By Sophia Jiang
By showing how those traditional values are applied to people’s life in modern day context, it also reveals the power of faith in offering you purpose, energy and sense of wellbeing.
-Mr. John Weeks
There is an old Chinese saying “It takes ten years to grow trees but a hundred years to rear talents”, which highlights the importance of a long term view and forwarding thinking strategy in education.
Knox Grammar School in Sydney has no doubt created an exemplary model with its time honoured Christian heritage of helping each boy to pursue a holistic development, leaving school as a young man with integrity, wisdom, compassion and faith, as well as a sure knowledge of who they are and how they should live.
As one of Australia’s leading independent all boys’ schools with nearly 3,000 students from Kindergarten to year 12, Knox Grammar exudes excellence, not only in outstanding academic results but also in sport, music and the arts.
The last one hundred years has witnessed its continuous growth into a close-knit while inclusive community where the boys’ path to excellence is accelerated with the help of dedicated staff and state-of-the-art facilities and resources.
Mr. John Weeks is the seventh headmaster of Knox Grammar School. His passion is to help young boys over the bumps of life, encouraging them to explore the purpose of living, and instilling in them an appreciation of traditional values on the pathway to meaningful lives.
In a recent interview with New Land, Mr. John Weeks shared the uniqueness of the school, including its Christian heritage, its strong commitment to the students’ future as well as its response to modern day challenges in education.
NL: Could you please tell us a bit about the tradition of Knox Grammar School and its role in today’s practice?
Mr. John Weeks: Knox Grammar is getting close to celebrating its centenary. Starting as a unique all boys’ school providing boarding opportunity for young man from NSW country areas and overseas, it has stayed true to that particular purpose over the past decades.
Inspired by the Presbyterian Christian tradition, Knox Grammar comes with the values of integrity, wisdom, compassion and faith, and these are also the words representing the ongoing culture of the school and creating its point of difference.
The uniqueness about Knox is its time-honoured commitment to developing boys as a whole person with physical, social, academic and spiritual fitness. This foundation, laid by the founding headmaster, has been underpinning the growth of the school and experiencing continuous evolvement over the years via modern research and innovative practice.
The concept of overall holistic development goes beyond academic development and reflects our care for boys as a whole person, highlighting the role of physical fitness, social fitness, academic fitness and spiritual fitness in making sure they live a meaningful life.
Spiritual fitness is the core of Knox Grammar’s tradition and based on our understanding that we all have a spiritual dimension to our lives and we have to work out what it is.
Putting it in other words, spiritual fitness represents a sense of purpose and makes a big difference in how we function as a human beings.
It is important to say to all people that there is a rock you can base your life on and keep coming back to that rock and testing it. Each individual can have his/her own interpretation, keep asking the question and looking for meaning and purpose.
For our boys, whatever background they may come from and whatever profession they may take in future, they all need that rock to base the whole existence upon, because they are essentially human person in them who need a purpose other than making money. The question here boils down to this ” Yes, I need to support myself and my family, and I need to manage my life, but when all these are taken away, what makes me feel good about me?”
Mental fitness is more related to resilience. We need to get boys to understand that things do not always go their way and if things go wrong, they need to know how to stop, reframe it and move on. They also need to understand there are things we cannot change and learn how to manage them effectively.
NL: What unique experiences is the school offering to boys to achieve overall holistic development?
Mr. John Weeks: We have a well developed structure and formally designed programs in place from kindergarten all the way through to year 12 to support the holistic development of boys. This also makes a strong point of difference for us.
Cadets is one of our traditional practices that embrace the holistic concept. From the traditional perspective, the founding Headmaster of the school is a great believer in training young people in discipline, leadership and independence. He saw these as not only valuable life skills enabling boys to handle the real life challenges and hardship, but also essential elements to their physical and mental fitness.
This tradition has been carried forward till today. Nowadays all boys in year 9 are required to participate in one year of compulsory Cadets. Boys can acquire many valuable skills via weekly training, including bushcraft, navigation, orientation, climbing, cooking, putting up a tent, as well as learning how to work as a group, how to take and give orders respectfully, how to dress correctly and how to behave correctly etc.
