Principal’s Insights 2014

Will always be there… November 26

“But, of course, it isn’t really Good-Bye, because the Forest will always be there (A.A. Milne)

I often say at enrolment interviews with boarder families that tears seem to be an essential part of the beginning and finishing time at Fairholme. Those that feel the separation from home most keenly are often those who grieve most deeply on departure from the school that has been a second home for a number of years.

The final Year 12 Assembly is a celebration of each and every Year 12 girl; from the moment they are piped into the Assembly Hall past the throngs of junior school girls and teachers, until their departure through a Year 11 and staff guard of honour, there is due respect paid to the entire cohort. Sometimes we take education for granted. Sometimes we think the completion of Year 12 is a right not a privilege. Sometimes…

This year’s Seniors need only think of their ‘Bring Back our Girls’ campaign to be reminded that education for girls is not accessible for all. An education that prepares confident, hopeful young women is not accessible to all, either. It is important to be reminded of that and of our responsibility to make a difference where we can. Upon receipt of this year’s Nobel Peace Prize, Malala Yousafazai stated:

I felt more powerful and more courageous because this award is not just a piece of metal or a medal that you would wear, or an award that you would keep in your room, but this is really an encouragement for me to go forward and to believe in myself. To know that there are people who are supporting me in this campaign. And we are standing together. We all want to make sure that every child gets quality education. So this is really - this is really something – something great for me.

It is certainly my hope that the 2014 Seniors will make a difference in whatever field of work or study they enter; they are blessed with the capacity to do so.

As we enter the holiday period, I share my prayers for a safe and Holy Christmas. Thank you for your support throughout the year. We look forward to 2015 as a year to thrive. Please take time to check the College website over the holidays for news. The calendar will indicate the start-up program and we will be in correspondence with families prior to the commencement of Term 1 2015.

Looking Ahead November 14

“How lucky I am to have something that makes saying goodbye so hard.' Carol Sobieski and Thomas Meehan

The end of any school year is often a mixture of excitement, anticipation, disappointment and sadness. We say goodbye to our seniors; girls who have been nurtured over time by teachers and boarding supervisors, sporting coaches and parents. Our Year 12s are on the brink of change – exhilarating or scary, depending upon one’s view of the world.

On Thursday of last week, this senior cohort finished well. It’s as simple and as complex as that. The girls demonstrated their cleverness, creativity and cohesion in a day of challenges modelled on ‘The Hunger Games’ and this led to the pinnacle event: their final Assembly.

Reflections on their Fairholme experiences included some footage from a Year 5 presentation featuring a number of current Year 12s, quotable teacher quotes, a boot-scooting dance by the Boarders, hairstyles through the ages and some inside footage from the Boarding House. The teachers also took to the stage with a song for the seniors that was hijacked, in the most delightful way, by Ms Winton’s appearance on stage dressed in blue ball gown.

At Presenting Fairholme there was further evidence of our senior cohort finishing well. How special it was to have all of our Year 12s on stage and for them to present the 1959 school song to the gathered audience.

At so many times in our life we are required to finish or to complete tasks, events or employment. There is often a temptation to leave abruptly or with things incomplete, or to disrupt or to draw attention to self. The Seniors of 2014 have chosen differently.

Amongst them is a potent mix of anticipation for the future as well as some grieving for what has come to pass. Yet their manner of leaving is allowing our community to celebrate their achievements, and them, with enthusiasm.

It’s Time October 31

“Let us pick up our books and our pens, they are the most powerful weapons.” Malala Yousafzai

It seems apt to title this newsletter’s offering with the slogan of the Gough Whitlam era, and my childhood. I remember the catchphrase for its pithy appeal, the palpable feel of social change and the fact that my childhood friend Andreé wore a T-shirt with these words emblazoned in white, to my home, where my blue-ribboned father responded without speech. Irrespective of one’s politics, Gough placed free university education on the agenda, an initiative for which so many of us are grateful. Education is our most powerful weapon.

In the past weeks we have also heard the news of another education advocate, Malala Yousafzai, whose efforts to ensure girls in Pakistan have freedom to access education appropriately earned her the honour of joint winner of the Nobel Peace Prize for 2014. Malala’s struggle for girls to be educated in Pakistan led to her being shot and nearly killed by the Taliban two years ago. Her passion for education and, in particular, girls’ access to education is without limit, nor is her unabated courage: ‘I think of it often and imagine the scene clearly. Even if they come to kill me, I will tell them what they are trying to do is wrong, that education is our basic right.’

