Learning and leadership at Melbourne Grammar
Paul Sheahan, Headmaster of Melbourne Grammar, believes that ‘The traditional notion of leadership has been made redundant by society’s need for confident and creative workers.’ Authority-based hierarchical leadership models are being replaced by a different notion, he says.
‘Students who become active, independent learners, capable of critical and creative learning will become tomorrow’s leaders.’
In response, the school has coined the concept ‘Leadership for the 21st Century’. It’s about teaching students to find leadership qualities within themselves.
The ‘seed of the idea’ grew from a short course on ‘Opportunity and Access’ in the Graduate School of Education Paul Sheahan completed during 1992 at Harvard University.
On his return to Melbourne, he took the concept to the school’s Council, where it was embraced. Serious planning got underway in 1999. But, like most long-established bodies, moving from concept to realisation was a long process involving ‘Many people and a lot of discussion’ and it was 2006 before work commenced.
Meanwhile, the school community pledged $14 million of the total $22 million cost, with internal reserves used to fund the balance.
Managing the building project was the responsibility of the school’s property manager, James Burton, an ex Royal Australian Navy project specialist. Working closely with the architect, James Burton and John Wardle and Ted Yencken, Principal of Probuild, the Centre was completed on time and on budget.
Paul Sheahan emphasises that turning the concept into reality has been and continues to be a team effort, while singling out Polly Flanagan [Director of Leadership] for special mention.
‘She has done a fantastic job in crystallising every aspect of the Centre and the philosophy that drives it,’ he says.
For now, he’s confident that the school has a success on its hands, but adds a note of caution: ‘The proof will emerge in a few years as students start to take their places in the adult world’.
The Nigel Peck Centre for Learning and Leadership
Venerable Melbourne Grammar has marked its 150th year with the official opening on 7th April of The Nigel Peck Centre for Learning and Leadership.
The school sits in the middle of some of Melbourne’s choicest real estate. It is bounded to the south by St Kilda Road and separated from the Shrine of Remembrance and the Botanical Gardens by Domain Road to the west.
The original school buildings are Victorian Gothic Bluestone, built to last and showing no signs of decay after the first 150 years. At various times over the decades, buildings in a variety of architectural styles have been added. Most were built on the perimeter and have few or narrow windows on the street frontage.
No doubt this is an efficient way of quietening traffic noise, but the buildings, in sombre dark brick, Bluestone or uninspiring weathered concrete, have the effect of cutting the school off from the community, though there are fenced gaps that afford views of the grounds.
In contrast, the new Centre offers a striking glazed façade fronting Domain Road. This is both angular and angled, with deep chocolate structural steel girders supporting huge glass panels. Many of the panels are decorated with an abstract pixel-like design that provides privacy where needed. Strategically placed clear glass panes invite a glance into the building to see what’s going on; at eye level there are glimpses of library shelving and open plan study areas.
Though the Centre is a big structure, with some 4500 m sq of floor space, it doesn’t overpower. The Domain Road roofline is the same height as the older school buildings. A striking angled brick wall, matching the colour of the structural steel, slopes to the ground on the southern end of the building where it meets the perimeter fence.
Facing into the grounds, the two-level glazed façade stands on top of a landscaped slope that merges with the oval.
Over two levels above ground, the Centre houses the school’s 50 000 volume library, information technology hub and multimedia centre, seminar rooms and study areas, and offices for the school’s library and IT staff. Below ground, and entered by a broad flight of stairs, there is a 210-seat auditorium.
Throughout, the use of blond wood, shades of green and natural light have been used to good effect to create a quiet ambience that encourages purposeful study or discussion, without being in the least overbearing.
Wellbeing at Geelong Grammar
A boarding school across the road from an oil refinery? It doesn’t sound too promising, but first time visitors taking the Corio exit from the Geelong Freeway quickly realise that they have arrived at a special place. Turn left to enter Geelong Grammar’s sprawling campus; drive on, with the refinery on the right, until you reach the sea then follow the road along the school’s perimeter fence to tranquil Limeburners Lagoon, with its boat moorings and fleet of black swans.
