Principal’s Insights 2016
‘We can pick them up no more…’ 24 November 2016
Bettina Kobelt’s final year of schooling will not be defined solely by the tragic loss of her Mother to leukaemia during the year. She also reaps the rewards of her hard work by gaining a Scholarship to study at Bond University, and will always celebrate being part of the Fairholme Family.
“I started at Fairholme in Grade 9, in 2013, and I was one of only two girls at the start of that year.”
Bettina Kobelt had flown in from Darwin, in the Northern Territory, after pleading with her Mother to send her away to boarding school.
“Since Year 5 I always wanted to be a Boarder. I clearly remember, without my Mum’s knowledge, requesting all these prospectuses from all over Australia - Victoria, New South Wales, Queensland. They all started arriving in the post, and Mum brought them to me and said, ‘Bettina - what is this?’”
Bettina, the eldest of three girls replied, “Please Mum? Please let me go.”
“I think she was confused as to why I wanted to go. She told me, ‘You’re not going to Victoria or New South Wales - it’s too far away. You can go somewhere in Queensland.’ And then my Grandparents moved to Toowoomba and Fairholme seemed the best choice.”
It took Bettina little time to settle into Fairholme for both School and Boarding. She made friends quickly, and was eager to learn.
Three years later Bettina found herself preparing for her Senior Formal, where all of her family would come together. Just before the big night, Bettina’s mum was diagnosed with acute leukaemia.
“It was the first time our entire family was going to be together – and she wasn’t there. But I got back to Darwin and I had all the photos we had taken.”
Bettina and her Mum’s personal battle against leukaemia was felt by dozens of Senior girls at this year’s Shave for a Cure, where Bettina shaved off her long locks. Moments before the shave, we spoke her Mum, Deborah, who was bursting with pride.
“Bettina told me if she is going to shave her head, then I have to shave off any growth mine’s had since chemotherapy, so we can be twins. She’s a very brave girl, and I am so proud of her.”
That day, the Senior girls raised more money than any other fundraising group in South West Queensland. More than $30,000 was sent to the Leukaemia Foundation.
“Everyone put in so much effort. For a lot of people, I think it hit close to home, because of Mum’s diagnosis.”
Only months later, Deborah lost her battle against Leukaemia. Bettina remembers how, in her darkest moments, her Fairholme family stepped in.
“I think a couple of days after I flew home - Mum was still in ICU - I got this massive package from the Boarding House. It was full of notes and cards from all these girls. It was such an amazing gesture for everyone to be thinking of me, and it was the first of many supportive gestures from Fairholme. When I got back, my teachers were so good at comforting me, helping me to grieve and also to get back on track with my studies. I think Fairholme is blessed to have the teachers that they have.”
Yet, the tragic events that unfolded in 2016 for Bettina would not define her Senior Year entirely. She has already been accepted into Law at Bond, with a Collegiate Scholarship.
“I thought I was interested in Family Law, but I’m developing a keen interest in Land Rights.”
Bettina starts at University on 9 January, and will complete three semesters in 2017.
“It’s kind of daunting to know that in less than two months I’ll be at Uni, but I’m ready.”
When asked if there was a favourite memory from 2016, this brave and inspirational young lady sighs, and says, “Gosh there’s so many good times.”
“It was really great coming back in Term 3 after the holidays – everyone was kind of nervous, but also excited. It was this incredible but strange atmosphere, that we were about to tackle one of the hardest terms, with QCS and all the preparation involved, and Term 3 is the longest time away from family, as a Boarder. I think it was a really special, once in a lifetime feeling.”
Where will she be five years from now?
“Hopefully graduated from University and overseas. Preferably in Canada doing something amazing in the law sector.”
‘No Sugar Coating’ 10 November 2016
When Edwina Robertson (FOGA 2003) agreed to speak at our annual Presentation Evening this year she wanted to talk about her career path, without the sugar coating. I would expect no less from our Head Boarder of 13 years ago – the young woman who was the first ever Fairholme girl to shave her head to raise funds for the Leukaemia Foundation; someone who has donated over $15 000 to the Tie Up the Black Dog Foundation and who will venture out west around rural Australia in 2017, without a wallet, taking photos of weddings, families, scenery and whatever else she comes across.
Her ’Wander of the West’ concept will run over 125 days and is based on goodwill - she’ll do a full photo shoot for whoever she’s organised it with and they can decide what to pay her. In return, she asks to be fed, and given a bed and some petrol to get her moving towards her next destination. If families or individuals want to transfer money into her account for her work, that’s their choice. She sees this service as a way of giving back to the rural community, to people who don’t have the same access to services as their city counterparts.
With this knowledge, it was not surprising that Edwina shared the highs and lows of her post-Fairholme life, without a coating of sugar. The audience was enthralled by her stories of the grit, determination and sheer hard work that have paved her way to becoming a wedding photographer of note, not just in Australia but across the world. Despite expectations that she would follow a traditional university path, she hasn’t; or expectations that she would find an industry that she loved as soon as she graduated from school, she didn’t. What she has done, is persist in the face of difficult work circumstances, draw the best from any situation in which she has found herself, and draw heavily from her Fairholme connections. Immediately following ‘Presenting Fairholme’ Edwina was heading to Brisbane, preparing for a Saturday wedding of yet another Fairholme ‘old girl’.
I was heartened by Edwina’s speech for a number of reasons. I appreciated her raw honesty. I was delighted by her persistence and determination to find a career that she loves. I also admire her preparedness to give back, particularly to the rural sector where her roots remain. It was also a pleasure to hear her running commentary at times during the night, especially when she realised that she would be get to ‘Shine Jesus Shine’ (she remembered every word) and to see her enjoyment in catching up with Mrs Mason, Sister Harrison and Mrs Gilshenan, or that ‘Mr Davis hasn’t aged at all!’
‘It’s good to be back,’ she said, ‘I feel proud to be here.’
We want a lot for our Fairholme girls and expect a lot. Perhaps, at times, we want and expect things without the hard work described by Edwina; at worst, we sometimes feel entitled to things and positions and results. It was refreshing to be reminded that we can learn as much from disappointment and difficulty as we can from success and immediate gratification. Without the sugar coating, Edwina reminded us all that we must allow our daughters [and sons] to make mistakes, grow, take risks, and develop into their real selves. ‘Support her, but let her fly, fall, and fly again,’ were some of her final words: wise words for us all, and particularly at a time when our senior girls are seeking leadership positions, College placements and indestructible OPs.
- The annual Fairholme Singing Studio Recital – how those voices develop over time! Congratulations to all singers, Mrs Chappell and, of course, their greatest supporters of all: mums and dads.
- Sharing the Dining In Night with our Year 12 cadets, Abbey Faulkner and Anastasia Button Smith, and the first half of the Dance Showcase.
- A clever final Year 12 Assembly – including a ‘creative’ Dance number by the teachers.
- The warm reception given to the announcement of our 2017 Head Girls: Georgie Guest (Head Girl); Kate Scott (Head Day Girl) and Georgia Pitman (Head Boarder).
- ‘Presenting Fairholme’ – a wonderful celebration of our school community and our Year 12 leaders. Congratulations to our academic and special award recipients – may you inspire others to aspire to such achievements. Thank you to our musicians who gave depth and strength to the importance of the evening.
