Principal’s Insights 2017

‘Golden Silence’ 29 March 2017

Holidays are nudging, and the prospect of pausing from the routine of school life entices us all: the restoration of energy levels beckons. For some, it means returning home to the property and thus a short season of work; for others it’s possibly a season of sleep; and others, like me, will board a plane to Tokyo on Saturday morning. Whatever the circumstance, holidays present us with the opportunity to do our daily routine differently; including the way we use technology. For most, it means more time with our children – a blessing and, quite honestly at times, a challenge, particularly with our adolescent girls who sometimes see the world a little differently from us.

A recent article in the Sydney Morning Herald entitled ‘As a parent, sometimes staying silent is the best way to show your support’ (Star, 6 March 2017) seems timely at the onset of the holiday period. Whilst the article (and it’s well worth reading, see reference details) is superficially about dealing with a daughter’s disappointments in losing a much - coveted Soccer Grand Final; the idea of silence being a golden form of communication was also a clear underlying thread. The article’s author, Nancy Star, describes her decision to not comment on the team’s unexpected loss until her daughter initiated conversation. ‘The goal of [her] silence wasn’t to prevent conversation. It was to give [her] daughter space to initiate it’, Star (2017) remarked.

Her approach was prompted by the sage counsel of another seasoned parent who had shared his wisdom with Star. As she trudged back to the car, trying not to show her own disappointment, she observed other mothers consoling their daughters and was desperate to do so too. Nonetheless, wise parent Peter’s words kept her lips tightly closed. Herewith Star’s observations:

‘A moment later I noticed her teammates walking with their parents, mothers mostly, who offered words of consolation. ‘Are you okay?’ and ‘You played well,’ and ‘There‘s always next time.’ To me the words sounded gentle and kind.

The girls did not agree. ‘No,’ they snapped, and ‘I sucked,’ and ‘There won’t be a next time.’

By the time we reached the car, every daughter except mine was crying and the mums were, understandably, annoyed and lashing back. ‘Why are you yelling at me?’ and ‘Being upset is no excuse for being rude.’

Silence can be golden, as can silent empathy. Sometimes the last word is never the last word. It becomes a competition to have the final say, to be right, and to ensure that our daughters also know that we are right. Conversely, those with determined daughters will have experienced the reverse scenario too: it’s not a good platform for a successful shared holiday. Perhaps the practice of silence presents a good opportunity for us all.

Here’s to holidays and an enjoyable change from the routine of school; to moments of silence; to technology-free dinner conversations and reverence to the fact that we have two ears and just one mouth. I know that the students travelling to Japan along with Mrs Friend, Mr Goodsell, Mr Zarb, Mr Evans and I will be enjoying their change of routine; technology-free meals and an opportunity to quietly absorb a very different culture. May we all return to Term 2 refreshed, energy levels restored, and with a readiness for the activities ahead.

Wishing you each and all safe travels and the blessings of Easter.

References:
Star, N. (2017). ‘As a parent, sometimes staying silent is the best way to show your support.’ Sydney Morning Herald. 6 March 2017. www.smh.com.au ›

‘The Power Of Choice’ 23 March 2017

Our parenting decisions count, they count especially in those difficult situations when it is important that we don’t just take the path of least resistance. Our challenge, Joanne Fedler wrote in 2012 is to raise socially conscious children in a materialistic world that is neither their fault, nor of their making. She stressed that “what everyone else is doing” is not always what we want them to be doing and thus there are occasions where we need to tackle the hard conversations, to set boundaries and to find safeguard mechanisms that allow our children to be social but sensible.

I read with despair, today’s much telegraphed story about a fifteen year old girl from Sydney who was raped at a party by a boy of the same age. She was unconscious, too drunk to know, until later, when a film of the rape taken by another boy was distributed to fifty of his closest friends. We can climb our moral high horse and rail against males; girls who drink too much and parents who enable that opportunity – perhaps we can do that with absolute confidence in the moral infallibility of our children, perhaps not. However, we can also all pause and reflect upon our responsibilities to continue to converse with our girls. We can use this as a teachable moment.

