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Principal's Blog

24 May 2017

There are certain things we all do as human beings and one of them is make mistakes. Some of the mistakes we make are relatively insignificant and trivial and some have more of an impact – perhaps hurting someone we care about. It is impossible to live a life without making mistakes because none of us is perfect. How we respond to the mistakes we make is, I believe, a matter of great importance. It is something that shapes our lives. It is a simple truth that our actions have consequences for which, like it or not, we are responsible.

Most of us learn this simple lesson before we even get to school, but it is important enough to need constant reinforcing. One of the primary goals of an independent school like The Lakes College, is to instil in our students a sense of self-discipline. If we grow into adulthood still unable to monitor and, where necessary, adapt our own behaviour, then we are likely to lead passive lives where we indulge in destructive practices until someone (our partner, our employer, our parents) tells us not to. If, on the other hand, we have been taught through a blend of experience and example, that we are responsible for our actions and will be made accountable for them, then, even when we do make mistakes later in life, we will not be waiting for someone else to scold us, because we will already know that we have let ourselves and those whom we care about down.

It strikes me that it is actually getting harder for young people to own their mistakes and face the consequences. Everywhere they look, it seems as if people are getting away with things. Even worse, a sub-culture seems to be developing where the cleverness involved in escaping sanctions for some misdemeanour, is actually seen as praiseworthy. In that critical moment, that nanosecond when our brain decides how to respond to the question ‘Did you do it? Was it you?’, we need to find the courage to be truthful. Once we have managed this a couple of times, it actually becomes easier to tell the truth, because we know that we will survive the repercussions of our actions.

The Scottish novelist, Sir Walter Scott wrote:

Oh what a tangled web we weave,
When first we practise to deceive!

Never was a truer word written. It is horribly frustrating as a teacher when you watch an admirable and trustworthy student surrender to an insignificant initial falsehood, only to then become entangled in a web of deceit over which they inevitably begin to lose control. All of us have told untruths from time to time, and all of us have suffered as a result. Parents and teachers need to work together to help young people to choose courage over expedience when faced with those tough moral decisions. The College needs parents to support us when their children are being asked to face the consequences of their actions, just as parents need to know that when their child is playing up at home, the College is there to support them. Protecting our children from taking responsibility for their actions can do enormous damage in the longer term, whereas teaching them early on the positive outcomes that can be achieved through the cycle of misdemeanour, punishment and forgiveness can be extraordinarily empowering in the development of a self-discipline that will serve them through life.

Mr Simon Armstrong
MEd, BEd, Dip Teach, MACE, AFAIM, MAICD
Principal
Email: sarmstrong@thelakes.qld.edu.au


10 May 2017

I have made no secret in the past that I see an essential part of effective leadership in schools to be the ability for leaders to encourage and inspire others to spark bushfires of excellence in all areas of the school in the hope that eventually the whole place will be blazing with a sense of purpose, and that our students might then be consumed by the holy fire of curious and active engagement in the learning process.

We fan the flames of such fires with our enthusiasm, our passion, our professionalism, our ongoing commitment to refine and improve our pedagogical practice and by challenging the glowering rains of cynicism wherever and whenever we confront them.

American author and broadcaster, Alistair Cooke was made famous through his ‘Letter from America’, a weekly broadcast on BBC’s Radio 4 which provided quirky snapshots into the heart and soul of American life. After 58 years and 2,869 broadcasts, Cooke finally retired at the grand age of 95 and sadly passed away just a few weeks later. Rather than ‘going gently into that good night,’ Cooke’s final broadcasts were as feisty as ever, and for me, he epitomises that sense of relish and delight that can be gained from a life which opens itself to the joys of learning. Cooke was also a writer and in one of his books he describes curiosity as ‘free-wheeling intelligence,’ which represents intelligence as a conscious entity, something that is active rather than passive. There is wisdom in this. We tend to think of intelligence as something that is innate; something we all have to some lesser or greater degree depending on our genetic composition; something that equates to a score in an IQ test. This is misleading. The word ‘intelligence’ comes from the Latin word ‘intelligere’, ‘to understand’, and Chambers defines intelligence as ‘the ability to use memory, knowledge, experience, understanding, reasoning, imagination and judgement in order to solve problems and adapt to new situations.’ When we allow ourselves to become curious about something (and it occurs to me that curiosity is just about the antithesis of cynicism), Cooke’s definition suggests that we are giving our intelligence the freedom to roam across these different areas of cognition in search of discovery. There is will involved.

