Tuesday, 16 April 2013

What if your contribution is the key ingredient ?

Massey University Graduation Ceremony


by Barbara Cavanagh

Tuesday 16 April 2012 Bruce Mason Centre

Kia ora koutou
Nga mihi nui ki a koutou no te kura matua o Albany.

Congratulations – This is a major achievement for all of you today. It is the culmination of serious and hard work and we are here today to acknowledge that in this very grand ceremony.

You have walked up the streets of Takapuna and arrived at this Bruce Mason Theatre. Before I start I would like to honour the man for whom this theatre is named – Bruce Mason, a superb playwright and orator. My mother grew up in a house behind his house on Takapuna Beach so I have grown up with 'End of the Golden Weather' set right here on the beach and then later, on many occasions, taught 'The Pohutukawa Tree'. It is right that this theatre be named after such an illustrious man.

I am currently principal at Albany Senior High School and I have also been principal at Te Awamutu College and Ngaruawahia High School. Before that I did a stint at Fairfield College and a 7 year stretch at Northcote College – so I have been in the game a very long time (close to 40 years).

I'd like to start with a story, it's a story I heard recently at a principals' conference about the silver-backed gorilla.

The silver-backed gorilla is definitely the leader of the pack - he has a silver streak down his back so that he is instantly recognised as such. The greatest threat to the pack was always the leopards and the leopards relied on the pack splitting up so that they could pounce easily on one gorilla. The answer for master silver-back was to encourage all the gorillas to get behind him thus making it impossible for the leopards. The problem now is that the biggest threat is the poachers with guns so now, of course, when master silver -back gets all his pack in behind him it is oh so easy for the poachers to get a good shot. The poor old gorillas are dying out. So here's the silver-backed gorilla – totally believing he's doing the RIGHT thing in his mind, and he ends up destroying the very people he wants to protect.

My challenge to you – those of you going into schools and to those of you entering the design world - is to challenge, challenge, challenge the status quo. For those of your who are going into schools, you are going into the most wonderful job in the world. - SERIOUSLY -

Like the Army advertisement on TV – you will NEVER be short of good work stories. Go in with your new, fresh eyes. Think about the research you have engaged with in your time at this wonderful Massey University. Keep reading – go back to that research and look around you....is what's happening in line with the research? And please don't think that you have to 'do an apprenticeship' before you offer an opinion. We have a saying at our school – 'What if your contribution is the key ingredient?' What if it's you? You are young, intelligent, why couldn't it be?? Why wouldn't it be???

You see there are myths that exists in school that need to be challenged – I worry that schools may just become irrelevant – there are schools that still ban cellphones!! Do you know that there is more technology in a cellphone than there was in the technology that took a space shuttle to the moon?? There will come the day when we say, we banned cellphones? – we did what?? Harness technology – enjoys its capacity and it's amazing potential to transform.

Watch out for solutions in schools that make life easier for the institution but not necessarily for the child. The silver-backed gorilla had ONE solution for every crisis – and he's wiping out those who love him.

If you have in your head things like;
  • Boys learn best when....
  • Girls learn best when.....
  • Maori students learn best when.....
Then know for sure that you are wrong.

If you believe that;
  • some kids can learn
  • some can't
Then know for sure that you are wrong.

When you are looking at every child with absolute belief that they have the ability to learn, they want to achieve and they want to need to contribute then I suggest you are on the right track. The easy and quick solution (think of master gorilla) is to label kids, then group them early – this is the top group, this is the bottom group. What are the unintended consequences of that?
There's so much research that shows us that our own attitudes and beliefs as teachers can seriously change the attitudes that children have about themselves.
You be the teacher who challenges – take your fresh and intelligent eyes to every situation. You will come across silver-backed gorillas – be gentle but be firm – you have good brains, use them to stay informed and to challenge.

Silver-backed gorillas are in the design world too – and to you people – be mindful of one great creative genius, Steve Jobs – Mr Apple..

Here's to the crazy one. The misfits. The rebels. The troublemakers. The round pegs in the square holes. The one who see things differently. They are not fond of rules. And they have no respect for the status quo. You can praise them, disagree with them, quote them, disbelieve them, glorify or vilify them. And the only thing you can't do is ignore them. Because they change things. They invent. They imagine. They heal. They explore. They create. They inspire. They push the human race forward. Maybe they have to be crazy. How else can you stare at an empty canvas and see a work of art? Or sit in silence and hear a song that's never been written? Or gaze at a red planet and see laboratory on wheel? We make tools for these kind of people. While some see them as the crazy ones, we see genius. Because the people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world, are the ones who do.
Be one of the crazies.

So to all of you with your big brains and fresh eyes...

Yes – Kim Kardashian is too fat or too thin – and yes it is a worry that Roimata might leave TK and isn't it great that Tom has a new girlfriend – I mean Katie was so mean to him – Jen's doing well though, isn't she....Mmmmm, important as that is on a world scale, don't let the media addle your brains. You might just need to be the new one in the pack who says to Master Silver-back,
You know what? Let's define the actual problem here and NOW let's find a solution that fits!”

What if your contribution is the key ingredient? What if?

Have a great day. I hope that for all of you that this is not the end of your association with Massey University. Your days of learning have just begun, my friends.

My very best wishes for all of you

No reira tena koutou, tena koutou, tena koutou.

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