Setting The Bar High

One of the many things that continually impresses me about my current school is how consistently we try to expose our students to big thinking and authentic, real-world experience.  It shows in lots of ways, from our focus on employing teachers and support staff that are passionate and committed to being the very best in their fields, to the way we manage to set the bar of expectation as high as possible for our kids.  Many studies confirm that the best way to get kids to excel is to give them great teachers who have high standards and expectations, who know their stuff, who model expertise and passion, and who create situations for our students to shine.

This video, which I recorded on my Nokia N95, is the world premiere performance of a piece of music commissioned especially for the school and written by Australian composer Paul Jarman.  It was performed by our students and staff in the main concert hall at the Sydney Opera House. Being new to the school this year, it was my first annual Speech Day and I have to say it was a rather extraordinary experience to hear the orcehstra and choir made up of all the students in the school performing this piece for the very first time.

I imagine that this experience will not be one our students will soon forget.  I also realise only too well that not every school is in a position to commission artistic works from well known composers and then perform them in iconic buildings like the Sydney Opera House, and no doubt to many it seems somewhat elitist.  Maybe it is.  But I do know that giving kids wonderful experiences such as this, and providing them with the opportunity to shine, is very important.  Whether it’s this, or the DET’s School Spectacular, or some other opportunity, the chance for kids to meet high standards that have been set for them is an important part of getting a real education.

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CC BY-SA 4.0 Setting The Bar High by Chris Betcher is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

10 Replies to “Setting The Bar High”

  1. Concepts like those you mention -‘authentic’, ‘real-world’ ‘opportunity’, ‘high standards’ and ‘passionate’ staff – are concepts we need everywhere in our profession regardless of socio-economic status.

  2. “not every school is in a position to commission artistic works from well known composers and then perform them in iconic buildings like the Sydney Opera House” I had to chuckle at this statement. Few schools ever have such opportunities. But you would be cheating your kids if you have such an opportunity and didn’t take advantage of it.

    At least with the modern communications tools we now have, students who don’t have those opportunities can learn from the students who did. I hope every student who participated in this concert wrote about it on blogs and answer questions from other students from around the world.

    Absolutely amazing!

    1. Thanks Bill. Although I am very pleased to be working at PLC and proud of what they achieve, I’m well aware that it’s a school that is very well resourced and is able to put more money into things than most, and I sometimes feel a little like an apologist for what we can do because of it. I’m well aware that many schools are not at all in a position to do things like this, at least not quite to the same level. Having worked in school in the government and catholic sectors, I’m all too aware that this sort of stuff does appear as elitist.

      As you say though, these schools do exist, and while ever that’s the case, the students who are fortunate enough to be part of them ought to be taking the opportunities offered to them. They are pretty lucky to have such opportunities.

      All that aside, I would never want to take away from the fantastic work done by other schools… my son attends a government school and my daughter a catholic school. They both attended a government primary school. I’ve been happy with all of these. At the end of the day, I really believe that schools are filled with teachers who care, who want to give the students the best possible opportunities, and who do what they do to the full extent that their time, energy and financial resources allow. Whatever that extent happens to be, the end result is usually pretty special.

  3. Elitist or not, no one can deny the power of that experience for those kids. The very important debate on accessible education needs to exist outside of these types of opportunities. Importantly though, for these kids, on that night, just magic!

  4. I agree – what a wonderful opportunity for those students and their families.Elitist well maybe the venue was a little however what the school appears to do well is manage its performances so that high standards are evident. Perhaps the power of the image is that opportunity exists for us all to manage our own schools performances whether they be speech nights, graduation ceremonies or assemblies so that high standards are also evident [perhaps mixed with inclusiveness and a sense of belonging].

  5. Good to hear these comments and see the footage – it was a great day and a whole experience I will never forget. I wrote this piece after working with the students, staff and principal over the year on developing a work that was honest to the school community and paid homage to the past while celebrating the present and looking to the future. WHile it looks like the ‘top end’ of town in essence it was the philosophy of the idea that makes it work, not just the budget and things like this can be just as powerful in a smaller scale. I have first hand experience of this both across Australia and around the world.

    I assure you that some other schools get this opportunity too and it goes across the board. I have composed around ten works like this with wealthier schools around Australia, but thanks to Government grants, Musica Viva, Department Education and Training, Ministry for the Arts and the Aus COuncil, I have worked with a variety of communities across Australia in this way, developing and writing new words and music about our country in an inclusive fashion, from young Aboriginal artists in western NSW to the towns of the Latrobe Valley, Coffs Harbour Council to the towns of NArrabri and Coonamble, 600 State High School students in Sydney learning from an Indigenous Academic about local history and along the Derwent River in Tasmania. I realise that it takes money to get these wonderful projects happening, but it also takes the thought. I have always beleived that there is enough money in Aus arts to get things happening everywhere like this. Unfortunately in some cases too much is spent elsewehere. I want to see more committment to Australain stories and culture across the board – but I must say that it IS starting to happen and there are many people doing good work. We are still lucky to get the funds when we can and I am very thankful for this.

    I am setting up a website at the moment which will have links to many projects like these. I hope over the next few years to develop many more.

    Thanks for the footage by the way! I look forward to more discussion. It was a fabulous experience working with PLC. The staff were AMAZING and the principal Dr William McKeith supported me right from the start. It is an excellent school and I will be enrolling my two girls there for HIgh School.

    SOme of the lyrics were written by students and Bill McKeith.

    Paul Jarman

    1. Hi Paul, thanks for taking the time to comment and give us that perspective. Much appreciated. As all of the commenters have noted, we can think about this sort of thing as elitist or see it as a fabulous opportunity for those kids lucky enough to be offered it. I’m appreciative that people can see it as the latter.

      It’s great to hear that you’ve been able to do similar things with students in schools that perhaps haven’t the same level of resources as PLC, and that so many other students have been given the opportunity.

      Thanks again for what was an amazing performance. The kids did us all proud, and the performance was amazing. I’m only sorry that my silly mobile phone cut off the last part of it… it went hunting for an Internet connection and when I canceled that function, it also stopped the video recording. Grr! I think there was only about 30seconds or so left?

    1. Hi Shelley,

      I don’t have a copy of them at the moment. Once I get back to school in a few weeks I’ll try to see if I can post them… I’d need to check copyright issues first too I guess…

  6. Thanks Chris and Shelley,

    I am happy for you to look at the words and I am sure that the school will have copies to let poeople see too.

    I will publish the piece in 2009.


    Pride Loyalty Compassion

    By Paul Jarman

    In honour of the 120th Anniversary of PLC

    Our lives connect by the paths we choose,
    The journey is our own.
    Follow our path, follow our dreams,
    No bounds to what we achieve.

    Our thoughts are shared, our voice is heard,
    Make strong the goals of one another.
    Our minds are webs of the lessons we learn,
    Spun tight we catch it all.

    We are leading one another and moving ahead,
    Reaching out we can learn from this world.

    Our hope and faith comes from the heart,
    Stretch far beyond these walls.
    We’re working hard, we’re planting seeds,
    Far beyond these shores.

    We are leading one another and moving ahead,
    Reaching out we can learn from this world.
    We’re the voice of change, onward together,
    Speaking out to the world hear our call.

    We are ready, ready for this world.
    Let’s go, bring on life,
    Ready for this world.

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