Mr. Matthews' Musings: Shaping Lives

On the heels of the 12th annual Vancouver Model United Nations Event (October 27-29, 2017), which WPGA hosted for 500 students, Mr. Matthews reflects on why these inclusive, globally inspired events and programs are so important in shaping the lives of our future leaders.  
By Mr. Tam Matthews, Head of School 

Over the weekend, WPGA students, under the direction of debate coaches Ms. Tracey Lee and Ms. Lindsay Spencer, hosted the 12th annual Vancouver Youth Model United Nations (VYMUN) at the Fairmont Hotel in Whistler, a spectacular setting for such a thought-provoking event. As I observed the grades 7–10 students—165 from WPGA and another 345 from independent and public schools across the Lower Mainland and Vancouver Island—passionately discuss world issues in a simulated United Nations forum, I was delighted for them to have this opportunity. After all, sharing knowledge and culture, respectfully voicing opinions, engaging in experiential learning and being educated about global issues are reflective of our mission and values at WPGA.

Looking around the room, buzzing with youthful energy, made me incredibly proud to be a Head of School. It also reminded me of the privilege and duty we have as educators. Having grown up in independent schools, first as a student at Lakefield College, where my father, Jack Matthews, was Headmaster (he later became founding Director of Pearson College), and then as a teacher and administrator at independent schools across Ontario and now at WPGA, I know firsthand how education and the learning environment can shape a child’s social and global perspective. 

I was hugely inspired by my greatest teacher, my father, who led his schools from the heart and strongly believed in the transformative power of nature—one of the best sources of learning, reflection and creativity. He was mentored by Kurt Hahn, the renowned and highly influential German educator. Hahn was the first Headmaster of Salem School in southern Germany, which so famously denounced Hitler during the war, and the founder of Gordonstoun School in Scotland, which educated several members of the Royal Family. Hahn, a prolific sort, also created Outward Bound, the Duke of Edinburgh Award Program and United World Colleges (Pearson College is a United World College), and his philosophies inspired Round Square. Hahn was often quoted as saying, “There is more in you than you think,” and was a proponent, as was my father and as am I, of schools teaching moral character; providing leadership opportunities; making service a requisite, not an option; and empowering students to use their voice and courage to speak up and effect change.   

In all candor, there are challenging days as Heads of School and school administrators in 2017. It’s a new world of leadership, balancing the interests of many and allocating limited resources while keeping focused on the long-term vision. But, seeing these students at VYMUN, collaborating and negotiating peacefully (though often loudly!), brought me back to why it’s an honour to serve our students and school communities and why programs such as Model UN, debate, outdoor education, music, international and community service, leadership and so many more are critical. Beyond giving students the 21st century skills necessary to succeed in today’s world, they give us hope in our future leaders—something Kurt Hahn knew almost a century ago.