Principal’s Insights 2015
‘Reaching the Finish line’ 16 November
By the time this newsletter enters your inbox there will be fewer than two weeks to go in the school year. Heavy sigh. Reaching the finish line of a Fairholme marathon requires strength, perseverance and patience. There is so much to do, so much to celebrate and so much energy required to finish well.
Whilst I admit that I didn’t see the Melbourne Cup race, I have followed winning jockey Michelle Payne’s story with great interest. Her ability to finish well is inspirational. The list of setbacks in her life are substantial; none greater than the death of her mother and a much-loved sister. Yet her ability to climb back onto her horse, metaphorically and literally, is both stirring and motivating. There is no doubt that her will to win has been fuelled by an ability to endure difficulty and to do so with positivity. I have been refreshed by her optimism and by her extraordinary resilience and I have simply loved hearing her father Paddy’s simple life philosophy: 'Work hard and don’t take yourself too seriously; if you fall down pick yourself back up.'
Michelle’s path to winning the nation’s most prestigious horse race has been punctuated by significant life-threatening injuries, persistence and a determination that knows no limits. There is footage of Michelle as an eight year old, professing that all she wanted to do was to win the Melbourne Cup. Sometimes fairytales do come true but if they have any meaning or significance, they are underpinned by grit, determination and resilience. Not a short cut in sight…
As we close in to the finish line, I do wish for strength, perseverance and patience for us all. There will be high-stakes announcements about leadership positions and assessment results, of particular significance for our Year 11 and Year 12 students. There will be excitement and there will also be disappointment - when hopes and reality don’t meet in the middle. Perhaps at such times we would all do well to pause and think of Paddy Payne and his simple life philosophy which seems to have held him in good stead in the face of the most extraordinarily challenging circumstances.
Here’s to a strong finish and the time to celebrate our departing Seniors, well. May we be able to celebrate others’ achievements, as well as our own, with grace and humility.
Some high points
- Mrs Chappell’s 21st Singing Studio recital – what a delight to hear our Middle and Senior girls, and particularly our Year 12s, demonstrate their growth as singers. What a pleasure it was also to enjoy Georgina Hopson’s (FOGA 2007) performance as a guest singer.
- ‘Presenting Fairholme’ – a celebration of so many positive aspects of our College culture.
- The Byron Breakfast – a fitting tribute to Mr Byron and a wonderful celebration of the strength of his influence in the development of a culture at Fairholme and across the Darling Downs that supports and celebrates fitness and physical activity.
- Watching the Year 12 Dance class rehearse for their ‘Flawless’ Dance Showcase.
- That four of our students were successful in gaining 2015 Empire Theatre Bursaries:
- Caitlin Palmer (Year 8) to attend the Queensland Ballet Summer School;
- Grace Lofting (Year 11) to attend a Tertiary Entrance Audition Workshop;
- Erin Higgins (Year 11) to attend the NIDA Summer School in Sydney;
- Grace Jarvis (Year 12) to attend the Victorian College of the Arts Summer School.
- The final Year 12 Assembly (so clever and such a delight!) and the announcement of the Head Girls for 2016 to thunderous acclamation:
- Head Girl | Lalatuai Grogan
- Head Day Girl | Alice O’Connor
- Head Boarder | Matilda Meppem
Finish well - all…
‘So much more than fair enough’ 30 October
We were blessed with fine weather, great crowds and many willing hands at our annual Spring Fair. I’m always asked – ‘How did we go?’ ‘How many people came?’ ‘Was it better than last year?’ At such times I am overcome by a sense of ineptitude and have to mentor myself against saying, ‘I don’t really know.’ What matters each year, to me anyway, is that our community is able to gather together, celebrate together and, if possible, raise funds to assist in bettering the fabric of our College so that teaching, learning and Boarder living are enhanced.
I am grateful to all involved and especially to Janelle Fletcher, our new and enthusiastic co-ordinator, and Kirstie Smolenski, our previous co-ordinator, whose input continues to assist in the success of the day. And then there are so many others – the men who spent Friday and Saturday setting up and dismantling stalls, parents who convened, parents who baked, cooked, and created consumables, staff and students who performed, paraded or participated in a multiplicity of ways long before and after the day.
Mrs Clare Greenhill’s eighth fashion parade and her oversight of our second Fashion Week were highlights for a diversity of reasons, including the involvement of almost the entire Year 11 cohort on or behind stage. The aquathon (Mr Byron’s last of so many) was another triumph for participation. Thank you, too, to Jocelyn Sevil for the bringing together of another fabulous Boarder Cent Sale – we are so grateful for her energy and vision over the past three years.
Fairs and fetes are about so much more than the profit bottom line. Watch our choirs or orchestras on stage and we can see and hear hours and hours of rehearsal leading to each presentation. Or if we witness the delight of our junior girls hot footing it from one ride to the next, we know that our core value of enjoyment is being celebrated – well. I am grateful to our full community when on such occasions for so much more than I can express.