In another example of educative power, as well as evidence of the power of the rule of three – ‘omne trium perfectum’ (every set of three is complete or perfect), – I was directed to Emma Watson’s recent speech to the UN on feminism, by Head Day Girl, Lucy Grigg. Watson, recently appointed as Women’s Goodwill Ambassador to the UN, though better known for her long-starring role in the Harry Potter films, gave a stirring speech on the decline of feminism as a palatable or positive term for females. She took the opportunity to launch the HeforShe campaign – one focused on education for the attainment of gender equality, including freedom for women to gain access to education and to equal pay, and freedom for men to express their feelings without inhibition. Watson reminded her audience that gender equality is an issue for males, as well as females.

Just to contradict the rule of three, but with relevance to the power of education, I finish this piece with links to two recent articles that prompt men and women to consider the importance of equality, respect, and the courage to seek these out. The first was written by local lawyer, Adair Donaldson, who works regularly with our girls to highlight the importance of making responsible choices and the dire consequences of not doing so. Adair’s article questions the ARU’s response to sexual harassment in their workplace ›

The latter was a link sent to me by my young adult son, a poignant piece of writing by the husband of Jill Meagher who was callously murdered in Melbourne over 18 months ago: See ABC News ›

These articles remind us that we can all contribute to a healthier, stronger society – beginning with education, the tool that remains our most powerful weapon of all. It’s time.

Words of Wisdom from Michael Carr-Gregg – specialist in adolescent psychology? October 17

I never grow tired of listening to Australian Adolescent psychologist, Michael Carr-Gregg, speak on adolescence. At a session at the Australian Boarding Schools’ Association Conference that I attended during the last holidays, Carr-Gregg shared recent research as well as gems of advice for parents, teachers, boarding supervisors and anyone who spends a lot of their time with emerging adults. His opening lines in defining the adolescent condition went something like: “Teenagers are often so focused on what they don’t have that they can’t see what they do have. Don’t give them everything they want. Let them experience adversity!”

This may or may not resonate with you; it certainly did with me. And there was I thinking, until his session, that my own children were close to stepping over the brink between adolescence into adulthood. Think again, says Carr-Gregg. According to Australian research the average age that an ‘adolescent’/adult child leaves home in Melbourne is 27. What’s more, we can look forward to seventeen years of adolescent rearing, since, according to Royal Melbourne Hospital research, the average age that adolescence begins is 10.2.

So we have a vested interest in working together towards their health, resilience and academic buoyancy. Yet one in twenty adolescents drinks at a level that affects their hippocampus – brain structure responsible for memory and learning. Most adolescents do not eat a healthy breakfast (his recommendation: sultana bran, a boiled egg and a glass of fresh orange juice) and only one per cent of teenagers eat sufficient vegetables and fruit.

Furthermore, the Australian Youth Mental Health Report of June 2014 tells us that 1 in 4 secondary students and 1 in 7 primary students suffer from some form of mental illness. Fifty per cent of mental health issues emerge prior to the age of 15 and seventy-five per cent prior to the age of 25. The hospital figures for self-harm have doubled in the past decade and depression and anxiety conditions account for almost three-quarters of mental illnesses. Mission Australia surveys indicate that adolescent girls identify their top worries in the following order:

  1. Coping with stress
  2. School or study problems
  3. Body image

Carr-Gregg believes that parents and schools need to provide an education and home life that leads to well-roundedness. Accordingly, we need to produce students who manage anger and conflict effectively; who possess vital emotional competencies that will allow them to be great work colleagues, parents and partners. It is not the acquisition of our first job that rests on our emotional competency, but our second and third and fourth…

The good news – Carr-Gregg believes that the work occurring in most Australian schools and particularly in boarding schools is assisting in the development of healthy adolescents. He identifies the following five protective factors as fundamental to the development of healthy adolescents:

  • Significant others - the charismatic adult other than a family member who listens and shows interest and listens to the adolescent;
  • Spiritual nurture, a strong sense of meaning and purpose;
  • Development of social and emotional competencies -dealing effectively with anger/disappointment/conflict. Recommended web site ReachOutCentral ›
  • Growing ‘islands of competence’…. their spark, the one thing they do well;
  • Building skills for resilient self-talk. Recommended web site MoodGym ›

Further Carr-Gregg advice for parents:

  • There is no such thing as a perfect parent.
  • We are all influenced by the parenting style from our childhood.
  • Consequences are crucial.
  • Your role is to be a mentor, not a mate or a best friend.
  • Think before you react.
  • Set limits and boundaries and say no over things that matter.