If we want our children to learn, then we must first awaken their curiosity; and when one looks across the various areas of our school, there are examples everywhere of staff and parents going out of their way to heighten learning opportunities for the young people we serve. Fascinating enquiry exists in and beyond the classrooms. In my regular wanderings around the campus, I encounter so many different approaches to teaching and learning. Classrooms are configured differently, (especially in our new Secondary rooms); it is becoming less common to see the teacher standing at the front of the class; different technologies are being employed; yet a common thread is that the students seem to be really engaged in what they are doing. They seem to want to learn.

Beyond the classroom too, there are countless opportunities designed to excite the curiosity of our students. Curiosity is good. It makes for an interesting life. It feeds our instinctive desire to know more about ourselves and our world and the knowledge that flows from our curiosity leads to better understanding. We can all remember the barrage of questions with which we were assailed when our children were three, four, five years old. Let’s hope that they continue to find questions to ask for as long as they live and that they allow their intelligence to ‘free-wheel’ wherever those questions might take them.

Kind Regards

Mr Simon Armstrong
MEd, BEd, Dip Teach, MACE, AFAIM, MAICD
Principal
Email:
sarmstrong@thelakes.qld.edu.au


1 March 2017

One of the great things about the start of any new year is that it offers each of us a chance to free ourselves of some of the burdens we insist on carrying around with us. Whether or not we commit to ‘resolutions’ there is always the opportunity to examine those aspects of our lives that are causing us stress or anxiety, and to simply let them go. In Eckhart Tolle’s book “A New Earth”, he relates the story of two Zen monks, Tanzan and Ekido who were walking along a muddy track in the country. Along the way, they came across a young lady who was trying to cross the track, but the mud was so deep it would have ruined her silk kimono to do so. Tanzan picked her up and carried her to the other side. The monks walked on without speaking until five hours later they arrived at their place of rest. Ekido could restrain himself no longer. “Why did you carry that girl across the track when you know as monks we are not supposed to do things like that?” Tanzan replied, “I put the girl down hours ago. Why are you still carrying her?”.

Letting go of unnecessary baggage is one of the more liberating actions we can take. It is about “accepting the things we cannot change” as the Serenity Prayer reminds us. We listen and learn how Jesus frees us from “hate and fear, from all that destroys love and trust”. Imagine the sense of peace and well-being if we were truly able to free ourselves from hate and fear and open our hearts to recklessly love and trust.

It would be remiss of me not to mention the recent report in The Courier Mail identifying The Lakes College as one of the top 10 performing schools in the State for 2016 OP 1 – 5 results. Congratulations again to all members of the Class of 2016 as it was through their combined efforts and those of their teachers that have contributed to outstanding results. Whilst it is a wonderful achievement for the College to be ranked in the top 10 in the State, it is essential that we do not sway from our mission to ensure that The Lakes College continues to nurture your child as an individual, recognising and developing his or her talents across a range of areas, of which academics is but one. As always, I thank you for your continued support of our endeavours.

Kind regards

Mr Simon Armstrong
MEd, BEd, Dip Teach, MACE, AFAIM, MAICD
Principal
Email: sarmstrong@thelakes.qld.edu.au


23 November 2016

If we say we live by truth as a school, we are clearly making a bold statement about the nature of our commitment to all those involved in our communal life. A community based on truth must of course model honesty in all its relationships, and thereby engender a sense of trust that will give us the confidence to express ourselves boldly. There is enough deceit in the world for us to contend with, and there are more than enough fine young men and women in our school as a whole to stand against such deceit with the only weapon likely to prevail, truth. So let us stand together, alongside those whose bold, creative vision gave rise to the dream that is The Lakes College, as men and women determined to be true to ourselves and to each other.