‘Why We Need To Take The Opportunity To Step Back…’ 28 October 2016
The gentle art of ‘letting go’ of our children is quite a feat, isn’t it? Yet there are myriad daily opportunities for us as parents to let go: from the primary school parent who wants to share school lunches at school with his/her child; to the mother who stays up all night to finish her daughter’s assignment; or the father who makes his daughter’s lunch in Year 12 because she’s too busy to do it for herself; or the parent who accompanies their adult child into the workplace … or … We might gasp at the litany of examples, unless we recognise a glimpse of ourselves in the description. After all, as academic Richard Rende reminds us:
(Cartoon from Marriner article, 2016)
“Parents today want their kids spending time on things that can bring them success, but ironically, we’ve stopped doing one thing that’s actually been a proven predictor of success — and that’s household chores.” (Rende, 2015 cited in Li, 2016)
Parents are stepping into spaces their own parents would never have dreamed of inhabiting: smoothing, soothing and taking up the mantle for their children. We are stepping in, rather than stepping back, and the long term effects are not what we are hoping for, according to researchers in the field.
Brisbane clinical psychologist and former teacher, Judith Locke, has written a ‘must read’ parent text – The Bonsai Child, aptly titled as a metaphor for the effect of over parenting. She cautions, “It is so bad for children’s confidence, resilience, resourcefulness and self-regulation when parents step in too much they change the outcome, and the child doesn’t face the consequences of a bad result and learn how to cope.” (Locke, 2015).
As we move into the final weeks of term, with leadership positions being announced and awards being designated, there will inevitably be excitement and disappointment: just like life itself. It may be timely to step back a little from those decisions, and allow our Fairholme girls the opportunity to accept those outcomes with dignity and good grace. In so doing, we enable them to develop the resilience to face future situations that will inevitably be far more difficult and of far greater life consequence.
Locke, J. (2015). The Bonsai Child: Why Modern Parenting Limits Children’s Potential and Practical Strategies to Turn It Around. Judith Locke, Kelvin Grove, Qld.
Marriner, C. (2016) Homework helicopter parents leave kids scared of making mistakes Sydney Morning Herald. 7 August 2016.
Li, S. (2016). It’s all about me, me, me! Why children are spending less time doing household chores The Conversation. October 7 2016.
‘Finishing Well…’ 13 October 2016
I watched the last minute of the game between Cronulla Sharks and Melbourne Storm and truly believed and hoped that a fairytale finish would unfold. It didn’t - despite my optimism. The siren sounded and the scoreboard indicated a well-earned win to the Sharks. I do have to admit disappointment with the result, but admiration for the way in which both teams demonstrated the art of finishing well: a life skill to nurture.
The pinnacle of the football final frenzy was, however, seeing Western Bulldogs’ coach Luke Beveridge passing his premiership medal to Bob Murphy (a medal that has been passed back again to Luke). What unfolded was the story of Bob Murphy’s season - in one sense it ended at the third week mark because of his knee injury. On the other hand it finished with the final siren in the Grand Final match against the Swans because Murphy understood what it means to lead a team, be part of a team, and to finish well. He could have withdrawn from the season, and taken a backseat or shown less enthusiasm for the success of his team than he would have as the on field captain. He didn’t. He led by magnificent example, demonstrating what it means to finish well.
Not surprisingly, when I looked at the absentee data for the final day of Term 3 - I was disappointed, deeply. At Fairholme, in all we do, we seek to build a culture that includes the philosophical underpinning of finishing well. That means, for example: finishing terms well, playing hard until the final whistle sounds, and crafting the final paragraph of an assignment with the same care that we give to the development of an introduction. It means that as staff we are demonstrating to each and every student that in whatever we do, we do it wholeheartedly, until completion. We are teaching an important life lesson - a message to keep going, keep going, and keep going, even when it would be so much easier not to do so.
I know that there were legitimate early departures from the end of term. I know that there weren’t. What I want to emphasise for the future is that teachers teach until the end. There are also often important team-building and culture-building events that close our terms. These occasions are about community or house spirit and the power of the group; they contribute to the special nature of Fairholme. Missing those events and closes matter, if not to the early-leaver, then certainly to their peers, teachers and house members. I sat as an audience member at the Interhouse Choir Competition and could have pinched myself. Student-conducted choirs sang beautifully and confidently. There was unity, purpose and enjoyment – how fortunate to be part of a school community where this happens and happens so well.
Fourth term provides a plethora of opportunities to finish well. We are about to concertina assemblies, concerts, dinners, breakfasts and Church services into a six-week period. Each represents a celebration of a key milestone in a student or a group of students’ time at Fairholme. On each occasion there will have been energy, effort and enthusiasm dedicated to making that event special for all involved. Just like the Interhouse Choir Competition, the Spring Fair, the Valedictory Dinner and Presenting Fairholme. These are community events for celebration and strengthening of our community, and your support makes a difference. Further, they encourage that fundamental life lesson that matters a great deal in the toughest of situations: the importance of finishing well.
Thank you to Bob Murphy and Luke Beveridge for providing an inspirational example of what that means in practice. I trust that Fairholme can and will do better at finishing well this term, and into the future. I thank staff, students and parents for supporting us to do so.
Highlights this week…
- The excitement of returning students and staff and the associated noise levels
- Catching a glimpse of Vicki Wilson Netball, All Schools Touch and Knockout Athletics
- The Crème da La Crème Concert held at USQ on Sunday
- Knowing that Bronte Naylor’s (FOGA 2011) Fairholme mural will begin before this newsletter goes to print
- Looking forward to the 100 years launch on Friday night - the return of some talented Fairholme Old Girls, the launch of past parent Janine Haig’s poem and sharing this with members of the broader Fairholme community.
Holidays 16 September 2016
I’m not sure if I will get to swim in the ocean, walk bare-footed on the sand, or enjoy the sting of sea salt this September, but it is my deeply cherished image of holidays. Not a phone or computer in sight, too many books and not enough time to read them all, and walking - everywhere, preferably with an ice cream in hand. Bliss. Holidays are almost with us and, with this, we have a chance to catch our collective breath, slow down, and redirect our energy.
Non-teaching friends and family will roll their eyes and, through pursed lips, say: ‘Surely you’re not on holidays again?’ They haven’t stood in a classroom or boarding house recently and felt the slow leaching of energy, the reduction in tolerance, or the sometimes overwhelming need to sleep. My own days off will be relished, as will the opportunity to lie in for just a little longer, to read a few more pages of that book I haven’t finished, and when I head to work, to do so at a different pace. Pausing, or changing direction, is good for us, lest we continue to toe the same straight line without looking out to the periphery - it is there that the best ideas and things often lurk.
I know there will be daygirls who take the opportunity to work at their ‘weekend’ job for the two weeks, or Boarders who will be set to work on foot, quad bike or horseback. But the pace will be different, the headspace clearer, and the refreshment through change, palpable. Life will be placed back into perspective before the hectic sprint to the November finish line is upon us. Herewith is our opportunity to switch off, or reduce our technology use - research tells us that even five minutes of intentional reflection or pause each day, makes a huge difference. Let’s not lament our children’s wired habits whilst we tap a text into our smartphone; time to lead by example.
