Presentation Night Speech 2015

I am sure that many of you have now heard that last week at the Ravenswood speech day in a brave act of rebellion, the school captain delivered a speech which was not the one that had been approved for her to deliver at this event. Unfortunately, since the media got hold of the news, it has become very much sensationalised and sadly, the actual point of her speech has been lost in a plethora of political agendas and media beat-up.

In her speech, the school captain respectfully pointed out that her school is not perfect and implored her school community to recognise that representing itself that way was in fact, untruthful and unrealistic. She said that to be perfect meant that there was no room for improvement. She also pointed out that it placed undue pressure on students such as herself, who were placed in the situation of having to reflect on themselves as imperfect beings in this apparently perfect school. 

As I said, a very brave move on her part to use this opportunity to have her voice heard. But even more pertinent, is that she is absolutely correct. At Turramurra High School, you have heard me say on many occasions, we embrace the concept of imperfection. One of our famous catch phrases is "fail fast, fail often and fail gloriously” because this is how we learn. It is a concept born out of the silicon valley super technology development companies who have worked out, that in order to keep up with the rapid changes in technology, they need to continue to take risks in their learning and that by failing fast and failing often, they can learn and refine their products in order to be successful world leaders in innovation.

I admit that it is a bit of a strange thing to talk about on a presentation evening when we are here to celebrate the amazing achievements of our students. However, I can guarantee you, as bizarre as it may sound, that the recognition of imperfection is the fundamental reason for success. I’m sure that our award recipients would acknowledge that along the way, they have made a number of mistakes before they got it right. That what learning is all about! 

This concept is also true in terms of building our emotional resilience. We learn how to cope with stress, relationships, change, disappointment and everything that life throws our way, by experimenting, making mistakes and learning from them. Experiencing these difficult emotions, although unpleasant, actually makes us more resilient, helps reduce anxiety and empowers us to take control of our lives. These are vital skills for our students to develop as lifelong learners. Despite the fact that the media and other sources try to convince us that we need to be perfect, it is actually a whole lot healthier if we recognise that we are not. It makes us more open to innovation and continuous improvement.

At Turramurra High School, we have continued to take risks in our learning throughout 2015. We have made mistakes, we have refined our practice and as a result we have achieved some incredible successes. 

Our successes can be defined by a number of key words which I believe, truly capture what it means to be part of Turramurra High school:

It all starts with community - Being part of Turramurra High means that we belong to a supportive local community.  In 2015 this was exemplified by the incredible achievement of our whole community in building our innovative outdoor learning space, Inside Out.

It is also about collaboration - we have continued to strengthen our NS5 partnership in 2015 culminating in the past fortnight, in a tour which I led for 16 staff from across our NS5 schools to visit innovative schools in Melbourne. Our Turramurra Learning Communities Powerful project with our four partner primary schools, now in its third year, received very positive reviews this year. This is an example of a project that we have worked on and refined over time it’s not perfect but we learn how to make improvements every year. 

Further to the theme of collaboration, recently, the NSW Minister for Education, Adrian Piccoli, announced that Turramurra High School was one of eleven schools across NSW selected to lead a $425,000 project to transform the future of teaching by reimagining the whole preservice teacher training at university level. We are partnered with UTS for this project and we are proposing a very radical model of completely immersing pre service teachers in this cool environment in order to learn their profession. There will be much trial and error with over the next two years, but at the heart of it, is a focus on improving the teaching and learning experience for our students and the students of the future.

At the heart of our vision is innovation and encouraging risk-taking in our learning. In 2015, with UTS we have piloted a very successful student-directed learning project with all Year 10 CAPA students. The project included a research focus on enabling students to understand their learning power based on seven key dimensions. The following is a reflection on the learning experience written by one of our Year 10 students: 

“Through the Passport Project I have learnt the value of our own learning and how it can shape our approach to thinking and our experiences within a school setting. My experience in this project has also taught me that our approach to learning is determined individually and we decide how much we get out of a task by how much we invest in it ourselves. I feel, through this task, I have shed light upon my views towards the concept of creativity and how, to truly enable creative thought processes, we must approach tasks with an open mind willingness to let go and allow our minds to be flexible whilst being able to be shaped by our experience. To become the masters of our own learning, we have to be self-aware and be able to analyse and critique our own work without bias or predetermined thought.”

What incredible insight from a 15 year old! And an insight…if you read between the lines…which understands the value of embracing imperfection!

Further to our innovative practice and extending the Passport project concept,  in 2016 we will be offering a project-based learning elective to every year 10 student, empowering them in their own learning and teaching them skills in problem-solving, flexibility, resilient agency, mindfulness and collaboration.

Another key word which defines what it means to be part of Turramurra High School is inclusion. In 2015, we have launched Social Inc. a project which recognises the incredible contribution made by every student in this school but particularly highlights our students with disability. Our school supports over 100 students with varying forms of disability and we go above and beyond to ensure that all students can access engaging learning experiences.

Turramurra High School is a caring community where we take an holistic approach to education. This year we launched our inaugural Wellbeing Expo where we invited various support agencies from our local community to deliver keynote addresses and set up market stalls to inform our students and the wider community of the support available in our area.

Opportunity is key to our school experience. At Turramurra High School, our default position is “yes”. We are now at a point where staff, students and parents are able to present innovative ideas and say… can we try this… and with considered thought, our default position is yes. This empowers our whole community to take risks in their learning to try new things and most importantly to know, that if it doesn’t work that that’s ok, because the most important factor is the learning experience.

As far as opportunities go, our school is outstanding in terms of the curricular and extra-curricular opportunities available. There is rarely a day or time during the week where you would turn up to school and not find something happening, from our Big Hill fitness program, to drama ensemble, dance ensemble, Sound Studio, choir, debating, band or our writer in residence program and then there are the 160 excursions that we have run this year alone, providing students with real and authentic learning experiences.

And so at Turramurra High School, on the occasion of our 49th annual presentation ceremony, let’s celebrate our learning achievements for 2015. Let’s acknowledge that this learning comes from recognition of the fact that we are not perfect. Instead, we see ourselves on a leaning journey where we take risks, we reflect, we seek improvement and we always strive to do better than we have done before. 

So let’s stop seeking perfection and embrace the beauty of our imperfection. Let's stop criticising ourselves and others for getting things wrong and begin to embrace risk-taking in our learning. And so I challenge each and every one of you, when you reflect upon yourself and your achievements this year and if …in that reflection … you find imperfection ask yourself, is this a limitation or is it an opportunity?