And what of faith? Ours is a Christian School, and whilst we can never expect all of us who work and learn here to be practising Christians, we must not be discouraged from our mission to bring the good news of the gospels into the hearts and minds of every student who passes through. To embark upon such a mission in an increasingly secular world is in many ways counter-cultural. As global events seem to point towards a fragmenting, fragile world, the dominant, materialistic ideology which shapes our culture encourages us to get what pleasure and gratification we can as quickly as we can. Those voices who promise a greater fulfilment through a life lived selflessly in the service of others are all too easily drowned. With faith as our cornerstone, however, such voices are alive and well at The Lakes College, and even if they are not directly listened to, who knows what seeds may be planted along the way.

As well as the Christian context, I believe we are also encouraged to have faith in each other, in our school and in ourselves. Faith breeds hope, and our times, like those of our grandparents and great grandparents, are desperate enough to make hope a jewel devoutly to be wished. As with deceit, there is much hopelessness in the world. We all feel helpless and hopeless at times. With faith, the very faith that is part of our College values, we can summon the strength to know that we are never alone; that we have each other. There is a challenge; the challenge to find the courage to embrace not only the faith in a higher power but also in all those who make up and contribute to this amazing community.

Compassion is a simple concept, but one which, when applied, can be literally transformational. Taken literally the word means ‘with suffering’; from there it came to mean ‘a feeling of sorrow and pity for someone in trouble.’ But language, like education, is a dynamic, fluctuating, evolving concept, so that now when we think of compassion we think of kindness, benevolence and mercy. The most profound truths are often the most simple, and one of the simplest of them all is this – that if we strive at all times to treat each other with kindness and respect, to try to place ourselves in each other’s shoes and thereby prevent some petty cruelty that might wound more than we know, if we aspire as a community to treat each other with compassion, then the relationships that exist in our school will flourish and The Lakes College will continue to be a place that honours the faith placed in us by those who dreamed a school and continue to dream a dream.

It has again been an honour to lead the College throughout 2016 and I sincerely thank you all for your faith, trust, compassion and courage and look forward to continuing my servant leadership of this wonderful school in 2017. I wish you all a joyous and holy Christmas and a 2017 filled with health and happiness and will be counting the days until I welcome you back on Monday 23 January.

Kind regards

Mr Simon Armstrong
MEd, BEd, Dip Teach, MACE, AFAIM, MAICD
Principal
Email: sarmstrong@thelakes.qld.edu.au


17 August 2016

There is considerable media dialogue about the performance of the Australian athletes at the Olympic Games. It focuses on the lack of gold medals and the difference in the current general positioning of Australian athletes in comparison to previous Games (with the exception of our London performance) at which this country has done particularly well. It is without doubt that the outcomes to date are not as good as expected, yet the individuals remain world class, are doing their best and are the most outstanding athletes our country has to offer at this point. This is a new status for Australia, not winning gold medals. The reaction of some is to be intensely critical, look to blame someone or the programme of preparation and/or selection and generally be comprehensively negative. Interestingly, much of this can be driven by the media. Many of us celebrate the performance of our athletes and marvel at what they achieve whether it be a silver or bronze medal, or a personal best with or without a medal and the fact that an individual or team has even reached the Olympic standard. Of course we live in Australia, where there is a prevailing attitude that we should be winning regardless, that we should be serious contenders for a gold medal owing to having such a pronounced culture of sport and all the expectations that surround it. All of this has some truth around it and this is shared in our conversations wherever we gather to socialise. I sense there exists an attitude of entitlement of sorts going on in our psyche. We think we are very good and that performances of the recent past predispose us to expectant continuation and that we will just simply keep achieving at the same top level.

This also happens with the performance of each year group at school. As excellence is aspired to and expectations are spelled out, we readily take for granted that we will continue to perform at an extremely high level. The truth is that each year the cohorts are unique, different and possess their own character. In fact, this is also true of other schools, the ones we compete against in academic work, sport and cultural endeavours. The world of competition is exciting, uncertain and intense but we can never take our place in it for granted, hence the need for a circumspect attitude and to remain humble.