Nor should we feel duty bound to fill our young children’s lives with stimulating activities run by ‘experts’. Edwards (2016) reminds us that ‘over-scheduling kids is a recipe for increasing childhood anxiety.’ Further, Director of Wellbeing for Kids ›, Georgina Manning, notes a recent rapid climb in anxiety and emotional distress in children. ‘Rushing children around and filling every spare moment of their lives with interesting activities doesn’t teach children how to manage stress. It just creates stressed out kids,’ Manning, a registered counsellor and psychotherapist, cautions us (2016). Yet again we are reminded of the importance of children learning to manage boredom, their own time, and playing for fun, or creating things - just for the sake of it.
Wishing each and all some stillness, pause and refreshment - however that looks for you. May it be as nourishing as a swim in the ocean is for me.
Edwards, K. (2016). ‘When did over-scheduling our kids become a sign of good parenting?’ The Sydney Morning Herald. August 30 2016.
On School Closures and Netball Semi-finals… 2 September 2016
Last weekend I donned my winter woollies and spent the day on the sideline of Netball courts and the Touch field. Experienced parent supporters know that Nellie Robinson and Kearneys Spring are the two coldest places in Toowoomba. Amidst the flurry of uniforms, whistles blowing and spectators, I was reminded yet again how important team sport and team activities are: be they sports-based, choirs, orchestras, debating teams or Art groups. Teams teach us so much about ourselves and one another. We can be the strongest player, most inexperienced player, or an injured player... and still learn how to be a great team player.
Given we were approaching imminent closure due to illness, there were, inevitably, some missing players. And so I watched in delight as Holly Ford in Year 5 played skilfully alongside Year 7 and Year 8 students, and in admiration as Ava Marjoribanks played game after game, with resolute determination and without a hint of fatigue. I watched one team play a full four quarters with only six players on the court - there was not a moment of hesitation in their intent. Whilst they lost the game, they walked off with the satisfaction we achieve too rarely in our life, of having done their absolute best.
I saw opposition teams with their shoulders dipped in disappointment part way through the first quarter. Yes, there were some umpire calls that could have gone differently but how often in sport are we reminded to just play the whistle? It led me to wonder how transparent our own attitude and body language are in our daily life when we are faced with a challenge that appears insurmountable. What is it that allows us to persevere with the grit showed by the Fairholme team that played with one player less? Mindset. Researcher and psychologist Carol Dweck’s work in the field of growth mindset verses fixed mindset is well known in educational fields. For good reason. It makes sense, and research supports its basic tenets. Whilst Dweck’s work is related to academic learning, the principles can be extrapolated into other contexts. Yes, even to the Touch field or the Netball court! A growth mindset embraces challenge and refuses a pigeon-holed view of success.
Dweck’s research work of over two decades has shown that the view or perspective we adopt for ourselves, profoundly affects the way in which we lead our lives. Simplistically speaking, this is often termed glass half full, rather than glass half empty.
Her work has extended beyond schools and classrooms and wended its way on to playing fields. She worked with Blackburn Rovers British Premier League performance coach, Tony Faulkner to challenge the fixed mindset of elite Football players. Faulkner sought Dweck’s help to challenge the prevailing British soccer culture view that star players are born, not created. He had found that when players adopt a fixed mindset, they actively resist training and hence underachieve every time they step out to play. Similarly, students who believe they have ‘arrived’ through their own academic prowess, won’t reach their learning potential.
Consider the power of a growth mindset, and the rich surprises that lurk in the folds of potential that cloak each one of us. We could all gain from the grit and tenacity displayed by the Fairholme Netball team that played a whole game, one player short: a team fuelled by the belief that the outcome was firmly within their locus of control. They showed all the qualities of a great team.
Krakovsky, M. (2010). The Effort Effect ›
Popova, M. Fixed vs. Growth: The Two Basic Mindsets That Shape Our Lives ›
“…and he’s done it himself” 19 August 2016
It would be naive of me to consider that there would be any event that has captivated the majority of Fairholme-ites in the past week more than the Rio Olympics. The bonus, of course, was seeing Emilee Cherry and Gemma Etheridge on the podium to receive their Olympic gold medal, knowing that Dominique du Toit was in the shadows, too - so close. The persuasive tones of Advance Australia Fair and the raising of the flag touch a sentimental chord at the best of times, but add two Fairholme girls to the stage and the heart strings are pulled just that little bit tighter.
What a thrill to be onlookers to their success but this was made sweeter by a whisper of insight into the hard work and commitment that led to gold. Every student, parent and staff member (particularly those from the 2004-2010 time period) could feel a bit prouder, stand a bit taller and discuss with a bit more authority the background to that particular medal.
Gemma’s return from injury to make selection is a testament to tenacity beyond comprehension. Yet, when you add to that tenacity, intelligence and determination, and no one should really have been surprised to see her make the team.
Emilee seemed bound for Rio from the time of her announcement as player of the series at the 2014 World Cup. Of course, no one represents their country without a narrative woven with training, practice, injuries, rehabilitation and more training as the central discourse.
We salute Gemma, Emilee and Dominique for making the Rio journey but, most of all, for the time and tenacity that saw them get there; the things they did and didn’t do. Similarly, in speaking of tenacity we can look no further for inspiration than Emily Tapp (2010) who has been selected for the Paralympics in Rio. As I write this, I am aware that a recent injury may prevent her from competing. We send our prayers for a quick and full recovery, Emily, we are bursting pride in your achievement, we’ll be cheering you on to the podium in Rio, if no doubt, Tokyo too.
Somehow, I now want to weave in a paragraph about NAPLAN, and know that it’s a stretch to link it in any way to the Olympics. Nonetheless, I acknowledge the achievements of all students who sat the tests, gruelling and challenging as they are, and our teachers who prepared the girls so well, not specifically for the testing, but in the weeks, months and years leading up to it, by making learning structured, rigorous and enjoyable. To our parents, thank you for all you do to develop your daughters as learners.
Our reading results alone, indicate the time that you have spent encouraging that vital skill, one that is so fundamental to literacy and, I would argue, living well. When Kyle Chalmers was interviewed after his magical 100 metre swim, he spoke with pride about the importance of having his parents and his brother on the sideline, watching him at Rio.
Further, he talked about their influence, and the impetus their support gave him to succeed. NAPLAN results, Olympic gold medals, Netball wins and losses, negotiating friendships … the list goes on – so much of what we achieve can be traced back to the way in which our parents have supported us, challenged us, pushed us on when we have faltered, or simply provided us with the opportunity and belief to get there ourselves.
It is appropriate then, to finish with the words of Kyle’s father, Brett, who has influenced from the sideline, and not on the stage alongside his son:
“It’s quite an achievement, especially at a young age to drive himself that hard,” Brett Chalmers said.
“We’ve never been pushy parents … I’ve said to [him], I’ll drive you there but you’ve got to have the drive to want to succeed, and he’s done it himself.”
What sweet words – “and he’s done it himself”. Here’s to the stories that underpin each and every Olympic success or setback - don’t ever tell me that sport is just about getting sweaty.
‘The Great Debate’ 4 August 2016
We know that our adolescent girls enjoy a good argument, don’t we? Their mastery of persuasion, parental positioning and perception realignment is so impressive that at times it simply takes our breath away (along with our patience, resolve and, regretfully, our bank balance). How delightful then, to have the opportunity to catch our two Year 12 Debating teams in full action last night at the local Queensland Debating Union semi finals. As the luck of the draw would have it, they were pitched against one another.
