The University of Newcastle, Australia

2017 Occasional Address Port Macquarie Graduation

Monday, 20 February 2017

On Friday 17 February 2017, Mr Frank Potter, Executive Director, Public Schools, NSW Department of Education delivered the occasional address to around 80 graduating in Port Macquarie.

Graduating students

Frank's role involves supporting schools in the Hunter, North Coast and New England Regional areas overseeing the work of 19 directors and ensuring the delivery of educational services to over 600 schools across these regions.

Speech transcript

"Chancellor, Vice Chancellor, members of Council, Staff of the university, Families and friends of graduates, and most importantly, Graduates.

May I commence by acknowledging the traditional owners of the land we are meeting on today – the Biripi people – I pay respect to elders past and present, and with some of the graduates here today, have the privilege and responsibility of educating the elders of the future – I offer that respect to all Aboriginal people present and to you all gathered here today.

“Those who can do, those who can’t teach”… was the throwaway line in George Bernard Shaw’s play Man and Superman. It is not surprising that Shaw did not enjoy formal schooling having been tutored from an early age by his uncle. When he finally did attend a formal school he was disinterested and what we would call today disengaged. In fact if he was in enrolled in one of our schools today his family may well have received a visit from the Home School Liaison Officer.

An English teacher in a non-government Sydney school in a recent journal says this. “His very line is often quoted sarcastically as if to suggest that teachers enter the profession because they couldn’t succeed as writers, musicians, artists, designers, sportswomen in their own right. Teaching these skills to others is regarded by those who quote such lines as the second rate option. Apart from the failure to acknowledge the craft of teaching as being even more demanding  as composing a piece of music or painting an artwork it also overlooks the fact that so many teachers are successful  practitioners of the of the crafts they teach others.”

It is not just the skills you have all learnt through your courses - and I speak to the nursing and midwifery graduates as well - that will enable you to provide high quality service to the people you care for and guide but it is the whole set of skills and abilities learnt through life that will set you apart as a high quality professional.

In teaching and nursing it will be your ability to communicate and connect that will raise your performance from acceptable to admirable.

In the locations you find yourself contributing to, you will find musicians, painters, writers, skilled artisans and it is amongst these rich tapestries that you will find yourselves.

For the teachers, as you hone your own skills through an ongoing process of professional accreditation and enhancement you will be building the life opportunities of the students you nurture.

Woody Allen in the Screenplay Annie Hall said “Those who can’t do -teach and those who can’t teach, teach gym” – my apologies to any Phys. Ed teachers here.

There will always be the BBQ and backyard philosophers who know best, who will know what the magic bullet is for education or for health and you will find yourself defending the very institutions and professions that are the backbone to the ongoing wellbeing and life outcomes of the very people who are often the most critical. We live in a time as no other before. Accountability for student performance or health outcomes is laid at the feet of educators and health professionals. You will be criticised, blamed and held responsible, often for the mismanagement and poor decision making by the people who criticise most. However it is beyond these criticisms that the impact of your professionalism lies.

For the teachers here I want to share the words of Dr Paul Brock. Paul Brock recently passed away and for almost two decades, after being diagnosed with Motor Neurone disease, maintained his employment with the Department of Education as the Director of Policy and Research. He was perhaps the best mind in our department. Sometime after learning of his disease, which usually means the rapid onset of symptoms that lead to death, he said this as part of an occasional address to graduating students at Armidale University. He was not sure of being around to see his two young daughters compete their schooling and these words are his instructions as a parent to their future teachers. He delivered these words in 2004. They still ring true today. I share them as he says what is at the heart of every parent and his words are far more powerful than anything I could construct.

I quote:

“Therefore not just as a professional educator but as a dad I want all future teachers of my Sophie and Amelia to abide by three fundamental principles that I believe should underpin teaching and learning in every public school. First, to nurture and challenge my daughters’ intellectual and imaginative capacities way out to horizons unsullied by self-fulfilling minimalist expectations. Don’t patronise them with lowest common denominator blanc mange masquerading as knowledge and learning or crush their love for learning through boring pedagogy. Don’t bludgeon them with mindless busy work and limit the exploration of the world of evolving knowledge merely to the tyranny of repetitively churned out recycled work sheets. Please ensure that there is legitimate progression of learning from one day, week, month, term, and year to the next.

Second to care for Sophie and Amelia with humanity and sensitivity as developing human beings worthy of being taught with genuine respect, enlightened discipline and imaginative flair.

And third please strive to maximise their potential for later schooling, post school education and training and employment and for the quality of life itself so they can contribute to and enjoy the fruits of living within an Australian society that is fair, just, tolerant, honourable, knowledgeable, prosperous and happy. When all is said and done surely this is what every parent and every student should be able to expect of school education not only as delivered in every public school in NSW but within every school not only within Australia but throughout the entire world”.

To the health care professions I don’t have the same words that will challenge you. However Google is a wonderful place to find some inspiration.

Let me share some – the authors are not important.

Nurses are one of the few blessings of being ill!

Nurses are not angels, but they are the next best thing.

And one for all of us here from Albert Einstein - “Only a life lived in the service of others is worth living”.

Graduates, you have been motivated and persistent and today reap the benefit of being entered into the degree of your choice. Your families have been patient, supportive, understanding and have often sacrificed their time with you in order for you to achieve your goal. I’m sure that many of you wouldn’t be here without that support.

I acknowledge too your lecturers and tutors, the writers, musicians, artists, designers, sportswomen who sit behind me who have brought their life experiences that enrich their craft of teaching and have modelled commitment, enthusiasm and a desire to make a difference.

A wise person once said to me when you have the opportunity to speak publicly remember three things – stand up to be seen, speak up to be heard and finish up to be appreciated. So, in finishing, can I congratulate you all – thank you to the nursing professionals who may one day be caring for me, to the midwives who I hope will soon deliver me a grandchild and to the teachers – welcome to the best profession in the world.

I wish you all well. Go and make a difference!"

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