If at times we are falling behind the competition then we must concentrate on ensuring we employ the best personnel to deliver outstanding lessons and coaching; we must engage our young men and women with people who possess healthy levels of emotional intelligence in order to effect a relationship base which allows for a student to feel capable of giving of their best; we need to ensure our physical resources will permit the students to better deliver their best outcomes and we must seek to place before our students the behavioural and learning values necessary for the development of character.

Winning is a privilege and is borne out of hours of dedicated preparation requiring self-discipline. There are many players seeking the gold medal in every pursuit imaginable. In our schools, we must develop an individual while they are on the journey of achievement so that if they do not win they remain fulfilled within themselves and can move forward with maturity; and if they do perform to a medal standard that they keep this in perspective and consider themselves blessed. Blessed to have the ability and blessed to have had the personal qualities which enable the hours of preparation and the self-discipline success requires.

Mr Simon Armstrong
MEd, BEd, Dip Teach, MACE, AFAIM, MAICD
Principal
Email: sarmstrong@thelakes.qld.edu.au


1 June 2016

There was an interesting article in The Courier Mail a while back extolling the virtues of ‘hands on’ fathering. One of the many things I love about The Lakes College is the willingness of the fathers involved in our communal life, to be a part of their children’s education, and Rodney Chester’s article, based on the research of Dr Bruce Robinson, coordinator of The Fathering Project at the University of Western Australia, underscores the importance of this to a child’s healthy development.

If fathers wait to seek a closer relationship with their child until later in the child’s life” he writes, “the moment has passed.” Harry Chapin’s poignant folk song ‘The Cat’s in the Cradle’ comes to mind. Of particular interest to educators was Robinson’s assertion that “a child realises that learning is important if Dad pays attention to it. It’s the attitude to the whole process of learning. Otherwise, it’s just Mum nagging ‘do your homework’ and the child thinks it’s optional. It’s the same with everything in life. One of the problems with kids is that they get bored with learning, but a Dad can help a kid to really love learning just for the sake of it, the curiosity. Just, for example, to look up at the stars and say ‘I wonder how long they’ve been there?’ or, in nature, to lift up a rock and see what’s under it. These things have a profound effect on kids. A child who has one-on-one time with their father feels good about themselves. They feel they are worth spending time with, and that is the best platform for learning. You can’t just suddenly start things when they’re teenagers. By then they’ve learnt to live without you”.

In many ways it is perhaps rather obvious advice. Yet men who have been constructed by society to measure their lives through their achievements, to strive, to seek, to discover, to be active, to be human ‘doings’ rather than human beings, can find quiet time spent with their children, especially when they are young, rather frustrating. I wonder how many of us look back when our children are grown and wish we had spent just a little more time with them in the early years. I know I do! We will fulfil many roles in our lives, but none surely will be as important as our role as parents. It is a role that defines us in so many ways and the rewards of parenting, whilst not always so immediate or exhilarating as other pursuits, are always long-lasting.

With the mid-year break to the way, it is an ideal time to begin generating that excitement which flows from planning activities and trips with the family. The holidays are such a precious time, especially given the frenetic pace of modern life. They provide an opportunity for that longed for one-on-one time that our children crave, the times that they will always remember. Eventually they will, as they must, learn to live without us, but let us hope that they will live with the confidence of knowing they had a mother and father who loved them enough to spend precious time with them and thus build a relationship that will continue to sustain them for the rest of their days.

Mr Simon Armstrong
MEd, BEd, Dip Teach, MACE, AFAIM, MAICD
Principal
Email: sarmstrong@thelakes.qld.edu.au


18 May 2016

There is much to be gained from deciding to think the best of people. It might at times lead to disappointment when we are let down, but such disappointments are far more likely if we allow ourselves to expect them. In a school context there is so much potential for fruitful interaction and positive energy, a potential that is fully exploited at The Lakes College. Yet inevitably, there are times when concerns lead to conflict situations, and such conflict is always energy-sapping and unnecessary.

