‘In Principal’ 2018
Less 11 May 2018
In a world of too much, we ironically also crave for, or need, less. It’s the human condition, or at least a very human paradox that less can be more. A wise Year 12, student nearly a decade ago, entitled her final English assignment - ‘Too Muchness’. I was struck at the time by the intuitive world-understanding of a 17-year-old girl, herself teetering on the threshold of a significant transition. She got it. She could see that the plethora of choice confronting her merely complicated her decision-making. In the beautifully crafted words of her essay, there was a wistful craving for simplicity; a longing for less, not more.
As an attendee at ‘The Alliance of Girls Schools Conference’ over the past weekend, this thread of less over more has woven its way into my thinking. Insistently, there has been that nagging voice - how do we reduce the busyness of our girls’ lives to make way for the things of meaning? It’s both a metaphoric and a practical dilemma. ‘Yes!’ respond our academically-driven teachers: eliminate all interruptions to the timetable and reduce students’ co-curricular commitments. ‘Yes!’ state our coaches emphatically: choose my sport over those other three (then you can really train hard). Parents can see the nectar in this idea too - you can choose one social event only per week/weekend/term and this goes hand in hand with less screen time.
Oh, that it were that simple. Because we also want our girls to become ‘successful’ don’t we? As university graduates, business owners and leaders; accomplished in their fields of choice, and to ‘have opportunities that we didn’t have’. In this latter category in particular, our daughters’ strong sense of responsibility to access those opportunities lies, lest they not meet the ‘expectation inflation’ that many of us suffer from. In our quest to enable our daughters to achieve, we also push them hard – often with the noblest of intentions – into the world of too much. When they have too much to do, too much expected of them, and too much disappointment evident when those expectations are not met, it is in this space that anxiety often lurks.
Coping with stress has again been identified in the most recent Mission Australia Survey as the number one issue for young women. In research for her book, Being 14, Madonna King had hundreds and hundreds of conversations with mothers, fathers, school principals and teenage girls. She recounts the story of ‘Lucy’ who developed a full-blown panic attack 300 metres from home, on a regular school afternoon. Lucy knew she had to tell her dad that she not been selected for the extension Maths class. It’s easy enough to insert A Netball team, Prefecter, Debating team in the place of the extension Maths class - it’s really about the management of our own disappointment when our expectations aren’t met. When we want too much from our daughters, when the lines between providing opportunity (and knowing the sacrifices made to provide those opportunities), having high expectations, and the reality of their achievement become messily intertwined.
It’s at times like this that daughters identify the most helpful responses of their parents to be:
Don’t be angry.
Listen to me. Let me say what I need to say.
Further, according to King, daughters say their parent/s are often too involved in their achievements (or shortfalls) but, conversely, they don’t listen. Ouch. It’s a criticism my twenty-eight-year-old daughter still directs at me from time to time when I’m not available to listen to her; when I’m not attached to my mobile phone to take her (yes, sometimes daily) urgent phone call.
After all, she is much closer in age to your technologically attached children of 2018 - children living in a world where there are more mobile devices than people, and where 20% of Australian eight year olds own a smart phone (Michael Carr-Gregg, 2018). She is far more wired than me. Yet connection beckons, just like it does for your daughter. She is part of a generation of the most vulnerable women in history according to Carr-Gregg (2018), she craves to be close to you but is also inextricably bound to her friends. But perhaps that’s not a bad thing, though. After all, ‘social connection, or the lack of it is now considered a social determinant of health’. A nationwide survey was conducted by American Health insurer Cigna, across all age groups. Respondents who have experienced more in-person social interactions on a daily basis reported being less lonely. (Chatterjee, 2018). Perhaps therein lies that much needed argument for less time on technology but more face to face interactions - less and more!
So what can we do collectively, as the lead adults in the world of these young women, to give them less stress and more time for the interactions that allow for social connection - face to face? One thing we do within the day school is to ask for an absence of phones, unless there is a curriculum-driven specific request from a Senior School teacher. Lockers are lockable. Your support in not expecting text correspondence during school hours is appreciated. Any emergency call can be fielded through the main administration office.