And final advice for parents: ‘This too shall pass’, although seventeen years can seem like a very long time, on some days, can’t it?

‘What have you ‘liked’ on Facebook recently?’ September 18

“It would be foolish for [anyone] to think that they may say as they wish on their Facebook page with total immunity from any consequences” (Commissioner Bissett – Fitzgerald V Smith).

At a law seminar in Brisbane this week the audience was presented with fascinating and frightening statistics about facebook. Statistics like:

  • In 2011, there were 500 million active Facebook users (one in every 13 people on earth) half of whom were logged in on any given day;
  • 57% of people talk more online than they do in real life;
  • 30% of children who are active on social media do not believe that they have an internet profile;
  • The number of Facebook friends potentially hinders academic adjustment, and spending a lot of time on Facebook is related to low self-esteem.

The legal experts reminded us all that reputation matters, and that it is not easily reconstructed or reconstituted. Thus, representation on social media sites including, and certainly not restricted to Facebook, matters. They cautioned that what may look cute or a bit edgy at sixteen might not when someone is seeking employment in a reputable firm that is governed by a clear code of ethics.

The digital footprint is forever. Whilst Instagram was designed to eliminate digital permanency, software made in response means that images can be captured, saved and redistributed. From a purely legal perspective, facebook and privacy are oppositional terms. In other words, don’t be surprised if you are oblivious to your readership audience, or that a recruitment agency hasn’t already deleted you from their interview list because of your facebook, or Instagram, or twitter footprint.

Defamation of others can occur simply by pressing ‘like’ in relation to any image or words that can be deemed as causing reputational damage to a person, or institution, including schools. For legal action to take place the school or the person need only be identifiable, rather than identified. Although people often claim when challenged about the inappropriateness of their postings - “but it was only meant to be read by my friends”, or “it’s a breach of privacy”, they merely demonstrate naivety in relation to the public nature of the World Wide Web. Social media sites exist in the public domain, as indicated by Commissioner Bissett:

It is no defence against a complaint of a breach of trust or indeed defamation, for a person who uses social media to indicate that the message was directed to a particular individual if the platform you are using is a public platform. (Commissioner Bissett – Fitzgerald V Smith)

Parental responsibility to lead by positive example and to monitor, discuss and challenge the nature of digital interaction, goes without saying. What have you ‘liked’ on facebook recently and in doing so, published your opinion for the whole world to see?

REFERENCES
Longwill, T. (2014). Students’ Misuse of technology to Intimidate or Harass Students, Teachers or the School. Partner - McCullough Robertson – presentation at Legalwise Seminar. Brisbane. 10 September 2014.

‘The Power of the Team’ September 3

By the time this newsletter is in print, the Year 12s will have completed their QCS papers and the rundown to the finish line will have accelerated. They may be oblivious to the power of the team that has been developed through almost a year of explicit preparation for those four exams and to the implicit preparation that has been occurring ever since they began learning. Yet as an onlooker I have been able to observe the development of a strong team, one with a clear sense of purpose, definite goals to achieve and the support of several enthusiastic and knowledgeable coaches.

Last Wednesday afternoon when I strolled through the halls of G block I saw classroom after classroom of Year 12 girls preparing for QCS. The learning was differentiated to best suit each girl's immediate (or perhaps final) needs in preparing them for Tuesday and Wednesday’s exams. I do wish to acknowledge the girls’ focus which has been maintained over many months and I thank the teaching team, led ably by Dr Hill and Mr Peacock, for the sustained energy and enthusiasm with which they have approached this program.

I do unashamedly love a good team sport, as spectator or participant. I admit that I’m inclusive in my enjoyment; give me a class, a choir, a play cast, a Netball team or the ultimate team sport … QCS and I can derive delight in them all. In the last week I’ve shared the Prep class’s Music lesson, Netball semi-finals, the Year 7 Choir in action and Vignettes’ delightful presentations at Wednesday’s GetSmART afternoon. Each of these moments or events has given me cause to reflect as well as appreciate the learning opportunities that underpin team, group or collaborative activities.

Watching Netball semi-finals on Saturday afternoon reminded me that team sports offer rich learning. We learn to lose, to win, to accept decisions that are fair or unfair, to sit on the sideline when we would rather be on the court, to endure hardship, to push ourselves to new limits, to reflect on our own contributions, to listen to our coach’s advice and to appreciate the contributions of others. All of this learning about ourselves can take place in just 60 minutes: the power of the team!