Alcohol, sexual activity and parties are not new concepts, though as parents we sometimes think that they are. We bury our heads in the quicksand of denial and think, not my daughter – that happens to someone else’s daughter. This did happen to someone else’s daughter: a fifteen year old girl whose life will never be the same again. Similarly, the boy who committed the rape, the boy who filmed the action, and the boys who accepted the footage also face life that won’t be the same, ever again. One choice, and in this case one appalling choice, can alter the course of life and there is no platitude, court action or rewrite of the moment that can change their reality. Local lawyer, Adair Donaldson has presented on multiple occasions to our Fairholme students around the potential impact of one poor choice.

Journalist Graham Richardson in his article ‘Incident reflects badly on parents’ (‘The Australian’, p.9, 22 March 2017) reflects on the gravity of an incident which two decades ago would have been hushed away by the parties involved, seen as a shameful occurrence, or whispered about in muted tones. In 2017 this incident has been distributed via the web; indelibly and permanently etched somewhere in cyberspace memory and hence the memory of thousands and thousands. Richardson doesn’t miss us in his article. He reminds us, somewhat pointedly, that as adults and parents we are very quick to finger point away from ourselves – we despair over the negligent parents who allow their children to roam the streets unattended in ‘those’ suburbs; we shake our heads in pious judgement at the problems of Indigenous youth in some communities, yet often fail to look in our own backyards, metaphorically speaking, at the things that we do, or don’t do, that enable situations as occurred in Sydney to happen to us, or those we know.

Creating a risk-free environment for our children simply isn’t possible. Adolescents by nature seek to define themselves separately from their parents; align with their peer group over adults; and take risks. In doing so, they make mistakes and poor choices and as parents we can choose those times as teachable moments or we can cover them up, apportion blame elsewhere and minimise the effect of those choices. Sometimes however that’s just not possible. Such is this case. For the students, and hence parents involved there is no turning time backwards. I am sure they wish they could. I can only imagine the turmoil, the distress, and the recriminations; none of which change what happened. Aspersions against the schools of these students have been cast, no doubt some members of the public have taken great delight in doing so. Mud does stick and the actions of a few, affect so many.

The power of choice

I am reminded of the Stanford University rape case - where perpetrator and victim had the course of their lives irrevocably shaped and damaged through events that transpired following a ‘Frat’ party in January 2015. “Just twenty minutes of action,” as Brock Turner’s father offensively and unfortunately described his son’s sexual assault of an unconscious woman. The victim wrote an open letter describing the impact of Turner’s actions. At the time, Chicago Tribune journalist, Rex Huppke, wrote that he was saving the victim’s impact statement to share with his sons when they were old enough to understand what rape is so that he could emphasise that it is ‘only cowards [who] blame rape on alcohol or promiscuity.’ I trust that he will also 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.

In the tragic case that crept its way onto page nine of ‘The Australia’ today – we see that it is newsworthy but, by its placement, not considered essential news. Whilst page nine might not reach a plethora of readers, the social media frenzy will. Yet this is news that is important to note, because for those families affected, life has turned into an unexpected and frightening chapter. Here is a teachable moment for us, an opportunity to share this story and the consequences with our children – to discuss the way that choice can affect outcomes in life, sometimes irrevocably.

So what can we do in practical terms when we face the dilemma of parties and gatherings? A wise parent in America has created a social trend through his own creativity. He and his children have shaped a choice option – a code his children can use when they find themselves in a difficult or unsafe social situation that they cannot navigate out of. His children send a one word text code to their father and he replies with a text, ‘Please be out the front in fifteen minutes, something has happened at home and I need to pick you up, urgently.” It is a ‘save face’ mechanism where his children can opt out of a difficult situation, with dignity. Clearly, it is not a fail-safe mechanism that can put in use multiple times but it is indicative of a respectful joint understanding between parent and child. The idea has been adopted by thousands of American parents.

