From the Deputy Rector
To Develop Educated Men of Outstanding Character
Hai Whakapakari i Ngā Tamatāne Kia Purapura Tuawhiti
During the last couple of weeks, many teachers and young men have passed comments indicating that 'things are nearly back to normal' in terms of their academic studies. Consequently, the disruptions we may face in the coming weeks have the potential to be a setback for some student's progress and achievement.
For young men in the senior school the School Examinations, scheduled for later this term, will likely have greater significance than in recent years. Should NCEA examinations in November and December be interrupted by COVID-19 then the derived grade process would be enacted by NZQA. Essentially, for young men, this means that the grades they achieve in the School Examinations would be used to estimate their grades in the external NCEA examinations.
While this might seem daunting, their achievement in these examinations is something that young men can control as they will have the opportunity over the coming weeks to revise for the Standards that will be assessed in the School Examinations. The NZQA website has a range of resources to help in this regard - examination papers from previous years, assessment schedules and examiners reports: https://www.nzqa.govt.nz/ncea/subjects/
There are many good revision resources available online that will explain how to study effectively (hint: reading through your notes and highlighting, although favoured by many young men, is not an effective study method) such as this short video clip https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=p60rN9JEapg&t=73s or these resources summarising 'good' https://drive.google.com/file/d/1pgH4GXXItnsKYUzJvve7SfOpnGnqFCXS/view?usp=sharing and 'bad' https://drive.google.com/file/d/11XPxR0HPbfpqo02QXjhT7iFrt788PvxI/view?usp=sharing study habits.
Young men who are well-prepared for the school examinations will also be well-prepared for the external NCEA examinations. Contrary to the excuse young men ofter proffer that 'there's no point starting too early as they'll forget what they study', the earlier they begin the more likely it is that they will retain the key information they learn and the greater the opportunities they will have to practice the skills that will be assessed. It is never too early to start.
Why focus on character? This is a question many of us have been reflecting on since our return to school following the earlier Alert Level 4 lockdown. Something that lockdown reinforced for us all is the importance of making people and our relationships a priority. This is what Character Education emphasises, the importance of focusing on the people we are developing into alongside the academic qualifications and other skills we are gaining.
He aha te mea nui o te ao. He tāngata, he tāngata, he tāngata
What is the most important thing in the world? It is people, it is people, it is people. - Māori whakataukī
Our character is shaped by our experiences - the people we surround ourselves with and the events that occur in our lives. In this respect, it is important to think about how we respond to challenges. As the Stoic philosophers remind us, there is no point in focusing on things outside of our control. Whether or not we return to higher Alert Levels and lockdowns is beyond our individual control. However, how we respond to such situations is within our control.
"You have power over your mind - not outside events. Realise this and you will find strength." - Marcus Aurelius
As adults, we are in a privileged position where we can also help to shape the responses of the young people in our care. If we choose to respond as positively as possible to the challenges in front of us we will set an example for our children and other whānau to follow. Equally, a negative response focusing on the difficulties that we are to face will also set an example, albeit a different one.
This is not to 'gloss over' the difficulties that young men and their whānau will possibly face in the coming weeks, but to propose that there might be different ways we can frame the challenges in front of us. A positive approach in the face of adversity helps us to be more resilient, in turn helping to shape our character.
"A gem cannot be polished without friction, nor a man perfected without trials" - Seneca
In ‘The Call of Character: Living a Life Worth Living’ Harvard University Professor Mari Ruti stresses the importance of considering the shaping and development of our character as a long-term process. Ruti defines the term character as a “deep truth that makes a person who he or she is” and suggests that we tend to think of a person’s character as their authentic self. She goes on to describe authenticity as “a matter of how we enter into the continuous process of transformation that characterises human life.” Our character is malleable, as we live our lives and have a range of different experiences, be they positive or negative, who we are changes, meaning that “our character can never be definitively named for the simple reason that it is continuously in the process of materialising or – as philosophers like to put it – of ‘becoming’.”
Mari goes further to suggest that the challenge faced by us all is “bridging the chasm between our current reality and what we have the potential to become.”
Character in Sport
Considering the challenges we have all faced to date this year we are extremely proud to have nearly 1,200 young men competing in school sporting activities. The numbers practicing and playing over the last few weeks in our larger codes - football, hockey, squash, rugby, table tennis, badminton, canoe polo, cycling and basketball - are impressive. There are of course a significant number of young men participating in other sporting codes and a range of cultural, music and performing arts activities.