‘Sometimes…’ August 22

What seem our worst prayers may really be, in God’s eyes, our best. Those, I mean, which are least supported by devotional feeling. For these may come from a deeper level than feeling. God sometimes seems to speak to us most intimately when he catches us, as if it were, off our guard. (C.S. Lewis)

“God sometimes seems to speak to us most intimately when he catches us, as it were, off our guard (C.S. Lewis).” Sometimes Fairholme girls surprise us beyond words. Their creativity, cleverness and competence catch us unaware. Saturday night was such a night. The senior music leaders, music students and the musically talented put together the most wonderful program of jazz - just because they can. Yes, there was an ulterior motive, fund-raising for the new sound box, but what mattered more was the delight the audience and performers shared. Never was our core value of enjoyment more palpable.

Thank you, girls, for sharing your gifts and talents with us and for the sheer competence with which you brought the program together… although those at the Bojangles table are still smarting, just a little, that they didn’t win the trivia prize. No doubt the inaugural jazz night has snuck very quickly into that long list of Fairholme traditions, established so quickly but always clung to with such fierce patriotism and comments like… “But we’ve always done it …”.

Sometimes, we need such a celebration to give us perspective, particularly as we move to the pointy section of the term, where assessment looms and Year 12s are coming face-to-face with QCS reality. And thus, at these times, we need to endure, rather than avoid; complete, rather than evade; and ensure that we meet our commitments: one task at a time. As parents we need to encourage, rather than enable evasion and avoidance, because ultimately the practice of endurance and completion are skills for life, important ones that will hold us in good stead, in so many circumstances.

‘The value of year level camps, retreats and trips away’ August 8

My daughter Natalie has just finished two years teaching at an inner-city London school for children with disabilities as well as behaviour management issues. She has learned a lot, as you can imagine. Whilst her experience in this school and with the students to whom she has grown so deeply attached, and that of Fairholme may seem worlds apart, I tend to think not. Both schools are in the business of transforming, growing and nurturing the students in their care. Approaches to achieve this may vary but the common and important threads remain.

Whilst I was watching Year 11 girls at Alexandra Headlands Beach on Thursday 24 July, she accompanied her class to Buckingham Palace, London Bridge and London Tower. For many of our Year 11 girls, Thursday was the first time they had had stood on a surfboard, or attempted to, and for Natalie’s students it was the first time they had seen the major sites of London. She said that their behaviour could not have been better. I would mirror her words in speaking of our Year 11 students. The surf lifesavers were so impressed that they rang Ms Sharp on the following day to praise our girls on their behaviour as well as their determination to overcome any fears they had about the not [always] so gentle art of surfing.

Camps, retreats and trips away provide fabulous opportunities for our girls to know themselves in different spaces. They stretch their resourcefulness, resilience and problem-solving ability. It is often the things that don’t go to plan that reap as much learning as the things that do. An Air-Force friend says it this way, “You get to know a lot about people after 9pm at night and before 9am in the morning.” I think he meant that you sometimes get to see people at their best and also their worst at such times.

I consider it a privilege to spend time with over 100 of our girls at the Year 11 Retreat each year. I get to knock on their doors at night to quieten their conversations and share the sunrise over the beach with them each morning, on our walk. I see their interactions with others, their ability to self-reflect and their willingness, almost without exception, to have a go at any activity. I see them grow through self-reflection as well as group interaction and especially through challenges such as standing on a surfboard for the very first time. Year level camps, retreats and trips away elicit important social learning, the sort of learning that can’t be measured quantitatively but is palpable and important in so many other ways.

‘Private V Public student achievement at university’ July 25

I have followed the recent debate regarding Private V Public student achievement at university with great interest. See theconversation.com. Since the scope of the study has not been outlined I am unable to comment upon its direct relevance to Fairholme students. Nonetheless, I am reminded, to use a clichéd but accurate term, that our job as parents is to prepare our children to stand on their own two feet. If we truly want to prepare our children for life beyond the safety of the Fairholme school gates then we need to think beyond university entrance requirements. How independent is your daughter? What are her problem-solving capabilities? How willing are you to let her negotiate the territory when things don’t go to plan? Is your default position to rescue, or to liberate?