Dense plantings of mature Cypress trees shelter the school on the inland boundaries and line the main driveway into the sprawling campus. Emphasising the school’s rural heritage, visitors pass the equestrian centre and agistment paddocks on the way to the main buildings.
The purpose of my visit is to tour the new Handbury Centre for Wellbeing and to meet the school’s Principal, Stephen Meek.
The Centre, officially opened on 20th April, is the built component of the school’s philosophy of providing every boy and girl with a foundation of physical and mental wellbeing to last a lifetime.
Building a new health facility had been on the agenda for some years when Stephen Meek commenced as Principal in October 2004. He says that the idea grew from the need to replace the school’s 16-bed hospital designed for sickness, an essential facility when the majority of children came from across Australia and overseas, but now both too big, and outdated.
As discussions continued, the concept evolved of a multipurpose centre that would provide for the children’s physical and emotional wellbeing. This is in keeping with the school’s belief that adolescents need time to develop their self-reliance. Geelong Grammar students spend Year 9 at Timbertops in the Victorian High Country, where the weekend is Wednesday through Friday to minimise outside contact, and every student and teacher completes a 28 km run at the end of the school year.
With the concept in place, fundraising commenced; $15 million was raised by the end of 2006, enabling simultaneous development of the Centre at the Corio Campus in Geelong and the school’s modern classroom facilities at the Toorak Campus in Melbourne (early learning to Year 6). The total budget for the two developments was $30 million, with the second $15 million financed by a loan facility.
Stephen Meek says that he became aware, through a chance conversation with a parent, of Prof Martin Seligman’s positive psychology philosophy, which focuses on ‘Cultivating positive emotion, character strengths and establishing a personal capacity to more positively deal with life challenges’. Prof Seligman is the Director of the Positive Psychology Centre at the University of Pennsylvania and the Former President of the American Psychological Association.
There was a meeting of minds when he made contact with Prof Seligman and, in February last year, the school’s new approach to education based on positive psychology was announced.
Prof Seligman is currently spending six months at the Corio Campus where he and his team have trained more than 100 members of staff in how to apply positive psychology to the curriculum and across all areas of the School.
The Handbury Centre for Wellbeing
Positioned on the seaward side of the school’s playing fields, the new centre has its own gates and car park for visiting teams and supporters.
The Centre presents a long low façade, clad on the ground level with burnished ochre vitrapanes that blend with the school’s mellowed red brick buildings. The second level features floor to ceiling glazing, with motorised vertical shade panels to control light and shade. Students’ artworks are displayed throughout the centre.
The Kennedy Medical Centre, to the left on the ground floor, has a separate entrance and reception area. Facilities include examination and treatment rooms and accommodation for students needing overnight care.
Entering the centre proper, to the left there’s John Court Café for use by students and visitors, serviced by a commercial kitchen. Furnished with comfortable chairs and tables, the café will double as a performance space. Behind and to left, there is a two-basketball court size indoor arena, with courts marked out for netball, basketball, volleyball and badminton. The 10-lane 25 m pool, with a deep diving bowl is to the right. It replaces an outdoor pool which as been filled in and the area landscaped.
On the second floor, via a curved staircase, there is a uniform and personal needs shop that would not be out of place in a suburban shopping centre. Past the shop to the left is a dance studio with low impact floor covering, ballet practice rail and mirrored wall. This space will be used for dance classes, Pilates, yoga, judo and the like.
A superbly equipped fitness centre with a wide range of equipment is to the right and looks down over the pool. Qualified fitness trainers will be on hand to conduct group classes and provide one-to-one training for students and staff. Single sex classes are also on the menu.
Four spacious changing rooms on the ground floor complete the Centre.
Philosophy in action
In the Principal’s ground floor office, Stephen Meek, unconsciously, demonstrates positive psychology. As kids stroll past the window, they exchange grins and waves with the head… he breaks off the conversation for a moment: ‘I just need to wave to a little lad eating a banana,’ he says, the lad being a diminutive Asian boy seen earlier trotting behind his parents at the Handbury Centre for Wellbeing.
Finally, he excuses himself, explaining that he has to drive to Timbertops to do a three-day hike with the Year 9s. Geelong Grammar’s philosophy in action.