The Role of Moriah in the Nature vs. Nurture Debate

To date, we have been privileged to host a range of blue chip speakers as part of our Parent-Educator Centre of Excellence series at Moriah College.

Dr Judith Locke, Dr Dee O’Connor, and Dr Michael Carr-Gregg spoke about different aspects of child development and all referenced one key developmental concept; the idea of nature versus nurture. Which traits are inherent, and what impact do our environments and external factors have on our levels of ability?

Dr Dee O’Conner referenced the neuronic patterns that are imprinted on a child’s DNA at birth – the natural patterns which determine such things as temperament and potential talents. She then elaborated on the power of nurture and how synaptic connections occur through responses to experiences and the environment. Stimulation across emotional, cognitive and physical contexts, can impact nature significantly, and must be managed purposefully and carefully to ensure the impact is positive.

Dr Judith Locke referred to the different dispositions of children and how we can respond to these in order to increase each child’s self-regulation, ongoing motivation and an acceptance of his/her strengths and weaknesses.

Dr Michael Carr Gregg spoke about the chromosomal mix and the undeniable genetic replication of temperament and ability. He also highlighted the significant impact that educators and parents have on children.

The common conclusion of our three speakers was that whilst children are undoubtably blessed with the genetic gifts they receive at birth, the impact of the way a child is parented and educated is so significant that it has the power to significantly alter the trajectory of his/her life.

Moriah College plays a positive role in nurturing each child that enters its campus. Our educators respond to students in carefully considered ways, we utilise purposeful platforms for learning experiences, and we track and monitor progress in order to produce data that can inform the direction and development of our teaching strategies.

Below, I detail five practices that we currently use at Moriah to nurture our students and help them defy any natural challenges they may face, to ensure that they cultivate the best versions of themselves.

1. Using technology and data to map each student’s learning progress

On Friday, I spoke on a panel at the esteemed Edutech Conference at the International Convention Centre in Sydney. The panel discussed the use of technology platforms in assessing a child’s learning, and how these platforms can advantage our learners and progress education.

I was proud to highlight Moriah College as an exemplar in this practice. I shared how our College uses a literary platform called Brightpath, which can process a child’s written task behaviours and identify his/her natural performance level. We then analyse the data from this platform to determine what the student needs from an educator and learning experience in order to move forward and exceed their level of performance.

Additionally, by generating whole school performance maps, we can challenge children beyond their year levels, and help them to progress and achieve as highly as possible.

Our students are further challenged by the production of norm referenced maps, which compare Moriah students to students of the same age across the state as a matter of course.

This is just one example of how we use artificial intelligence to support educators at Moriah and assist them in personalising the way they educate and nurture our students.

2. Setting boundaries

According to Dr Michael Carr-Gregg, all children need a daily dose of what he calls ‘Vitamin N’ – the word ‘No’. When delivered appropriately and convincingly, this ensures that our children understand boundaries, limits, and clearly defined pathways that keep them safe and healthy, while also allowing them the scope to investigate their world.

The fine tuning of policy and whole school behaviour management practice at Moriah has gone a long way to administering this daily dose of Vitamin N in the best possible way.

3. Ritual and Belonging

Rituals and traditions are practiced throughout Jewish Life and Learning at Moriah College. Dr Michael Carr-Gregg stressed the important role this plays in helping children to feel a sense of security and belonging.

In line with this, we give particular priority to the building and development of authentic connections between parents and educators at Moriah. We use frameworks and prompts to ensure our students’ parents and educators make time with unfailing regularity to listen to the children in their care and respond to their challenges.

The value of deepening family and community connection can never be underestimated, and goes a long way to ensuring the sustainability of Jewish families and Jewish continuity, as well as personal wellbeing.

Dee O’Connor explained that when chemical pathways form through emotion, they override rationality. This means that children who lack a sense of belonging and feel upset or insecure will be hindered by their negative emotions. At Moriah, we make provisions for all students to ensure that they experience the correct emotions to prepare their minds for learning. We call this being in a state of neuroplasticity, and our plans and practices abound to move children away from overwhelming feelings of not belonging, or emotional upset, towards a positive emotional mindset. Children are nurtured in a supportive context and are better positioned to overcome the challenges of nature.

4. Valid Education and Information Sources

Parenting is a challenge that should never be underestimated. Moriah extends the hand of support to our parents, who remain the first teachers of their children, at every opportunity.

In recent weeks, we launched School TV – an online platform for Moriah parents, offering clear, relevant and fact-based information on how to raise safe, happy and healthy children.

Knowledge is indeed power because it ensures our ability to recognise the challenges our children face and connects us to the initial steps to support them. The blue chip presenters that interact with our educators and parents alike leave little to chance in a journey filled with variables and obstacles.  

5. Nature Play followed by Learning through Inquiry

When a child moves in natural settings or plays a game, positive chemicals are released in the brain which aid and enhance the child’s development. Moriah College embraces play-based pedagogy in the early years to capitalise on this for as long as possible (up until the age of eight or nine years, according to research).

Students in Years 2-6 are steeped in the risk and creativity offered by inquiry learning, which stimulates imagination, collaboration and negotiation in our students. The limitations of nature are constantly challenged with this approach, which is further enhanced by the personalised learning plans and differentiation that permeate all learning contexts.

The five points above will hopefully highlight how our students are nurtured to be the best versions of themselves through a disciplined and targeted lens.

I celebrate our use of data platforms, evidence-based research to inform our professional pathways, our student wellbeing pedagogy and practice, and the valid knowledge resources at our fingertips. And I embrace our parents for joining us in this journey as passionate advocates for their children. The good fortune that smiles on Moriah is no accident, and I highly commend the practices that we have in place, which enrich our students’ lives and drive the growth of our College.


Lynda Fisher is the Head of Primary School at Moriah College in Queens Park, NSW.

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