In the world of 'too muchness', that phrase used so beautifully but wistfully by one intuitive Year 12 girl, almost a decade ago, illustrated that we are seekers of less: less busyness, less noise, less stress. One small step towards this exists in more face-to-face interactions, more time to listen and less expectation inflation. Your daughter’s world is hope-filled but also deeply complex and confusing. She is simultaneously drawn to impossible messages about what it means to be female; desperately seeking closeness with her parents but bound by the dominant discourse of her peers. Less concern with the state of her bedroom and more concern with maximising the moments of connection and deeper conversation, will reap more benefits. If we can simplify her world a little through our own actions, then we may find that less can indeed be more.
Carr-Gregg, M. 2018. The Impact of Technology on Young People. Presentation at The Alliance of Girls Schools Conference. Adelaide. May 7. 2018.
Chatterjee, R. 2018. Americans Are A Lonely Lot, And Young People Bear The Heaviest Burden. ›
King, M., (2017). Being 14: Helping fierce teens become awesome women. Sydney: Hachette Australia
With Gratitude 27 April 2018
Friday was Thrive Day in the Middle/Senior School: an opportunity to celebrate thankfulness, hope, resilience, inspiration and empowerment. Quite simply, it afforded an opportunity to pause and be grateful to others and to God. Coupled with this was a plain-clothes day and an opportunity to dress as someone for whom we are grateful. A quick poll of my Year 10 English class in the morning about who they were dressed as, yielded these results: almost overwhelmingly, the answer was … my mum.
I’m guessing that sometimes it doesn’t feel that way at all. Sometimes, as mothers - and fathers too - we are told, all too often, and with all too much emphasis, that we are ‘the worst parents on earth’, or ‘that everyone else is allowed to…’ or we are met with an exaggerated eye roll or closed bedroom door. At such times we wonder what we have done to attract such a response. We wonder if this reaction is unique to us - because it certainly feels that way.
Welcome to parenting through adolescence: that complex, fraught and sometimes ugly passage from childhood to adulthood. It may seem a self-evident truth that one cannot become an adult without first being an adolescent but it is true, nonetheless. Further, to enable this to occur, you can’t sidestep the inevitable separation of parent from child: you have to let go. They have to see themselves as separate entities and they have to make choices and face consequences. Without this, your child cannot step across the threshold into independence.
Thus, there is that challenge for us all – how do we allow our children to make autonomous and wise decisions when we know that adolescents want to test boundaries, risk take and experiment? How do we stop ourselves from compromising our own expectations in the thirst for alignment with our children? After all, the thing they need most from us is permission to be autonomous; to be secure in the knowledge that we are confident adults, able to set clear boundaries.
Gradual increases in autonomy and practice with independent decision-making are vital for teenagers to become confident adults with good emotional and social well-being.
We also have to allow them to stumble and fail, says Michael Carr-Gregg in his book ‘Strictly Parenting: everything you need to know about raising school-aged kids.’ Similarly, Judith Locke, in her publication ‘The Bonsai Child’, cautions that our tendency to want to make our children happy leads to a focus on their emotions, and a penchant for problem-solving on their behalf, or jumping in if they experience any pain or disappointment or shame. After all, Locke says, ‘temporarily improving their immediate mood’ robs them of the ability to take action to create long term change (2014 p. 25). Or, in Carr-Gregg’s words, ‘if you want to land your kids in therapy, then by all means give them everything under the sun’ (2014, p. 13).
Almost a decade ago, my freshly nineteen-year-old daughter (still in the throes of intermittent and perhaps frequent adolescent behaviour) was studying for a semester at San Jose State University. Whilst the costs were shared between us, the bulk fell (no surprise) upon us, her parents. At times it felt that we were giving her far too much through this privilege – and perhaps we were; conversely, at other times, we delighted in her growth in global awareness, the international connections and friendships she forged, and her courage in undertaking a leap of faith in studying overseas.
It wasn’t a cheap exercise and when her semester ended she was keen to holiday a little longer, on our purse strings; she had run out of money, entirely, despite her assurance just weeks before that she had plenty left over. We were torn; torn between denying her ‘a once-in-a-lifetime’ opportunity and drawing a line in the sand. And we drew a line in the sand. We resisted the urge to align with her, or to briefly enjoy feeling close and generous. It cost us money to rebook her an earlier flight home – which seemed counterintuitive – but we felt compelled to make it clear that the parent bank was not limitless. It felt mean and it also felt appropriate.
Was it the right action? Who knows? We don’t get a trial run at parenting. At twenty-eight she remains deeply grateful for the San Jose experience and, surprisingly, she never resented the early flight home; she actually understood our reasoning. Sometimes hard decisions reap surprising rewards.