From a student perspective, there is sometimes a temptation to speak ill of others in the forlorn hope that it will somehow boost their own standing in the community. It never does. The happiest students by far are those who seem determined to think well of their peers and thus elicit from them the very best that they have to offer. Conversely, those who indulge in negative gossip and isolationist tactics tend to wander through the College with their shoulders hunched and their minds full of scorpions. Their victories are always fleeting and unsatisfying, yet they can nonetheless be destructive and wounding to others.

It is much the same with adults. In any school there will be times when issues arise involving individual children which result in parents and teachers operating from different perspectives. Such issues are so much easier to resolve when the teacher fully embraces the notion that the parents’ only interest is the welfare of their child, and the parents acknowledge that the teacher is speaking from precisely the same perspective. If consensus cannot be achieved, then at least a respectful understanding of each other’s position seems the likely outcome from encounters where each party is trusting the other’s motive. The Lakes College will continue to treat with care and respect all people involved in our communal life and this provides an excellent starting point for the relationships that develop within our community.

I believe that on the whole we do well as a school in this regard. We have an incredibly supportive parent group and that support gives us the confidence to be the best we can be as teachers and support staff. Yet we will always have those few occasions when both staff and parents have felt unhappy about the way in which particular discussions have transpired. I sometimes fear there is an increasing tendency for parents with children in independent schools to view education as a commodity, a fee for service entity which allows the client to demand satisfaction on their terms, without necessarily deferring to the principles which guide the institution. Such an outlook seems rather diminishing to me, since everything we do here depends on that precious partnership between home and school. Pugnacious parents mould defensive teachers and vice versa, and the openness which should properly characterise all dialogue between home and school can become compromised.

A source of strength for an institution is its ability to listen to and learn from others. No school ever gets it right all the time which is why it is so important that parents feel they have access to teachers when they have a concern. Fortunately, teaching is a vocation which attracts sensitive individuals united by their love of children, and when a parent is upset about an issue affecting their child, it is helpful to remember that teachers do not set out intentionally to wound the children they care for, any more than we do as parents. We will certainly not always agree on what is best for a particular individual, but we must aspire to accept such differences of opinion with grace and mutual respect.

Parents and teachers working together to care for children is such a powerful paradigm for constructive healing and growth in society, and we must work together to nurture a generation who will act responsibly and respectfully, forgive with grace and play their part in developing a society that flourishes into the future.

Mr Simon Armstrong
MEd, BEd, Dip Teach, MACE, AFAIM, MAICD
Principal
Email: sarmstrong@thelakes.qld.edu.au

16 March 2016

With the possibility of an early election, we seem to have entered another round of that dispiriting carnival which sees our elected representatives in parliament impressing their constituents by baying for each other’s blood. The word ‘precious’ comes to mind. How delicate must be the sensibility of a politician! Whilst engaging recently in a mind-altering reading of the weekend papers, I wondered why people who have chosen to spend their lives in the unremitting gaze of the public seem to find it so hard to forgive and forget. You might recall the often-quoted line from Alexander Pope’s ‘Essay On Criticism’: To err is human; to forgive, divine. Perhaps we expect too much from our politicians, who seem to lash out in one breath before retiring hurt and in need of reparation the next.

Forgiveness is such a tough assignment; and yet it is such a vital part of a thriving, healthy community. I may have shared with you all the remarkable story of Corrie ten Boom in the past, so please excuse me for repeating myself but I believe it is a pertinent message that needs to be re-visited at this Easter time…

Corrie ten Boom was a Dutch woman whose family hid dozens of Jews in their attic during the Nazi occupation of WWII. She wrote a wonderfully inspiring book about her experiences called The Hiding Place, which was later turned into a film. Eventually her family was betrayed by a neighbour in 1942, and shipped off to various concentration camps. Corrie was the only survivor. Her parents both died of dysentery, and her sister, just three weeks before the camps were liberated, was viciously beaten to death by a guard while Corrie was forced to watch.