I wish we could bottle that energy and vibrancy for the packed month ahead, when our enthusiasm will wax and wane a little erratically. May we not focus singularly on outcomes, achievements and the tangibles, lest we forget to celebrate and enjoy the processes, efforts and hard work that underpin the run home to the end of term. Keep going, keep going, keep going…
- The Mizpah Memories dinner which celebrated the work of Pastor Jessup over the past two decades and particularly in relation to his vision for service within the College. What a delight it was to see so many past students return to share their stories, to express their gratitude to Pastor Jessup and to articulate the difference that trips such as Mizpah have made in their lives.
- Grace Jarvis’ play, Titus was here, which was performed on stage at the Armitage Centre, Empire Theatres on the weekend - a celebration of her creativity, insight and ingenuity as a writer. Watch the ‘Grace Jarvis space’ in the future. How fabulous to see Year 11 student Grace Lofting play the lead role as part of her involvement in the Empire Theatres’ Impact Ensemble.
- The Spring Fair for all the reasons described above
- All of our athletes’ efforts at the Queensland Athletics Championships - including many final placings, including Junior School athlete Chloe Randall who finished first in the state in her 800 metre event, Ellie Bowyer who gained gold in Javelin and Discus, silver in Hammer and bronze in the Shot. Sam Lenton who achieved gold in both the Shot and Discus, and broke the record on each of her successive throws. Our Prefect for Sport, Emily Lowe, also achieved silver in her 1500m event. Bella McLoughlin gained bronze in her shot put event, adding to the suite of outstanding throws performances.
- Mrs Merry’s ‘final assembly’ - such a celebration of her pivotal role in creating Fairholme Junior as we know it. The performances by students, presentations and video snippets provided a wonderful testament to her work and the expanse of her influence.
- Watching the Middle School lip synch competition - a student-led, inclusive and fun-filled event: what a delight!
- So proud to see our cadet girls in action under the direction of Senior Cadet Under Officer, CUO Olivia Hassall at the annual Pass Out Parade held at Toowoomba Grammar School on Thursday. Olivia was awarded the Janet and Harold Partridge Prize for most efficient CUO. Along with Olivia, fellow Year 12s CDTCPL Samantha Cabot; CDTCPL Jessica Mitchell and CDTCPL Lainey Neucom were awarded TGS Parents and Friends’ Awards for Service to Cadets over the past five years. Further accolades were received by Year 9 student Stephanie Millar who gained the Ron Cullingford Memorial Award For Most Promising First Year Cadet.
‘A life without stress.’ 16 September
‘I’m sooooo stressed.’
‘This is too stressful for me to do. I’m too stressed to do well.’
‘I don’t know how I’ll mange, there’s too much to do. I am too stressed to manage.’
‘How are you?’
How do you respond to the appearance (and/or reality) of too much stress? As a parent, do you model an effective response to working though a stressful situation? We are what we repeatedly do. As children we learn by our parents’ responses. We learn how to do, be and respond in all situations, including those involving stress.
The end of term is nigh and with it, an opportunity to ‘de-stress’, it would seem. Certainly there has been a lot of ‘stress talk’ floating through the Fairholme airspace; not surprising, given that ends of term coincide with end of term assessment. Yet Stanford University neurobiologist, Robert M. Sapolsky, reminds us that our goal should not be a life without stress. “The idea is to have the right amount of stress,” he tells us, a life with stressors that are both transitory and manageable. Exams conclude. Assignments get submitted. Reports and marking finish. All of these are transitory stressors: manageable, inevitable and, at times, enjoyable enough – when they’re ‘done’. Often they represent the end point of hard work, discipline and effort: great character traits. Furthermore, when epinephrine shoots into our system and norepinephrine follows, our heart rate increases, our hands may get clammy, and our pupils dilate. Cortisol increases. This is termed: challenge stress or the fight/flight response. Challenge stress heightens our attention to the situation and, when channeled appropriately, assists our response.
Yet I often find myself having a conversation with students before a big event, exam, oral, performance or grand final, trying to debunk some myths about fear, anxiety and stress. “It’s the same physiological response that you have when you are excited,” I say. Usually this statement is met with look of incredulity, horror and disbelief. Further, I venture on to say, “You are excited to perform your oral, or write your QCS.” This time their face may take on a look of compassion, “Dr Evans has lost perspective. She needs help herself.” I maintain that if we are to perform at our best in any high-stakes situation then we need some stress, albeit transitory and manageable. We do well, also, to acknowledge those feelings and rebrand them as normal responses to the situation. If we are brave enough, we might also describe the situation as exciting, rather than daunting and frightening. “Fake it and you’ll make it,” a wise psychologist once said.
Other psychologists and researchers report on the notion of good stress as opposed to destructive stress or distress. We experience good stress when we have a sense of control over a pending event. No matter how our body may respond in the moment, we know we’re going to emerge on the other side - and perhaps even better for the experience. Abseiling down a cliff or presenting at an Eisteddfod, or completing an English oral might send our stress-hormone levels soaring, but we know the experience will be over in minutes. Again, the stress is both transitory and manageable. Sapolsky explains this as “voluntarily relinquishing a degree of control and predictability in a setting that is benevolent overall.”
