What is Success?

Winston Churchill was the famously successful British Prime Minister during the second World War. Churchill played a key role in defeating Nazi German rule. He was also famous for his quick wit and stirring speeches. He once said, ‘No one can guarantee success in war, but only deserve it.’

This caused me to reflect on what success looks like in a school. What makes a staff member successful? More importantly, what of our students? In a Year 9 Mathematics class, is a student who receives test mark of 9 or of 10 more successful than the one who gets 8 out of 10? or 5 out of 10? Politicians and bureaucrats insist on judging people on numerical values. I welcome accountability, but is it going too far? We know this has caused intense debate about NAPLAN testing, ATARs and the unnecessary and record-high levels of ill health among our young people. Usually these scores provide a means to an end and indicate a level of proficiency at one time.

However, we know that a truly great education has a strong academic foundation, but it also embraces the whole person. It will provide the confidence, commitment and attributes that make for a good life which embraces strong values, growth, service and fulfillment of one’s potential. In aspiring to such a life, I share with you Ralph Waldo Emerson’s thoughts on what makes for a successful life:

What is success?
to laugh often and love much
to win the respect of intelligent persons and the affection of children
to earn the approval of honest citizens and endure the betrayal of false friends
to appreciate beauty
to find the best in others
to give of one’s self without the slightest thought of return
to leave the world a bit better, whether by a healthy child, a recued soul, a garden patch or a redeemed social condition
to have played and laughed with enthusiasm and sung with exultation
to know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived—this is to have succeeded.

–  Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803–1882)

Philip Grutzner