What a pleasure to sit in a purely parochial crowd and watch each team’s arguments unfold. Their topic: “That Vocational Education subjects (such as Hospitality and Carpentry) should be prioritised over traditional academic subjects in secondary schools”. And as I watched and listened, I was grateful that my own daughter (a highly accomplished argument raiser, even as a fully fledged adult) chose to run herself ragged on Netball courts and Soccer fields instead of further honing her skills of analysis and synthesis.
What dinner conversations there could have been/would have been. Her brother, nonetheless, was an avid debater (still is) – and when I announced at dinner that I was heading off to watch the girls in action he mused, “Oh how I loved a well-timed point of information interjection”. Suddenly, he was ruing his own final debate in Year 12 and the argument that could have been…
Yes, debating is one of the ultimate team sports and I was to be reminded of the inherent worth of knowing how to frame, and express an argument with conviction, logic and (well done, Emily Wilson) an injection of carefully crafted and well-timed humour. As on many occasions, the topic didn‘t matter – it was the unravelling of the argument, the resolute attachment to a point of view, and the respectful, though passionate, unveiling of differing ideas that appealed most. I left with a refreshed appreciation of our teachers who are the girls’ coaches and mentors throughout the debating season, the parents who support their daughter’s co-curricular choice and, of course, the debaters themselves.
To finish with a reframed football cliche: Debating was the winner on the night, and it was… as was Fairholme – we really couldn’t lose, in any sense of the word.
Thank you to all involved.
‘Let them Be Bored…’ 21 July 2016
Your role as a parent is to prepare children to take their place in society. Being an adult means occupying yourself and filling up your leisure time in a way that will make you happy. If parents spend all their time filling up their child’s spare time, then the child’s never going to learn to do this for themselves (Fry, 2016 cited in Hill, 2016).
My mother banned me from uttering the words, ‘I’m bored’, throughout my childhood. Her pat answer was always, ‘Go read a book.’ And I did (albeit with pouted lips, a well-executed eye roll and a foot stomp at times) – and hence I developed a skill, a pastime, and a source of great enjoyment for my entire life.
Holidays always present the best opportunity to devour books but, nonetheless, I cannot imagine a night-time without at least attempting to read a few pages of a novel, biography or journal before falling asleep. My father, alternatively, would tell me to ‘go for a walk, practise your goal shooting or get out into the garden.’
There was simply no tolerance for whining. I am grateful. Clearly, whilst goal shooting is not something I seek out anymore, the idea that I need to get up, get out of my own space and be responsible for my own frame of mind has stayed with me – mostly. Invariably, I’m sure the same words fell from my mouth when my children were young and attempted to pull the ‘I’m borrrrrred’ whine.
Ensuring our children are never bored, are always happy, and always successful seems a bit ridiculous, doesn’t it. Yet it is an enticing trap for the parent who has come to believe that their role as a parent is to respond to their child’s every need with immediacy, that the way to grow self-esteem is ensuring their child is loved a lot, is always happy and is always engaged in life. Locke, Campbell & Kavanagh(2012 cited in Locke, 2015, p. 23) describe this phenomena as ‘extreme responsiveness’ - a condition characterised by:
- Remaining child centred
- Providing an extraordinary childhood of abundance
- Focusing on the child’s emotions
- Always believing the child
- Befriending the child
They warn that the flip side to such extreme responsiveness is a child who expects to always be happy, to always succeed, and thus a child who becomes bereft of the skills required in navigating life itself - a life that is a messy mixture of growth, setback, disappointment and mastery. Maley’s article in this weekend’s Sydney Morning Herald mirrors this point. She states that:
“Images of success, physical and material, these days proliferate in all public and private spaces. Nowhere are children taught that failure, or even a pedestrian lack of success, are a normal part of life, a necessary part.”
Further, an absence of boredom, or an absence of a locus of control, could, according to researcher Dr Teresa Belton, ‘hamper the development of a child’s imagination’ (2013 cited in Richardson, 2013). In extreme circumstances, an inability to fill the uncomfortable feeling of not knowing what to do can lead to impulsive and destructive behaviours. Goetz, from the University of Konstanz in Germany, has recognized five types of boredom: ‘indifferent, calibrating, searching, apathetic and reactant.
The calibrating variety is the good kind. It’s characterised by wandering thoughts and a general openness’ (Maushart, 2014). So here’s to a celebration of calibrating boredom, perhaps in the absence of technology, and allowing our children to develop the understanding that they have choice, and the skill to create and invent, in the absence of immediate and externalised stimulus. Let them be bored - sometimes.
Fry, L., (2016). Children Develop Better When You Let Them Be Bored, Psychologists Say
Hill, D., (2016). Children Develop Better When You Let Them Be Bored, Psychologists Say
Locke, J. (2015). The Bonsai Child: Why modern parenting limits children’s potential and practical strategies to turn it around. Kelvin Grove, Qld.
Maley, J., (2016) ‘We Should Teach our Children How to Fail’ The Sydney Morning Herald. July 16-17, 2016.
Maushart, S. (2014). The Science and Benefits of Boredom. ABC Life Matters
Richardson, H., (2013). Children should be allowed to get bored, expert says
‘Lessons in Accountability’ 16 June 2016
The Stanford University rape case that has, appropriately, gone viral on social media in the last week, raises a number of interesting questions, doesn’t it? It exposes our deep-seated beliefs about males and females and about alcohol consumption. It asks us to play the role of judge and jury in relation to an appropriate consequence for the crime of rape. It reveals the parental need to protect our children from all harm, and, at times, from accountability for actions.
Undeniably, both perpetrator and victim have had the course of their lives irrevocably shaped and damaged through the events that transpired following a ‘Frat’ party in January 2015. ‘Just twenty minutes of action,’ as Brock Turner’s father unfortunately and offensively describes his son’s sexual assault of a female student, has altered their futures. One could argue endlessly about poor decisions made under the influence of alcohol, the ugly culture of entitlement, or whether the judge’s sentencing was right or wrong. As parents, though, we need to ask further questions about our role in supporting our children to be accountable for their actions.
I don’t want to comment on the length of sentence, nor the leniency of the judge; I am not in a position to alter those outcomes. What I do want to ponder on is how this story will be a topic of conversation with my own adult children, because there are powerful lessons implicit. How will this story be utilised with the young men and women who we have a responsibility to educate? Chicago Tribune journalist, Rex Huppke, wrote on June 10 that he is saving the victim’s impact statement to share with his sons when they are old enough to understand what rape is so that he can emphasise that it is ‘only cowards [who] blame rape on alcohol or promiscuity.’ He may remind his sons, when they are of age, that alcohol does not strip women naked, it does not drag them across bitumen roads nor does it commit the crime of rape. People do that. People make those choices. People perpetuate the myth also, that a drunken woman [or man] deserves whatever she [or he] gets.
