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Archive for February, 2010

So said Bill White, an enormously inspirational colleague, mentor and friend who, as he often put it,  went next door last week at the age of 69. A number of us farewelled him on Wednesday.

I can’t even begin to put into words the significant impact he had on the lives of so many marginalised and disadvantaged students. As Principal of St Mel’s, Campsie during the late ’80’s until 2000, Bill radically broke through the poverty and language barrier to provide a quality learning environment for both teachers and students.

Ironically, all the current buzz words of education today – think learning communities, devolved leadership, student empowerment, authentic learning and moral imperative…..well, sorry everyone, Bill was putting it into practice before you heard of it.

Kerrie Reid and I were privileged to be asked by Bill’s family to contribute to the eulogy last Wednesday. At Danny’s request (good seeing ya Dan!), I have added it in the previous post.

I would like to thank Bill for his wisdom, his harranging (!!), his encouragement, his passion, his belief, his persistence, his wisdom, his sharing of immense knowledge and understanding, his questioning, his niggling and most of all, for his love and friendship. I wouldn’t be where I am in education if not for you!

It is a  debt I can never repay.

To his wife Theresa and children Sean, Jamie and Rachel….he would have been so proud of you last Wednesday. You are the reason Bill could do what he did. Thank you for being so generous in sharing your celebration of Bill’s life with us.

You are all simply amazing. (Rachel – I can’t stop giggling at your jokes! A chip off the old block I think!!)

As I sithere with a glass of red in hand, I’ll let bill have the last word….

Life’s to short to drink bad red wine.

Cheers, Bill!

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A Tribute to Bill White.

Live your life fearlessly…

Eulogy by Kerrie Reid and Helen West.

Last Thursday, 180 teachers from across the Archdiocese came together to begin a professional development program focussing on ESL education.  It was the very first time in a long time that ESL teachers from across the Archdiocese had gathered together.  Many people commented throughout the day, that the last time they remembered such an occasion was when Bill was working in the Multicultural Unit at CEO on Broadway almost 30 years ago.

Bill’s passion and unrelenting drive, and his vision for educating those most disadvantaged were ever present on this day.  When we looked around the room the number of teachers who at some point in time worked with Bill at Campsie was testament to his commitment and vision for ESL education.  It wasn’t until later that day that we found out Bill had passed away in the early hours of the morning.  What a fitting tribute to such a wonderful educator.

Bill began his teaching career as a 21 year old at Dangsai Primary School, Karkar Island, Papua New Guinea in 1962.   Bill spoke about the exciting challenges of working in a remote village and how his experiences there formed his life-long passion for ESL education.  As an experiment, Bill gathered up some of the local youth and asked them to work in the classrooms.  There task was to tell the young students stories in the Takia language, before the class teacher introduced the same story in English. In itself this teaching innovation was a powerful educational learning lesson for Bill, as it identified that children will, initially, learn best in their first language. These baby steps, in seeing the power of the mother tongue, pointed out, to Bill, the ongoing need for experimentation in teaching and learning.

Bill was well ahead of his time and his insight into use of the mother tongue in education was not a fad.  Rather, his hunch about second language education was validated by irrefutable research and has since become accepted methodology for second language acquisition.

As Bill himself said, “I became a teacher to engage in the great game of changing the world to make a real difference in the lives of children.  My view is that (nice structure, Language of Opinion Bill) is that if you only rescue one child in the whole of your professional life you will have done more than most others ever do.  You will have changed a life.”

Words such as renegade, maverick and non-conformist only go a small way to describing his persona.  Hence his motto ‘Live your life fearlessly’.  He was not an antagonist for antagonist’s sake – he was driven by a strong sense of justice for those most marginalised in our society so they would have access to the best education possible.

Bill encouraged us to strike sparks amongst our students and dance the intricate steps of a language focused education.  He would challenge us to make a real difference to our students’ lives by going past the stereotype.  Bill always reminded us not to define the kids by their impoverished backgrounds.  Rather, we needed to focus on the precious hours we had with the students in our classrooms in order to make a real difference.

As well as ESL education, Bill was equally passionate about educational leadership.  He never made any apologies for creating a pressure-cooker environment.  On the contrary, Bill asked us to step outside our comfort zone, our current beliefs, to more fully consider other view points, other valid truths, other ways of looking at things.

This environment wasn’t for everyone – it was often frustrating, chaotic and argument filled with many misunderstandings and need for clarification.  He always asked the difficult questions and there was never a ready answer.   For those who took up the challenge, the rewards were enormous.  The environment was fun, stimulating, energising, inspiring, thought-provoking and always worthwhile and productive.

Bill often thought that leadership was misperceived.  He always said one of the greatest gifts of a leader was a true and sincere belief that each person regardless of age, gender and experience, class or ethnicity has great potential much more than more than they individually believe.   He saw potential in every one of us that we didn’t necessarily perceive in ourselves.  As a result of his vision, mentoring, encouragement, support, and haranguing!!!! we all developed leadership capacity which was strongly evident last Thursday when so many ex Campsie teachers came together.

Bill was never short of a good quote to motivate us.  One quote that typified his approach to leadership was “Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day.  Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime”.  That’s why Bill never told us what to do, instead he encouraged us to think, and think again.  He measured his success when at the end of a task, the teachers involved would say, “we did that ourselves”.

None of Bill’s achievements would have been as great if it was not for his sense of humour.   No matter what the pressures or frustrations, you could always have a good laugh with Bill at the end of the day.  His sense of humour was especially present when dealing with CEO bureaucracy.  One of the lessons he taught us as school leaders was how to appropriately deal with CEO directives and correspondence.  Bill had honed a special filing system whereby all such CEO correspondence would be promptly allocated to the garbage bin beneath his desk!

We don’t know if it was Bill’s sense of humour, or he was simply delusional, but he would often say, “I’m intelligent, I’m good looking and it’s not fair that I also have hair. Two out of three ain’t bad. “

Bill was much more than a colleague to us.  He was a dear and much loved friend.  No matter how busy he was, Bill always made time to listen.  He was very intuitive to people’s concerns or struggles in life and he always responded with great kindness and compassion.  Bill always did this in a way that respected the dignity of the people involved.  Likewise, he experienced immense joy in celebrating significant occasions in our lives.

Finally, in the words of Bill himself (he always liked to have the last word!), “There is no substitute for passion; no substitute for taking risks; no substitute for working at the edge.  Being on the tightrope is living.  Everything else is waiting.”

These words very much embody Bill’s impact on education.  His legacy will continue through the work of the many educators that were fortunate enough to have worked with him during his amazing career.

Reach for the stars and keep dreaming the dream.

Go in peace.

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