A wise parent of three young adults recently remarked that the first year after school is difficult, irrespective of your child’s post-school choices. She is mother to a university student, a Gappie and an apprentice. When they leave the security of school and home they are faced with choices never at their fingertips before. As parents we are often relegated to the sideline. We can call out, question the referee’s decisions vociferously, praise or criticise … but we are still on the sideline, not on the playing field. The post-school script rarely runs to plan. Usually it is utopian and bursting with promise, there’s not a set-back in sight. So perhaps it’s time to practise some script-scratching now, or some graceful stepping back, irrespective of whether our children are 3 or 17. We cannot always run on the playing field and pick them up when they fall; they need the skills to pick themselves up, over and over again. That is, unfortunately, the job of a parent, a job I’m still learning on a daily basis.

Haim Ginot describes it this way: To let go when you want to hold on takes utmost generosity and love. Only parents are capable of such painful greatness.

‘Learning to drive: a shared responsibility’ June 13

Holidays near, and no doubt a number of parents will be spending time in the close confines of a car, teaching their daughter to drive – or at least, assisting the process of the registration of hours. I found teaching my daughter to drive a somewhat terrifying experience. She was over confident, my husband and son refused to sit in a car with her behind the wheel, and yet I somehow felt obligated to support her foray into this fundamental rites of passage adolescent activity. In retrospect, teaching one’s child to drive carries all the promise of relationship disaster. You are in a confined space, imminent death feels like a real possibility at any given moment, and you are counting the three thousand things you would rather be doing: the ultimate recipe for unhappy families.

The adolescent pressure to get one’s licence is shifted to a parent’s responsibility to facilitate the process. Invariably the phrasing ‘everyone else has theirs’ is played to perfection. The debate over who is responsible for ensuring their 100 hours are completed quickly is akin to a process of enterprise bargaining on steroids. Demands to drive the family car at every available moment, down previously untraversed busy highways, or into peak hour Brisbane traffic is part of the discourse of the soon-to- be independent and bullet-proof adolescent driver. Following hot on the heels of licence completion is the need for a car, since, as you guessed, ‘everyone else has one’. Like so much of parenting it is helpful to enter with one’s eyes open, prior to negotiations. Retrospect has so much to offer.

At a previous P&F meeting, Paul Kennedy from TK Driving School shared statistics, tales and advice about the learning to drive process. He calmed nerves with statistics that say that learner drivers have fewer accidents than almost any other group. He accelerated fear by statistics that say that newly licenced drivers have more accidents than any other group. He horrified me with statistics about the abrupt reduction in attention to driving safety wrought by hands-free phone conversations, or the use of any other technology.

Yet in reality none of this really surprised me. The ‘show-stopper’ occurred when I asked his advice for parents. Paul suggested that all parents should read the road rules before their adolescent starts driving and, he added, parents should model adherence to those road rules every time they sit in the driver’s seat. I could not help but muse at the transferability of that advice to just about every parenting scenario. We can’t ask our children to do things differently from us. They watch, observe and take mental notes of our responses to just about everything. When we behave badly, inappropriately, or recklessly, we give them permission to do the same.

So I guess learning to drive is a shared responsibility at a number of levels. It begins, like all of parenting, with our own consistent and appropriate example. And there I was naively thinking that a driving school could be responsible for filling in the gaps; or that it was just about completing the mandatory hours in the log book; or that my adolescent’s practice would be enough…

I wish you safe driving experiences over the holidays! Do enjoy time with your daughter; it is precious.

‘Girls’ Education at its Best’ May 30

I confess. I confess to an unusual fascination with schools. On Friday I found myself (deliberately), at Samuel Marsden College in Wellington, New Zealand. This is the New Zealand school that four of our Year 9 girls attend each year as part of an exchange that was first established in 2010. It was good to gain a sense of the school, firsthand. More importantly, it was a privilege to be an observer, one who could see the best of girls' education, in practice.

Visits to Maths B, Chemistry, Music and English classrooms saw high levels of engagement, focus and enjoyment of learning. It was also the corridor conversations with girls that indicated their confidence, their friendships and their positive energy. I was impressed by the diversity of Music groups on offer, several of which are student-run choirs. There were piles of instruments in one space, part of the Year 7 band program in which all girls take part.

I admit to taking a series of photographs of their electronic sign-in and sign-out facility as well as pictures of some stunning visuals created by Year 10 students in an advertising unit. The girls who created the advertisements eagerly claimed their own creations and explained the focus and stimulus. Much felt a lot like Fairholme, and the differences created interest in a self-confessed school-fascinated visitor. No doubt, visitors to Fairholme are equally impressed by the beautifully decorated Junior School classrooms, the Art works of our students, the design focus of our Textiles students or the three languages on offer or, or, or… there is much to be inspired by at our school.

