Boasting stately buildings and manicured grounds, Knox Grammar School on Sydney’s Upper North Shore would appear to be the epitome of old school.
But looks are deceiving. Knox is in its 10th year of a transformational project to bring pastoral care to the forefront of the school’s culture. Its Total Fitness program broadens the school’s remit to cultivate students’ characters as well as their minds. Integrating the principles of Positive Education into a traditional academic setting, Knox’s cutting-edge methodology seeks to equip students with the knowledge and life skills required to flourish in a globalised economy.
“We are renewing the traditional model of education through thoughtful innovation and a focus on preparing students for a rapidly changing world,” says Scott James, the school’s newly appointed headmaster.
“The 21st century is an interconnected, diverse world. Students need to develop empathy and collaboration skills to prepare themselves for the evolving workplace of the future.”
The program has special relevance for Mr James who initiated a re-think of pastoral care when he came to Knox in 2009 as head of the Senior School. An extensive research review lead the school council to adopt Positive Education as an evidence-based framework for a rejuvenated school culture. Working with Sydney’s Positive Psychology Institute Knox developed its data-driven Total Fitness Positive Education program in alignment with the school’s unique heritage and values.
“Total Fitness is about holistic education. We focus on the whole student — academic, social, physical and spiritual aspects — based on the science and evidence of Positive Education. All our staff are trained in it, which allows them to focus on the optimal functioning of students in our care,” says Mr James.
Since its implementation in 2011, Knox has tracked the program’s impact on staff and students. The results demonstrate improvement in key areas of the school with the Knox community enjoying significantly greater stakeholder satisfaction than that of comparable schools.
While the data offer quantifiable proof that Knox is tracking in the right direction, Positive Education has made a difference at every level of school life, Mr James says, by nurturing “non-cognitive life skills, such as “empathy, tolerance, compassion and understanding of other people’s points of view”.
“I can see it in the everyday development of these skills in the staff and students. You can see it in the classroom and on the sporting field.”
The equal emphasis on staff wellbeing distinguishes Positive Education from other pastoral care models and underscores the school’s holistic educational approach.
At Knox, every activity presents a mentoring opportunity. “All our teachers are also mentors trained in Positive Education,” says Mr James.
Adult guidance is supplemented by ‘boy to man’ mentor programs, Mr James says, “because we believe boys learning from boys is critical”.
Knox is a perennial high achiever in the HSC but recent years have seen even better results with the school ranking in the top 20 last year.
Mr James attributes this happy outcome to the extensive support the school offers students in those stressful senior years. “In years 11 and 12 we have a senior academic mentor to help the boys with time management and goal setting. Students have a mentor for the pastoral side and the academic side,” Mr James says.
In the school’s boarding houses Positive Education extends to every aspect of student life. “Our staffing structures facilitate a family atmosphere for boarders with a husband and wife team leading each house, while our “whole of life” boarding programs give boys opportunities to acquire life skills and credentials,” Mr James says. “We support them to do their RSA course, barista courses, learner driving as well as co-curricular activities.”
“Our boarders are extremely successful academically. There’s no doubt that the academic support and availability of resources 24/7 that contributes to that,” he says.
Improved wellbeing and academic outcomes are just the beginning though. Mr James has an ambitious and wide-ranging plan for the school’s progress in the years to come.
He is “committed to building a learning community of the highest quality” that will empower students to succeed to their fullest potential. Central to this project is the cultivation of core character traits: integrity, resilience and the pursuit of excellence.
“My vision is to be an exemplary school developing within a caring, Christian environment to produce young people with a sure knowledge of who they are and how they want to live,” Mr James says.
“I have key focus areas for the school: leadership, teaching excellence, learning excellence, Knox Total Fitness and global mindfulness, which is critical to give students the opportunity to engage in social justice programs, community service and immersion activities. These experiences give students a sense of mastery and efficacy and help to develop rapport with other people,” he says.
“Knox is a school for boys of all abilities, races and creeds where they’re supported as equals. With our understanding of mental fitness we can teach boys to deal with setbacks and develop grit. We emphasise ‘stickability’ — staying on task and employing a growth mindset.
“Intelligence is not innate but can be developed.”
Knox Grammar School website
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