On Friday evening, I caught the bus and had a scenic trip into the Adelaide Hills, followed by a stroll up the drive which wound its way through native bush, pine forest and exotic garden till around a curve in the drive the impressive heritage building of Wairoa was revealed. Chris P called a greeting from an upper window and from then on we began to greet old friends and make our initial introductions to new people and experience some of the ambience of Marbury’s setting and enjoy a wonderful meal together prepared by Craig, one of the teachers, and his band of high school students who served us and ensured our comfort. We learnt that Jen Burnley was unable to join us as she was not well. We hope you are feeling better Jen. We have missed her valuable contribution once again.
Jen sent some points and these provided starters for our discussions. It became clear that the following morning session on benchmark testing was going to be a central part of our communications. David gave a paper which really hit the mark. He developed a coherent discussion on the perils and pitfalls of testing, delivered with humour and as Chris Price said, “the right amount of passion”! Adrienne had organised through her earlier contact with Alexander Downer’s office to have present a rep from Deetya. Chris Hogan spent the morning and beyond lunch, listening and discussing with us, many of the issues around this policy of mandatory testing. This was a great opportunity to have our points of view aired, and Chris’s (H) open, non-defensive manner enabled a frank presentation of issues.
It was not his role to respond. He did indicate directions and points which could be included in any case we might consider putting to the minister. Even though the grounds for exemptions for the schools seem to be closed, he acknowledged the place of lobbying and continuing to put the case to the minister. We need to decide our course of action now. There was strong support for schools continuing to request whole school exemptions and for extending time frames so that this was not an annual event which directed so much time and energy away from what we consider the essentials. What are individual schools going to do next? What can the Association do to support? At lunch we had talks from James and Rom, two of Marbury’s former kids about their experiences at the school and beyond at tertiary studies and the workplace.
James’s experiences at Marbury changed his delusions and rebellions about school into a love of learning and valuing it to the point of choosing an extra year at school in order to achieve his goals. Rom spoke of how her whole schooling at Marbury enabled her to choose and succeed in a difficult area for women, that of engineering. Both emphasised the value of the relationships in their learning, which highlighted so well the central theme for our conference. I followed this with another session of Cubby Culture and we had a great time exploring the beautiful grounds gathering materials, playing and creating a storytelling place about our experiences with our kids. We then had a paper from Louise Porter, from Flinders University on non-punitive approaches to developing self discipline.
Louise’s research and very practical articulation of what she terms guiding rather than controlling behaviour and her understanding of the problem that both punishment and praise contribute to rebellious and resistant learners rather than self-directed ones capable of valuing the intrinsic worth of learning, supports and reaffirms so many of the values and processes of our schools. Her books such as Children are People Too give us a chance to follow up her work. We then had a chance to visit Geoff Bromilow’s workshop. Geoff is spending time at Marbury as artist in residence and we were able to view some of his works and discuss with him his journey of discovery, through art and wood sculpting, of the beauty of form and understanding of relationships. As you can see it was a full, intense day and some of us continued on and enjoyed dinner together at the neighbouring (literally) Argentinian restaurant, with Marbury connections.
We started Sunday with a workshop on maths led by Shep (Ian Shepherd who many of you met in 2001 at Currambena, and most of us were using his Marbury name by the end of the weekend!) and we learnt first hand why he is considered such a special inspirer for both talented and reluctant mathematicians. We had a great session discussing teaching maths in general at our schools and then had some fun working on exponential numbers etc. There were some suggestions that next time we might spend more time on practical stuff related to the kids. This was followed by a session on school governance. We shared our similarities and differences in styles and structures and as a result of the trust which had built over the weekend we were able to also share the “hard and painful stuff’ as Pat Edwards coined the phrase last year.
It became clear once again how valuable these chances to get together face to face are becoming and they help us to see that there are some steps we can all take to begin to deal with our difficult issues, both when they are externally and internally driven. One of the things that has become very clear is that our schools are face cycles of crises and it is a help to know that our individual school is not the only one and that we all have strategies to offer which may help each other through them. We have had enough closures over the years and if support helps, then lets do it! Lunch was a special feast prepared for us by Craig and his helpers and enjoyed by all in the warm sun. Special thanks to them for taking such care of us all.
A natural flow on from the intense morning session was to have the 2002 AGM for Australasian Association for Progressive and Alternative Education This was a combined discussion and meeting as we had a new school Kirinari from Adelaide joining in and it was important to fill in some of the background and last year’s thinking and actions. The main issues to arise were a strong support for the continuation of the association, and for this year to send a membership form to all to begin formal membership. As David said, the office bearers are myself as president, Chris Price as secretary and Ian Dodd from Marbury as Treasurer. Chris has taken notes and minutes and when they are typed we will post them on line and hard copy if people prefer.
I have also presented a report on our year’s net working and draft text for aims, objectives and membership criteria. Shep has offered to take on the website if Mark is no longer interested in completing this. We again made special mention and thanks of all the hard work he contributed to getting us started. My hope is that he is still interested in working with us.
We had a fun final session when one of the present year11 Marbury students explained the process of setting up a small business – free range eggs – and led us for a viewing of the of the chickens and the pens and roosts which he and his group had created. It was great to see and hear the realistic assessment of the whole project! Some of the initial enthusiasm waned when the profit margins were small and the reality of work responsibilities remained constant!!! This was followed by a grand tour of Marbury’s work and teaching spaces and much admiration of the facilities and the beautiful and adventurous play spaces and grounds.
We then began our reluctant farewells with people heading off to many parts of the country. Thank you to everyone who came and especially to all the Marbury people for all you did to facilitate such wonderful days together.
There is much enthusiasm to meet again from those present and I hope that those who were unable to come this year may make it next time. Any takers???
Adrienne and I thought Cathy W and the Queenslanders might take on 2003????
A reminder too – IDEC is coming to NZ this year and it would be great if as many as possible of us could make it there as a support for Pat and having it in the southern hemisphere!
Much love to all, Cec.