Thus, when the girls in my Year 10 English class named their mothers as someone for whom they are most grateful, I had to share the good news (don’t fret Dads – they don’t own the sort of clothes that you wear). Often, it doesn’t feel that gratitude exists within them. Often, we have to make tough decisions and draw a line in the sand, and often, we don’t get it quite right. It is our job to let our children go, to make their own choices and determine the consequences – that’s why parenting is the hardest job in the world, and the most important. And how important it is to know, also, that gratitude is lurking, even when it’s not always visible.
Carr-Gregg, M. (2014). Strictly Parenting: everything you should know about raising school-aged kids. Penguin. Australia
Locke, J. (2015). The Bonsai Child: why modern parenting limits children’s potential and practical strategies to turn it around. Kelvin Grove. Queensland
McCue, J. (2018). A parent’s guide to why teens make bad decisions › The Conversation. January 22, 2018.
Stop Talking About The Back-Up Plan 28 March 2018
I often say: words have weight, be careful how you use them. It is a mantra that has relevance in all chapters of our lives; be that on-line, in person, or in our psyche. The words we feed ourselves and others, define us. When Georgina Hopson (FOGA 2007) – rising Australian Music Theatre star addressed our Brisbane Alumni lunch on Thursday this was the phrase that wended its way into my thinking as she recounted her journey to realise, practice, and polish her passion. Not surprisingly, the girl who attributes the development of her love of singing to Fairholme’s singing teacher, Mrs Gwenyth Chappell, has not had a straight or easy path to being the recipient of such accolades as the Rob Guest Endowment Award, or a silver Matilda Award for Best Emerging artist, or being understudy for Eliza Doolittle in the recent Australian tour of ‘My Fair Lady’ – directed by Dame Julie Andrews. As we know, success is almost exclusively the by-product of sheer hard work – even if on-lookers think it is an entitlement, easily attained, or inevitable.
For Georgie, success has been carved by skill, passion and a burning will and determination to reach out and grab it. Yet, reverberating in her ears with disturbing repetition throughout senior and the years that followed was the well-meaning phrase: ‘But what’s your back-up plan?’ When she shared her interest in music theatre, or performance there was invariably interest, excitement and acknowledgment that such a dream made sense. But, just as inevitably, what followed were the well-intentioned words – ‘So do you have back-up plan – a real job in mind?’ Her back-up plan became her main plan when she exited Fairholme with a place at Women’s College and acceptance into Speech Therapy at the University of Queensland. In some eyes, she was stepping onto the golden pathway – with the golden ticket to a ‘happily ever after’ existence. Not for Georgina. Stirring within her, throughout her spirited time at Fairholme as an avid student of the Arts, a proud Powellian and very capable academic student, was a passion to perform. The feeling did not go away; it’s clearly what enlivens her and it’s clearly a talent that she possesses and wants to share with others.
And thus, like all of us, when we feel like we don’t quite fit into a culture, a place, or a plan, there is tension, struggle and unhappiness. Further, when expectation is high that we should, will, and do fit, the pressure intensifies. She described it herself as living with one foot outside the door, living in self-doubt and a sense that she didn’t quite fit the script. It was Georgina’s wise older sister who listened to another phone call from her younger sister where she expressed her unhappiness with her post-school choice who simply said – ‘So change’. And she did – though it was only on her second attempt that she was accepted into the Queensland Conservatorium of Music and exited with a degree in 2014. But it was there that she found her place, her people, and fuelled her plan to pursue a career on stage.
For staff who remember Georgina’s time at Fairholme it’s not just about being stunned by her performances in combined musicals with Toowoomba Grammar where she wooed us all as the flower girl in ‘My Fair Lady’, or the grey haired Aunt Eller in ‘Oklahoma’ – we also see her as Powell House captain – proudly wearing her dark green Powell T-shirt and screaming encouragement to swimmers or athletes; intelligently contributing to class discussions; or on stage in a mock rock performance with her German exchange buddy, or taking the lead in interhouse dance or choir, or simply surrounded by friends.