A tragic situation in Sydney has occurred. Sadly, it’s not a new story, or a new situation but social media adds its own new cruel and dangerous twist. The ripple effects will be felt by many, for a lifetime. As parents who care, we therefore need to tackle the hard conversations, set boundaries, and find safeguard mechanisms that allow our children to be social but sensible. We also need to exercise and demonstrate wise choices in our own lives and thus support our own daughters and sons, to do the same. There is no easy or magic formula to ‘teaching about choices,’ alas I wish there were. I admit, however, that this story hit a deep chord for me as a parent, a teacher and a principal – I hope for those who had time to read these reflections, that there are some threads of relevance for you too.

References:
Huppke, R. (2016) What my sons will learn from Brock Turner’s rape case at Stanford. Chicago Tribune www.chicagotribune.com ›

Osborne, S. (2016) Stanford University rape case: Victim’s letter in full. The Independent www.independent.co.uk ›

Richardson, G. (2017). ‘Incident reflects badly on parents’. The Australian. 22 March 2017, p.9.

‘Language Matters’ 17 March 2017

“When I use a word,” Humpty Dumpty said in a scornful tone, “it means just what I choose it to mean - neither more nor less.”

(Carrol, 1872, p.124 in Astington & Baird, 2005, p.4)

It can be argued that language matters and that it shapes thought. Dr Malcolm Davies, consultant from ‘Learning at Work’ who has begun to work with Fairholme in the development of its next strategic plan, would concur. As this newsletter goes to print he will have worked with staff, leadership team members, the Board of Directors, P&F, alumni and some small student groups – all in order to get an initial sense of Fairholme. There is more consultation to come.

He will be engaged with our school community often in the next few months, as he provokes, challenges and ultimately guides our planning into the next five years of Fairholme. As a participant in a number of the sessions that have been run, I know that for Malcolm, the language we use to describe our school matters a great deal. When we describe our school in print, each word matters because its meaning is often value-laden and can be interpreted or misinterpreted differently by each reader. We can, just like Humpty Dumpty, choose what it means and we also seek some universal understandings about Fairholme now – and into the future: a Future of uncertainties and possibilities.

Similarly, in our everyday responses to the situations that confront, or even affront us - we choose the language and intonation to shape and construct our response. We choose the glass half-empty or the glass half-full, as the cliché goes. In responding to the meaning of a conversation, an email, or a text, we choose to climb rapidly up the ladder of inference, or we don’t. The choice is ours. When we focus on the negative we subscribe in psychological terms to negative filtering (Brausen, 2014). When we do so, we are akin to the elite athlete who performs at an outstanding level and receives a plethora of positive feedback from teammates, coaches and fans but who focuses, almost obsessively, on the one piece of information that is slightly critical.

Words have power

In an age where the 20 to 30-something year olds have been coined as ‘the snowflake generation’ it is time to consider the way we enable, entitle or empower our children. How do we encourage them to choose words carefully and robustly, particularly their internal dialogue? Because if we don’t, if we soothe and smooth too much, we might find ourselves in a situation where life’s reality is filtered to such a point that, as at Glasgow’s Strathclyde University, where ‘students of forensic science are warned at the beginning of some lectures that sensitive images involving blood patterns, crime scenes and bodies etc will be in the presentation’ (Utley, 2017). In simple terms, we need, as do our children, a more resilient worldview and an ability to filter and reframe that which is confronting.

On a daily basis we are surrounded by people who choose (or don’t choose) their language carefully, not just in an explicit sense but also through their implicit self-talk. The soft whisper inside our head in a difficult situation that directs us to speak out or to remain silent, matters. The choices we make in our own self-talk when confronted with disappointment or, worse than that, a shameful situation – matter a great deal. The way we speak to others and, importantly, the way we speak to ourselves directs us unerringly to perspective of life, and inevitably to our sense of self. It is why, on last week’s assembly I reminded the senior girls as they enter their first significant period of formal assessment for the year, of the words of Australian Hockey player – Nikki Hudson. Nikki, along with her Hockeyroo team mates worked from the mantra of John F Kennedy: ‘We do these things not because they are easy but because they are hard’ and extrapolated them to an individual phrase: ‘I choose to do this because it’s hard, not because it’s easy.’