We could debate with great passion about what is right or wrong in this case. We could make, and no doubt have made, moral judgements about the choices of both victim and perpetrator. And perhaps we need to do so. We need to do so because this is an opportunity to share a deeper conversation with our children, to talk about choice, accountability and consequences. In cases such as these, I am reminded all too poignantly about a particular student who I taught in the past who made catastrophic choices in adulthood, for which he was made accountable. This student’s indulgent, well-meaning parents had removed all accountability and consequences from his life. They were parents who sat in numerous school meetings and lied on behalf of their son in order to save him from hurt, or penalty, or shame. They vociferously blamed others for their own child’s decisions. Their son learned early that in this place of learning, my mother and father will stretch the truth for me, they will lie to protect me, and I don’t have to be accountable, for my actions. Eventually he did have to be accountable and at significant personal cost.
The Stanford University rape case deserves our attention because it is layered in meaning. It is a story of a culture of entitlement, it is the story of consequence, and it is a story tied to the powerful life adage: [We need to] ‘do unto others as you would have them do unto you.’ (Luke 6:31)
Huppke, R. (2016) What my sons will learn from Brock Turner’s rape case at Stanford.›
Osborne, S. (2016) Stanford University rape case: Victim’s letter in full›
‘Too Perfect For Their Own Good?’ 2 June 2016
I think that I may have been raised, erroneously, with the notion that perfectionism was a virtue, rather than a potential vice. My parents spoke in glowing terms of other girls who, according to them, were ‘real’ perfectionists. It seemed a worthy aspiration. Perhaps that’s why I idled away so many hours of my childhood, shooting goals in the backyard. I was seeking ‘netball goal perfection’, literally. Often I was caught in the backyard in close to pitch-black conditions, shooting goals. My mother would call me inside with that slight edge in her tone,
‘Linda it’s time!’
I would call back with some urgency, ‘But I haven’t got to one hundred yet.’
One hundred meant 100 consecutive shots without a miss. It happened – occasionally. Ridiculously, I kept raising the bar with some lofty ideal that maybe, just maybe, I could reach a thousand. It didn’t ever happen and it won’t. Thank goodness for goals that aren’t always reached.
My family’s most feted, embarrassing story about me – the one that seems to get trotted out to strangers all too regularly (hence I’m able to share it with the wider Fairholme community with relative personal immunity) – is about my response to losing a game of Netball for the first time. After a few sweet and successful seasons Linda, as an eleven year old, confronted loss for the first time. Apparently I didn’t do so well with that first experience but thank goodness I had it, and have had experiences like it over and over and over again throughout my life, in a diversity of forums, more often than not with higher stakes than Ironside State School Year 7s losing Taringa State School at Netball.
A life punctuated by many setbacks, failures and errors has led me to a clear understanding that imperfection can be desirable. The doctoral experience is another prime example of learning to deal with one’s imperfections, limitations and academic shortfalls. American psychologist, Carol Dweck tells us that wanting to reach perfection can inhibit learning, and that a growth mindset; one where frustration and setbacks are embraced, will lead to the greatest outcomes of all. Dweck writes and speaks a great deal about the differences between growth mindsets and fixed mindsets, the latter tied all too closely to perfectionism.
Is perfectionism the curse of the 21st century? Has it drawn strength through social media, a space where the individual can manipulate reality on a multiplicity of platforms to construct their own perfection? The ubiquitous selfie, the ability to edit and reconstruct images, the facility to omit detrimental information, all allow each one of us with reasonable technological skill, to present our lives in their most perfect light: airbrushing reality. At the recent Alliance of Girls’ Schools Conference, Elizabeth Broderick (former Anti-Discrimination Commissioner) spoke of the dichotomous world in which our girls live, ‘The perfect girl is smart - but never smarter than a boy, skinny - but active, empowered - but without making it too obvious.’ These are such damaging and conflicting images.
What happens then, when off-line life unravels, when the perfect becomes imperfect and when we fail to achieve the goals that we have set, either implicitly or advertised to all via our social media platforms? Herein lies a line of distinction between the perfectionist and the seeker of excellence – or so writes Carol Dweck. Thus, as parents, we are again called upon to assist our children to navigate that line, to allow failure, embrace mistakes and emphasise that the greatest learning of all comes from the deepest of struggles. As a lecturer at Stanford University, Dweck calls upon her first-year psychology students to write about their life hero and to examine the path taken by that person to achieve heroic status. In years of setting this task, Dweck has never found a student who identified a hero’s smooth run to achievement. Every essay submitted details a road constructed by setback, failure and obstacles. It’s never been effortless to achieve goals that matter.
Nossall (2014) too, reminds us that if our focus is only on what we can get, what accolades we can count, or what certificates we can tally, then we are robbing ourselves of the experiences of effort, along the way. There’s always a next achievement to focus on, so accomplishments provide only fleeting satisfaction on the path to a subsequent goal. Such a mindset is ultimately exhausting, stressful and, in a phrase Nossall (2014) coins, ‘perfectionism is poison’ – literally and metaphorically. Whenever there is heightened distress, the hormone cortisol is released and high levels of cortisol on a frequent basis can have a damaging effect upon psychological and physical health. This hormone interferes with almost every system within the body, including, but not limited to, memory, digestion and heart function. Its constant presence is associated with anxiety and depression. Strive for excellence and not for perfection… it’s a fine line but important to err on the side of striving rather than expecting an errorless existence. ‘The emotional choke-hold of perfectionism’ (Nossall, 2014) requires our attention, lest we become anxious about failure, constantly having to plug the holes in our perfect dam (Dweck, 2013) and developing risk aversion as we go. The mantra if it’s not good enough, then I mustn’t be good enough is the thin line crossed from seeking excellence to wanting to be perfect. It’s the tortured thought that leads to 'stinking thinking' such as:
People won’t like me as much if I get things wrong.
I’m not a worthy person if I make mistakes or fail to achieve a goal.
He/she mustn’t like me because I didn’t get picked for…
The irony of wanting to be perfect is that it stops us from reaching our potential. When we don’t want to make mistakes, we don’t take risks and we thus create a fixed, rather than a growth mindset. In the measure of OP scores which, in some eyes, seem to brand all school-leavers as either perfect or imperfect, it’s good to be reminded of some longitudinal research. It has been found that ten years after leaving school there is no marked achievement difference between single digit OP scorers. No doubt, if there were further research, it would find a plethora of achievers amongst those who attained scores way above a single digit, or who didn’t complete an OP at all. Growth mindset or fixed mindset? Seeker of excellence or seeker of perfection? Perfection: vice or virtue?
It’s good to have erred, stumbled and fallen in a diversity of contexts without having lost sight of one’s goals. It’s good to learn how to fail, gracefully (even when Taringa State School beats you at Netball) and, most importantly, it’s good to pick one’s self up with equal grace and keep going. It’s good to be motivated by learning for growth, rather than by doing things perfectly. It’s good to accept the struggle, rather than rally against it and direct blame at others because it’s difficult. Journalist, Richard Glover, writes in defence of imperfection and its benefits to health and wellbeing, saying, ‘Suddenly, new light is shed on the lack of exercise, the filthy house and the absence of bee keeping. They are all part of a strategy to achieve a more perfect relationship with failure. I'm feeling more perfectly imperfect already. Hope you are too’ (Glover, 2015). Surely, with all this talk of imperfection it’s time to go out and shoot 1000 Netball goals… preferably on nightfall.
Broderick, E. (2016). Presentation at Alliance of Girls Schools’ Biennial Conference. Brisbane. May 23 2016.
Dweck, C. (2013). On Perfectionism ›
Glover, R. (2015). Richard Glover is a proud pioneer for imperfection › The Sydney Morning Herald.