Another example reflecting our Christian tradition is the religious education program WFL (Wisdom, Faith and Life). The program is designed to demonstrate to boys the wisdom of the ages via living examples of the past through people’s behavior, experiences in Christian sense and non Christian sense. By showing how those traditional values are applied to people’s life in modern day context, it also reveals the power of faith in offering you purpose, energy and sense of wellbeing.
Knox Grammar is also a very progressive school that has never fallen short of innovative initiatives. A good case is our positive psychological program. It aims to offer boys a full training and give them the tools and resources to identify their strengths, things in need of improvement, and understand that there are things they can draw upon to attain the total fitness to flourish and be happy.
The whole program is supported by key structures of the school with staff at different positions delivering quality services from diverse perspectives. Along with this, each boy is supported by a fully trained mentor at the fundamental level, with whom they meet each day and have special lessons regularly to identify their character strength, understand what they are good at and what they need to grow, as well as find out ways to grow.
Boys here are also taught the importance of ceremony. Reverence for the past is an important way of teaching young people the importance of things that matter to the community. It is about understanding and mutual respect. We are aiming to instill in them the value that they are part of the community and as such have to show empathy for what the communityvalues. By behaving properly in different context, they can break down barriers and participate as a valued member.
As you can see, we are instilling in them values but not dogmatizing these values. We appreciate that each boy is on the journey of self discovering and we want to honor this in our school.
NL: You have mentioned that inclusiveness is part of Knox Grammar’s heritage. How has this evolved over the years and in what sense is it important to the boys’ development?
Mr. John Weeks: Yes, we have been seeing ourselves a global community from the very start and this is another point setting us apart from many other schools.
Having identified many decades ago that Australian is a multicultural country, we have been living that fact with the understanding that Australia has its own secondary and tertiary education system that appeals to young people around the world.
I have talked to many parents, especially those from overseas why they choose Knox and one of the reasons is we are very embracing, welcoming and inclusive. Another thing that attracts them is the fact that boys can get not only very outstanding education in terms of academic requirements to move into the courses they want, but also a holistic training to be an excellent communicator.
Nowadays, we have many boys coming from different parts of the world with different beliefs, while on the other hand, we see more and more of our own students choosing to be trained in Australia and work overseas. We now have very strong communies around many cities in the world, including Shanghai, Hong Kong and Macao.
As part of our global reach, we also offer exchange programs for year 9-10 students. With our year 12 exchange schools around the world including UK, Canada, Spain, France, The States and Hong Kong, our students have the opportunity to interact with students of different backgrounds and experience a different system and a different culture.
Such exposure would offer boys great understanding about what is happening in a global context and benefit them in future workplace. The real experience makes a huge difference from what you have read in books or in theory. Because of the exchange, they can have a great understanding and empathy for each other and thus can build a stronger and more effective relationship with students from another background.
NL: How have schools changed since when you were growing up?
Mr. John Weeks: The biggest change is the introduction of communication technology into learning and teaching experience, which has changed the role of teachers and the implication of education.
When I studied at school in the 1960s, teachers were the only people who had the knowledge and were the main source of information. Nowadays, with students having access to information and being able to research via different sources on their own, the role of teachers has changed to more of the guide and director who points students to particular topics and to particular issues. Rather than telling students to read the information as absolutely correct, they should direct students to think about and question the information by taking all the information they have discovered and say to them, ‘Let us test it’.
This also means that education is now becoming highly democratic, with students being encouraged to do their own research and to express different views and teacher being expected to manage and orchestrate the discussion and teach them more skills than knowledge.
At Knox Grammar, we are fully aware of these changes and embrace the trend in a proactive way. Every single boy has their own laptop and lots of teaching is delivered through the use of modern day technology. Boys are engaged in the research through the internet and offered opportunities to interact with students overseas to solve problems in real time.
We also have a very large HR department responsible for ensuring that teachers are continually developing and given the opportunity, training and experience to upgrade their skills so that they can keep abreast of the changes that are happening in education.
This article is also available in: Chinese traditional