Since the beginning of Term 2, I have had the great privilege of leading our Primary School more closely. As an educator trained in the discipline of high school teaching and leadership, my experience in the Primary School has broadened my understanding of both the science and art of teaching, especially in the early formative years when a child acquires their foundational literacy and numeracy skills. The vibrancy, playfulness, curiosity, and sense of hope of young children cannot be anything but inspiring. It has enlivened within me the same sense of awe and wonder for the world I had myself as a child.
What has been most poignant for me in working with our young children is the courageous leadership they unknowingly show. They are not inhibited by deeply embedded social norms, as they are still acquiring these, and rather, through their own innocence and quest for the truth and meaning they tell people what they need to hear rather than what they want to hear. They are not hesitant in telling me someone is kind, or mean, or helpful or hurting. Their messages are not hidden behind platitudes and niceties. Not a day goes by where at least one child does not tell me their “truth” (and nothing is off limits!) or that they do not share my same taste for clashing patterns as evidenced in my shirt, tie and socks.
Young children question our beliefs, values, and/or habits of a lifetime as they exercise their curiosity and seek to make sense of their world. Sadly, the courage and innocence they display in this process is often eroded as they learn to conform to social norms, community habits, and peer pressure. This is something we need to minimise and I sometimes wonder if the ever-burdening compliance regime imposed on schools today serves to erode the things we admire most in young children.
It is, however, the courage of the young children to ask any question, no matter how piercing and uncomfortable it may be, that our world so desperately needs today. The state of Australian politics serves as a good example whereby the piercing and confronting questions of “a young child” are ignored in the interests of factional authority and the status quo, rather than many of our politicians listening, responding and challenging the norms and values of the communities or parliament they serve.
Leaders such as Anwar Sadat and Yitzhak Rabin were assassinated because they dared to challenge the norms and values of their communities. As Heifietz and Lunsky (2004) stated:
“You may appear dangerous to people when you question their values, beliefs, beliefs or habits of a lifetime. You place yourself on the line when you tell people what they need to hear rather than what they want to hear. Although you may see with clarity and passion a promising future of progress and gain, other people will see with equal passion the losses you are asking them to sustain.”
Young children exercise courageous leadership as they ask the difficult questions and drive our need to change, without a fear of loss for they do not carry with them the vestiges of pride, authority, status, power and wealth. They genuinely seek to understand their world and make it better. This has been clearly demonstrated to me in the day-to-day life of our Primary School and the learning of our young children. It comes alive in their stories, prose, art, drama, numerical reasoning and the everyday conversations I savour with them.
Over the last two terms, I have been incredibly impressed by the work of our teachers and support staff in the Primary School who seek to enliven and sustain the curiosity and courage of our young children. Their commitment to cultivating inquiring minds is clearly visible through the many formal and informal activities they enjoy. It is this commitment to inquiry and sustained curiosity that prepares our young children for the rigours of High School and the world beyond school. It is our teachers who so diligently and craftily cultivate these attributes each day alongside their parents. May their courageous leadership and inquiry serve as a reminder to us all about what is most important and precious in our world today.
This weekend we celebrate the opening of Fiddler on the Roof. Kol Hakavod to the entire cast, the crew, and the hundreds of volunteers who have spent months rehearsing, sewing, building sets, gathering props, selling tickets, designing posters, seeking sponsorship and working around the clock to make this event happen. With the indefatigable Roberta Goot (Director) and Tara Ende (Producer) at the helm, this will certainly not be your average school production. I wish the production every success and we look forward to enjoying the fruits of your labour, passion and commitment.
About the author
John Hamey is the College Principal at Moriah College in Queens Park, NSW