Wednesday, 23 January 2013

Giving Boys the Best Chance to Succeed

As the school year approaches I have been reflecting on how to build on our approach to support the boys to ‘be the best they can be’.

Over the years Wellesley has built a reputation for having a distinct teaching and learning approach which caters for boys’ distinct set of needs. This is underpinned by the belief that the curriculum needs to be pitched in a way which will engage the boys away from the rote and the procedural into the higher levels of thinking. Now is not the time to expand on this but talk about some other key elements which are even more fundamental in bringing out the best in boys.

Many of you will know the work of Billy Graham who started NaeNae’s Boxing Academy from scratch. Billy had a tough childhood and got into all sorts of trouble before he found boxing and a great mentor in his coach, Dick Dunn. Billy went on to become a NZ Champion boxer and a successful international motivational speaker.

Billy’s life is now dedicated to helping young men who often have no self-belief and little hope of a decent future. His vision has been realised with many of his young charges radically and positively changing their life styles and local police reporting crime in the area is down 30%.

We have twice hosted Billy at Wellesley where he has shared his story and advice with staff and boys. Billy has definitely come from the ‘wrong side of the tracks’ but through his experiences and personal integrity, he is making a real difference to young boys’ lives. I read his book, ‘Making Champion Men’ over the break and many of his messages profoundly supported my own set of beliefs.

Quite simply, boys need kindness, age and stage appropriate expectations, encouragement, positive role models and to learn the consequences of their actions. This may sound too simplistic but where these fundamental principles are not imbedded in a shared fashion in homes and schools, there is a high risk factor of dysfunctional behaviour.

Once these core principles are in place, personal excellence and empowerment can be achieved. We want to lead our boys to take personal responsibility for their lives.

If we do not provide this structure for success, then when things go wrong, as they inevitably do in life, it’s too easy for young people to blame everyone else for their misfortune or dodge fronting up to their responsibilities.

The small things matter from a young age. Fundamental manners such as saying please and thank you are so important. Looking at people when they speak to you, being warm in greeting and fare-welling people and looking out for those who need help are all good habits to learn at a young age.

Having the confidence to speak up is so much easier in an environment of mutual respect. Swearing and sloppy language creates a lazy speech culture and often even a combative environment. Without  being too pedantic, insistence on correct pronunciation supports the group to build their communication effectiveness.

Boys feel secure when they know there are high expectations of them and a structure of support and discipline. They yearn for, and need acknowledgement and praise but they also need quietly bringing back into line when things go wrong.

A few years ago, former Wellesley parent, John Wright (past NZ cricket captain and later coach) spoke to the boys at our Year 8 Leavers’ Dinner. He shared the poem below with us. He said it has been his ‘rudder’ for life because at the end of the day, we have to be happy to look at ourselves in the mirror and feel happy we have done our best and lived a decent life.

The Man in the Glass

When you get what you want in your struggle for self

And the world makes you king for a day,

Just go to a mirror and look at yourself,

And see what that man has to say.

For it isn't your father or mother or wife,

Who judgment upon you must pass;

The fellow whose verdict counts most in your life

Is the one starring back from the glass.

He's the fellow to please, never mind all the rest.

For he's with you clear up to the end,

And you've passed the most dangerous, difficult test

If the man in the glass is your friend.

You may fool the whole world down the pathway of years.

And get pats on the back as you pass,

But your final reward will be the heartaches and tears

If you've cheated the man in the glass.

Dale Wimbrow (c) 1934


We have a very happy culture at Wellesley where respect for each other is fundamental. The values discussed above are the foundation stone from which we can build the other core competencies that will set the boys up for success.