‘In Principal’ 2018
‘You can’t be what you can’t see’ From ‘The Conversation’ 19 September 2018
Yes, modelling is important – we can’t ask our children to do or to be what they cannot see. I trust that is one of the reasons many of you selected a girls-only school for your daughter, knowing that, on a daily basis, she would explicitly, or implicitly, be exposed to scenarios where females are in charge, or the majority. For example: the drummer in the symphony orchestra will be a girl; the sound and lighting team will be fully female and Chemistry and Physics classes, the same. When I sat at the Junior School concert a week or so ago I watched with delight as girls carried their double basses to the stage area or shifted furniture: confident and unimpeded by gender expectation. They were, literally and metaphorically, shifting the goal posts.
No, such a stage doesn’t mirror the society they will join after school, but I have no doubt that years of seeing females capably take the lead in typically male-dominated fields will have weight in their view of who they are, and who they might become. Thus, when I read my daily news feed on Saturday morning and the lead story from ‘The Conversation’ referred to the adage – ‘you can’t be what you can’t see’, I was immediately intrigued. I am a great believer in the power of modelling. An oft-repeated phrase on Assemblies and at staff meetings comes from the words of former Chief of Defence, General David Hurley (current Governor of New South Wales), but typically attributed to General David Morrison ‘the standard you walk past is the standard you expect’; or another favourite, ‘don’t ask someone to do what you won’t do yourself’.
They are confronting thoughts. They demand that we keep our own behaviour in check before we point the finger at others – and particularly our own children, students within our classrooms, or work colleagues. As I wrote in my last newsletter article, the perspective from the sideline is vastly different from that on the field. Given that we typically see our children as extensions of ourselves, sometimes dangerously so, we do need to attend to the behaviour we model – particularly in times of stress. Our young children don’t discern, until much later in life and sometimes never at all, that behaviour is a choice. We choose how we respond. Yet, as feisty adolescents or pre-adolescents with complex levels of brain development occurring at any given moment, there isn’t a lot of scope to be discerning about behaviour choices. The default position is the learned position: a position learned by observation and exposure.
Thus, I was disconcerted to read in the same-titled article from ‘The Conversation’ that all references to ‘important female physicists and their contributions have been erased from the NSW HSC syllabus.’ As the article goes on to say, ‘women in science in schools and in the media normalises’ access to this profession. Fairholme seeks to grow its own Ruby Payne-Scott – dual Nobel laureate – or Professor Marie Curie, or Dame Professor Jocelyn Bell-Burnell. We do seek excellence in areas of passion, irrespective of gender ratios or quotas, because we believe through seeing our girls in action that they are indeed capable of pursuing their imaginings. Consider the conditions under which Dame Professor Jocelyn Bell-Burnell studied Physics in Glasgow – she was the only woman in a room of men who ‘catcalled and banged on their desks each time she walked into the room’. Later, when she studied at Cambridge her extraordinary breakthrough was dismissed by her male supervisor, who later won the Nobel prize – for her discovery (The Guardian, September 6, 2018). We have travelled a great distance: thank goodness.
But back to the crux of things. Modelling is important – we can’t ask our children to do, or to be what they cannot see. We do need to remember that as adults we hold more power than our children (even if at times it feels otherwise). We hold the power of resources. We hold the power of example. Thus, we can choose to use our greater power to control them, or to coerce them to do what we want. Alternatively, we can utilise our power to support, shape and facilitate their growth and learning in ways that affirm their personal power, dignity and deep sense of humanity (inspired by the words of Teresa Graham Brett). But, at the heart of such lofty and fundamentally important goals is the need for us to keep the adage – ‘you can’t be what you can’t see’ – front of mind… particularly as school holidays nudge and we spend more time with our children. What can we do to model behaviour, thinking, and attitudes that will propel our children forward; or perchance, propel our daughters forward into spaces typically gender-restricted?
After all, you can’t be what you can’t see.
Editorial, theguardian.com (2018). The Guardian view on diversity in science: everyone wins › September 6, 2018
The Conversation, (2018). Year 11 and 12 students in NSW will no longer learn about women’s contribution to Physics. › September 14, 2018
The Privilege of Being on the Sideline 6 September 2018
In the last fortnight I spent a lot of time on the sideline, watching. The concertina of finals and tournament deciders added to the onlooker experience, and at times I admit to having felt overwhelmed by the gamut of activities in which our girls engage. With the humblest intent, I also admit to being so proud of their efforts, their approach, and their engagement in learning - learning to participate, to compete, to win and to lose. Mr Tregaskis will tell you that I am not always a patient observer. Like many of us, at times I think that I can see a lot from the sideline and at times it makes me want to ‘take to the court’ when my role is to watch and support. What a pertinent analogy for parenting - how often do we take to the court with the best of intentions, when our job would be better performed from the sideline as observers?