She was barely able to function for months after the war was over, but slowly her Christian faith, so sorely tested by her experiences, began to reassert itself, and aid her recovery. Eventually she got back on her feet, and began to tour continental Europe speaking about her wartime experiences and the faith that had restored her. After one such engagement, she was climbing down from the stage when she saw a man approaching her, smiling and with his arm outstretched. It was the very guard who had beaten her sister to death, who had been responsible for the deaths of scores of others in the camp and who had humiliated and totally degraded Corrie for so many years. Now he stood in front of her with hand outstretched and said: “Will you forgive me?”

Corrie writes: “I stood there with coldness clutching at my heart, yet I know that the will can function regardless of the temperature of the heart. I prayed ‘Jesus, help me’. Woodenly, mechanically, I thrust out my hand and experienced an incredible thing. The current started in my shoulder, raced into my arms, and sprang into our clutched hands. Then this warm reconciliation seemed to flood my whole being bringing tears to my eyes.

“I forgive you brother” I cried with my whole heart. For a long moment we grasped each other’s hands, the former prisoner and the former guard. I have never known the love of God so intimately as I did at that moment.”

It is a story that reminds us of the transforming power of God’s love, a subject that is covered in the American writer, Sophy Burnham’s A Book of Angels. She writes:

I have learned in recent years that my faults, the defects that keep me from creating the work I want to do, are not flaws or failures. They are wounds. The merest shift in the word shifts attitude. As failures, flaws, defects, I want to crush them underfoot, smash their noses in, impale their heads upon a pike and mount it on the tower wall. But this is my very soul I am impaling there, the essence of my heart. Block, the inability to proceed, signals not a defect but a wound exposed; and curiously in our wounds lie our divinity, healing comes from tenderness. Embrace the wounds, wash them, bandage them with loving care.

All of us are wounded in one way or another. All of us need to be forgiven and to forgive. As we move towards the promise of Easter, let us together bless our woundedness and be generous with forgiveness, those twin pillars of our souls that may one day give us a glimpse of the divine.

Kind regards

Mr Simon Armstrong
MEd, BEd, Dip Teach, MACE, AFAIM, MAICD
Principal
Email: sarmstrong@thelakes.qld.edu.au

17 February 2016

In the lead up to the school year and over the past four weeks, I have spoken to prospective and new parents and students, confidently making some bold claims regarding the kind of community we have here at The Lakes College.

Amongst them were included the following –

The Lakes College is a school:

  • Where first and foremost you will be loved and supported every step of the way
  • Where we will celebrate and rejoice in your triumphs and stand alongside you when you face those inevitable challenges that help to define our humanity
  • That will always believe the content of your character is more important than academic achievement and that the two are inextricably linked
  • That places the children at the heart of everything we do, of every decision we make
  • That will explore and dream with you so that together we can try to discover what it is that God has placed you on the earth to do
  • That takes its responsibilities to you and your parents very seriously indeed
  • That is constantly reflecting upon and reviewing its practice with a view to improving
  • That believes we can only fulfil our mission to help you to grow and flourish in partnership with your parents
  • That will be proud of you and the person you have become when you leave us for the wider world
  • That longs to nurture your spirit in the hope that one day you will get just a glimpse of how incredibly precious and worthy you are in God’s sight.

Do we always get it right as a school? Absolutely not; but I can assure you it is not through want of trying. Our staff support and inspire each other, willing us to be the very best we can be, but education is a dynamic entity which requires constant adjustments and reflection.

It has been wonderful to witness first hand the energy and enthusiasm that both staff and students have brought to the commencement of the school year. I am confident our students will maintain their positive start, establishing clear, realistic goals and identifying those skills and strategies needed to help them achieve their personal best in all they do.

It is my hope that 2016 will be an outstanding year in the life of our College and, judging by early indicators, it is a hope well-founded.

Mr Simon Armstrong
MEd, BEd, Dip Teach, MACE, AFAIM, MAICD
Principal
Email: sarmstrong@thelakes.qld.edu.au