The language we use does matter. It affects the way we think, feel, and ultimately perceive our world. Importantly, our self-talk is the starting point for that perception. May our Fairholme girls become masters of positive filtering, of perseverance and resilient thinking that pushes them onwards when situations are difficult, challenging and confronting: ‘I choose to do this because it’s hard, not because it’s easy.’ Or … ‘I choose to do this because it is the right thing to do, the kind thing to do, the appropriate thing to do.’

Like Humpty Dumpty, they do, as do we, have the agency to make such choices - on a daily basis.

References:
Brausen, B. (2014). Seeing the Glass Half Full. Premier Sports Psychology www.premiersportpsychology.com ›

Clark, D. (2015). Your Negative Self-talk has Power. Choose Your Words Carefully. Speech transcript. www.iwillnevergiveup.com ›

Why Language Matters for Theory of Mind. (2005) Edited by Janet Wilde Astington, Department of Human Development and Applied Psychology, Ontario Institute for Studies in Education, University of Toronto, Canada, and Jodie A. Baird, Department of Psychology, Villanova University, USA books.google.com.au ›

Utley, T. (2017). The most maddening thing about Generation Snowflake? They’re too bone idle to go out and buy the milk. Daily Mail. Australia. www.dailymail.co.uk ›

‘To Skip’ 3 March 2017

Skipping as a form of exercise and means of movement is as old as the Bible. It is mentioned in several places: for instance, Songs of Solomon says, “Behold he comes leaping upon the mountains, skipping upon the hills.” (Goldberg, 2011).

The whole school picnic cemented in my mind, the value of time without technology. On our inaugural whole school picnic morning we were treated to live music by some talented Fairholme girls, an artist in residence - thank you Leisl Mott, beautifully packed hampers and… skipping. Against the backdrop of the Spring Bluff there was a sense of a time warp, or perhaps Fairholme’s own Picnic at Hanging Rock. Fortunately, there were no missing students in wafty white dresses, and soon after midday as we headed back on our fleet of six buses; everyone, it seemed, was quite chuffed by the experience.

There was enlightenment and epiphany - ‘chill-out time’ is underrated. This notion was reinforced during a recent listening tour conducted by National Children’s Commissioner Megan Mitchell, who discovered (not surprisingly) that ‘above all else’, children crave ‘chill-out time’ with their families. She found that children, just like us, feel too rushed and that there is simply too much on (Bita, 2016). Many picnic-goers commented that they could easily have spent another hour whiling away the time, as kids bushwalked, egg and spoon races took place and skipping for all ages drew its own enthusiastic crowds.

Some objective moments when I stood back and watched the 300-plus Fairholmites relaxing, conversing, sharing food and skipping… I noted that few phones were visible and most of those had become cameras, used to capture the novel moments of picnicking. Only the most hardened phoneophiles rigidly attached themselves to social media. It was easy to be transported back to childhood where a picnic was a much anticipated family treat, and to feel the most delicious sense of community: to simply cherish the chill-out. Who could not enjoy watching kids run freely, older girls turning the rope for younger ones, and groups gathered around our singers? There are some special moments as part of a school, and this was one. So simple (just joking Marita and cooking, baking, packing teams), so uncomplicated, and such a good reminder to put away our iPhones, iPads and other devices in order to enjoy some stillness, the company of others and perhaps a good dose of skipping.

It’s interesting to note that, parallel to this, there has been an upsurge of handball, hopscotch and skipping that has percolated its way into the Daisy Culpin courtyard after hours for our Boarder girls, as well as within the Junior School. In an act of back to the future, it seems that our girls are discovering and rediscovering the simplicity of play. Mike Lanza, the founder of a global ‘Playborhood’ movement is championing the power of screen-free play as a means of ‘cooped-up kids’ having the opportunity “to learn leadership skills, social skills, and about social justice, through making the rules of play and adjudicating any associated disputes” (Bita, 2015).

So here’s to skipping, picnics, and any other activities that reduce screen time, increase community time and allow us all to be more engaged and relaxed with those with whom we interact. Perhaps, after just one appearance, the Fairholme picnic could be an annual tradition… Why not?

