The word ‘marriage’ has quite rightly grown in scope over the course of this century, with the 2017 plebiscite leading Australians to give this great thought. Wilefred A Peterson is an American author who became a prolific writer in the latter part of last century with his focus on relationships, including marriage. In one piece he opened with the lines:
‘Happiness is not something that just happens.
A good marriage has to be created.
In the art of marriage, the little things are the big things.’
Peterson then went on to write a series of sentences defining a healthy marriage:
‘It is never being too old to hold hands.’
‘It is never going to sleep angry.’
‘It is having the capacity to forgive and forget.’
Last Sunday my wife Yasmine and I boarded three 1960s Kombi Vans with several friends. We were driven high into the hills above Byron Bay to an alternative lifestyle retreat where we became part of the wedding celebrations of our good friend’s daughter. It was picture perfect with the wisps of smoke from the welcome smoking ceremony, the sound of nearby water, the glorious winter weather of Byron Bay nearing dusk and a fire with coals arranged into a love heart surrounded by beautiful flowers. The wedding ceremony was clearly not Christian, but was deeply spiritual around the four forces of nature – earth, sky, fire and water. There was a diversity amongst those invited to celebrate, including the relatively conservative couple from Kew. But far from feeling out of place, both Yasmine and I appreciated the respect, openness and rich conversations that surrounded us.
The wedding was a great success as it was truly a celebration of faith, hope and love. During the course of the weekend I was often led to reflect on the way that such a gathering of a diverse group to share in celebration is not dissimilar to the school environment. The marriage and partnership between the school, the students and the parents are critical for success. The diversity evident at schools is found, quite clearly, in three distinct groups with their own perspective: the student, the staff and the parents. In coming back to Peterson’s advice, ‘Happiness is not something that just happens’, the harmonious marriage that enables the three to live happily demands shared understanding of the role of each. A more humorous perspective was once offered to me by David Dyer, the Headmaster of Camberwell Grammar who gave me my first teaching position, when he said,
‘We will not believe everything your sons say about home, providing you do not believe everything your sons say about School.’
Healthy communication between parents, school and students strengthens the partnership, with the avenue for constructive feedback, which is part of the recipe for a marriage to flourish. We accept that our staff must be approachable, so they can listen, and potentially rectify misconceptions and respond with a solution-focussed mindset. In this three-way partnership, the more often the parents and the School are delivering the same message and values, the more likely it will be for the student to enjoy excellent engagement. The student will also appreciate what it is to be part of a caring learning community where the relationship between people is a critical ingredient of any strong school, community or marriage.