Perception of the pending event, says psychologist Wendy Berry Mendes, of the University of California, San Francisco, is key. Do you frame the stressor as a challenge or a threat? Do you view transitory stress as fearful and anxiety-riddled or do you acknowledge it as manageable, normal and a catalyst for full attention to the task at hand? Sadly, as we know, (that hefty responsibility of being a responsible role model yet again), our children are watching our responses to stress, consciously and unconsciously, and inevitably absorbing them as their own. Stress is real and inevitable. Note to parent self - I want my children to rise to the challenge of the inevitable stressors of life, to differentiate clearly between those that are transitory and manageable and those that require greater assistance and expert support. I want them to acknowledge that challenging situations can be approached with excitement rather than fear, knowing that they will pass, and often will lead to the intrinsic reward of accomplishment that follows hard work. I know I must live this mantra myself, to make it more likely that they will also. Oh for an easy life, one without stress or the responsibility of managing it well… just sometimes!
Best wishes for the Spring holidays. May there be rain for our farmers and time for us all to enjoy the company of our children. God bless you and your safe travels.
‘Leadership as action.’ 4 September
The senior leaders met with Ms Sharp and me last week to share their leadership committee journeys of 2015. What a pleasure was been to hear from almost each and every Year 12 girl about their leadership learning. Invariably the presentations began with an apology: “We didn’t do everything that we planned to do,” and, in this innocent statement every group revealed their understanding that as individuals and as part of committees we often seek to do more than we can achieve. This alone has provided a valuable insight.
What struck me most was the unity of many of the committees. When I asked each girl what they had enjoyed the most about being on the committee many said, “working with this group - spending time with girls I wouldn’t otherwise have the opportunity to work with,” or, “we did a really good job of…” or, “we worked well together, even if we couldn’t all make every meeting.” The mentor teachers also articulated their enjoyment gained through working alongside the Year 12s in their respective committees.
Some girls also noted that the leadership committees allowed them to be contributors, and others identified the power of working collaboratively. They acknowledged that the committees enabled those without a more formal leadership position to be involved and to make a practical difference to the College. And they have. Each Year 12 has contributed towards a better community or better practices. The Teaching, Learning and Technology committee instigated QCS breakfasts and on a number of Fridays in either the homestead or Amy Carson Room, groups of Year 12s gathered to learn the nuances of QCS from one another. They assumed the role of teacher. How impressive!
Pastoral Care House committees undertook activities to get to know new students and younger students; the Environment committee sought to educate their peers with regular email facts; the Restorative Practices committee shared the philosophy of a restorative rather than a punitive approach to conflict with peers and their own families; the Junior and Middle School committees have engaged in regular sub school activities and assisted in functions; whilst the Communications committee have been pivotal in the running of major College events like Fairholme Girl for a Day, Open House and the Scholarship morning. They have also led a surge of very successful debating and public speaking activities and continue to assist in the publication of this year’s magazine. The Wellness committee have raised funds to help others and developed an insight into the function of service in developing wellness.
Leadership is often a contentious subject. Too often it is equated with whether one is or isn’t a prefect. Sadly, it is sometimes seen as an entitlement because of achievements, longevity or popularity. Really, at its best, it is about service to others, community, collaboration and enjoyment. Thank you to the 2015 senior leaders and your mentor teachers for demonstrating this. What a pleasure it was to share some time with you and to hear your intelligent reflections, to witness your learning, and for so many, to see the real enjoyment that you have derived from doing for others and with others.
Gunter (2005) describes effective leadership as a social practice that is less about the ‘must’ of being a leader and more about the meaning and activity of leading and experiencing leadership. Further to this, Hargreaves (1992) talks about ‘cultures of collaboration’ and Hargreaves and Fink (2006) discuss the positive effects of ‘distributed leadership’, whilst Day and Gu (2014) write of the importance of leadership as inclusive and enabling and as ‘action’ rather than ‘position’. Year 12 seniors of 2015, in your work I have seen this occur.
For our incoming senior leaders and parents be assured that there are multiple opportunities to lead and to learn about leadership at Fairholme College - irrespective of badge or title. A position does not make one a leader: activity, commitment, integrity and purpose, do. Action, rather than position matters most.
‘Sports do not build character, they reveal it.’ John Wooden 21 August
For those of us who hold fast to memories of Tennis as a genteel sport founded on good sportsmanship, it is not difficult to be offended at many levels by the recent Nick Kyrgios sledge. Despite the possible impulsivity of his comment, so many people have been deeply affected by its ugliness. Furthermore, to add to the distressing saga, there has been the unfortunate interference of Kyrgios’s mother who has sought to excuse, blame others, or at least minimise the impact of her son’s words.
Wawrinka was not the only victim of his taunt. Try Donna Vekic, Kokkinakis, Martina Navratilova, and countless Tennis and sporting legends who have proudly represented their respective countries, or just those ordinary Australians who value good sportsmanship. One of my childhood idols was Evonne Goolagong. Her athleticism, steely resolve and positive demeanour were impressive characteristics.
I watched and followed and absorbed her approach to sport; that’s what we do with our sporting heroes. We watch, observe and try to emulate their actions. She was never wont to offer public opinion about the private lives of fellow competitors, nor take up the mantle of entitlement as a right to say whatever she wanted. No doubt, that if she had chosen her words inappropriately, she would not have been rescued or excused or had blame deflected to the victim, courtesy of her mother.