You see, I saw debaters able to choose the right words to frame the right argument with a poise one would not typically attribute to high school students, though we should. I sat mesmerised by the skills of our Year 11 mooters (and the skills of their opponents) and marvelled at their steely determination to maintain an argument thread whilst simultaneously being under the scrutiny of judges seeking resolutely to unravel that thread; doing so with the wisdom of decades of knowledge of legal precedents and legal processes. I saw students’ art work on display in our regional gallery affirm their elevation from novice to exhibitor. Further, I watched athletes, netballers, touch players and basketballers navigating high stakes competitions with persistence, skill and impressive sportsmanship. All this I watched from the sideline; as an observer of independence, collaboration and dogged determination. What a privilege.
That a number of those teams successfully won finals or competitions served as a bonus but it wasn’t the most significant aspect. There were other things that mattered more;that as spectators we were on the sideline, watching, and the onus of success lay entirely with the participants, was one, or seeing the support of our Year 12 debaters by girls of all year levels; hearing a mooter’s comment, ‘I’ve played a lot of sport, but this win has been the best - it was so hard and I love it’; or watching a Touch team lose with grace, playing hard until the final siren. These were other special moments that mattered more than the final outcome. Young people need the opportunity to play their own game - because if they don’t, they won’t have the skills to do so when it matters most. When our Year 12s sat in the Assembly Hall for the QCS test they were playing their own game, and all the wishing and willing of onlookers couldn’t do the test for them. Stressing about it, or overthinking it couldn’t help, either. We had to step back and watch, wait, and let the players play their own grand final.
I am reminded of a beautiful article I read recently, entitled ‘The Train Analogy That Will Completely Change How You See Your Crying Children’. Ostensibly, it is about the way a couple dealt with their four-year-old’s bedtime tantrum, but it’s much more than that. The author, Katie McLaughlin, writes of the unfolding drama of her four-year-old son discovering that his ‘lovey blanket’ called Glenn had been left in his grandmother’s car and, at that time, was travelling somewhere unknown and somewhere interstate. Platitudes such as, ‘It’s only for one night’, ‘You can take lots of toys to bed instead’ or ‘We’ll get Glenn back tomorrow,’ just weren’t going to cut it. We’ve all been there, and the outcomes aren’t always pretty, particularly when we think we can rescue our children out of their despair. We can’t. We actually have to allow them to, in McLaughlin’s words, ‘traverse the tunnel of emotions, and allow them to emerge at the other side’.
Yet, we ourselves are well practised at tunnel resistance, avoidance or distraction. We find ourselves in a hard emotional point and we exhaust our repertoire of skills in a futile effort to short-circuit the discomfort. Thus, when our own children are struggling, or not performing as well as we think that they could, or would, or should, we often seek to circumvent or short-circuit the journey: even though we simply don’t have the ability to construct a magical happy ending. We can’t always be there to provide a secret exit, or assist them to avoid pain, or to rescue them before they have traversed the full length of the tunnel or the full gamut of disappointment, hurt and emotional pain ... Because, when we do that, we rob them of so much more than they gain through the provision of a transient ‘get out of jail free pass’.
Back to our four-year-old who had never slept one night in memory without his ‘lovey blanket’, Glenn. What did his mother Katie do? What did Katie say? She sat on the metaphoric sideline and didn’t speak. She let her four-year-old rage, cry, sob and finally reach the other end of the tunnel of his emotions. She didn’t make impossible promises or tell him to get over it, and she didn’t get angry or frustrated - in a move of marvellous parenting, she just let him be. And he survived. And in that one experience he learned about resilience - all by himself. It took eight minutes for the crying and raging to abate. When, finally, after two extra stories and a plethora of stuffed toys were put in his bed, he murmured, ‘I’m going to be OK.’ And he was. Sometimes the goal of silence isn’t to prevent conversation, it’s to give our children the opportunity to initiate it.
Thus, when I reflect on some extraordinary Fairholme moments from the past fortnight I am drawn back to my position of onlooker. I am struck by the privilege of standing quietly on the sideline and observing - seeing our students negotiating high pressure situations without adult intervention, without them being rescued from the ‘tunnel of emotions’, or without the soothing, smoothing behaviours we are want to utilise when we see them navigating challenging situations. If we are in the business of developing resilience and independence, then we have to be prepared to take to the sideline and to learn the skill of observation rather than intervention. In Ireland, a sporting organisation has undertaken a ‘Silent Sideline Weekend’ in an effort to address parent and coach sideline behaviour. Organiser, Dubliner Antonio Mantero, believes that, ‘Everything kids do these days is organised by adults, [kids] can’t think for themselves. There’s so much adult control.’ His silent sideline movement is also about giving greater agency to children, reclaiming their ability to enjoy the freedom to play, learn, win or lose. Just as master four-year-old managed a good night’s sleep without ‘Glenn’, our children have great capacity to negotiate that which is tough; it’s our role to allow them to do so. In fact, sometimes, as a parent, [or as a principal] staying silent is the best way to show our support (Star, 2017). So here’s to the joy of the sideline and to positively encouraging mistakes ... how else did we learn to walk, to ride bikes, to write, if we weren’t allowed to fall, stumble or to make errors, along the way? Thank you to our parents, our greatest supporters, who stood back and let us do so.
