Walking around the classrooms on Open Day provided a timely reminder of one of the key aspects of John Colet - the pursuit of excellence. It is the detail that makes excellence obvious. The beauty of a piece of handwriting, the precision of a recitation, care in the way a uniform is worn, the respect conveyed by a courteous please or thank you; these are by themselves small things but together they lift us from the ordinary.
This week has been striking for the demonstration of resilience that has been noticeable throughout the School. Most obviously in the preparation leading up to Open Day on Sunday. The children have had a number of rehearsals where they have been required to perform one part of a piece a number of times to get it right, or to wait while another group of children are practising to get their part correct. Some children have had to forgo a favourite lesson to attend a rehearsal. In other situations children have had to face the challenge of overcoming an upset to perform or represent the School. In all cases the children have really worked to dig deep and go the extra mile even when they would have liked to stop. I am sure that their effort will be reflected in their whole hearted performance on Sunday.
This week we have been practising for our annual Open Day event. The children showcase their singing and recitation skills as part of the day. It is striking to see how each year this practice becomes easier, steadier and takes place with a minimum level of fuss. Reflecting on this, it is clear that tradition builds up within the school and each year the children who arrive at the school naturally fall into a rhythm that has been set by the efforts of all those who have gone before. This has been particularly obvious with our Lower 1st class who during their first rehearsals this week conducted themselves with the same quiet focus as the rest of the school.
We live in times of extraordinary and rapid change. This of course affects our children and our School and it can be difficult to achieve a balance between holding on to those things that make us unique and those changes which cannot be avoided. The one thing that remains unaffected and eternally relevant is the adherence to our School Values. This term we are focusing on the value of Truthfulness. The value of teaching a child to tell the truth cannot be overestimated and it is reassuring to see this very much in evidence in daily dealings with the children.
Welcome back to Term 2. The children have returned refreshed and ready to meet new challenges. We have recently engaged in an advertising campaign inviting “Thinkers” to join John Colet. A number of occasions have passed this week where it is obvious how apt this invitation is. I would like to mention two. This morning I was in a 5th class room and was shown some work that had been done on a Visual Thinking routine in relation to a new Science topic. The questions the children had posed on Space were both creative and insightful. Yesterday in a Philosophy lesson with L1st on the story of Creation in Genesis I was both delighted and amazed by the children’s responses to some thought provoking questions. For example, when we create something, how do we start?
This term seems to have passed in the blink of an eye. Looking around the School it is evident that we are in good health. The children are engaged, vigorous and focused on their learning. This is apparent whether you walk into a Lower 1st, 3rd class or 6th class room. The school is a buzz with Shakespeare, Debating, Sport, Art and ceramics. There are various Science projects on display and every classroom has beautiful examples of written work on the walls. The children are confident and on the whole committed to demonstrating the School Values in whatever way they can. This is all supported by the hard work and dedication of our teaching staff. It has been a wonderful first term.
This term we have focused on the value of Respect and its different manifestations. For the rest of this term there will be a special emphasis on uniform. It has been observed that over the term, the standard of the uniform has dropped and children are leaving school without their hats, with shirts hanging out and with laces untied. Attention to a standard of dress requires a conscious effort and ultimately reflects the level of regard that we hold for both ourselves and the School. As with all things this is a matter of education.
This week I was invited into classrooms in both Infants and Primary to look at and listen to pieces of work that the children have recently completed. From cinquains in 4th class to first pieces of writing in Lower 1st, the standard of work is inspiring. The pursuit of excellence is something that every child can aspire to at their own level and when it is achieved it brings with it great confidence and self-respect. It was a delight to see the pride that the children take in their work and the eagerness with which they want to share their achievements.
Just over half way through Term 1 it is most encouraging to see the number of Eagle Awards that have been given out to children in both Infants and Primary. The Eagle Awards acknowledge the demonstration of the School Values. Any member of Staff can nominate a child for an award if they feel that there has been a noteworthy action performed by a child that embodies the Values. Looking through the awards to date it is particularly pleasing to see the number of children in 6th class that have been nominated for acts of Service to the School. This sets such a positive example to the rest of the children.
This week we had our Primary Swimming Carnival at a new venue in West Pymble. It was very exciting to have the use of a 50 metre pool and to enjoy the fresh air even if it was very hot. All the children participated with courage and enthusiasm and it was wonderful to see so many displays of sportsmanship. A number of times, race winners were cheering and encouraging children in the same race who were struggling to finish, regardless of what House they were in. It was also wonderful to see children giving their best for their House even when they knew that a place was unlikely. At the end of the day all the children joined in to ensure that the venue was left clean and tidy. In all an uplifting demonstration of our School Values.
Every day the children say a prayer before they eat their lunch. Early this week, there was a rather enthusiastic discussion with Infants children about what this prayer means. We discussed the fact that we receive food that is given by grace; we do not have to work to get the rain, the sun or the soil in which it grows. It is prepared for us and placed on the table. The prayer promises that the energy that comes from the food will be used in the service of others. Most of all the prayer is an expression of gratitude for what is received.
During the week we have been preparing for the older children to take up Meditation. It is very encouraging to see the increasing number of children who feel drawn to take up this practice and the way in which it has evolved within the School. Every year it is noticeable how much easier the children find it to become still and focused and how they can very clearly articulate the benefits of the practice. The foundation for this is based in the practice of pausing. This week in a discussion with Lower 1st class they were able to give many different expressions of how the pause made them feel: peaceful, still, ready, awake, rested, a break between one thing and the next. They were in no doubt about its value.
This week 2nd Class are looking at our school motto Testare De Illa Luce “Bear Witness of that Light”. This is an important concept for the children to understand, it speaks of showing what is true. The children responded with a deep innate knowledge that Truth resides in the heart of every human being and that it can be accessed in Stillness. When asked to go to their hearts there was no confusion, when asked how big their hearts were the reply was instant; enormous. This is a valuable seed to plant early in the education of a child.
It is wonderful to see our Lower 1st Class settling into the John Colet routine. Our new school community initiative “Gathering on the Garigal” to be held on Friday the 15th of February will provide an opportunity for parents to meet the larger community of the school. The “Gathering” has been timed to coincide with the conclusion of class meetings so that parents are able to stop by and socialise even for a short time. We hope that all parents, including those parents with children in more senior years will take up this invitation to mingle, enjoy the Jazz Band and support this new initiative to help build a strong sense of community which is so beneficial in the education of our children.
After so much preparation during Teacher's Week, it was a great delight to receive the children back to School last week. The ease and the steadiness with which the week proceeded have been striking. Our new 3rd class children have moved into Primary with a sense of maturity and responsibility and are settling into their new classes well. I enjoyed two enriching conversations with our 6th class children about the way in which they can serve the School. It is worth commenting on their ability to become very still particularly in Meditation. This ability to become still lends them a great strength. It was also wonderful to meet our new Lower 1st children and to see how they are already being supported by the steady environment in the School.