Kyrgios’ mother has demonstrated all the qualities of the ‘lawnmower parent’ who removes obstacles and paves an unfettered path for their child to venture along. These children learn from an early age to be oblivious to their actions and blissfully unaccountable for them as well. No matter how badly they behave, they can rest assured that their ‘keeper’ will save them from consequences, deflecting responsibility through blaming others. Despite the efforts of Kyrgios' mother to justify his behaviour, and to protect him from the fury of a public that wants its sporting heroes to be heroic on and off the court, there is still a big lesson to be learned.
Nick Kyrgios has learned that his words have weight, his public profile holds responsibility and he cannot be deemed a sporting hero without accountability. One journalist captured it perfectly: ‘Nick Kyrgios made the Big Mistake,’ Bodo wrote. And now is the time for him to learn from that mistake and for us, as spectators, to learn a little more about the effects of our actions and words. Let us all put away our ‘lawnmowers’ – so tempting to assemble at times, and remember the power of learning from our mistakes, and allow our children to do the same, graciously.
In persuit of happiness sadness 8 August
I admit to being a little affronted when an on-line education journal I subscribe to appeared in my in-box, this week. The front-page article was entitled ‘We need to teach our children how to be sad.’ Suddenly I envisaged hundreds of tartan-clad Fairholme girls with dour faces, drooping mouths and in floods of tears. A disturbing image! Why would we want to teach sadness, was my immediate response. I too admit to being moved on occasion by [clichéd] inspirational quotations and truisms about happiness: ‘Find happiness in all aspects of your life…’ Was this mention of ‘teaching sadness’ some clever, money-driven psychologist’s counter response to the ubiquitous exploration of happiness, contentment and gratitude?
After all, these are worthy states of mind and expressions of being human. The pursuit of happiness, or at least happy children, is an unparalleled parental goal, I’m sure. How often have we said or heard others say, ‘I just want her to be happy.’ ‘I don’t care what she chooses to do, so long as she’s happy.’ ‘Happiness is the most important thing.’ Yet perhaps in our quest to produce the happiest child in the class, we sometimes forget that sadness is an inevitable and an unavoidable feeling, mood and life experience. Without sadness, how can we possibly understand happiness or, from a Christian perspective, the ultimate experience of joyfulness. How can we navigate the complexities of life if our expectation is to be in a constant state of euphoric happiness?
So I read on, with a little trepidation. Journalist, Paul Chai, a father of two, argues, 'I think our kids could use lessons in how to be unhappy.' He also expresses very eloquently, the paradoxical issue of seeking to be happy through amassing things, such as a utopian facebook status and an instagram account bulging with happy snaps, or an accumulation of awards, rather than being happy doing things. In essence, he says, ‘I remember being happy doing things growing up, but not doing things to be happy.’
Learning enjoyment in life is a skill, one derived from negotiating the difficult and the sad, not by removing any obstacle that might cause discomfort or pain. There is no doubt that a sunny child is easier to deal with than an unhappy one. Nonetheless, even the sunny child faces sadness, disappointment and missing out on their heart’s desire. We know this as parents and educators. We see it and yet, at times, we go to creative and at times ridiculous lengths to soften the pain, avert the disappointment or restructure the experience into something that can be seen as happy. We intervene too much even though it’s not realistic, it’s not sustainable and it’s not helpful.
Chai’s article was, in fact, confronting rather than affronting, and nudged me to reconsider my own response to sadness, both within myself and my children. Perhaps we do need to teach our children how to be sad, and relinquish the temptation to hide our own sadness at times when it is entirely appropriate to respond in such a way. We need to give words to the feelings of hurt and pain that legitimately weave their way into our lives, because they will and do. And we also need to accept that our children, like us, experience sadness. They have to, lest we rob them of the delight of happiness, joy and gratitude when these feelings also occur, sometimes after the perspective of hurt and disappointment, just as legitimately – not because they do things or purchase things to be happy, but because they are happy while doing things.
Chai, P. (2015). We need to teach our kids how to be sad ›
Things to be grateful for…
- Fine weather for our Middle/Senior School Athletics Carnival and the most fantastic display of sportsmanship, participation and enjoyment.
- The biggest JumpnJive in the school’s history (according to Mr Sessarago) celebrated at the Athletics Carnival.
- Time spent watching some of our Netballers and Touch players in action.
- An English lesson with 7.3 – what a privilege!
- Last weekend’s Fairholme Junior performance at the Eisteddfod.
- Year 11 Retreat.
Language Matters 24 July
The more the words, the less the meaning, and how does that profit anyone? Ecclesiastes 6:11
Just over a fortnight ago I was sitting in the theatre of the Albertus-Magnus School in Viernheim, Germany, watching a play entitled Hexenjagd, otherwise known to many of us as Arthur Miller’s The Crucible. Despite having taught this play to my Year 11 English class just weeks before, and possessing a basic grasp of German, I found the experience daunting, frustrating and at times beyond comprehension (might I add that the outside temperature was hovering in the thirties and not a hint of air conditioning in sight). I vacillated between attempting to translate from German to English, pre-empting lines by observing the action and simply wanting to close my eyes and let the time pass quickly. Welcome to English as a second language, I thought.