References:
Bita, N. (2016). Kids are sponges for bad parenting The Weekend Australian. www.theaustralian.com.au ›

Bita, N. (2015). Uncage your kids and let them discover the world Nature Play Qld. 9 July 2015. www.natureplayqld.org.au ›

Goldberg, J. (2011). The Joy (And Benefits) Of Skipping The Huffington Post. www.huffingtonpost.com ›

‘Moments to Pause…’ 16 February 2017

It is no wonder that anxiety plagues the modern human. We seem hopelessly confused. We love our tools; we can’t stop creating new technologies, always disrupting our current comfort level with a new solution to a previously inconsequential problem. However, we also love to hate our tools. We blame them for our dissatisfaction. In particular, we’re conflicted about the way we’re tethered to our smartphones.
(Shapiro, 2014).

be-mindful.jpgAnd we are conflicted. A plethora of research into children’s usage of the technology found the inextricable link between parent usage and parent attitude to their children’s usage. Yes, you have guessed what I’m about to say next: our children are watching us, listening to us, and, as children do, following our example - or not. They continue to behave as adolescents do, only now it’s with an added technological layer.

So, as parents, attempting to model fantastic parenting skills at all times, we also need to modify our technological use, you know: not oversharing on social media, being careful custodians of our young children’s digital footprint until they are old enough to do the same, being respectful of others online and in person, knowing that if we want our adolescents to drive ‘unplugged’ then the least we can do, is to do the same (DeRosa, 2016). Not only do we need to demonstrate our own interest in being technology-free intermittently, we also need to pause.

Really, it is no surprise that the mindfulness movement continues to gain traction in a society where technological connectivity is the norm, not the exception. We need to pause, to know how to pause, and to enjoy those moments of pause. Pausing is, without doubt, a 21st century counter response to the snap, swipe, and send syndrome to which we all contribute.

We want our children to self-regulate their technological use but want to be able to contact them with immediacy when we need to contact them. We want them to contact us when they ‘said they would’, and panic when they don’t. And… we want (or should want) them to pause.

Next week at Fairholme there are some pause moments scheduled, albeit some noisier than one would typically associate with a recess in action. Our swimming carnivals are activities that take us all away from being plugged in; so, too, the welcome function for parents and Sunday’s picnic. I believe the Year 12 Leaders’ Induction ceremony is an opportunity for each and every Year 12 parent to celebrate, pause and self-congratulate on raising a child to the brink of adulthood. This is, without doubt, a moment to compare the anticipation of starting school to the anticipation of drawing its chapter to a close. Your presence at such events matters to your daughter/s, even if they don’t say so and even if they seem more drawn to their friends’ company than yours.

Yes, they continue to watch us and watch for us – absorbing and tucking away every word, action and reaction, for future reference. I do hope that for many, there will be an opportunity to pause and to join us on ‘the BIG weekend’ - a celebration of our community and your daughter/s - in real time, unplugged.

Being mindful doesn’t mean that we must sit contemplatively in a darkened room and meditate for 10 minutes (Dale, 2016), it is about attending to the moment we are in and being present, truly present. We owe it to one another to adopt the ability to pause, meaningfully.

References:
Dale, V. (2016). Press the pause button – how mindfulness can help reduce our own biases. www.thebigidea.co.uk ›

DeRosa, D. (2016). Practical Advice for Raising Kids in the Digital Age The Huffington Post ›

Shapiro, J. (2014) The Truth About Parenting And Smartphones www.forbes.com ›

Tsukayama, H. (2015). How we’re adjusting to parenting in the digital age www.washingtonpost.com ›

‘Janus: January at Fairholme’ 2 February 2017

And so we begin in 2017: a ‘Janus moment’ if you like, as we look forward to new beginnings, and also reflect back upon the distance travelled throughout one hundred years on this site. Last Tuesday, Fairholme students pinned their 100-year badge upon the collar of their summer uniform, a small symbol of a special year in the College’s history.