‘I’ve missed more than 900 shots in my career. I’ve lost more than 300 games. Twenty-six times I’ve been trusted to take the game-winning last shot and I missed. I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I have succeeded’ Michael Jordan
McLaughlin, K. (2017). ‘The Train Analogy That Will Completely Change How You See Your Crying Child.’
Murphy, D. (2014). ‘Silence on the sidelines: no need to shout, parents: new campaign an antidote to the ‘bile and nonsense’ spouted by spectator parents.’ The Irish Times. March 28, 2014, 01:00.
Star, N. (2017). ‘As a parent, sometimes staying silent is the best way to show your support’ Sydney Morning Herald. 6 March 2017.
I Didn’t Know… 23 August 2018
Sometimes, I am simultaneously horrified and delighted by the things that I didn’t know as a young person navigating the minefield of growing up. I didn’t know that sunbaking would lead to anything more than a few possible sun spots and wrinkly leathered skin in old age; I didn’t fathom the full effects of smoking; I didn’t know that the black telephone that our family of six shared with minimal privacy and restricted access would all too soon be replaced by wall phones, mobile phones and finally, smart phones. I simply didn’t know … and neither did my parents. How could we have known?
Importantly, I didn’t know if my parents worried about me navigating the traffic of Indooroopilly Road as I walked as a five-year-old to and from Ironside State School: a barrage of text messages to check, simply weren’t possible. I didn’t know if they worried when a girl called ‘Elizabeth’ would torment me at school for not wanting to do whatever she told me to do; or that my formidable Year 6 teacher would, red-faced with anger, yell at me for spelling conscientiously incorrectly for two weeks running. I’m unsure if they had any real sense of whether I actually took those antibiotics I was prescribed for an ear infection when I was in Year 2, after all, they were wrapped neatly in waxed paper and placed in my lunchbox alongside my vegemite and cheese sandwich and a navel orange with the rind cut in perfect concentric circles, so that I didn’t have to peel it myself. Mum had reminded me to take them with food at lunch – I think I did. My teacher didn’t know either – it wasn’t the sort of information that was ever passed on from home to school: no email, no texts, no perceived need to do so.
Clutching my rose-tinted glasses I look back on my own school days with fascination and enchantment. Who lets a five-year-old walk solo to school? Answer: a mother who doesn’t own a car. Having walked the streets of St Lucia and Indooroopilly in Brisbane for 12 years of school, I can’t actually remember an occasion where I felt unsafe. There were always others who walked with me, or near me: Alison, Felicity, Nanette and Debbie were strolling alongside. The streets were filled with schoolkids making their way to and from Ironside, and home. My older sisters must have felt that I was safe too – having confidently abandoned me in the bitumen playground on my first day of school – after all, as they said clearly, they had better things to do.
If something went wrong during the day there was a general reluctance to share it at home, lest the ire of mum or dad (or both) added to the already received sting of a teacher’s reprimand. Homework got done. Spelling was practised (conscientiously) and dinner was a home-cooked meal where (selected parts) of the day were shared. After dinner, television shows were meted out sparingly and with a strong eye to censorship: I was finally allowed to watch ‘Homicide’ at the age of 15! Bedtime was early, and reading – an obligatory but longed-for pleasure. I didn’t know at the time that this steady simplicity of life would be exchanged in the future for the heady pace of before - and after - school activities – or that the technology boom would catapult us all into a whirling wind of immediacy, the inconceivable advent of the World Wide Web, and myriad social media platforms to keep us connected 24 hours a day. How could I?
Unsurprisingly, it’s caught many of us on the back foot and we’re sprinting hard to catch the wave, some of us hoping to ride it out, others happy enough not to be dumped in its whitewash. We love its convenience and hate it simultaneously when it’s used as an instrument of harm; a blade to inflict criticism, or a tool to harass. A much-loved elderly cousin of my mother’s is recovering in hospital following a terrible accident; her recovery has been enlivened by regular emails from family and friends, along with the opportunity to Skype daily with her husband. No doubt, equipment is monitoring her recovery and informing the precise work of her doctors – her survival lies in the hands of technology … she would not be alive without it.