Nossall (2014). Wellbeing notes: Perfectionism and Mindset ›
‘Line Drawing In The Sand’ 19 May 2016
I have watched with interest in the past few days as my children have interacted with their grandparents, who are visiting Toowoomba for a short stay. My [adult] daughter has tried unsuccessfully to argue the benefits of 21st century life to my father who, now in his eighties, sees technology as the root evil of everything wrong in the world. That he uses technology positively on a daily basis has no bearing on his argument. He remains convinced that mobile phones and social media platforms have destroyed the social fabric of our community. That he articulates this vociferously whilst simultaneously using his iPad to check the latest scores of his golf buddies in Sydney is an irony that escapes him.
But he continues to share wisdom on other matters. When my daughter argues that his generation paved the way for the freedoms and choices of the current generation, he cringes. When she tries to soften his antagonism to any ideas that differ from his own, by saying, ‘Mum still rings you for advice,’ I listen in for his response.
‘Only when it is an area that she thinks I have better knowledge or experience of,’ he contends.
Perhaps he is right. I do value his astute insights and simple truisms that are often entirely accurate:
‘People will be people, what do you expect?’
‘There is no short cut to wisdom, Linda, you simply have to live through it.’
‘Get up, play on and stop feeling sorry for yourself. You’ve chosen this job – it didn’t choose you.’
The older I get, the more I value the fact that my parents were very good at drawing the line in the sand – much better than me – and much better than the general populace, it would seem. When I left home at age nineteen, I left – independently and independent. Terms such as ‘boomerang kids’ (my own children fall neatly into this category), ‘a failure to launch’ or ‘emerging adulthood’didn’t exist, yet they are a 21st century phenomenon and one that sociologists, social researchers and psychologists warn us is indicative of a new time and a new era. Beware, despite the parenting handbook finishing at your child’s 18th birthday, it would seem that we are likely to be negotiating parameters with our children for a much longer period of time. Whether returning home is ‘a rational response to a radically different, confusing post-industrial economy’ (Arnett, 2014), or simply a safe place to regather financial resources, the reality is that technology (yes, Dad, you are right sometimes) has changed the social fabric and disrupted the linear world in which so many of us have grown up; life is uncertain and so, too, is employment.
Nonetheless, some line drawing in the sand is part of our parental responsibility, whether our children are six years old or twenty-six years old. Social researcher, Mark McCrindle (2012), cautions that boomerangers can easily fall back into old patterns and take advantage of mum and dad.’ Thus, like all situations in parenting where tensions escalate, or where parents are being exploited by and for the benefit of their children, there needs to be a conversation, and parents need to take the lead in articulating and reinforcing expectations. Too much generosity, flexibility or rescuing may lead to avoidance of conflict but will also contribute to ‘frustration, dependency and immaturity’ (Lane, 2016). Financial planner, Claire Mackay, cautions that when adult children fall into debt and parents rescue them, then ‘bailing them out isn't a gift, it's prolonging the issue.’
Extrapolate that concept into everyday family living, irrespective of the age of our children, and the message is the same. We need to set clear expectations and boundaries, and be prepared to articulate them repeatedly. Soothing, smoothing and rescuing may make us feel kind at the time and may even reinforce our sense of parental self, but ultimately such behaviours rob our children of independence, resilience and empowerment. ‘Hand-outs don't tend to foster good behaviour patterns’ (Lane, 2016).
Oh the joys of parenting in the 21st century…
Davidson, A. (2014). It’s Official: The Boomerang Kids Won’t Leave ›
Lambert, O. (2015). Children are staying in the family home for longer ›
Lane, G. (2016). Why ‘the bank of Mum and Dad’ isn’t helping anyone ›
Power, J. (2012). Boomerang kids: are babyboomers stuck with babygloomers? ›
‘Do it Anyway’ 6 May 2016
It’s Sunday afternoon and I am reading short stories written by some of the Year 12s in the English class that I share with Ms Hobson. I come to one narrative based upon the Australian Story episode, ‘Children of a Lesser God’ and I am reminded of the words, ‘feel the fear and do it anyway.’ This is the title of a self-help book by Dr Susan Jeffers; more significantly, it is also the mantra of Tara Winkler, a twenty-eight-year-old Australian woman who left a fledgling career in the film industry in Sydney to start up an orphanage in Battambang, Cambodia. There is a story in between, of course – there always is. ‘Children of a Lesser God’ captures some of the account of a young woman who struggled with depression throughout her adolescence, became disillusioned with her choice of career and found purpose in the poverty of a third-world country, at the age of nineteen. It happens. Of course, it is more likely to happen when someone lives by their own mantra – ‘feel the fear and do it anyway.’
I’ve seen a bit of that mantra in action this weekend, not in a mirror of Tara Winkler’s life but in some of the activities of our Fairholme students. A brief sojourn at the Goondiwindi show on Saturday allowed me to share the excitement of some equestrian events. Our equestrian captain, Meg Gillan, and her sister Becky Gillan were in fine form and so, too was last year’s equestrian captain, Loretta Morris. As always, I am struck by their pluck, their mastery of fear, as they approach jump after jump and the fact that they do it exceptionally well. One dropped rail can undo the effects of a remarkably fast round, one stubborn horse can place a rider at risk and an unlucky approach can mean the difference between placing or not placing – they do it anyway.
Jettison forward to Saturday night and I am sitting amidst sequins, feathers and furs at this year’s Limelight Concert: what a delight. From the polished skill of our Dance Eisteddfod team to quirky and clever duologues, an Abba remix with the backing of our Chamber Strings, the pinnacle performance of our Chamber Choir and a diversity of speciality acts in between, there must have been some fear – but they did it anyway. As is the case for Tara Winkler, there is a narrative underpinning each and every performance, one punctuated by practice, practice and more practice and, invariably, some doubts and fear in between.
Scott Sabile writes in the Huffington Post on the same topic. He describes friends who are paralysed by fear, locked into situations that are psychologically crippling because there is safety in the known. Sabile states, ‘The painfully familiar. I know that place well. It’s one of fear’s favourite playgrounds.’ How refreshing then, to see such prime examples of Fairholme girls doing the familiar, in an unfamiliar context, or in a context where the pressure to win pushes a surge of adrenalin that can sometimes be interpreted as fear. I have no doubt that when Chloe Randall set off in her race at the Queensland All Schools Cross Country Championships there was a huge surge of adrenalin coursing through her body – call it fear, call it excitement, or call it opportunity… Those who embrace risk, struggle and the unfamiliar also embrace opportunities for growth, learning and improvement: a platform for new possibilities. And, as is the case for Tara Winkle, a platform that opens doors that might otherwise seem permanently locked.
Of course, as parents and our children’s first and constant teachers, we bear that hefty responsibility to set a good example: to confront our fears and do that which we are afraid of – when have you ‘felt the fear and done it anyway’? Each time you do so, you encourage your children to do the same.