A YouTube clip that shows her audition for Mabel in the Harvest Rain production of ‘Pirates of Penzance’ is telling. The selection panel were looking for the new Marina Prior and found Georgina Hopson – there you see again her infectious enthusiasm, social confidence, intuitive understanding of character; her poise and enormous spirit…. the perfect adjuncts to her skill as a singer and performer. We are the sum of all our experiences and the words we use to filter, categorise and capitalise on those experiences have weight. Sometimes, we just have to take the risk to pursue our passion – in Georgina’s words – ‘it’s so much harder to live without it’. Therein was a sage reminder to us all to ask about plans, ask about alternative pathways to enact those plans, but to stop asking that well-intentioned question… ‘So do you have a back-up plan?’ Sometimes it’s simply enough to have a plan and especially when that plan is accompanied by passion, persistence and a will to achieve one’s best.
Words do have weight – we must be careful how we use them.
Celebrating Silver Linings 16 March 2018
Having observed a supermarket disagreement between a brother and sister just recently, I was drawn to ponder that complex world of sibling conflict. Watching the ridiculous tussle over whose turn it was to push the trolley, I was propelled back in time to some similarly ridiculous arguments I had with my three sisters in my own childhood – along with ones played out between my own children.
The mother of these two trolley ‘squabblers’ was a marvel to watch, she was calm, clear and impartial in her approach. ‘Gosh,’ she said, without a hint of irritation, ‘I’ll have to push the trolley myself.’ There was no blame, no remonstrations and certainly no side-taking. The brother and sister sheepishly fell in behind their mother. Sibling rivalry was deflated with such ease … a silver lining shopping experience for me! (Yes, I do know that it’s not that easy!)
In his article, ‘How to Reduce Sibling Conflict’, Justin Coulson asks pertinent questions such as ‘Have your children [ever] drawn an imaginary (or real) line down the middle of their room or in the back seat of the car?’ Or, have they ever made statements such as ’Make him stop looking at me!’ If you answer yes, or recognise the actions, then you understand the reality of sibling conflict. It’s real. It happens. It’s unavoidable. Coulson goes on to share confessions of adults who still experience sibling conflict in their 30s or 40s even though living hundreds of kilometres apart. He reminds that Christmas Day is not always an exercise in perfect family relationships.
It’s no surprise then that patterns of conflict occur elsewhere – played out in sporting contexts, classrooms, dorm rooms, workplaces or social settings. Disagreements, arguments and conflict are not just the province of schools. Look no further than the political arena and you can be assured that conflict is spread further afield, and negotiating it, understanding it, and managing it, are skills needed for life. Michael Carr-Gregg identifies two main errors in the way in which conflict is managed:
- Choosing sides (too readily); and
- Ignoring appropriate behaviour
He also stresses the importance of stepping back, where it’s possible – to only step in where the contest is blatantly unequal or a danger of physical harm exists. Further, he encourages time out and the avoidance of blame – in his words, it takes two people to fight. This links well with Coulson’s view of the importance of ‘calmness, empathy, and clarity’ – as demonstrated by the model mother in Woolworths, just recently. Yet it is Carr-Gregg’s latter piece of advice I like best – a reminder of the importance of noticing appropriate behaviour, of paying attention to what’s going well, rather than that which is not. That switch in focus can be quite refreshing, it also reminds us of our responsibility to reinforce positive behaviour, rather than just react to that which could be deemed disappointing … always look for, and appreciate the silver lining.
Recent silver lining experiences at Fairholme…
- The opening concert in the Kaleidoscope series and sharing those moments with parents and our dedicated Music teachers. Musicians – you never fail to impress;
- The Year 6 Leaders’ Ceremony – an opportunity to celebrate the successful movement of a cohort of girls – some have been part of our community since 2009. It was also affirming to hear the message of servant leadership pervade every aspect of the ceremony. Good leadership is not about bossing or being bossy, it is very much about an attitude of service to others – ‘What can I do to make a difference?’; and
- The TSSS Swimming – almost a fortnight ago I observed a team of swimmers who competed with determination and enthusiasm. I watched a huge group of students line the pathway below the Homestead to cheer our swimmers onto their bus that Tuesday morning. Undeterred by the rain, vocal and excited – this guard of honour spoke volumes about the spirit of Fairholme. At Milne Bay, I watched the Year 12 cheer squad shout out to each and every Fairholme swimmer and I saw the focus and resolve of each girl who took to the starting blocks. In the closest of finishes our girls came in second in points and first in spirit and teamship – a rainy day with the most delightful silver lining.
Carr-Gregg, M. (2014). Strictly Parenting: Everything you need to know about raising school-aged kids. Australia. Penguin.