Yet what remains with me is the strong allegiance these girls have to one another and their school, as well as an unrestrained engagement with their learning. The Alliance of Girls' Schools website provides research-based arguments in favour of girls-only education. For example: Sullivan and her colleagues found that ‘single-sex schools were associated with attainment in gender atypical subject areas for both boys and girls… [and] women who had attended single-sex schools were more likely than co-educated women to gain their highest qualification by age 33 in a male-dominated field’ (Sullivan, Joshi & Leonard, 2010, p. 25).

I am often reminded of the words of a current teacher at Fairholme who observed in the first weeks at school that the greatest difference between Fairholme and her previous school was that Fairholme girls perceive their future hopefully. Whilst this does not give assurance for a perfect world beyond the school gates, as life is too complex and unpredictable for that, it does set the context for optimism and expectation of success and positive contribution. This in itself is a gift for the future.

For the next few days at the conference of the Alliance of Girls’ Schools Australasian I absorbed, considered and reflected upon that which is best about our schools, as well as that which can be challenged, strengthened and reconsidered within the context of Fairholme. After all, I do have an insatiable curiosity about schools and the ways in which students, particularly Fairholme students, learn best.

References
Alliance of Girls’ Schools (Australasia) ›
Sullivan, A., Joshi, H., & Leonard, D. (2010). ‘Single-sex schooling and academic attainment at school and through the lifecourse’. American Educational Research Journal, 47(1), 6-36.

‘Brightest and Best’ – the benefits of choir as a team activity May 15

There is no doubt that some audience experiences are better than others. On Friday evening, I had one of those extra special audience experiences at St. John’s Cathedral in Brisbane. The ambience of the cathedral alone is enough to still the soul. When coupled with the combined brightest and best voices of choirs from Fairholme College, Queensland Academy of Science, Mathematics and Technology, Riverside Christian College, St. Peters’ Lutheran College, The Gap State High School and West Moreton Anglican College, the effects are even more noteworthy.

Parents who made the Friday afternoon dash through multiple roadworks (some from as far away as Bourke travelled the distance!) were no doubt heartened to see their daughters on stage, performing a complex repertoire of sacred music with enthusiasm and skill beyond expectation. Conducted by the accomplished Kathryn Morton, and singing alongside conductors from each of the participating schools, over 150 high school students experienced the delights of choir as a large team activity. I was reminded that I will never tire of hearing Rutter’s ‘The Lord Bless You and Keep You’, particularly in such a venue with such voices in unison.

In his introductory remarks, Mr Ralph Morton (National Chairman of RSCM Australia and Director of Music at St. Stephen’s Cathedral) extolled the benefits of choir as a team activity. He no doubt knew that many of the parents in the audience would be standing on sidelines at sporting venues on the following day. Mr Morton recounted a number of examples from research which indicate the benefits of being part of a choir. Whilst we tend to think of team skills as the sole premise of sporting activities, it isn’t hard to see the level of unity required in an effective choral performance.

Similarly, waiting outside the cathedral prior to the performance was a reminder of how much our girls learn from being part of a choir, beyond developing their vocal skills. There was shared excitement, anticipation, and an air of confident expectancy. When I asked about the day, one group of girls said, 'You probably expect us to say that shopping at Indooroopilly Shoppingtown was the highlight. It wasn’t. This [the singing together] was.' Stacy Horn, in her article ‘Ode to Joy,’ reminds that: 'music is awash with neurochemical rewards for working up the courage to sing.'

A little research also tells of the benefits in relation to improved lung function and breathing, improved mood, and stress reduction (Clift & Hancox, 2001, p. 121). Irrespective of what research tells us, being at St John’s Cathedral on Friday night was one of those special moments. It was worth negotiating the roadworks. I am grateful to the organisers, Mr Dixon, Mrs Hayward, Mrs Lebsanft, and, of course, the ‘brightest and best’: the Fairholme girls who are part of an outstanding team. I wish you all well for the Eisteddfod experience.

On self-regulation, self-respect, and not the evils of technology… May 2

My father, from time to time, vociferously laments the evils of technology. The irony of this statement seems to escape a man who, in his eighties, uses an iPad and a computer on a daily basis. Let’s not begin to consider the ubiquitous technologies that exist in his home and car, all of which make his life easier, not more difficult. Yet as parents, I am sure we have all spent time longing for a household without mobile phones, iPods, iPads and any other device beginning with an ’i’ containing ram, rom, megabytes or pixels. Oh, for the quiet life!