Through their involvement, these young men will learn a lot about making a commitment to a team or group, develop their organisational and time management skills, learn to be humble in victory and gracious in defeat, develop relational skills and meet a wide range of other students and staff. Lessons will be learned about coping when under pressure, responding appropriately when the decisions of officials 'go against' you and bouncing back from disappointment. These are all skills that help us in day-to-day life and they are also attributes of our character. Co-curricular activities help to shape our character and correspondingly, success at the highest levels in these domains requires good character.
In his recent autobiography 'Ordinary Joe' former Ireland Rugby coach (also a former PNBHS teacher and 1st XV coach) Joe Schmidt explains:
"When considering recruitment or selection, we always want the best of both worlds, that combination of character and talent. But if we have to choose, then more often than not we will err on the side of character." - Joe Schmidt
Gilbert Enoka, the All Blacks mental skills coach, in describing the work done to develop a high-performance culture within the team stated “It all changed when we moved away from developing just players or coaches and focused on developing them as people. Focusing on one main area, ‘character’. Character is king, everything that makes our team special emanates from character.”
Legendary basketball coach John Wooden is another to firmly state their belief in the importance of character:
“I believe ability can get you to the top, but it takes character to keep you there…It’s so easy to begin thinking you can just ‘turn it on’ automatically, without proper preparation. It takes real character to keep working hard or harder once you’re there. When you read about an athlete or team that wins over and over, remind yourself, ‘More than ability, they have character.’”
Social Wellbeing in Aotearoa-New Zealand; Reasons to be Hopeful
Without a doubt, recent months have been tough for many in our community. While all of us went through the Alert Level 4 ‘lockdown’, there was significant variation in the exact nature of the experience for each of us. It will be important that we continue to bear this in mind over the coming months and temper our expectations of each other accordingly and continue to be kind and understanding.
Among the many negative statistics and COVID-19 related news stories, it has been pleasing to see some glimmers of hope and positive outlooks for the future. Of course, New Zealand’s effectiveness in halting the spread of the virus features prominently in this. Our city streets grew instantly quiet as people responded to the call to ‘Unite against COVID-19’. Palmerston North’s footpaths and river walkway have probably never been so busy with families exercising, within their bubbles, happy to make the effort to greet each other. Walks and bike rides with young children included counting the numerous teddy bears that were displayed prominently in so many properties, even those where children had long since passed the age of needing such company.
Dystopian films, television and literature frequently conjure a ‘survival of the fittest’ mentality. Yet, when faced with perhaps the most significant public health emergency in living memory for most of us, the response was to prioritise the health and wellbeing of the most vulnerable in our society. Irrespective of one’s personal opinions of the appropriateness of the government response, the sense of community and feeling that ‘we’re all in this together’ that resulted is a positive that needs to be acknowledged.
In the publication ‘Maintaining Social Wellbeing in Aotearoa-New Zealand during COVID-19: Seven reasons to be hopeful’ it is noted that research about anxiety and fear suggests that we tend to view people as more likely to succumb in the face of adversity than is actually the case (the full report is attached to this article). Indeed, the report notes that “human beings are far more resilient to existential (life) threatening challenges than we typically assume – and that includes you.” The authors of the report identify that our collective experiences “may in fact be the moment (building on the ANZAC spirit) that truly defines a unique and proudly distinctive Aotearoa-New Zealand, one where Māori constructs such as manawaroa (having courage in adversity, persisting despite difficulty and a positive outlook) and piripono (having integrity, commitment and responsibility for a shared kaupapa/purpose) become the values and ways of being that all New Zealanders can embrace.” The report concludes that “we need to look to the past and carry forward that which makes us stronger, better and more connected than before.
He waka eke noa | We are all in this together.”
The positive responses to the Alert Level 4 lockdown noted in this report can perhaps give us all 'boost' as we begin to confront the challenges facing us in the coming weeks. Be kind. Look out for each other so that our actions over the coming weeks both shape and reflect our character.
Courage – Humility – Industry – Integrity – Pride – Respect
Tū Māia – Ngākau Mahaki – Te mahi tahi – Tū Rangatira – Tū Whakahī – Tū Whakaaute