When I sat in our own Assembly Hall on Friday afternoon for the Shake ’n’ Stir Shakespeare performance, my eyes kept drifting to our French exchange students who, despite possessing far better English than my German, were no doubt wishing at least some of the minutes away until the bell. Fairholme has entered its student exchange term, the term when our numbers are swelled by the inclusion of Japanese, French, German, New Zealand and Swiss students. What a blessing to be able to enrich the diversity of our school and, for our own students, to strengthen cultural awareness and sensitivities. For our French, German and Japanese students there will also be the opportunity to develop their own language learning further, as many prepare for exchange experiences at the end of the year. Travel presents so many opportunities to learn.
American writer Bill Bryson says of travel: ‘To my mind, the greatest reward and luxury of travel is to be able to experience everyday things as if for the first time, [and] to be in a position in which almost nothing is so familiar it is taken for granted.’ One does not need to travel overseas to find oneself in this position. This is the experience of all of us when we undertake new opportunities, as small as joining a new team, changing subjects or beginning at a new school. Everything feels unfamiliar and nothing can be taken for granted. The language, if you like, is new. Yet each one of us will approach that unfamiliarity, differently.
We might embrace the change, avoid it, despair over it, face it with dread and anxiety or let it draw us in - the choice is largely ours. With this in mind I was intrigued by my own inability to let myself be drawn in to Hexenjagd. I wanted to intellectualise the experience, rebrand it in English - and of course, all of this was beyond my capacity to control. How humbling it is to be reminded of the difficulty of second- language learning or confronting situations beyond our grasp … and how important language and languages are, for life and learning.
Middle School Leader Louisa Finlay alluded to the importance of language at the Middle School ‘Box of Chocolates’ concert on Friday night. She challenged the audience to capture their responses to each of the items performed and describe them on butcher’s paper at their tables. Again I found myself, as I did in Viernheim just over a fortnight ago, searching for the right words. How we use language matters a great deal - in all its permeations, tongues and expressions. Let us be careful, respectful and mindful in its use.
Some highlights from the last few days:
- Bastille Day celebrations
- A Box of Chocolates Concert
- Those important incidental conversations with staff, students and parents
- The warmth of support from staff when responding to the news of Mrs Merry’s retirement - a great and respectful acknowledgement of two decades of passionate, dedicated and committed work within the Junior School.
The Bright Spark that is Courage 17 June
The brightest moments in these days, as we weave our way through to the end of the semester, have most certainly been those dosed with a good dash of courage - may there be more of it and may it be shared! Courage involves having faith in yourself and doing what is best even though the outcome is unknown – it almost always includes doing something hard! The results, however, can be exhilarating; impact positively on others and often include a side order of excellent learning. And, the real beauty of it all is that courage begets courage.
I have chatted with Year 12 girls who have been preparing to walk into the Maths exam room and I have seen Year 3 girls take an almighty breath before walking to the Piano to perform beautifully in a lunchtime concert. And, as those girls walked forward, they took with them faith in the face of uncertainly. Not knowing the outcome, these girls held their heads high and faced a challenge.
Muhummad Ali once said, ‘He who is not courageous enough to take risks, will accomplish nothing.’ While he may have believed there was nothing to be gained without courage, I believe the essence of his thought is that courage is critical to personal growth. There is no doubt that an absence of courage will leave people wondering what could have been. Those with courage are rarely left wondering ‘what might have been’, because with courage they place themselves in the position of being able to consider, ‘now, what now can be?’
It’s important to note that courage is not always a grandiose gesture or battle! Courage can be something that we experience quite personally, perhaps talking ourselves through a situation, and no-one else is aware of it. It may be that we lean on a close friend for support and head towards a situation knowing that others are with us in spirit. That gift of courage – that encouragement from others – can become a quiet yet powerful contagion. With our own belief, the belief of others can provide us with incredible strength to forge on, walk to the stage, run faster, remember our lines for the play or help us to stand up for what what we know is right!
In Search of Resilience 28 May
Having driven to Miles and Taroom and back to Toowoomba in less than 24 hours I am reminded yet again of the tyranny and the joys of distance. How refreshing it is to see the wide skies of Dalby, kilometres of cotton and sorghum crops, cattle grazing and merely the absence of people, traffic and development. Distance of course exists metaphorically and literally within the Fairholme context. It exists in real terms for boarders and their families and it also manifests in the classroom as ‘distance travelled’ in learning or, sadly at times, social distance from peers.
It would seem in all instances that resilience is an underpinning key for those who thrive. Child Psychologist, David Elkind states that “kids need to feel badly sometimes, [as it is] through failure [that] we learn how to cope.” More explicitly it is through failing or falling, that we learn to regather and grow. Dr Joann Lukins, Lecturer and Sports Psychology Consultant writes a lot about the keys to success, her blog site is listed as a reference at the end of this article and may be worth perusing.
Yet in writing of and speaking of success Lukins invariably includes discussion of adversity, discomfort, resilience and perseverance. It would seem that success is not about smooth sailing, easy victories and the absence of discomfort. Yet we seek that don’t we? And too often we seek it for our children, irrespective of their age. We seek it for ourselves too, in quick fix solutions and the absence of discomfort.
