The idea of agency is an important one in schools. All of us like to know that we have a voice in a place, and more importantly, that it is valued. The students at Melbourne Grammar School have a number of different ways in which their individual voices are not only heard but nurtured, and this is an important feature of the School.
Being heard and listened to connects our students to the School in the first instance, but also encourages them to find and then express their own unique and authentic voice. On an existential level, this is vital for enabling our students to explore the bigger questions of life and, in my view, consequently find greater meaning and purpose in their own lives.
The Pastoral Care programme in the School is one place where student voice is encouraged. Pastoral Care is a part of everything we do at this School, but is formally delivered through the classroom, the tutor group and the House. Whilst the emphasis on which of these vehicles is used varies in each part of the School, the Pastoral Care programme works in the same way as a family. The slightly different structures at Grimwade House, Wadhurst and Senior School, allow for each student in this large School to be seen, heard, known, respected, and supported.
Whilst there are Houses at Grimwade House, Pastoral Care is structurally delivered through the classroom and by each student’s classroom teacher. And this makes sense because of the extraordinary amount of time that the teacher in charge of each class spends with their students. The teacher’s job is to explore life and learning with the young minds and hearts in their care and there are a number of ways in which this can be achieved. For example, at the Junior Primary level, students engage in a number of different learning activities that allow them to begin to work out what they like and therefore who they are as people. To this end, students are encouraged to seek their own voice by engaging in activities ranging from thinking about what they want to be when they grow up, to exploring what it means to be a ‘scientist’, a ‘mathematician’, and a ‘superstar speller’. The idea is that each student will start to discover themselves and hence begin to develop their own voice.
As students progress through Grimwade House they are encouraged to explore and take more (albeit carefully managed) risks with this developing voice. For example, Year 3 students design their own flag for all Australians, Year 4’s discuss what they’d do if they were Prime Minister, Year 5’s explore the Solar System and the Year 6’s attempt to sum up who they are in three words as they write their own Valete.
As students move into Wadhurst, the Pastoral Care focus begins to shift from the classroom teacher to the student’s Head of House and House Tutor. This is a natural shift, as more classes are taught by specialist subject teachers, so that the time students spend with one teacher diminishes.
Students are also given more agency and voice in subject choices and are able to choose the language they wish to study, as well as the focus area for their Argo studies. This means that students move classes more often and are exposed to a greater range of teachers and teaching styles. Core classes, however, are relatively stable and the student’s tutor has a major role on the delivery of educational, as well as pastoral, outcomes. In this sense, there is a gradual transition away from the primary school model where the classroom teacher is the sole focus of educational as well as pastoral support, to a model in which the educational responsibilities, in particular, are increasingly shared.
In the Senior School, the role of the House is even more pronounced. Student agency in terms of subject choice increases again, and so each class a student attends has a significantly different mix of students. The Houses possess a unique flavour that is shaped, not only by the Head of that House, but also by tradition and history. The tole of the Head of House in the senior School, mirrors that of the classroom teacher at Grimwade House and the House Tutor in Wadhurst in that their job is to get to know each student and their family well. Each House is divided into smaller Tutor Groups that allow for each student’s individual strengths to be noticed immediately. The intimacy of these smaller groups means that there is emotional and intellectual ‘space’ for each boy to express themselves as well.
Apart from the social architecture of the Houses in the Senior School that enables relationships to flourish, and for the ‘inner voice’ of each student to be nurtured, there is another reason why the House is important in terms of voice. Our Senior School boys spend a lot of time doing things in, and for, the House and it is in these endeavours that they are then able to express the voice being nurtured. For the whole of their time in the Senior School, the boys attend Tutor Meetings, House Periods, Chapel and School Assemblies with the other members of the House. Certainly, it is true that there are opportunities, in both the House and Tutor Group Periods, for the boys to speak and test out their understanding of who they are.
Whether at Grimwade House, Wadhurst or in the Senior School, being part of a House gives our students a connection point to the School that cannot be underestimated. This connection begins as soon as a student enters the School and is important as a means for allowing students to establish and express their own identity within the School. House activities also foster the development of friendships outside the classroom, team spirit and a sense of community.
Furthermore, in Schools, rituals and celebrations matter. It is through the House system that many of these important symbols of what’s important to the School are enacted; in one sense the House competitions are our seasonal festivals! Throughout the year, whether it be events such as House Sports Competition at Grimwade House, the House Swimming Carnival at Wadhurst or the House Singing Competition in the Senior School, the Houses engage in a range of activities which are designed to bring the students of a House together. Through these activities, the unique talents, or voice if you like, of each student can be identified and celebrated; the good public speakers debate, the good sportspeople compete, the good musicians lead the House Singing, and the young men and women do good things for the people in and out of the House.
As a vehicle for the meaningful and authentic celebration of School, and certainly as a way to ensure that each student’s unique voice is heard and nurtured, the Pastoral Care programme plays a significant role in the life of every student who comes to Melbourne Grammar School. Our job is to protect this feature of the School to ensure that the ‘human’ part of teaching and learning remains a priority in all that we do.
Ora et Labora
Deputy Headmaster and Head of Senior School
About Mr Ben Hanisch
Mr Ben Hanisch BA (Adel), DipEastAsiaStud (ANU), DipEd (Adel), MEd (Melb) has been in the position of Deputy Headmaster and Head of Senior School at Melbourne Grammar School since Term III 2019.
Immediately prior to this, he held the position of Deputy Headmaster and Head of Senior School at St Peter’s College in Adelaide for more than three years.
Prior to his move to Adelaide, Mr Hanisch held several senior positions at Melbourne Grammar School including Director of Senior School Curriculum, Head of Japanese and Head of Hone House for over eight years.