‘Once a Fairholme Girl always a Fairholme Girl even in Tokyo…’ 22 April 2016
Even in the enormity of the Tokyo skyline, there is a portion of Fairholme in existence. I had the pleasure of travelling to Japan in the first week of the Easter holidays, to visit our sister schools, some recent old girls, and to make links with interested schools and organisations. As well, there was the added dimension of experiencing the delight of the cherry blossom season. The highlight, though, was connecting with past students and to meet three of our four incoming students who will join us in Term Three of this year. It was the chorus of comments such as,‘Fairholme has been the most important part of my schooling.’ Or … ‘I miss Fairholme so much.’ Or … ‘I want to go back [to Fairholme], and visit my friends,’ that struck a chord with me. Therein was an insight into the profound effect of experiencing another culture, exploring another language, and travel. The cliché, ‘Once a Fairholme girl, always a Fairholme girl,’ kept playing through my consciousness. We exist in Tokyo.
The Fairholme effect was most evident at Joshi Segakuin, the school from which four to five students have been joining us since 2013, for Term Three. I met with staff, girls who had been with us last year, and girls who will join us this year. The ‘Old Girls’ shared transition tips, advice for maximising their learning experiences but, most of all, and no doubt most comforting of all, they shared their enthusiasm for Fairholme. They spoke of the kindness and inclusivity of their Fairholme sisters and friends, the patience of teachers and the importance of embracing the opportunity to learn English in the context of Toowoomba. There was animated discussion about cuisine: meat pies, lamingtons and sandwiches seemed to be the favourite fare. It was a precious exchange to observe.
Some snatched time last term allowed me to be an occasional (though invariably ill-prepared, without homework completed) student in the Year 10 Japanese class – to wrestle with a new language, become fascinated by the Japanese culture and to become better equipped for my brief sojourn to Tokyo, Nagoya and Osaka. Thank you to the Year 10 Japanese class – girls and Sensei Friend, you have been wise and very patient teachers. American psychologist, Jo-Ann Deak uses the metaphor of stretched rubber bands to represent learning. Last term, my rubber bands were stretched, pulled sideways and elongated beyond my comfort zone: and I loved it. I loved the girls being more expert than me, I loved their willingness to share Japanese language and culture tips and I actually loved the struggle.
My fascination with words and their construction (albeit this time in Japanese) was indulged and I was reminded yet again of the value of learning a second language – not just for travel purposes, or for cultural understanding (though these are valid and important reasons), but because it makes learners think. Research is very clear about the important cognitive stretch and growth that occur through learning a language other than our own. Struggle, challenge and intellectual discomfort are important precepts that underpin maximisation of thinking and learning development. Language learning positively affects our capacity to achieve in other subjects.
Thus I have joined the ranks of other Japan aficionados and eagerly await the arrival of our exchange students from Jissen Joshi Gakuin, in August, as well as our four Fairholme girls from Joshi Segakuin who will join us in Term Three. I have a renewed sensitivity to the importance of smoothly structured transitions and a growing appetite to learn just a little more of the language.
Beware, Year 10 Japanese students, that laggard student may just revisit your classroom from time to time. Most of all, I retain those insights into the reality of that cliché: ‘Once a Fairholme girl, always a Fairholme girl.’ I encourage us all to place value on inclusivity, patience and kindness – virtues identified by young Old Girls living in Japan, as part of our culture. How important it is that we extend these beliefs to all who are part of our community, not just to those who are new, visiting, or short-term students. If it is what we value, then we must embed it in our daily practices within all parts of our school, consistently.
To our Fairholme families wishing to host students from Jissen Joshi Gakuin, for a two-week period in August, can I encourage you to express your interest, even at this early stage, by contacting Mrs Jody Friend firstname.lastname@example.org what a valuable opportunity for all! You may be aware that some remuneration is given to assist with homestay expenses.
‘I’m a woman and I travel alone.’ #ViajoSola 18 March 2016
Every time we rescue, hover, or otherwise save our children
from a challenge, we send a very clear message: that we believe
they are incompetent, incapable, and unworthy of our trust.
Further, we teach them to be dependent on us and thereby deny
them the very education in competence we are put here on this
earth to hand down.
Lahey, J. The Gift of Failure: How the Best Parents Learn to Let Go So Their Children Can Succeed
International Women’s Day has been and gone for another year. At Fairholme we marked the day by challenging girls to dress up as a woman of significance, someone who has inspired them to do better, or be better. Mums will be thrilled to know that they featured highly in the dress ups. Despite how that relationship feels at times, there is no doubt that daughters take a strong lead from their mothers. Thus we carry the burden of having to be careful what we say, how we act and react because our girls are learning from us, even when we are least aware. I would argue that they watch all of the significant adults in their lives, irrespective of gender - dads don’t think for a moment that you are off the hook in terms of setting an example.
Having attended a YWCA International Women’s Day function, I was invited to think about the challenges that our girls face, because of gender. Not one to seek out gendered barriers, perhaps I sometimes miss the subtleties and nuances of discrimination that emerge in the most unlikely of contexts: my own home. Forgive me a personal example, I hope that it can be extrapolated further than the Evans household. In 2014 - 2015 my son Mitchell travelled to India and the Philippines for the greater part of six months. For a large proportion of that time he travelled solo and often on a budget of $10 a day. Currently his older sister Natalie is trekking in Machu Picchu in South America - also solo.
But the response to my daughter’s decision to travel solo has been so markedly different that I simply must stand up and take note. On her own? She’s crazy. Gosh – I would never do that. Responses from friends and family range from horror, incredulity and just occasionally, admiration for her courage. There’s a fair share of pity too, for my failure as a mother to keep my daughter ‘safe’ from the lurking horrors of the world beyond her home. With Mitchell, younger and less travel-savvy there was barely a shoulder shrug, as if somehow his wanderings were entirely acceptable and even inevitable. And so I’m attending to my own reactions more closely too – aware of my heightened anxiety when I don’t hear from Natalie for days, my tendency to want to add ‘travel safe’ to every text message and email that I send, and the inconsistencies of my outlook on her travel, compared to Mitchell’s.
Thus when we read of the tragedy of the two 21 year-old female backpackers who were murdered whilst travelling in Ecuador, apparently taking up an offer of accommodation for the night from male friends of friends of friends, do we run too quickly to the old clichés just because the victims were female? Jessa Crispin in writing ‘Trying to scare women away from travelling alone won’t keep them safe’, talks about being in Athens when an American woman’s body was found in Istanbul. She described emails sent to her from friends and family with clenched jaw, and “stay safe” messages scrawled tersely across as headers. Local lawyer, Adair Donaldson when working with our Fairholme girls often rails against their default position of asking questions like these (below) of their peers who find themselves in a difficult situation with a male.
‘What clothes were you wearing?’
‘Why were you alone?’
‘Why would a woman travel alone?’
‘You got into a dangerous neighbourhood, what did you expect?’
‘You asked for it, don’t you realise?’
‘What were your parents thinking - allowing you to travel alone?’
