After 14 years of wandering the world I’ve made my way back to Moriah. During this time I have been a Principal in Zurich in Switzerland and at Knox on the North Shore and most recently as Head of School at the Australian International School in Hong Kong. These experiences at the highest quality schools across the world have given me a great sense of perspective and excellent points of reference for being able to make honest comparisons between schools.
In each of the very different schools across the world in which I have been a leader there have been some commonalities;
- A concern in moving from Primary School to High School. In one of my previous schools, parents referred to it as moving across to the “dark side”. In each of my previous schools there has been great parental anxiety about moving from the known of Primary to the unknown of High School. The reality is that High Schools need to be vastly different to Primary Schools to cater for the changing needs of older students.
- Parents loving their Primary School and being critical of the High School their children are moving into.
- A misconception that there is never enough discipline in the High School and the behaviour of the High School students is out of control. If there is one thing I have learnt in all my schools it is that most parents want school discipline to be tougher until it is their child who has to be disciplined and then the school is being unfair and too tough.
- Complaints about uniform and the attitudes of the High School students.
- Academic standards always need to be improved.
I have seen these phenomena across the world in each school in which I have been a leader.
In this regard Moriah is no different to any of my previous schools. High School students are the same all over the world, as are parents, as are teachers.
“I have never met with students who have shown me such kindness and respect from my very first day.”
However, there is absolutely no doubt that there is something incredibly unique about the Moriah students. Yes, they are very talkative and very confident, and they have a wonderful sense of spirit, connection, warmth and engagement. Having moved quite a bit in my career, I have never met students who have made me feel so welcome, who have gone out of their way to connect with me and have shown me such kindness and respect from my very first day. I have thoroughly enjoyed visiting classes to see the students in action and conversing with them in the playground during break times. The number of students who have come up to me to introduce themselves, who have asked me how I am going and who have provided me with feedback on my speeches has been overwhelming. The students have made a very positive impression on me.
“Moriah students become world leaders and world changers.”
The main reason that I returned to Moriah was because of the amazing students I had taught in the past. I have kept in contact with many of my past Moriah students and I am incredibly proud of what they have achieved in life. Moriah students become world leaders and world changers. The contributions that Moriah alumni make in all fields of endeavour are unmatched by any of my previous schools. I chose to become a teacher because I wanted to make a difference in the world, and I feel that I have the greatest chance of doing this through the small influence I may have on the High School students in my care each day. I think that I have the greatest opportunity of making a difference for the future of the world by being here at Moriah and working with our students. It was only when I left Moriah that I became aware of how special the Moriah students are.
“I truly believe that Moriah is one of the very best schools in Sydney.”
When I addressed the High School students at our first assembly last week, I was so impressed by the respect they showed me. I encouraged them to be kind individuals who make a difference in the world, individuals who respect themselves, each other, their school and community. I reminded them that they are the future of Judaism in Sydney and across the diaspora and they have a responsibility for becoming the Jewish and Australian leaders of the future and that Jews in Sydney will be judged by their actions. I encouraged them to be so grateful for the opportunity that their parents provide them by choosing for them to attend one of the very best schools in Sydney. I told them that I truly believe that Moriah is one of the very best schools in Sydney and that as a community we need to believe this. In my experience there is no perfect school and the grass is always greener somewhere else, but we need to be positive about our school. Often the narrative we share and choose to believe becomes our reality. It is human nature to dwell on the negative, and the reality is that there is so much that we have to be proud of at Moriah. I urge you all to look for the positive and to become ambassadors for the school.
I promised the students that I would care for them, that I would connect with them, that I would engage with them, that I would guide and support them as best I can and that I would be their advocate. And I would expect the same in return. Respect works both ways.
I explained to the students that I have made a conscious decision to return to Moriah because I believe in the school. I honestly could have gone anywhere in the world, and Moriah is my school of choice. I am under no illusion that it will all be roses and I have no doubt that I will be constantly challenged by the students (and possibly the parents) but likewise I have told the students that I will challenge them to become better individuals and I will challenge you to be better parents. When I challenge the students to improve and grow, I hope that I will have your support with this and I look forward to working with you and your children.
“We all have to believe in our school.”
My goal over the coming months is to visit classes, to speak with the students and to meet with staff so that I can learn as much about the High School as possible. Interestingly, alongside all the commonalities, all schools have their differences and there is lots for me to learn at Moriah. I then look forward to sharing my educational observations and thoughts about important issues with the Moriah family in the future.
If there is one wish that I have for this year it is that we all believe in this wonderful school through the thick and thin, the good times and the bad. This is a great school; we just have to believe this.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Mark Hemphill is the Head of High School at Moriah College in Queens Park, NSW.