Vale Michael Norman
Late on Wednesday 1 March, just before I left for Tasmania, I received the news that Michael Norman, the Founding Principal of Woodleigh School, had passed away. Michael led the development, establishment, and early years of Woodleigh School from 1974 to 1980, as it expanded from a thriving, small co-educational primary school (now known as Minimbah) into secondary education.
Leading a passionate and involved community of parents and educators, he set the school on this new adventure with vision, energy, and purpose. He took what he saw in the Minimbah learning community - a community not bound by tradition, open to the future – and transplanted those values, ideals, and philosophy into the Woodleigh flower farm here on Golf Links Road.
Every choice made in the design and building of Woodleigh was informed by a deep understanding of the difference between ‘education’ and ‘schooling’. His move away from institutionalised, post-industrial ‘schooling’ allowed adolescents to develop, find their passions and grow – as learners and human beings – gaining an education that was both academic and personal. In their six years of growth at Woodleigh, students would leave this place knowing themselves and the world, and understanding their place in it.
Fifty years have passed since Woodleigh was a dream in the minds of the Minimbah community. What exists today is as much Michael’s legacy as it is a school that continues to strive to meet the contemporary needs of young people. His big-picture thinking – grounded in research, community engagement and a deep-thinking, philosophical approach - saw him guide generations of young people to find balance – balance between personal development, social responsibility, academic achievement, and practical competence. His development of cross-age learning opportunities are legendary. Perhaps his biggest legacy is the Homestead system, where students co-habit with younger and older students, learning to be responsible for and respectful of themselves, each other and the environment.
Professionally, he has inspired generations of teachers to put the needs of students and young people ahead of the needs of ‘the institution’.
To Woodleigh, the most enduring legacy is the impact he has made on generations of young people who have received their education under him or since him. His oft-quoted, “We ought never to do for young people what they, with a struggle, could be expected to be doing for themselves”, remains at the forefront of what we do in 2023 and will continue to do in years to come.
Michael leaves us, a community of educators and parents, with a question, a challenge:
Long may we continue to struggle and approach education as an adventure.
Our thoughts, love and support go out to Michael’s children, Claire, Mark and Brett, and his extended family and friends.