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Working Together to Make Something Big

The poem, Ithaka by Constantine Cavafy, should be stashed in every traveller’s backpack. It also has some good messages for us right here at home.

Goal setting is an obsession in education. We look at our results and, after assessing where we can improve, we set goals. This goal, in many instances will be achieved (or not) at the end of the term in a two-hour exam. It is worth looking at this practice and pondering for a moment what is the most important moment in this plan.

Goal setting is certainly not unique to education and of course is often born from an internal drive to succeed. An individual, for example, may learn that nirvana can be achieved through meditation and so they begin the practice. Anyone who has practiced meditation will know that it can be as challenging and frustrating as any other worthwhile endeavour. In any undertaking, that requires effort and repeated practice, frustration will arise. A golfer trying to iron out his slice off the tee, a trumpet player attempting to lay down the Last Post (ask Andrew Coogan how many times he butchered it before getting it down pat. He is the best I’ve heard at a school ANZAC Day and I’m sure it doesn’t come without a few hundred failures) or even the young lad who moves his Maths grade from a B to a B+ over the course of a term.

The increments by which we improve are hard to measure, maybe impossible, but there are moments when the senses shift, and we experience an almost tangible feeling that something has changed. The practitioner gets a glimpse of understanding that was missing before. Of course, this is often followed by a plateau and some more struggle. The goal has not been reached after-all, this is just a step. This could be the fundamental flaw in obsessive goal setting, or mindless goal setting. A philosopher may spend his whole life seeking the meaning of life and on his death bed, finally have the answer revealed. He would have achieved his goal, but for what? The moment in which we achieve the goal is so short, relative to the time it takes to get there.

This is just as true for a school term of work. Some students know the calm joy of perusing an “A’ in Maths and realise they know how to find the answers. It is a nerdy fantasy, but it does feel great. Likewise, looking over an exam and realising that you have absolutely no clue, is horrifying in an equal measure. Most of us have probably experienced both of these extremes. If we assume that these two students have comparable ability levels, the difference between the two is simple. One of them embraced the journey, while the other gave it a miss. I would also argue, that one enjoyed some highly satisfying lightbulb moments along the way while the other avoided hard work altogether.

This analogy has a place in the larger context of ATC. We are in a building phase. A goal setting phase. An AFL club would call it a rebuilding phase. Brett Cashmere and all Carlton fans know it well, but a true footy fan also knows the importance of the journey over and above the premiership goal. I know from first-hand experience that the joy of an upset win, in that moment, is as great a premiership.

The satisfaction of the underdog is powerful. We are small, but we are working together to make something big.

This is the way for the building of culture, an aspirational venture for sure. At the centre of ATC culture are the four Houses – Munster, Leinster, Ulster, Connacht – and a Senior cohort trying to create something special among each of these groups. They are attempting to sell a story to the younger boys and most importantly, create a sense of belonging within. This year, the most obvious opportunity to give back to the House, has come in the form of House Challenges, first attempts at creating annual events that become part of the folk lore of our place. Not every Challenge will stay the test of time. Some events are more popular than others. What’s most important and what is fundamentally good about the House Challenges is the question being asked by our leaders. “How do we make this great, right now?” There is a long-term goal that motivates us to improve, but it is more important that we are mindful of the fun moments being had in the present. As the poem states, “Ithaka gave you the marvelous journey. Without her you wouldn’t have set out.” Our goal is a little more illusory than Ithaka. What does spirit and culture look like or feel like? Will we know it when we see it? Human nature says will always want to make it better anyway.

Even if someone does know the goal, I’m not sure if they will recognise it when we get there. The point is, it doesn’t really matter. We are trying to make sure that between the setting and achieving of goals, our boys celebrate their time here and now.

And of course, make sure you work hard in Maths!

David Mapleston
Assistant Head of Year 8