Principal's Blog - 15 November 2018

12 Nov 2018

Dear members of the Marcellin College Family,

I am not normally a big believer in serendipity but sometimes things happen in our lives which make this concept difficult to ignore. Last week I had just such an experience. You may recall that previously I wrote to you about the process we are currently working through to reimagine learning at Marcellin. I suggested that a significant element of this process was to ensure that whatever learning paradigm we develop must be aligned with our identity as a Catholic Marist school for boys. You may recall too that I provided some detail from Marist documents on just what this identity looks like. Phrases such as:


  • Young people discover the meaning of their existence and be able to take their life in their hands, encourage them to be critical of the society that surrounds them and we invite them to commit themselves to transforming that dream into reality
  • We are not only living in changing times but are witnessing an earthshaking time of change
  • We are talking about a profound transformation
  • In our way of seeing, feeling, knowing, relating to and loving, all of which can be observed to an even greater degree in the young
  • Youth searching for a self-sustaining society, based on respect for nature, universal human rights, effectively administered economic justice and a culture of peace based on a comprehensive ecological perspective
  • Our style of educating is based on a vision that is truly holistic
  • Leads students to learn to know, to be competent, to live together, and most especially, to grow as persons.

On Saturday 3 November, as I ate my Weetbix and perused the Good Weekend magazine in the Saturday Age, I came across an article which stopped me in my tracks. The article entitled 'Lessons in Learning', in many ways not only mirrored the opportunities and challenges we face in the learning space at Marcellin but also offered similar ideas, strategies and learning paradigms that we as a community have been discussing and developing in our Strategic Improvement Plan for learning at Marcellin.

The article speaks of the current state of education in Australia. In a report from the Grattan Institute it is suggested that 40 per cent of all Australian students are disengaged from their learning. At another public policy think tank, the Centre for Independent Studies (CIS), Dr Jennifer Buckingham, a research fellow with expertise in early reading instruction, presented other concerning findings. "One in four Australian kids in Year 9 is just at the minimum standard of reading and that minimum standard is very low.”

At the very heart of problem lays a state of disengagement with students reporting four reasons for it:

  • A poor sense of autonomy ("Why don't I have any say in what I have to learn?")
  • Competence ("I'm rubbish at languages and now my parents and teachers know it, too")
  • Relatedness ("I don't like my teacher: why don't I feel like I fit in here?")
  • Relevance ("Okay, so astatine is the rarest element on earth: when am I ever going to need to know that?")

Marcellin College is a great community of learning, of life and of faith. Our staff work hard each day in innovative and creative ways to connect and engage with boys in their learning. Our students too present as young men who love their school and gain much from what takes place in the learning space. Having said that, we are not immune to these national trends. As an inclusive learning community we need to reflect on the level of disengagement that exists in our own school and develop whole school strategies to meet this issue head on. Some of this development will require a bold and courageous approach. The article provides some sign posts for the way forward which resonate well with many of the ideas and strategies we are currently discerning. These include:

  • Personalised learning with deeper dives into fewer subjects
  • The student as worker, the teacher as coach
  • The student's mastery of a personal project to be demonstrated to peers, parents and teacher assessment to be made based on tasks successfully completed in the real world
  • Students present a portfolio of work about a Personal Interest Project

These are only a few of many ideas and concepts we are exploring as we continue to discern and discover ways of continuing to engage and connect our young men with learning. I look forward to continuing to present you with more thoughts in this space.

Mark Murphy