Reality reminds us, however, as we reach for our own mobile phone, check our emails, download the latest bestseller on our Kindle or opt in to the Fairholme app on all of our mobile devices, that technology is entwined in our daily lives, almost to the point of invisibility. We expect it to work, we use it unconsciously and we depend on it. Yet we simultaneously lament its existence in the hands of our children.

Last Tuesday, at the Boarder Support meeting, an interesting conversation about technology unfolded. What became apparent was that technology itself is not evil (sorry Dad); rather, the behaviours we bring to our mobile devices can be, or at least these behaviours can be damaging towards others and ourselves. How do we self-regulate and self-monitor our use of devices that can transport our words and images across the world by fingertip? That is the question. That needs to be our focus.

At Assembly this week I reminded middle and senior students that mobile phones are not typically for classroom use (though yes, there are some exceptions). Tests and assignments are the school’s intellectual property and are not for photographic keepsakes. Similarly, we need to be mindful of the distribution of images without permission; we may all too easily find ourselves in breach of the law. Yet, quite fairly, educational consultant, Mal Lee, who specialises in the field of teaching and learning from a digital perspective, reminds us: 'The notion of technology is not something to talk about. We don't talk about electric lights, we just use electricity.' Nonetheless, self-regulation and self-respect are topics that require our attention. Over-engagement with technology, particularly for the purposes of maligning self or others, or at the detriment of normal social activity, is of concern.

Perhaps our conversations with our children need to focus more on self-regulation and self-respect rather than the evils of technology? What do you think about that idea, Dad?

Resilience in an age of comfort… March 21

What advice might the Sports Psychologist to such teams as the Townsville Cowboys, Townsville Crocodiles, Townsville Fire or Northern offer to a group of Heads of Independent School principals across Queensland? Dr Joann Lukins addressed such a group in Brisbane last week and reminded us of the importance of such things as:

  • Regular physical activity - ‘some is better than none’
  • Mental resilience best evidenced in our ability to demonstrate self-control and self-regulation
  • Social connectedness
  • Laughter
  • Practising gratitude.

As a Physical Education teacher in a former life, though one still recovering from the trauma of playing Netball in a staff V Year 12s match a week or so ago, I was heartened to be reminded of the importance of movement and physical activity as a resilience strategy as well as a base for better learning. Whilst this seems obvious there is no disadvantage in a reminder to self. I was further heartened to read an article online this week that highlighted the link between movement and learning. You may wish to explore this link yourself: www.edutopia.org – the article is entitled ‘Move Your Body, Grow Your Brain’.

So what else struck me about Lukins’ presentation and her take on the much discussed topic of resilience? She recounted the story of a recent moment sitting on the bench with one of the teams she mentors. They lost their match in the dying seconds of the game. She was asked, ‘What did you say to them?’ Her reply was interesting, ‘I said nothing, because at that time there was simply nothing to say that would be helpful.’ Lukins reminded that perspective comes, but not two minutes after disappointment. We need time and the dignity of space in order to digest that disappointment; if we are resilient we will bounce back. I wonder, as parents, whether we are always at our best in allowing our own children perspective time, reflective time, or the space to graciously bounce back from disappointment?

I suspect that often we are too intent on intervening immediately, two minutes following the loss of an important game; straight after a crucial test has been sat; or as soon as disappointing news has been delivered. We want to know why, who said what and who did what. We want to fill the silence and take over the reflective time and the perspective time, and in doing so, we also rob our children of the skills to recover. We want to pick up the pieces of hurt and soothe the wounds on their behalf. What lesson are we teaching? Richard Glover puts this eloquently in an article entitled ‘The Best Reason for not buying your Child a Property’. He writes, ‘Parents want to help and, if they can, then they should. Just as long as the way they do it doesn’t steal so much more from their children than has been given.’ One can extrapolate the same sentiment to so many contexts.

Lukins’ words on resilience, and particularly resilience in an age of comfort, certainly found resonance with many in the audience. Despite the smooth convenience of so many aspects of our lives, there is much that cannot be controlled with manicured precision. We all need resilience, and need to allow children in our care the space and place to learn it, practise it and practise it again. One small way we can do so is to model the importance of exercise, as Lukins said so succinctly: ‘some is better than none.’ Thus, it’s time for me to don my sandshoes and do some ‘resilience’ training whilst simultaneously practising gratitude for the opportunity to do so.

