overawed by the mounting scoreboard, the vocal support and spirit were very tangible. In particular Tom Sherratt was very vocal. Either from in close or at the boundary Tom’s encouragement was contagious and no ball bowled or fielded escaped his enthusiasm. As the innings drew to an end, it was not surprising to see ATC get amongst the wickets to put a halt on the Iona run scoring. The celebration of wickets was genuine and the encouragement for each other did not seem to match the state of the game. Walking away I did not know the eventual outcome of the game but the spirit and commitment of the team filled me with pride as they energetically toiled away.

Next stop for me was the ATC pool where a group of year 4 students were living the dream in the form of paddle play. In a relatively new experience for them all, the learning curve was still quite high. Success in unfamiliar situations needs some patience, self-confidence and perseverance. Once again this year our Year 4 Paddle Play has been fortunate to have some of our older students, Liam Warriner, Jack Steel, Harry Elder and Jontay Gothachalkenin, committing their Saturday mornings to act as exceptional role models for their younger counterparts. The gentleness of the older students was genuine and the positivity of their support was refreshing. Paddle play is not a common sport and we are fortunate that David Peters (husband of Ros Peters, Head of Information Services in the Library) is committed to sharing his passion.

From the ATC pool my next stopover was the Valley Pool where our under 15 Water Polo team had their last game of the season. The under 15 team has had a challenging season where they have encountered a very strong competition week in and week out. But the game I witnessed saw the boys play with energy and enthusiasm and remain in the game right up and until the final whistle, going down close losers 6-4. Once again the outcome was never the main game for me, it was their persistence and support for each other that caught my attention. Their coaches, Katy Furness and Chloe Parer never stopped encouraging them and the boys showed great appreciation for the journey that Katy and Chloe have taken them on throughout the season. In our all-boys school, relationships in sport are not just built on masculine foundations. Our relationships need to be built around influential role models who can instil skill and passion in our young men. Gender is not a prerequisite here.

My Saturday came to a close when I joined over 150 parents at the P&F Mexican Fiesta Welcome Night in the College Hall. The hall was transformed for the evening and all present had a great opportunity to make introductions and expand on friendships. It was particularly pleasing to see returning parents mingle with new families to help them feel right at home. Welcome in the broadest context of the word was very real on the great night.

ATC is a busy place and Saturday was just another day that saw the many facets of our community revealed. From fun and rivalry, passion and energy, and the older and the younger, non-existent gender boundaries to the warmth of welcome, the community I experienced on Saturday gave me such hope for our future. A future of an authentic community that brings life to all connected.

This week will see the College pause and move into Camp Week mode. Across the week all year levels will take part in a camp away from the College campus. This will be in the form of a two day / one night camp for our Year 4 students who are generally undertaking their first school camp. Whereas our Year 10 students have selected one of six options for a five day experience that will see them experience white water canoeing, an coastal trek, a gorge walk, a street retreat immersion or an Arts camp amongst the choices.

Camps play an integral role in our holistic approach to your son’s education. They provide opportunities for us to look at building community within our class groups and year levels and to look at ways in which we can extend and challenge boys in their formation as young men. The opportunities that we place before the boys allows us to take them outside many of their comfort zones and challenge them to face the reality that risks don’t need to be insurmountable, that risks can be negotiated safely and that risks provide us with real opportunities for growth.

Whilst keeping children safe is a constant priority for all of us, there is a delicate balance to be met with this and encouraging them to experience risks and challenges. If we try to remove all possible risk from children’s lives there is a danger that we will we be inhibiting rather than extending their learning. Some dangers clearly have to be avoided and we would be failing in our duty of care to children if we did not protect them from these hazards. An example of this that we all grapple with as parents is around homework and assignments. The natural tendency of parents at times, in an effort to alleviate academic pressure, can be to become overly involved in their children’s school work. We desperately want our children to succeed, and end up supervising homework and assignments a little too closely, sometimes bordering on unintentionally doing the work for them. What is the cost to children in this? Short term there is no inconvenience for the students but is there a missed learning opportunity here that will benefit them in the future?

As teachers, parents and carers, we have a fundamental responsibility not only to understand the inevitability of risk, but to know the importance of taking life’s risks, small and large. Risk is part of development; thoughtful risk taking is integral to growth and change. Through modelling, nurturing and teaching good risk-taking skills, I believe that children will be better prepared to meet life’s challenges.

Without learning the skills of good risk-taking, our children will be more apt to take impulsive and poor risks. Through the development of thoughtful risk-taking, children will be better equipped to leap at life’s opportunities, and to rebound from life’s disappointments. Learning to take smart risks early on prepares them to recognize and think through issues of safety and danger. They will have had experience identifying the challenge and the risk, and have worked with parents and teachers on how to proceed to the next step, using their intellect and emotional skills. They are also better able to struggle more tenaciously through failures because they have experienced small setbacks and received guidance in tolerating and learning from them. Our job is not to inoculate our children against taking risks, but to guide them toward taking good risks.

P&F Welcome Night
As mentioned earlier I was fortunate to be able to attend the Mexican Fiesta on Saturday evening. For all present the night was filled with a lot of laughter and fun. With many of the attendees in the spirit, wide sombreros and moustaches were plentiful. I found it a great opportunity to meet a number of new parents who I had not had the chance to meet earlier. As is often the case, the success of the night is due to the preparation that the hard working organising team put in. I would like to acknowledge the great work of Loretta Porche, Nicole Brennan, Peta Parnell, Andrea McAvoy and their band of committed helpers who made the night a great success. One of the main focuses of the College P&F is about friend raising. This night was a great community evening!

With best wishes,
Michael Senior

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