Q&A with Richard Ford, future Launceston Grammar principal from 2018

Sydney educator Richard Ford has been named the future headmaster of Launceston Church Grammar School, starting in the first term of 2018.

Lucy Stone: What prompted you to move to Tasmania and join Launceston Grammar?

Richard Ford: Initially, someone on behalf of the school approached me to consider applying to be Launceston Church Grammar School’s next headmaster. I already knew a few staff as they had had visited me at St Andrew’s Cathedral School. At the church I attend, I had also met one of Grammar’s alumni. Madeleine had shared with me how her family left Launceston when she finished Year 10 but she decided to stay on to finish her education at Grammar. It was clearly the right decision as Madeleine went on to achieve the highest ATAR possible and is now completing her final year of training to be a paediatric oncologist. For me, as time went on, the more I learned about Grammar and the more people I met, the more my affection for the community grew.

I would like to see Grammar giving the gift of outstanding global leaders to this world.

Richard Ford

LS: What attracted you to the school and the region?

RF: As an educator, I was impressed with the direction the Board has set and their desire for Grammar to provide a globally relevant education.  As a historian, I loved the school’s history and tradition that has seen generations of students excel not only at school but also in life. I know of no other school where seventeen Rhodes Scholars, five Premiers, accomplished athletes, artists, scientists and countless industry leaders have been nurtured, inspired and challenged. As a father, with children who love to perform and play sport, I observed the strength of the school’s creative arts and sport programmes. This filled me with confidence that my own children would thrive at Grammar. As a husband, I have shared with my wife for many years a fondness for Tasmania and so the opportunity to serve together in this city was tremendously exciting for both of us.

LS: What are your ambitions for your new role?

RF: To excel in the first truly global century, young men and women must be empowered to be global learners and leaders who are courageous, curious, creative and compassionate. Launceston Grammar has a proud history of working in partnership with parents and the wider community in the education and formation of generations of Australian leaders. Looking ahead, I am hoping to explore how we might continue to strengthen the way Grammar prepares students to live, learn and work in an increasingly mobile and interconnected world. For 171 years, Grammar has been giving the gift of outstanding leaders to this city and this nation. In the next chapter, I would like to see Grammar giving the gift of outstanding global leaders to this world and for Grammar’s alumni to shape this world and the future in ways we can scarcely imagine.

LS: What are some of the challenges you anticipate?

RF: The biggest challenge initially will be learning the names of students, staff and their families. I am looking forward to having lunch with every day student, breakfast with every boarder and coffee with every staff member. This will be helpful but I will undoubtedly get names wrong at first and will need everyone’s help and patience.

In schools, curiosity is essential for students, teachers and the Headmaster. While I am already reading extensively about the School and plan to meet individually with members of the leadership team during Term 4, I know that I will still have a multitude of questions for staff, students and parents at the start of 2018. 

LS: Having worked in Sydney schools, what do you hope to implement in Tasmania?

RF: I have been fortunate to serve in three schools and have learned a good deal from each. I am also grateful to have received scholarships to visit schools across ten countries. There is much schools can learn from each other and yet every school has its own context. Over the coming months, I am looking forward to speaking with staff, students, alumni and parents and hearing their stories of life at Launceston Grammar. I want to understand more of how Grammar has come to where it is today so that we can think together about how Grammar can be even better in the future.

LS: What are you looking forward to most about moving to Launceston?

RF:Apart from moving to the School, which I am really looking forward to most, it will be great to be in a city where you are never far from nature. As a family, we really enjoy the outdoors. My children are looking forward to rock climbing, white-water rafting, mountain biking and many other activities as part of Launceston Grammar’s Outdoor Education programme but we are also looking forward to many outdoor adventures as a family and with friends.

LS: Tasmania's literacy and numeracy has been in the spotlight for many years: are there strategies you believe we should be pursuing to give children the best literacy and numeracy skills?

RF: Until a child finishes school, we need to have high expectations about them reading each day. As students finish their primary years and enter high school, their literacy levels often stall or regress as they stop practising reading. Once a child can read, adults in their life, parents and teachers alike, often think literacy is someone else’s responsibility. At this stage, children risk becoming ‘orphaned’ in their growth in literacy. Parents and teachers need to model reading as a pleasurable leisure activity and explicitly share what they are reading with the children in their life. For as long as possible, we also need to keep reading aloud to students. 

High school students are often reluctant to read aloud because they lack confidence in pronunciation. This is because they have not had someone read aloud to them for many years and so they stop knowing how words, especially complex words, should sound.

With numeracy, adults sometimes unintentionally model to students a ‘fixed mindset’ about mathematics. As we share how we were never good at mathematics as a child, we can inadvertently communicate to our children that they will never develop very much mathematically either. Carol Dweck, a Professor of Psychology at Stanford University, has done work on developing a ‘growth mindset’ that is particularly relevant to our children as they develop their numeracy skills. Dweck reminds us that intelligence can be developed and is not fixed at birth. Children need to be encouraged to embrace rather than avoid mathematical challenges, persist instead of giving up in the face of difficulties and view effort as the path to mastery. Against this backdrop, teachers need to both explicitly teach mathematical skills and provide opportunities to use these skills to solve problems that are relevant to a child’s world. We also need to see literacy as an important part of numeracy as students who do not understand the language of mathematics may be able to compute numbers but they will not be able to apply their computational skills to the problem they are given to solve.

LS: NSW educates all children right through to Year 12 at their high school, while Tasmania's college system offers an alternative for students pursuing Years 11-12. What do you believe are the advantages and disadvantages of each system?

RF: The structures at Launceston Grammar are similar to those in most NSW schools in that students are educated in the one high school through to Year 12. Launceston Grammar students have the added benefit of being able to go from Pre-School to Year 12 at the one school. At Launceston Grammar, students are known exceptionally well by their teachers and this help ensure they are appropriately nurtured and challenged. Students are inspired to successfully complete Year 12 by the older students who have gone ahead of them. Opportunities to further develop as a leader are also on offer at Launceston Grammar in Years 11 and 12 and this sets students up for a lifetime of leadership in whatever field of endeavour they choose to pursue. 

The college system, on the other hand, provides students with the opportunity to discard a uniform, possibly have some greater freedom, explore a new environment and try new courses. This works for some students but, unfortunately, many students do not navigate the transition to college or make it to the end of Year 12. These students have the academic ability to complete Year 12 but the break that occurs in their education becomes an insurmountable obstacle.

LS: The digital age has changed how we learn and how we pay attention: what are the biggest challenges for educators dealing with technology in the classroom?

RF: Technology in the classroom has the ability to both deepen learning and distract us from learning. The quality of the teacher is instrumental in determining which outcome triumphs. As a History teacher, I am thankful my students have at their fingertips the largest library humankind has ever known. This opportunity brings with it a responsibility for me to teach students how to explore large volumes of information critically and how to remain focused through the research process.

The rapidly changing nature of technology is a challenge for both teachers and parents. My message to teachers is always that those who dare to teach must never cease to learn. I think the same applies to parents. Those who dare to parent must also never to cease to learn. When teachers and parents work together in partnership on our ongoing journey of learning, we are best able to prepare children for the digital age in which we live.