An ‘awesome’ future  March 6

Two recent meetings with the Year 10 and Year 12 girls to consider the QCE, OPs, university options and life beyond Fairholme have led me to explore predictions for the future. Added to this are current State Government reflections on the future of OPs. Changes are mooted and the certainties of Queensland’s unique and very complex system for university entry have become uncertain.

What’s clear is that the best preparation for the future is occurring now, so that each and every school leaver walks out of the Fairholme gates with ‘points of difference’, experiences gained from exploring the full range of options and opportunities within and outside of the classroom.

What will be your daughter’s points of difference? How will she take up all the opportunities she can in the classroom, in the Arts, through service and on the sports field? She is set to enter a world with:

  • Its youngest population in its history;
  • Nearly 13% unemployment of young people across the world;
  • Half of the world’s youth living on less than $2 per day;
  • The assets of the 200 richest people on earth being greater than the combined incomes of more than 2 billion of the poorest.

And, significantly, where half of all jobs today will disappear by 2030. Two billion jobs - half of all employment on the planet today - will be gone by 2030. Yet we keep picking the same pathways and ignoring the benefit of points of difference. A survey of thousands of Australian teenagers (male and female) found that more than a third of them were only interested in one of ten different careers: "teacher, lawyer, accountant, actor, police, IT consultant, doctor, sportsperson, defence forces and psychologist." The interests of half of all survey respondents fell into only three of 25 different career sectors. In a world where cars are already being driven without drivers, where 2 billion jobs will disappear in the next 15 years, the challenge is to prepare for a future that ‘is not what it used to be’ and to build a repertoire of points of difference.

And yet amidst these somewhat dire predictions of a ‘new’ future are stories of a Gen Y that want to do things differently, creatively and to make the world a better place. At a conference this weekend one of the presenters talked about the Awesome Foundation – a worldwide not for profit organisation with a network of people devoted to forwarding the interest of ‘awesomeness in the universe’. Created in Boston, the Foundation distributes a series of monthly $1,000 grants to projects and their creators. Two of these chapters exist in Australia with the sole purpose of supporting people who need a kick start for a worthy project. This ‘in the moment’ creativity and ‘just in time’ learning are features of a future our girls are preparing for now. Every activity and opportunity they grasp is a skill or an attitude to prepare for the exciting unpredictabilities of a future that is different from the one we prepared for whilst at school.

In gratitude…  Feburay 21

When a twenty-year-old young man sends this mother a link to an article on gratitude, then this mother takes notice. She reads it and ponders whether or not her son is sending her a deeper message – should I be more grateful? Without doubt!

In beginning a new school year I am reminded that there is indeed much for which I am grateful at Fairholme. I am grateful for students who say thank you spontaneously and without prompting. I am grateful to teachers who care so deeply about what they teach and how they teach. I am grateful to parents who are able to and do volunteer for groups like SOFA, P&F and FOJs and to those parents who support the school through simple measures like being at swimming carnivals, taking an interest in their daughter’s activities or simply insisting on the same uniform expectations as the school.

In an age of ‘too-muchness’, entitlement and an abundance of things that ‘everybody else has one of except for me’, how good it is to cross paths with genuine gratitude. On Sunday I heard a remarkable young woman, Katie Wallis, speak about her own work to raise money for those who have little, about the way in which she is inspired and captivated by friends living far below the poverty line. In the past seven years she has travelled extensively in Africa and India and spent time with those who express deep gratitude in the absence of abundance – what a gift! I think her words were something like, 'I have found that in wanting less and owning less I have found so much more space to give and to receive'. She is a Christian practising her beliefs and in doing so has discovered a deep level of gratitude.

I hope my son sent the link as a sign of his own gratitude for parents who sometimes say no, make mistakes and try to admit them, who struggle and generally achieve a line in the sand between what’s negotiable and what’s not… but perhaps that is too utopian a view of the gesture? In any case I’m grateful for the link to the article and the simple fact that he thought it a topic in which we might both share an interest; I hope you too have time to explore it. Gratitude is a by-product of humility, the antithesis to entitlement and an attitude I hope each and every Fairholme girl has the opportunity to learn along with her Maths, English, Physics and German… I’m practising the skill along with them on a daily basis. It is, after all, a lesson to learn, re-learn and practise for life.

See How to raise grateful kids ›