Coulson, J. (2017). How to Reduce Sibling Conflict › Ifstudies.org October 25, 2017.
When Doing Our Best Is More Than Enough… 1 March 2018
Images are powerful, but for me, it is sporting images that speak a language that moves me to new admiration of some people’s best qualities. I have a vivid memory of a photography exhibition my family and I stumbled upon in the Prague Town Hall one snowy evening in December 2005.
My recollection is of an exhibition of the best European Press photographs of that year. The display was impressive but there is just one image that has remained with me, fited with reverence amongst other spectacularly humble sporting moments. Placed centrally within the display was a large looming image of an athlete standing on a podium in the bronze medal position. Nothing remarkable about that, is there? That was, until you examined the photograph further, along with the accompanying text. The athlete featured was a para athlete, with a prosthetic leg. The accompanying story was about this man’s unanticipated bronze medal – everyone knew that he was destined to be the gold medallist in that event. It didn’t happen. A close up of his face showed tears streaming unashamedly down his cheeks (I admit that some of the Evans family may have mirrored this in response to such a powerful image).
There was certainly some poignancy in that tale of dashed expectation and bitter disappointment. But what made that photograph special, what places it in the ‘indelibly etched in memory file’ for posterity, was another figure within that photograph: his young daughter. With her arms wrapped tightly around her father’s prosthetic leg and with a look of indescribable adoration on her face – her expression could not be mistaken. Her response was, 'Here is my hero and I’m proud of him beyond words'. Sometimes it’s children who see things, important things, just as they are; without prejudice, blinkered expectations or a one-tract script. This girl saw her father as he was, with or without medals, accolades or achievements – and she adored him just as he was, for who he was – simply, and most importantly, because he was her dad. The lesson for the Evans family as they stood transfixed by the image was unavoidable – it was that human connection, the parent/child relationship, the intrinsic achievement of attempting to realise a goal that should always matter much more than an external reward. Shouldn’t it?
Yes, I do love a strong sporting image or an even stronger sporting metaphor, and the Winter Olympics has provided me with a feast of them – stories of endurance, perseverance and overcoming the odds. Furthermore, there have also been tales of poor sportsmanship, team politics and … David Morris. Morris is the man who ‘those in the know’ believe should have made the finals of the aerial ski event, but didn’t. A lifetime of training, a second Olympic games and, sadly, no fairytale ending. It wasn’t his quad-twisting triple somersault that took our breath away; rather, it was his response to missing out on his much yearned-for last Olympic final. Morris typified graciousness when he failed to make the final cut, missing out due to widely touted ‘dubious circumstances’ (Cullen and Barnsley, 2018). Morris’ glory came when he said, ‘It is what it is. It's a judged sport. Sometimes it sucks. Sometimes it's in our favour. We don't complain when it's in our favour. And if we really have issues with it we should take up another sport that is timed so we can’t argue times’ (in Cullen and Barnsley, 2018).
What happens when doing our best is not enough? What messages do we send to our children when we miss out on heartfelt goals, or, more significantly, when they do achieve them? In his finest golden moment David Morris led all viewers to remember and appreciate that the essence of winning is not always about an external reward, a medal, or a place in a final. Sometimes, it is important to remember that doing our best is enough and sometimes that means it won’t always lead to the glittering prize. That’s OK. When we catch ourselves punishing ourselves or indirectly punishing our children for missing out – think again. Think of David Morris. But most of all, think of the picture the Evans family were privileged to see on that snowy evening in 2005 in the Town Hall in Prague – that of a young girl hugging her father in adoration, reminding him that failure and success are concepts not defined by external rewards but from deep within, in the place where perspective, humanity and the joy of doing our best reside.
Cullen, G and Barnsley, B. (2018). Winter Olympics 2018: Controversy as David Morris is knocked out of finals › (The Sydney Morning Herald.19 February 2018.)
UBERING… and the disruption of the world as we have known it15 February 2018
Forgive the nostalgia. I’ve just had a little time in my ‘home town’ of Brisbane, traversing Wickham Terrace whilst my husband is in hospital recovering from (double) knee surgery. Apart from absorbing the unfamiliar rhythm of hospital routine, it’s also led me to reflect on the predictable world that I enjoyed as a child and adolescent, one that now appears unrecognisable and anachronistic. Further, it’s led me to consider the myriad social disruptors that are ensuring the clock cannot return to such a time. Enter Uber, Airbnb, Netflix, Spotify, Amazon … services driven by customer demand and some clever entrepreneurship: it’s 2018.