How long does it take us to think of the actions of the perpetrators, when do we become incensed that anyone, irrespective of gender might have their travel plans cut short because of an irretrievable, unpardonable breach of trust and act of violence? Yes, many of us think differently about women travelling alone, than we do about men - don’t we? 'There’s still part of our culture that believes women should stay at home where they will be safe (Crispin, 2016).' I’m mindful of this I find that I am in regular conversation with myself, trying to shift the default paradigm of bubble wrapping my daughter from afar. It’s a futile exercise after all, she is beyond my influence or intervention, like it or not, she is in control of her choices, not me. Is she any less safe in Bolivia than Sydney? Perhaps…
Imagine this: your daughter (albeit 26 years old and old enough to know better) lets you know that she will be spending her birthday money riding the Death Road in Bolivia. You immediately regret your generous well-meaning deposit of birthday dollars into her bank account and would like to put an immediate block on all bank transitions. You find yourself looking up fares to Bolivia and wondering if a quick flight across the Pacific might put a halt on your daughter’s impulsivity. Distressingly, you start google searches Bolivia + Death Road + bike rides and come across information such as: 'It [Death Road] begins at 15,400 feet and for an estimated 300 people a year ends in the loss of their life.' Or …'Dubbed 'El Camino de la Muerte' (The Death Road) by locals, for obvious reasons, and considered by many the most dangerous stretch of road in the world, the 40-mile journey from its summit entices in excess of 25,000 mountain bike riders annually.'
You chastise (yet again) yourself for poor parenting and raising a daughter who is confident enough to travel solo in South America. You wonder, again, what you have done wrong. You long for a quiet, complacent, compliant daughter - like the one everyone else seems to have. So you send a text: 'Feeling ill about your bike ride.' She sends one back: 'It will be fine. I promise. It is something that just about every backpacker does in La Paz.' There is no comfort in that and you cringe inwardly at the phrase, 'just about everyone does it' and you ponder about the enduring influence of peer pressure. But you take a deep breath and remind yourself that she is an adult, it is her decision, not yours and you pray - a lot. You also have a sleepless night - although your husband doesn’t - he simply mumbles as he drifts off to a deep slumber: 'she’s really good on a bike.' That’s no comfort, because you can see those headlines and statistics that you have over-googled and images of sheer cliffs and narrow descents roll with clarity and frequency through your overwrought brain.
You receive the long anticipated and overdue email to say she has survived but instead it says: “I’m so annoyed!!! It cost $200 and we can‘t refund but I also don‘t think it is worth waiting around for whenever the roads open so I will head towards Peru tomorrow. Such is life.” You can barely hold back your excitement and it takes great presence of mind and some graciousness to say: “Thank God. Sorry for you Nat but relieved for me.” The relief is enormous but, in a perfect piece of parent positioning there is a twist in the storyline. The next evening a facebook message (notice different technology mediums used for each parent) to her father says:
How are you
I did death road today! We were able to change our tour
It was one of the greatest things I've ever done in my life
No injuries or death
Perhaps the intention was always to ride the road - but she knew what was best to tell her mother and what to tell her father. Partial truth and positioning skills were cleverly in play. It’s an interesting paradox isn’t it - how hard should we or can we hold on to our children, at what age can we and do we set them down to walk alone? Who is better at it [the letting go] in your family?
I am proud of my daughter’s fierce independence, though it scares me at times. I admire her fearlessness and her courage, though I pray for common sense and yes, safety. I know the struggle to let go needs to be mine - not hers and that ultimately, I want her to develop competence as an individual, a woman and a human being. It’s the same wish that I have for our Fairholme girls - that they too might become independent, courageous young women of the world: a world that is wider, more interconnected, and more accessible than ever before. So forgive us on the occasions when we as teachers stand back a little, or when we resist the instinct to rescue, or when we fight the urge to hover… remembering that we too want your daughter to know that she is capable, competent and worthy of our trust. We too would like your daughters to have the freedom to travel solo - both literally and metaphorically, and hence enjoy the sometimes taken for granted opportunities their brothers access without these limitations.
I'm a woman and I travel alone. #ViajoSola
‘Learning to do hard things’ March 2016
When American educational researcher Jim Stigler was 19 he went to Japan to study teaching methods, specifically, he wanted to note any evident differences between eastern and western classrooms (Spiegel, 2012). Of greatest interest to him was the way in which these two cultures approach struggle within the classroom context. He cited an example of his own discomfort when he sat in on a Year 4 class working at drawing three-dimensional cubes on paper. It was the student who was really struggling with the concept who was chosen to demonstrate his cube interpretation on the board. Spiegel was anxious, perspiring, and pre-empting imminent tears and drawing refusal. What followed was the unexpected opposite. The young boy drew, made errors, received periodic feedback from his peers about his drawing and, by the end of the lesson, had mastered the skill to the satisfaction of teacher and peers who spontaneously applauded his efforts. See www.npr.org ›
The student persisted through the struggle. He experienced agency in his learning and, importantly, self-efficacy, a state which psychologist Albert Bandura (1977, 1986, 1997) identified in the development of his social learning theory as critical to motivation, and self-belief about control over one’s behaviour. In learning terms, self-efficacy is fundamental to students who challenge themselves because of intrinsic, rather than extrinsic motivation. These students accept struggle as part of learning, rather than rallying against it, or avoiding any task where ‘failure’ or error might occur. They implicitly undertake ‘productive failure’ (Kapur, 2015), in order to accomplish a goal or outcome.
Having spent a morning at the Music Camp on the weekend and been privileged to listen to the impressive culmination of hours of work, rehearsal and invariably mistake-making, I was struck again by the importance of struggle. The concert session was a celebration of skill and also of practice, practice and more practice: practice that has been characterised by struggle, mistakes and slip-ups. Similarly, if we were to be privy to the Broncos pre-season training, for example, we would see hours dedicated to the repetition of skills from simple through to complex. We would observe dropped footballs, failed tackles and flawed moves. No-one would pack up and leave because it was too hard - they would no doubt, grit their teeth and persevere through the struggle in order to achieve their goals, or the team’s goals, or those of their coach.
So much good is born of struggle. Yet why do we rail against it so fiercely? Why do we as parents jump in so quickly to rescue, resolve and reconcile situations that we perceive as difficult for our children? Our protective instinct kicks in at speed, blinds us to other perspectives and before we know it we have taken full responsibility for a situation that our child has found themselves within, or more often than not, deliberately placed themselves within. We soothe, we smooth and, sadly, at times, “we steal their struggle and thus we steal the opportunity for them to build self-confidence.”
Perhaps we would be well-placed to take a step back, or at least to the side, on the next occasion we move a little too quickly to soothe and smooth the bumps for our children. Perhaps we might undertake the advice of educational researcher, Brad Ermeling who advocates for asking questions more, and providing answers less. “What is the task asking you to do?” “What do you know about the topic?” What parts can you complete first?”
Whilst I was negotiating my way along the Caloona Boomi Road, I was comparing my efforts to the learning struggles taking place in classrooms, on sporting fields, in music practice rooms and in friendship groups. Thank goodness for those struggles. What would be the purpose of a school that didn't replicate in some ways, its wider society? How would we be developing self-confidence, harnessing motivation and experiencing self-efficacy in working towards important outcomes, if there weren’t some productive failures along the way? After all, as Dr Sylvia Rimm reminds us: “… [children] must learn to do hard things to feel good about themselves.” So here’s to some stepping back and to the side, on the next occasion our rescue reflex presents itself with too much good intent. Here’s to the power of struggle!
Ermeling, B., Hiebert, J. and Gallimore, R. (2015). Beyond Growth Mindset: Creating Classrooms for Meaningful Struggle. Education Week Teacher. Published online: December 7 2015. edweek.org
Kapur, M. (2015). Learning from productive failure. Learning: Research and Practice. Vol. 1, Iss. 1, 2015
Spiegel, A. (2012). Struggle For Smarts? How Eastern And Western Cultures Tackle Learning ›