Perhaps the greatest learning for me in my recent study experience was that nothing was achieved easily. Whilst that might well be a comment about my own intellectual limitations it also highlighted a deep need for perseverance, grit and the resilience to accept advice about areas requiring improvement – too many times to count. I fell, from a metaphoric perspective, over and over again. How enticing it would have been to stay where I fell.
Jim Rohn reminds us that “everyone must choose one of two pains: the pain of discipline or the pain of regret.” And there are so many other truisms and clichés that have circulated through my thinking in recent “thesis moments” – like ‘nothing ventured, nothing gained’, or ‘nothing worthwhile is every gained easily’ or ‘put your head down and get on with it’ (attributed to my father) and even Malcolm Fraser’s ‘life wasn’t meant to be easy’ floated into my consciousness from time to time. This oft quoted and misquoted phrase of Fraser’s was purportedly drawn from George Bernard’s play ‘Back to Methuselah’ where it is said: ‘Life is not meant to be easy, my child; but take courage: it can be delightful.’
Life can indeed be delightful. Where resilience exists and can be cultivated to strengthen our learning, life can be delightful. Even after adversity, life can be delightful. Success born out of hard work and persistence bears its own special sweetness. As our middle and senior school students move to the tough end of term with examinations and assignments looming, I wish them resilience.
To those who struggle with personal adversity for a diversity of reasons, I wish them resilience too – the willpower to bend but not break and for all of us it is timely to remember the words from a favourite TV series - Batman as quoted by Lukins (2012): As Alfred said to young Master Bruce Wayne, “Why do we fall?” to which Bruce replied, “So we can learn to pick ourselves up.”
A final word from journalist Richard Glover encapsulates the importance of paths that aren’t always smooth lest we, even in the most well-intentioned motivation, rob our children of resilience. He says: “Parents want to help and, if they can, they should. Just as long as the way they do it doesn’t steal so much more from their children than has been given.”
Glover, R. (2013). The Best Reason For Not Buying Your Child A Property ›
Lukins, J. (2012) Batman as quoted by Lukins (2012) ›
Parenting Article 70: Are we Over-parenting Our Children? ›
Noun: pride; plural noun: prides 15 May
Definition: a feeling of deep pleasure or satisfaction derived from one's own achievements, the achievements of one's close associates, or from qualities or possessions that are.
Synonyms: pleasure, joy, delight, gratification, fulfilment, satisfaction, sense of achievement.
Last week was Eisteddfod week; the culmination of hours, weeks and months of learning, rehearsals and practices. I had the pleasure of being part of the audience for a number of Fairholme choir performances – from the Junior Chorale through to the Senior Chamber Choir. To say that I felt an enormous sense of pride at each sitting would be an understatement. I was proud of the girls’ sense of occasion, their enthusiasm for their art and their ability to be positive, engaged audience members.
It seems unfair to highlight a single performance, since I enjoyed them all but it would be remiss of me not to mention Dan Walker’s piece, How do you catch the wind?, which was sung by our College Choir. Their performance was simply beautiful. It was one of those rare occasions where the audience held their applause for an unnaturally long time, simply wanting to savour, enjoy and appreciate the moment. The adjudicator took great time to talk about the level of skill our Head of Performance Music, Mr Dixon, displayed as conductor – saying that his work placed the Fairholme choir at another level. Congratulations to Mr Dixon and to his accompanist Mrs Christine Lebsanft, and of course, to the girls who made it happen.
It was also an absolute delight to see our Year 7, 8 and 9 Music students take to the stage en masse to present. The sound of this choir has undergone transformation thanks to the combined efforts of our conductor, Mr Dixon, along with music teachers Mr Egerton, Mrs Veal and Ms Sharp and, of course, the work of our girls. What a unique opportunity for these students to gain insight into and appreciation for the skills required of choirs and, ultimately, to do so on stage at the Empire Theatre. In many ways choirs are the definitive team sport and the past week provided witness to energy, focus, skill and commitment. How could one not feel proud of such performances?
Thank you sincerely to Mr Dixon, Mrs Eldridge, Mrs Egan, Mrs Lebsfant, Mrs Thomas, Mrs Chappell, Mr Egerton, Mrs Veal and Ms Sharp – and to all involved in supporting our girls’ choral performances. Thank you to our girls too – I was just SO proud of you: each and all!
- The Junior Assembly;
- The Year 5 and 6 girls singing ‘Scarborough Fair’ in the vegetable garden;
- Our Year 12 mooters taking to court as part of the Bond University Secondary Schools Mooting Competition;
- Fairholme Junior’s High Tea;
- Having my fingernails painted (and fingers as well) as part of the Kindy Mother’s Day pampering sessions; and
- Being updated on our girls’ riding success at the Darling Downs Equestrian Championships › and, of course, seeing some of our riders in action at the Goondiwindi Show.
Identifying what matters… 1 May
Welcome back to Term Two. I had the pleasure of taking some prospective families on tour last week, which provided me with the excuse to enter classrooms and observe the dynamics of a diversity of teachers in action: what a privilege. Invariably the families responded in similar ways:
“It’s so quiet.”
“The girls are so engaged [in their learning].”