Wind back to my school days and there you would find me at age five traversing the St Lucia fiveways (yes, where five roads intersected, along with their various flows of traffic, sometimes chaotic, sometimes not); having a conversation with Mr Durston, Mrs Lawler or Mr Lenigas and any other of our near neighbours, as I strolled home with a group of friends – chanting times tables or practising our spelling for the formidable Mrs Clarke.
In fact, I walked a couple of kilometers to and from school every day of my schooling from Year 1 to Year 12 – when it rained I wore a yellow raincoat, and often my shoes and socks would be squelching deliciously by the time I arrived home. My mother would invariably be at home, book in hand; there would, it seems, always be something home-made and scrumptious for afternoon tea. Dinner would have been prepared, the table set, and the washing would have been neatly folded and put away. Fear not, I do know, as writer Charmian Clift reminds, that memories are unreliable and that nostalgia leads us to forget that happiness, stability and safety were also ‘inextricably mixed up with all sorts of vexatious problems and irritations and interruptions’ (Clift, 1970, p.22). After all, I had three sisters, I was banned from watching shows like Homicide until I was 15, and we had just one telephone – a landline, which led my sisters and I to crawl into the corner of the lounge room in a flawed attempt at privacy.
Imagine – just one telephone, firmly attached to wires and the wall, to be shared amongst six of us… it’s almost inconceivable. So too, the usurping of the yellow or black and white cab by Uber simply could not have been imagined. Yet, for the last few days, parking limitations have led me to become a regular Uber user on my hospital visits. This has, in turn, led to some interesting conversations about 2018 urban realities. One driver was a student who supplements his income by driving other university students to and from the University of Queensland on his way to and from his own lectures. Another was a gregarious young man who said that he simply enjoys driving his flash four-wheel drive and conversing (I suspect the monetary gain was not really inconsequential) with his customers. This was the father who had recently bought his son a watch with the same functions as a phone but allowed him to track his son’s every movements, raising an alarm any time he stepped out of the school boundaries. I wanted to ask the question that begged: what if he takes off his watch and leaves it in his locker, or gives it to a friend to wear? I wanted to implore him to give his son some space from technology. I didn’t. I kept my principal hat in my bag and simply enjoyed the conversation. A recent retiree and former property developer aged seventy-one (this information confirms my theory that all Uber drivers are extroverts craving conversation) drives for just two hours a day. His son had urged him to ‘do something’ each day to get him out of the house. He said it was the highlight of his day. There was also Noor from Afghanistan who lamented the frustration of his Uber app not working on the previous day and thus he had not been able to access customers – a day without pay meant a disrupted disrupter.
Disruption, as we know it, is a typically destructive force; it puts companies out of business and, inevitably, it forces people out of jobs. Yet, it also generates enormous opportunities — for consumers, for the disrupters themselves, (Gordon, 2014) and for other companies who seize the chance to invent new ways to connect consumers with products and services. Whilst many parents, I’m sure, are well-versed in the disruption space, many of us are not. Educators are teaching for such a world, though remain in the safety of schools that operate in a familiar paradigm. Our challenge is to view the curriculum through many lenses - one of which has to be the social disruption lens – lest we find ourselves washed over by the power of consumers seeking alternative means of product and service consumption, or unable to prepare girls for the world they do and will inhabit. As parents too, we need to accept that this disruption lens is bigger and more pervasive than the worldview lens cultivated by our own individual small family units. Life isn’t what it was when I strolled home from school as a five year old – confident to navigate the St Lucia fiveways solo and connected by a landline shared by six. Nostalgia beckons me back but reality propels me forward, and it must.
Clift, C. (1970). ‘The Time of your Life’ in George Johnston ed., The World of CHARMIAN CLIFT. Ure Smith: Sydney.
Gordon, S. (2014). Disrupters bring destruction and opportunity › Financial Times. 31 December 2014
Practice The Pause 1 February 2018
Pause before judging.
Pause before assuming.
Pause before accusing.
Pause whenever you’re
About to react harshly
And you’ll avoid doing
And saying things
You’ll later regret.
Yes, it is all too easy to judge others from afar and I am thus cautious about sharing this holiday observation with you. I use it merely as a jumping-off point to remind us all of the merit of the pause - be that a pause from technology, a pause for stillness, or a pause prior to reacting to a situation.
