19 March 2018

Diving In

I spent last week at Rottnest on the Year 9 camp. It's hard not to worry when you are part of a staff that has responsibility for 190 students, on 190 bicycles. As part of the History tour, we took the boys snorkeling on a shipwrecked barge at Henrietta Rocks. I have spent a lot of time swimming in and around that wreck, checking that it is safe for the boys when they take their turn in the water. As they explore the reef and the old barge, I sit on that rusted hulk and keep a careful eye on them. I check the conditions; I watch them dive and come up for air. I do everything in my power to keep them safe without them knowing that I am. And yet, we can never remove all risk from what we do, and neither should we, particularly in the natural environment. We need to keep the sparks of wonder and curiosity alive in our young people, and we should strive to foster the spirit of adventure in them whenever we can.

Not all of the boys go snorkeling on the wreck; not all of them are ready for it just yet. But it is our role to nudge them from their comfort zone, little by little. Taking them outdoors, and into an environment with which they are not so familiar, provides an excellent opportunity for them to learn about themselves and about other people, and to appreciate and understand the world outside the classroom a little better. It is an invaluable way for our staff to get to know our students and forms the basis of key relationships for the next four years of their school lives.

As far as I am aware, we are the only school in the state that runs such a camp for their entire Year 9 cohort at the same time each year. We have done so at Rottnest since 1996 without a break. It is a remarkable feat and something of which we should be proud. The man who assumes responsibility for the organisation and running of this camp is Mr David Jones and I would like to acknowledge the debt of gratitude we owe him. I know he worries and does all he can to ensure that the camp is safe yet challenging and meaningful for our students. He gets wonderful assistance from our admin staff, as well as the teachers who attend, but the buck stops with him.

We can never reach new destinations unless we are willing to go beyond the places we have been before.

As I sit on the wreck, I see a look of uncertainty cross some of the boys' faces as they contemplate diving through a particular part of the boat. They watch as someone else does it; they duck down and have a look at it; and then they decide to try it themselves. They take a big breath and then there is a flurry of kicking and splashing and they are off. I hold my breath as well, and then my worries dissipate when I see them bob up on the other side. You can hear the elation in their voices when they surface and talk to each other. You can feel their sense of pride at having overcome a challenge, the sense of achievement at facing and besting a fear. And you can see the benefit as they smile and give the thumbs up and head off with their buddy to explore another part of this new world. You can almost see them growing before your eyes as the wonder grows within them.

We worry because we care, which is a good thing. Sometimes, we worry because we do not think we are up to the task. We worry about being under-prepared. We worry about our boys growing up too quickly; and we worry about them not growing up quickly enough. We worry because we know some of the challenges they will face, and we worry because we know that sometimes they will falter. But if we have done a good job, they will come through such times as better men. And by doing a good job, I mean showing them the difference between what they can control and what is beyond their control. If we can give them the confidence to control those things which are within their power to control, and the grace to accept those things which are not, we will have helped them to cope with much more than we might think.

Part of the role of parents and staff is to let our boys know that we care, but also to gradually allow them to take responsibility for their own lives. Homes and schools and camps are excellent places for the individual to gradually accumulate more responsibility for their own behaviour, performance and direction in life. This is where he begins to assume control and we begin to worry. But we don't prevent future worry by continuing to do things for him, or by shielding him from consequences.

Outside Collegians' House, there is a statue which was donated by the OSCs in 1997. It depicts a child climbing upon the shoulders of an adult as that adult appears to hold back the world, at least until the child is ready to launch himself into the world. This is what teachers and parents strive to do; it is a shared responsibility for our collective future. As I said to the boys during the History session at Rottnest, they have a responsibility to make the world a better place; to go out into it and build upon what we have left them, such as that is. We should remind them of this responsibility often, and we should make sure they know that we believe in their capacity to fulfill it.

Mr James Hindle
Director of Student and Staff Wellbeing