Friday 23 February 2018

Small Gestures Matter

Over recent weeks, I have taken notice of some small gestures that are ostensibly innocuous and somewhat inconsequential, but, they matter. And, they matter a great deal.

The first was on the second day of the school year when the boys were filing into the Ramsay Hall for the School Mass, over 250 of whom were doing so for the first time. It was a daunting prospect for some who had never been in an auditorium of over 2,000 students and staff as they found their way to designated places, unsure of the exact location of House and Class groups. One young man in Year 7 in Chisholm House asked a teacher if he knew where his House was located, and the teacher approached a Year 12 boy to ask if he knew. The senior boy indicated that he was sitting in the Chisholm House area, and seeing the younger boy apprehensive and tentative, encouraged him to sit next to him. This was an instinctive gesture, immediately making the young boy feel that he was worthy of the company of the senior student. It was a statement of welcome and of genuine inclusion. Other boys filed into their House areas over the ensuing minutes, many being supported by the senior boys who took it upon themselves to offer support and advice. When I looked back to the Chisholm House area and the younger boy who asked the initial question, he was engaged in deep conversation with the senior boy, who was pointing out salient aspects of the Ramsay Hall and explaining the liturgy that was to follow. What was particularly significant about this moment in time was the way the uncertainty of the younger boy was replaced by an immediate and warm sense of community. And, at the conclusion of Mass, the Year 12 boy not only farewelled the younger boy, but he did so by name. A small gesture, but what a symbolic lesson it was to a boy new to the school who was ‘learning the ropes’ of the culture and the institution that Riverview is, and one that he will contribute so much to over the years ahead.

Similarly, on the Friday night of Week 1 following a busy return to the school year, a parent function was held in the Ramsay Hall. There were over 400 in attendance, with many parents of Year 5 and Year 7 students who were new to the College. Like the new boys at their first School Mass, it was a very large crowd and for those who knew no one, it held the potential for intimidation and isolation. Virginia Thompson and her faithful band of mothers, along with many of the Old Boys who are currently parents, were casting vigilant eyes over those parents who were on their own. It wasn’t long before they were ‘swooped’ into conversation with current parents who have been in the school community for many years. Breaking the ice is never easy, but when the warmth of a community that embraces those who are new is in force, the transition is made so. I spoke with many new parents on that first evening, and when it came to the Year 7 Parent Information Night last Friday, I saw some of those same parents who were in comfortable conversation with those whom they had met on the previous occasion. It is in anticipating those who may be on the periphery coming in, that the smallest of gestures can mean so very much. To those who are impelled by the spirit of inclusion and engage in the smallest of gestures, I offer a statement of profound appreciation for they weave the tapestry of community that makes Riverview the place that it is. And, these gestures matter.

Over the course of the summer, I received many emails and cards of appreciation from parents of boys in the graduating class of 2017. They were sentiments that contained a mix of gratitude for all their boys had received over the years, and quite some nostalgia about the fact that the routines of school life and all they represented were fading into the distance. Among the many, one was particularly pertinent:

I am writing to thank you for the support and interest … your staff have provided to my son over the last few years. He has had a rocky road through childhood, losing his father at six. He is a clever boy but has often felt the urgent need to challenge every aspect of the world around him. Riverview embraced his yearning for knowledge and with the mastery of the Ignatian spirit, turned his path into a fruitful journey. I trusted the school and gave you my boy, and you have certainly given me back the man.

Gestures of appreciation and gratitude may be easy to make and seem to matter little, but sentiments like those contained in this one communique mean a very great deal.

Over the early weeks of the year, the pastoral program has focussed on goal setting. Each and every boy is asked to consider and enunciate his goals for the year, along with the strategies that will enable them to be achieved. I encourage parents to open up a discussion with the boys about the goals that they have identified as priorities for 2018. Part of the process utilised in the House system is to ask the senior boys to articulate their goals and strategies, and to assist the younger boys to understand the importance of goals and how they can be achieved. It has been particularly instructive to see the senior boys, some of whom are quite introverted and shy, willingly engage in this process.

In years to come, one of the graduates of 2023 or 2025 may reminisce about a small gesture that was made in the early weeks of 2018, and may not only be strengthened by it, but is likely to have made a significant contribution to their school and their community because of it. Let us all be reminded that the gift of kindness, compassion and community are best expressed in small gestures, and that they not only matter, but bring appreciable gain to all who are the beneficiaries of them.

Dr Paul Hine