“They all look like they are enjoying learning.”
“I wish I could have done that at school.”
We don’t always have the opportunity to take a step back and observe dispassionately, nor do we usually manage an ‘outsider’s’ perspective on our own backdoor. This week I did. Possibly the benefits of holidays gave me space to view things through the eyes of a visitor. Further, I was conscious of the current debate about private versus state schools and was observing closely what makes Fairholme, Fairholme. Individual schools have the potential to value add to a child’s education, irrespective of the sector to which they belong.
A study by Emerson, Fear, Fox and Saunders (2012) from the Australian Research Alliance found that the individual school effect can be anywhere between 20% and 40%. Also, of huge significance within the findings was the level of positive parental engagement with the school community. Whilst the notion of giving a quantitative measure to value adding is fraught, or at least limits itself to that which can be measured in a tangible, statistical sense – it is an interesting idea. Other identified factors affecting long-term student outcomes include birthweight (from a College principal who weighed just a fraction more than 2kg at birth), the time a mother spends with her child and the education level of both parents.
New Zealand education academic, John Hattie, identifies through his research the following effects that matter in a school context (see chart pictured right). Staff profile › email@example.com www.visiblelearning.co.nz ›
What positive difference does a Fairholme education make?
On the student-free day that began the term for teachers, all staff were asked to identify and revisit the core aspects that make Fairholme distinctive. In a sense they were asked to encapsulate Fairholme’s culture in words. The threads that weave our culture, from a staff perspective, are common in focus and they align, not surprisingly, with our core values:
- Christ-Centred Faith
- Seeking Excellence.
I have seen all values in evidence in just a week of school - often and in different forums.
A quick smattering includes: our Anzac Day service, the news that Ellie Bowyer is ranked as the eighth best javelin thrower in the world, Mrs Hayward’s Year 11 Art class and Mrs Greenhill’s Year 11 Textiles girls in action, Junior School Assembly, the Simple Gifts Choral Concert, discussing the importance of ethical bystanders with the Prefect body, sharing the Anzac Dawn service with the Year 12 Boarders, hearing the positive observations of a teacher on practicum, the three Year 2 girls who came to my office with an answer to my trivia question this week … and the list could wend on, endlessly it would seem.
If the research findings of Dr John Hattie and Dr Lance Emerson are valid, then Fairholme is well placed to be a school that makes a positive difference. The students, I believe, are exceptional – as people and as learners. Our parents are well-engaged and connected to our community and with their daughter’s learning. Our teachers are dedicated, diligent, highly motivated and enjoy working with their students. The platform for our school that makes a significant difference is its Christian base which means that the pastoral care of students is at the heart of all. In seeking excellence, a Fairholme core value, we seek to be one of those schools that Emerson, Fear, Fox and Saunders (2012) describe, one that strives to add 40% value to each and every student’s future.
Emerson, L., Fear, J., Fox, S. and Saunders, E. (2012). Parental Engagement in learning and schooling: Lessons from research. Australian Research Alliance for Children & Youth for the Family, School and Partnerships’ Bureau
Dangers and benefits… 20 March
I sat through a presentation on cybersafety by Brisbane-based lawyer, Tim Longwill, the other day and was both heartened and horrified. Naively, I admit to being horrified by the usage rates of social media from those as young as six and, like it or not, I was reminded that technology is with us, social media is the voice of our children, and this aspect of life is not going to go away. Malcolm Turnbull said something like this recently: ‘we need to stop trying to future proof and instead, we need to embrace the future.’
Similarly, we could say that we need to stop trying to hold back the tide of technology and instead, engage with its positive benefits. That does not mean for a nanosecond that embracing technology means that we lower our expectations around respect for self, our respect for others, or their mental health. The cyber world does allow us to operate 24 hours a day; the boundaries between work, home and social spaces are blurred and blurring.
Words shared online can be read and re-read, they do not convey facial expression and their tone can easily be misconstrued. They can be harmful in intent and effect for an infinite length of time. Quite simply, if these words wouldn't be shared face to face, then they shouldn't be sent via technology.
On Monday, I spent time with the Year 4 and Year 5 students as they prepare to bring their own iPads into their classrooms from Term 2. We were talking about guidelines for responsible and respectful use of these technological tools. They spoke enthusiastically about work they already had done with iPads: storybook covers, spelling tests, maths games and so on. Innocently enough though, they were describing the ‘good stuff’ about technology, and they did so with much excitement.
When our own parents taught us to ride push bikes they set rules and expectations first, helped us to pedal independently and then gave us the gift of freedom. There were dangers to riding solo, but also enormous benefits. Spills and falls were treated with band aids and soothing words, and off we went again.
One may think that is a trite comparison. At some levels, yes. At others, no. When our parents launched us on push bikes they relinquished some control, invested us with responsibility and asked that we respected the rules about when, where and with whom we could ride. No doubt they revised these rules along the way as we grew older and more competent, they still remained interested in where we were going, who with, and for how long.
Author of Sexts, Texts and Selfies, Susan Maclean - one of Australia’s foremost experts in cyber safety for young people - says, ‘real world parenting is the same as cyber world parenting - it is about actively encouraging children to behave well, make sensible decisions, obey rules and laws, not talk to strangers’ (p. 14).
