International College Hong Kong
Jun 15, 2017

Second Annual Science Fair - Head of School's Address

Thank you parents, students and staff for attending our second annual Science Fair.

My intention over the next five minutes or so is to explain briefly why I believe that this evening’s event is such a significant one in our school’s calendar.

In so doing, I am going to reflect on three themes – first, tradition; second, the Fair itself; and, third, the termly certificates that we will be awarding in a moment to a total of twenty seven students, from across all years and with a wide and diverse range of learning profiles.

As I touch on these three themes – tradition, the Science Fair, and the giving of certificates to recognise achievement – I mean to establish why they are, to my mind, thoroughly associated with and indivisible from one another.

And I want to explore why it is that, in appreciating the nature of their association, we begin to get to the heart of what makes our school special. Because I believe that ICHK really is special and I believe that, year on year, it will become evermore apparent what that specialness means for the character and quality of the young people who study here.

So, first, the concept of tradition.

Why is tradition such an important aspect of human society and culture? Why should we focus on tradition?

The answer, I suggest, is that tradition is reflective of a community’s values, of the popular and abiding decisions it has made, for better or worse, about what really matters and what it chooses to remember and promote through history.

Tradition represents a community’s collective will to encourage, promote and celebrate certain principles and practices above all others. It represents an ongoing commitment to ways of being and ways of doing.

ICHK is a relatively new school, so that we have the privilege of being called upon to create our own traditions, as there are no existing traditions to fall back on. We are called upon to dream up the material for emergent traditions – and are provided the opportunity to dream without prejudice, without deference to outmoded conventions, without the baggage of a perhaps obstructive past.

In dreaming our dreams, we take responsibility for creating traditions that others, who follow us in years to come, will thank us for and will recognise as worthy and valuable.

Which brings me to my second theme: one such ICHK tradition in the making is the Science Fair. Today’s event is its second staging and next year will be the third and the year after that the fourth.

The students who have participated as Year 7s this year will participate as Year 12s in 2022. Imagine that – imagine who they will be by then. A lot bigger, doubtless, but, provided they follow ICHK tradition, no less curious-minded, no less open to risk taking, no less fearless in the face of challenge, no less inspiring to be around.

Last year, I gave a quick account of why a Science Fair is so worthwhile a tradition. Let me remind you briefly now.

A science fair integrates, into a single activity, nearly all of the skills and proficiencies that are usually taught separately in many schools. Brought to a successful completion, the projects that make up the fair are a powerful combination of reading and writing, of spelling and grammar, of scientific methodology and artistic expression, of mathematical computation and graphical exposition, of research skills and collaborative teamwork, of critical thinking and ethical judgment. They are technical and creative; grounded in reality but fuelled by imagination; unique yet widely and historically integrated. The fair teaches students to inquire, to construct and to communicate. It is, in short, an ideal learning moment.

A critical question, perhaps the most critical question, for any school must be – how do we best equip and inspire students to welcome and benefit from ideal moments of learning?

And it is that question that brings me to my third and final theme – the certificates I will be presenting shortly to students who have excelled at school over the last term.

How do we best equip students to love learning? I would argue it is by identifying and celebrating and rewarding the habits of mind and action that underpin good learning.

By commending and applauding those who demonstrate their belief in and commitment to the efficacy of hard work, risk taking, fortitude, and diligent endeavor, whatever their starting point; by acclaiming those who are resilient and fearless, no matter how many knocks they take; and by praising those who envisage school not as a zero-sum game, with winners and losers, champions and also-rans, but as a shared journey towards betterment and growth, a journey on which we are all equally worthwhile fellow-travellers, supporting each other with acts of mutual generosity, care, acceptance and accommodation.

It is to recognise and celebrate exactly these vital qualities that we award certificates in our three now traditional categories: Growth Mindset, Courage in the Learning Zone and Support of Peers.

Our tradition as a school is to stage essential learning moments that invite students to participate wholeheartedly, with energy and commitment, and in the knowledge that their own success and that of others are mutually bound.

That is what we think of as education.

And that is why when the students are invited on stage to receive their awards, we are so proud of their achievements and encourage others to follow in their footsteps.

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