In mid-December I am sitting in a food market in Lisbon, Portugal. A Mum, Dad and ten-ish-year-old son are sitting at a table beside me in this buzzing, vibrant place. It’s midday and I am absorbing the sights, smells and differences.
Then a familiar scene unfolds beside me – the ten-ish-year-old boy is beginning to wriggle, desperate for mum and dad’s attention; they are engrossed on their iPhones and he is squirming, pulling faces, and eventually, pushing against the table to make it rock. His parents do not move, respond or react. For a few excited minutes I imagine that I am observing a sophisticated example of parents practising ‘the pause’, that they are making a deliberate choice to ignore their son’s behaviour.
Alas, they are so attached to their iPhones, they have forgotten where they are, or who they are with: they have forgotten that their son is with them. Eventually, their ten-ish year old son is able to rock the table hard enough to spill their drinks and scatter their platters of finely sliced pork. The rocking has been constant for at least 10 minutes, not a word has been spoken until, in this deliberate gesture … he finally gains their attention.
Hell hath no fury like two parents whose social media activity is interrupted. You can imagine the scene that unfolded: a mix of yelling, hitting and tears. I was willing some deep breathing which (Dent, 2016) reminds us, creates some much-needed serotonin – the calming neurotransmitter. Whilst ten-ish year old ‘Miguel’ had chosen his attention-seeking behaviours unwisely, I couldn’t help but wonder how things might have unfolded without the presence of the iPhones. Who was ‘right’ and who was ‘wrong’ in that scenario is open to interpretation and our own values about behaviour and parenting.
Yet, irrefutably, all behaviour is a form of communication. As parents and teachers, we lead by our own communication examples. Unfortunately, we can’t undo our actions, nor can we reclaim our words – and thus there is inherent value in employing the pause, in a diversity of situations. We can’t ask our children to do things differently from our own example, can we?
The term has begun and with it, the most infectious enthusiasm, energy and excitement. There is nothing quite like the beginning of a school year, most evident in the squeals of delight as friends reconnect in person, teachers plan for the year ahead and parents inject their hopes for a year of successful learning, in all its permutations.
Amidst the frenzy of reconnection, or the anxious excitement of beginning anew, there has been a lot of discussion about pausing, at least amongst staff. Perhaps this reflection was prompted by the enjoyment that the pause of holidays bring, or perhaps there have been deeper motives. When Ms Butler gave her opening devotion to staff she drew from the importance of rest and stillness; inherent in that was the notion of placing ourselves in the best position to hear God’s voice within our frenetically paced world.
I, too, have been pondering on the power of pausing. Perhaps the tragic passing of Dolly Everett has reinforced the need to seek quiet peacefulness and solitude in a world that is over-connected through social media. It is my collective challenge for Fairholme staff and students this year to ‘do social media less’ and interact at a face to face level more; to find opportunities to pause, to reflect, and to be still.
With that in mind, I have been reading two texts – Silence in the Age of Noise by Erling Kagge and The Power of Pause – becoming more by doing less by Perry Hershey. Through these texts, I have been reminded of the gift of ordinary days, the lack of moments in our world that are not filled by phone checking and social media diversions, and the importance of connection at a human level. Kagge (2017, p. 37) cites philosopher and boredom therapist, Blaise Pascal, who wrote in the 1600s of ‘man’s inability to sit quietly in a room alone’ and foreshadowed our impulse to ‘turn to something else’ (Kagge, 2017, p. 37) which has led us to the age of noise: social media noise.
With such pause insights at the fore, I invite you to take up the Lori Deschene mantra and to breathe before you step in to a tricky, or emotionally fraught, situation. It’s worth remembering the wisdom of journalist Nancy Star. Her March 2017 article entitled: As a parent, sometimes staying silent is the best way to show your support heralds the importance of silence at times of heightened adolescent or young child emotion.
But, importantly, in the interests of wellbeing, may we also find opportunities to enjoy ‘human moments’ unfilled by social media activity: buzz less, pause more and seek out opportunities to engage within our community, remembering the pertinent words from Psalm 46:10 – ‘Be still and know that I am God’: be still.
I look forward to sharing some ‘pause’ moments with you at the forthcoming P&F Welcome function or at the Big Weekend in February.
Dent, M. (2016). The Power of the Parental Pause.
