2017 Principal's Blog_December Presentation Night Speech

So we find ourselves at the end of another year! Each year I am asked to publish my Presentation Night speech as part of my blog posts, so please find my 2017 speech below. Have a wonderful Christmas and restful New Year. Thank you to all who read my blogs for your interest and your thoughts about the future of education.

Presentation Night 2017

This year we recognise 50 years of providing high quality education to young people in the Turramurra local area as well as to young people from around the world who have spent time here through our international program, through student exchange, or through our sister schools program. It is also wonderful to be celebrating the success of each of our students here tonight. A year of hard work, commitment and learning is worth celebrating so congratulations to all of our award winners.

In thinking about what it means to celebrate 50 years as a successful school, it has prompted me to think about what success really means and, more importantly to ask you the question tonight - what is your personal measure of success?

If you really think about this question, you can probably come up with a few fairly common responses - money, friends, a good job. If I asked your parents what they wanted for you in terms of success, my guess is that 99% of them would say “I just want my child to be happy.”

But there are so many aspects of our society and experience that try to dictate what success should mean to us and how we should measure our success. The HSC is one that I will talk a bit more about in a moment but there is also social media that tries to dictate how successful we are socially, television and print media which try to dictate how successful we are physically and in terms of our possessions. Let’s face it, all forms of media do a very good job of actually dictating how we should think and telling us what we should value - this has an enormous impact on our measures of success.

Let’s look at the HSC as a marker of success.

This year Turramurra High school students have experienced unprecedented achievements in terms of our HSC results in practical major work subjects. We have had one student nominated for SHAPE, the Design and Technology exhibition of outstanding works, one student for Texstyle, two students for ArtExpress, and two group performances for Drama Callback. We have also had numerous students receive early entry offers to University. This is a fantastic achievement on behalf of these students and I am certainly not devaluing their hard work in any way, in fact we are extremely proud of them, but it is only one measure of success.

Some of you may have read my most recent blog on the school website where I talked about the fact that the Singapore Education Department are planning to eliminate all high stakes testing from their education system - that is, they are planning to eliminate their equivalent of the HSC across the whole of Singapore. Imagine life with no HSC…! How would that change your measure of success?

This decision has resulted from the ever-increasing number of young people in Singapore suffering from anxiety, depression and mental health issues caused by the stress of these exams. In fact the Secretary of the Singapore Education Department was quoted as saying that the tests were “killing our kids”.

In the meantime, school’s in Singapore still use exams as part of their in school assessment processes however, The Principal of a school in Singapore recently sent this letter to parents before the exam period, you may have seen this on social media:

“Dear Parents,

The exams for your children are to start soon. I know you are all really anxious for your child to do well. But, please do remember, amongst the students sitting for the exams there is an artist who doesn’t need to understand Maths...there is an entrepreneur who doesn’t care about History or English literature...there is a musician whose Chemistry marks won’t matter...There’s an athlete whose physical fitness is more important than Physics...If your child does get top marks, that’s great! But if he or she doesn’t please don’t take away their self-confidence and dignity from them. Tell them it’s OK, it’s just an exam. They are cut out for much bigger things in life. Tell them, no matter what they score...you love them and will not judge them.

Please do this, and when you do...watch your children conquer the world. One exam or a low mark won’t take away their dreams and talent. And please, do not think that doctors and engineers are the only happy people in the world. “

Statistics from the international OECD testing shows that this very area of Northern Sydney achieves the highest level of academic success in the southern hemisphere. If we take one step back from our local area, the NSW Education system was also named this year as one of the six best in the world. These are measures of success that are important but I think the critical point here that we need to understand that our measure of success is determined by what it is that we are comparing ourselves against.  If we don’t take a step back sometimes and see that we are actually sitting amongst the best of the best in a highly competitive system in one of the most privileged countries in terms of educational resourcing in the world, then we don’t get the full perspective and it is very easy to warp our measures of success.

The NSW Secretary of Education recently invited Turramurra High School to attend ‘Education in a changing World Symposium” last month. The Secretary is seeking the advice of innovative educators in planning the blueprint for the future of education in a world where artificial intelligence and the automation of jobs will be more and more prevalent.  In the discussion paper entitled “Education Future Frontiers”, it says:
“Though much of its potential is yet to be realised, AI related technologies are already becoming integrated into daily living...AI is changing and disrupting jobs and augmenting increasingly complex tasks across many occupations. Though many acknowledge the obvious risk to jobs such as truck driving and home cleaning, the effects of AI are also expected to significantly affect lawyers and doctors and other skilled professionals.”

In other words, the goal posts for our external measures of success - such as having a good job - are changing. The discussion paper goes on to list some examples of the emerging impact of AI and advanced automation across various industries including:

  • The robot, IBM Watson who made headlines when it diagnosed a rare form of cancer faster and more accurately than doctors.
  • Dominos who delivered its first pizza via drone in 2016
  • The world’s first fully automated lettuce farm is due to be launched in Japan this year and self-driving tractors are being trialled in the US.

The list goes on.

Maybe your measure of success is how many awards you might receive tonight, how many A’s are on your report at the end of the year. Maybe it is how many likes your latest Facebook post got, how much money you make or how many friends you have. Maybe your measure of success is in how well you care for others, look out for friends, do things to help out your family, be there when someone needs you.  All of these are things that are important and things that can make us feel good about ourselves and perhaps if we combine all of these successes together we get a better sense of how we can measure our success as a whole.

I want to suggest to you that success is when we achieve the goals that we set for ourselves. It is not the external measures that are important but the internal measures that really make a difference to our lives and how we see ourselves.

There are two types of goals, the outcome goals and the incremental goals. The outcome goals are the big crazy out-there things that we want to achieve like winning an Olympic gold medal or becoming Prime Minister. The incremental goals are the small steps that we take towards reaching those bigger outcome goals.

Psychologists tell us that by achieving incremental goals we are far more likely to reach our outcome goals. This is because every time we feel that sense of achievement, our brain releases something called dopamine. Dopamine is our natural feel good hormone. By feeling good about our smaller achievements, we create an emotional environment for ourselves where we are better able to continue to succeed.

So tonight, I want to encourage you to tap into your internal measure of success and think about, not only your academic achievements, but every small incremental step you have made this year towards the life goals that you imagine for yourself.  Don’t measure yourself against what social media or exam marks or even what other people tell you...don’t tie yourself in knots by measuring yourself against the success goal-posts of a constantly changing world, measure your success against your own personal bests. Take a step every day towards your big crazy life goals and if you do, I guarantee, you will get there.