Fittingly, at the end of our Commencement Assembly for Middle and Senior School students, Year 1 to Year 12 gathered on the oval to form three concentric circles: Junior, Middle, Senior. A massive jump'n'jive followed, Old Girls Meg Hamilton and Annabelle Perrignon sang with impressive strength and stunning skill, the hundred-year cake was cut and the Heritage Trail was launched: quite the start for our year of celebration.

Sometimes in schools we are privy to the most special occasions: this was one. The Fairholme spirit was palpable. Our Seniors of 2016 who had returned for the assembly that also acknowledged their academic and vocational achievements, were drawn like a magnet to the jump'n'jive.

It was special too, as two of our significant old girls, Jocelyn Mercer and Heather Harrison, launched the opening of the Heritage Trail. They also joined in the cake cutting along with Harriet Gilshenan, Prep student and granddaughter of Old Girl and past teacher, Christine Gilshenan, along with Year 12 student representative, Phoebe Duncan, who began her schooling at Fairholme in kindergarten. Phoebe follows in the footsteps of her three older sisters, Georgina, Amelia and Cate, who graduated in 2015, 2010 and 2008, respectively. Do explore the link below to the DVD presentation creatively pieced together by Mr Sessarago.

We look forward to honouring our past through such special events as:

  • The Whole School Picnic
  • P&F Ball
  • Commemorative Assembly
  • Founders’ Day
  • Facets of Fairholme Art Exhibition

and we hope that you are able to support these occasions as they occur. Heightened participation will invariably add strength to our community and lay a robust foundation for our next one hundred years on site.

In the interim, I look forward to meeting with you at the Interhouse Swimming Carnivals, Whole School Picnic, Information Sessions, Seniors’ Induction Assembly and the Principal’s Welcome function that all occur over the Big Weekend in February.

Here’s to 2017, and the Janus paradox of looking forward to the next one hundred years whilst honouring all those who have paved the way before us.

‘2017 Welcome’ 20 January 2017

Dear Members of the Fairholme Family

Welcome to 2017: a special year in the life of the College and our community. On 17 July we mark the anniversary of one hundred years of Fairholme, on this site. This year especially, we have the opportunity to look forward to the future and back to the past, to consider our foundations and progress. It is a unique moment in the College’s history and we look forward to celebrating, reflecting and forward-casting with you. We embark upon our next phase of strategic planning - a consultative approach to engage our community, our inaugural Art Exhibition: Facets of Fairholme and a year of learning, for us all.

I especially welcome all new students and families who are beginning their Fairholme journey. May the year be rich in its challenges and rewards. Our teaching and boarding staff look forward to working with you and your child/ren throughout the year.

Since the beginning of the school year beckons, I ask that you keep a close look at the College Website or the Fairholme App for start-up details, or contact the administration office (07) 4688 4688 should you have any further queries.

Academic Achievements
By accessing our website you will note the strong academic achievements of the senior cohort of 2016. Whilst we will acknowledge the 2016 Senior cohort more formally at the Opening Assembly on Tuesday January 24, we express our pride in their accomplishments as well as appreciation of the work of our teachers and families who have journeyed with these young women. Our 2016 seniors have diverse and significant opportunities and we hold great faith in their future.

Similarly, we acknowledge the successes of our knockout Athletics team that competed at the National titles in Canberra in December. The intermediate team finished eleventh in their field. To compete at this national arena is testimony to the fine work of our Athletics coaches and we also acknowledge their commitment to the program throughout 2016. We look forward to a strong 2017 program.

Congratulations to Ellie Bowyer and Bella McLoughlin who competed at the Australian Secondary School Championships. Ellie again gained Gold in Javelin and Bella gained Bronze in the Hammer.

Year 9 student, Imogen Saunders, has achieved her best results at an Australian level in Pool Lifesaving, breaking personal best times and equalling 2nd in Under 14 Overall trophy, winning the Line Throw and coming 2nd in CPR. Furthermore, she was placed 3rd in Under 14 100m Obstacles and 3rd Under 14 100m Manikin Carry. Congratulations to coach Hayley Wolff for her work with the lifesaving team, and to Imogen for outstanding and promising results.