Kagge, E. (2017). Silence: In the Age of Noise. Translated from Norwegian by Becky L. Crook. China: Penguin.
Star, N. (2017). As a parent, sometimes staying silent is the best way to show your support. The Sydney Morning Herald. March 6. 2017.
A school in the making since 191717 January 2018
“In a world of flowers grown in pots, I’d like you girls to thrive in the wild.”
Dear Members of the Fairholme Family
Welcome to 2018: the first year of our second century on this site. We look forward optimistically towards a challenging, exciting and enjoyable year of learning and welcome our whole community to engage with us in the year that lies ahead.
I acknowledge the deep sadness associated with the death of Dolly Everett, early in January. Particularly, I extend our sympathy to any of our community who are family or friends of the Everetts and all who have been touched by this deeply confronting tragedy. At such times, schools are pushed to consider their support structures and we have been and are doing so as I write this. Be assured that we are, and will be undertaking further specific steps to strengthen student and staff wellness, as well as awareness around cyber safety and cyber responsibility. Of course tragedy demands reflection from us all – it does take a village to raise a child and responsibilities are shared amongst families; parents; schools and community members. Our greatest strength lies within the connectedness of our community and this needs to be a goal of us all. For Junior School parents it may be timely to consider the thoughts of Dr Michael Carr-Gregg, renowned youth mental health expert and author, who says that children under 12 should be banned from using social media. He cautions that up to 60 to 70 percent of primary school students regularly use Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Snapchat and, in his view, they ‘simply do not have the neurological maturity to manage their neurological footprint’ (Carr-Gregg, 2018).
In meeting the challenge of on-line social media activity and the quest for adolescent self-regulation, we have already engaged some external experts to work with us during Term One. There will also be parent sessions run during the year, related to these topics, and I encourage you to make a commitment to take time out of life’s busyness to avail yourself of such learning, wherever possible. Where live streaming options or publication of presentation transcripts are options for our boarding families, we will, of course, make these available. Mindful of the sensitivity of this circumstance, I encourage you to contact Heads of Sub School or our Head of Boarding if you wish to discuss this situation, or other members of Fairholme staff with whom you feel comfortable pursuing such discussions. Phoning reception on (07) 4688 4688 will link you to staff, or you may wish to do so via email – these addresses are listed on our website. A comprehensive guide about key staff to contact when you wish to discuss pastoral matters appears later in this newsletter. Should you wish to access further materials, you may wish to access the following link to a website endorsed by the Australian Psychological Society ›
In imagining Fairholme one hundred years ago, I envisage that many factors led to the College’s ability to move forward under very challenging circumstances. One of those essential factors was grit, defined appropriately by American author and researcher, Angela Duckworth (2015) as: ‘a combination of passion and perseverance for very long-term goals.’ Margaret Cameron had very long term goals when she bequeathed her home for the purposes of girls’ education; the Presbyterian Church of Queensland and the founding principals and teachers at the College must have possessed grit, in abundance.
I trust that as we step into a new century with a new strategic plan, let us do so with faith, optimism and a healthy quotient of grit – seeking excellence in all that we do, but also acknowledging that excellence a ‘is an attitude, not an endgame’ (Perliss, 2013). I am hopeful that we all undertake a gritty and determined approach that expects and embraces setbacks in the quest for improvement. Amidst this grit, we too will be emphasising the importance of pausing, since doing so allows us to engage and to develop stamina. Wellness and thriving involve the ability to stop, as well as to engage wholeheartedly.
I especially welcome all new students and families who are beginning their Fairholme journey. May the year ahead be rich in its challenges and in its rewards. Our teaching and boarding staff look forward to working with you and your child/ren throughout the year. I encourage you to engage in social opportunities as they arise, community connection was an area identified through our strategic planning consultation and we too are taking deliberate steps to strengthen community at Fairholme. As such, you will see a few date claimers outlined a little later in this newsletter – we would love to welcome you to such occasions.
As the beginning of the school year beckons, I ask that you keep a close look at the College web site or phone app (details to follow) for start-up details, or contact the administration office (07) 4688 4688 should you have any further queries.
Hamilton-Smith, L. (2018) No child under 12 should be on social media, bullying expert says ›
Perliss, M. (2013). 5 Characteristics Of Grit - How Many Do You Have? ›
Dr Linda Evans | EdD, MA, BEdSt, Dip T, MACE, MACEL