Mistakes, blame and consequences

A student makes a big mistake. The School commences an investigation. It is a complicated process and takes time. Meanwhile, other families hear about it. Inevitably the media gets hold of the story, but without all the facts. Salacious headlines appear on various media platforms. In search of increased readership numbers and advertising revenue, one media outlet publishes student photos and messages from Facebook. 

Social media trolls pounce with their spiteful and anonymous hate messages. Online bloggers have their say, often suggesting zero tolerance. They demand swift and simplistic solutions, such as corporal punishment as “it never hurt me”, expulsion, body searches, extensive video surveillance and public shaming at School assembly. Legal threats are made. The student involved suffers enormous anxiety and distress. The student is 14 years old. 

Whose fault is this? Someone has to be blamed – the student, his/her teachers, parents, peer group, the student’s background, the media, the School and, of course, the Headmaster. Or is blame necessary?

At Melbourne Grammar School when a student makes a serious mistake, it will be thoroughly investigated. Sometimes it can be resolved easily by the student and staff. But sometimes it requires discussion with the student, parents and pastoral care staff and, on occasion, with me, the Headmaster. 

We clarify what has occurred. Within a restorative and caring framework, we discuss how such a poor decision impacted on the safety, health and wellbeing of others in our community. We consider the School’s behaviour code and how it must be fairly implemented. We discuss punishment, but also care for the victim(s) and for the perpetrator. 

We recommend an educational assignment so more learning can occur. We ask the student how or he/she can try to rectify the situation and what can be learnt. 

When the School, parents and student are working in alignment, the outcome is likely to be positive. However, sometimes the outcome is poor and not what we hoped for, particularly if the parents or the student cannot accept responsibility and have a blame mentality. 

I don’t like blame. Blame often deflects from accepting personal responsibility. Life is full of temptation. Starting with the Book of Genesis, should Adam and Eve have blamed God for their creation, the Garden of Eden and the temptation it offered? Just like Adam and Eve, we are constantly tempted.

However, we make our own decisions and choices and, in doing so, have to accept the consequences, both good and bad. I frequently remind students and, at times, their parents that students have rights. With rights come responsibilities. More important though, are the consequences associated with exercising those rights and responsibilities. Students must accept the consequences, however hard they may appear to be.

We also must continue to trust our young people. We must give them the freedom to take risks, make mistakes and learn from these mistakes. As the Irish proverb says: You have got to do your own growing, no matter how tall your grandfather was.

When something goes wrong with students, it might seem easier to expel them, ground them or lose our trust in them. It is far better to allow them the chance to exercise their freedom, but also to live with the consequences of a poor decision or choice. 

We hope the values of the School, parents and student hold firm, because ultimately the decisions and consequences from exercising rights and responsibilities will not be owned by the parent, staff members or me, but by the student. 

Changes to School Executive

Head of Wadhurst, Greg Caldwell
Greg Caldwell will leave Melbourne Grammar School at the end of 2021 to take up a well-deserved retirement after an illustrious career in education spanning 42 years. Greg has been a much loved and respected Head of Wadhurst for the past 15 years.

He has created a culture within Wadhurst in which both students and staff thrive. He will be greatly missed. Later in the year we will acknowledge and celebrate Greg’s outstanding service to Melbourne Grammar School and the wider educational community. 

Director of Community Relations, Kate Barnett 
Kate Barnett joins us from St Vincent’s Institute of Medical Research (SVI) where she led philanthropic and stakeholder engagement as CEO of the SVI Foundation. From 2012 to 2017, Kate served in senior roles as a member of the University of Melbourne’s Advancement wider team, leading fundraising and alumni engagement. Prior to joining the University of Melbourne, Kate was the Australia China Business Council’s inaugural national Executive Director and worked as a solicitor at Hunt and Hunt.

Kate holds a Bachelor of Laws (Hons), a Bachelor of Arts majoring in English Literature, and a Diploma of Modern Languages in Mandarin from the University of Melbourne as well as a Graduate Diploma in Communications Management from the University of Technology Sydney.

She has served on the Caulfield Grammar School Foundation Board and is currently Deputy Chair and Non-Executive Director of Mary Mackillop Today, an Australian non-government organisation supporting the poorest and most vulnerable in our region.

Read more about Kate here.

Director of Human Resources, Dorothy Tselios
Dorothy Tselios has extensive human resource experience initially gained through working at Shell Australia for 15 years, and for the past 15 years as a member of the Whole School Executive at Carey Baptist Grammar School. In her time at Carey, Dorothy helped shape the School’s thinking about its key resource ‑ its people, and has led the development and implementation of a ten-year strategic plan, a human resources strategy and Employee Value Proposition. Dorothy is renowned for her leadership of high-quality recruitment, professional learning and development programs which support, affirm and grow staff capacity and organisational effectiveness. 

Dorothy holds a Bachelor of Arts from the University of Melbourne and is a Certified Member of the Australian Human Resources Institute. She is currently a Board Member at Sacré Coeur in Glen Iris and a member of the Australian Human Resources Institute and the Institute of Executive Coaching.

Dorothy and Kate are highly regarded within their sectors, not only for their documented achievements, but also for the warmth, professionalism and strong values they bring to Melbourne Grammar School.

Philip Grutzner