There is no going back anymore, no time when technology will disappear into the ether. The school cannot hold back the technological tide any more than you can. Yet we do have the opportunity to embrace its benefits, educate against its dangers, and collectively develop healthy, tech-savvy girls.
Maclean reminds that, ‘technology itself is not the issue; it is the user of the technology who creates the risks and dangers’ (p.1). Thus we enter into the unknown with our known responsibilities as parents and educators to guide all children to an enjoyment of learning and a respect of self and of one another.
“There are known knowns. These are things we know that we know. There are known unknowns. That is to say, there are things that we know we don‘t know. But there are also unknown unknowns. There are things we don‘t know we don‘t know”, Donald Rumsford in Susan Maclean (2014, p. 6) Sexts, Texts and Selfies.
QUESTION: So what is the biggest internet danger?
ANSWER: That you'll concentrate on the dangers and forget the benefits.
On the Art of Apology… 19 February
On March 5 from 7.00pm – 8.30pm, world expert in restorative practices, Marg Thorsborne will present a ‘Yarn about kids’ session for Fairholme parents. As a leading expert in the resolution of conflict, Marg will traverse the tricky subjects of genuinely listening to our children, setting boundaries for acceptable behaviour and saying sorry when it is appropriate to do so. Yet Sydney Morning Herald journalist, Richard Glover, reminds us that 'a genuine sorry seems the hardest word' – as he describes it, 'it’s as rare as seeing a hairy-noised wombat in the wild'.
Instead of the 'genuine sorry', according to Glover, we meander stridently through 'the shouted sorry, the patronising sorry, the conditional sorry, the muttered sorry, the sing-song sor-ry, or the shifting-the-field-of-battle sorry' that is always followed immediately by but. We don’t always know when to wave the white flag of truce, or how to humbly admit to the error of our ways. Yet again, we are somewhat surprised when our children mirror the same behaviours as we do. Our dogged determination to be right isn’t always the example that resolves conflict – yet the resolution of conflict tends to be one of those skills that is good to include in the repertoire for all sorts of situations, from the banal to the highly complex.
If you are curious about restorative practices, would like to be able to resolve conflict at home, or in the workplace with greater skill, or would like to hear an expert in such matters speak with passion, knowledge, honesty and good humour, then do earmark the date of March 5 in your calendar or e-diary. You never know, there might even be a hairy-nosed wombat sighting on the night.
Just over a week ago author, parent and teacher Jane Langley worked with Junior school staff on strategies to support social emotional competence within the classroom. That evening she addressed a small parent forum (well done parents who took up the opportunity to broaden their skill repertoire and understanding of their children!) on the same topic. In many ways she spoke about the power of saying no and the importance of viewing our children through realistic lenses.
There was one story she shared that had the greatest impact of all. She spoke about parents negotiating the guidelines around their daughter’s attendance at a friend’s fifteenth birthday party. The parents decided that their daughter could attend but would not be sleeping over. Their decision was made easier when they rang the birthday girl’s mother and discovered that there would be boys at the party (unspecified number, mother couldn’t name them) and the sleep over was taking place in tents in the paddock – so, largely unsupervised. When they rang to say their daughter would be attending but not sleeping over, they also explained that they had decided this because they were uncomfortable with the party arrangements. Host mother replied, “So am I but I just don’t know how to say no.”
How many of us avoid saying no because it is too hard? It causes tension. It leads to insufferable teenage tantrums. Of course, once we ease the guidelines there is just another situation around the corner where it becomes even harder to say no. When we need to pull out the BIG NO, the definitive no, the one that matters a great deal to our daughter’s safety and our peace of mind, we have lost the skill to do so. Start practising now, says Langley, or else it becomes nigh impossible to do so.
Langely’s other point that had resonance was about the way in which we are wont to protect our children from facing consequences. She asked: when the school rings to tell you that your daughter has made a poor choice how do you respond? You know that your daughter will have shared the partial truth with you, the sanitised version that positions you to see her as victim, makes someone else the one to blame, or you are led to see her as someone who just made a silly choice. Do you allow your daughter to gain a valuable lesson, do you seize the ‘teachable moment’ or do you blame others and shield her from any learning in order to ‘protect’ her from consequences?
Expect your daughter to hear a lot of conversations around inclusivity, empathy and kindness this year: it is a focus of the Student Welfare Team and Year 12 leaders. We are discussing approaches to increase inclusivity and the celebration of individuality, at all year levels. If your daughter engages in excluding or harmful behaviour towards others we would seek your support to address that behaviour. Further, we encourage our bystanders to break their silence. We would hope that you share our expectations that all students have a right to safety and enjoyment of their schooling.
learned a lot from Jane Langley. I was reminded about my role as a parent, albeit of ‘grown up’ children, of errors I have made and still make, and of the cleverness of girls who position their parents with adroit skill. There’s a lot to be said for saying no. There’s a lot to be said for realising that like us, our girls make errors in their relations with others. As parents we need to model our own behaviour carefully, remembering that we are always their first teacher, it is from home that they bring their behaviours to school. It is quite a hefty responsibility, isn’t it?
Dr Linda Evans | Principal