I didn’t know as a child that I would become more adept at word processing than at handwriting. I didn’t know that I would be able to Skype my parents from anywhere in the world; or that I’d learn of my niece’s pregnancy through Instagram, with a text to follow … how could I? It’s with us, that huge looming wave of technology, and we’re all riding it – some more adeptly and carefully than others. But I draw back to the notion of meting out television time and censoring its content as important principles to continue to follow when thinking of phone/ipad/computer use. It’s why the program Family Zone will be an on-going part of our conversation as we seek to work with you to keep our students, your daughters - safe online. Recommended by Rachel Downie of #STYMIE, it’s a cybersafety platform that allows parents to monitor and set parameters around social media use. The beauty for Boarder families is that they can set parameters around their daughter’s possible multiple device use - from afar! Helen Lange, from our Communications team, writes about the effectiveness of the platform a little later in this newsletter. The College will provide a webinar opportunity in the coming weeks.
I didn’t know that life would be so similar, yet so different for children of this generation. No doubt, as a child, if I ever stopped to imagine the life of future generations it would have replicated the uncomplicated innocence of my own childhood. How could I know of the double-edged dimension of technology – an instrument for enormous positive possibilities, yet one that can also be utilised to cause enormous harm to self and others? I simply couldn’t have … what I do know however, is that the time is ripe to reassert our roles in the space of censorship and expectation, lest we feed our children an addiction diet that outweighs the incredible possibilities inherent in technology. Do we actually know what our children are doing on-line, in the same way that our parents knew what we were watching on television, or to whom we were speaking to on the telephone and what words we were ingesting in our bedrooms? And whilst there is much in children’s lives we don’t need to know, don’t need to intervene in, or rescue them from, I’m thinking that this is a space that needs more adult curiosity, parent parameter-setting, and some good-old fashioned censorship, particularly with our young ones, for whom self-regulation is, at this point, an impossible task.
I simply didn’t know… how could I?
What You See… 10 August 2018
It’s a given, that what you see on snapchat/Instagram/facebook is a filtered version of reality. The dissonance between the actual story behind the thousands of selective selfies, Instagram and snapchat captures and the on-screen shot is a yawning one. Pictures of success, captures of beauty and moments of bliss don’t fill our days, regularly. In between such moments are long stretches of hard and sometimes tedious and repetitious work. We have to practice, train, rehearse – if we wish to improve, there are no shortcuts. To paraphrase the words of Professor Fiona Wood (and many before her) – ‘the harder I work, the luckier I become.’
We have just had the most extraordinary fortnight at Fairholme: Eisteddfod performances across a plethora of disciplines with some impressive individual and group results; an Athletics carnival on a picture-perfect winter’s Day; and a stunning Art Exhibition. Each of these events revealed the outcome of days, weeks, and in some cases – years of lead-in work. After all, is an Athletics record just a great performance on the day, or is it a reflection of hours upon hours of training? Is the first class performance of the College Symphony Orchestra something that just occurred on the night, or a reflection of years of lessons and weeks of rehearsals for both performers and conductor?
On Friday night at the opening of the ‘Facets of Fairholme’ Art Exhibition, the College Chamber Choir sang – it was an exquisite performance. The evening’s MC, Mr David Snow, whispered to me: ‘They are so skilled, as is their conductor.’ How could I disagree? I stood on the sideline of the relays on Friday afternoon and marvelled at the speed of the competitors. Those in the audience on Friday evening delighted at the announcement of the winner of the Mary Snow Memorial Emerging Artist Award – our very own Year 12 student, Meg Hansen (pictured with Peter Snow). Underpinning each of these performances is a story – each one diverse but the common ground exists in the in-between narrative which is built upon practice.
Yet, sometimes I think we miss the story between the pictures. We are seduced by images and outward appearances, we miss the core of things … we see the Fairholme girls who walk across the stage to achieve academic awards and think their success has occurred simply by some freak of nature, of good luck, or good genes. I remember a parent some years ago commenting on her daughter’s stunning OP result: ‘She did really well,’ she said, ‘but gee she had to work hard to get it.’ At the time it seemed as if the hard work bit had come as a bit of a surprise. Actor Geoffrey Rush once stated, as have others – ‘It took me 20 years to become an overnight success.’ I can’t really think of one successful Fairholme student who hasn’t worked hard, with persistence, perseverance and practice to achieve great things academically, or in sport, or in music, or any other field.
Thus, when I revel (and I do) in the delights of Eisteddfod performances, Athletics Carnival events or seeing student work hanging proudly within an Art Exhibition I am reminded that each performance, each creation, each outcome, has been crafted from learning, practising and commitment to achieve an end. The greatest skills that our Fairholme girls can learn exist some distance from the images that appear in publications or on social media. I am ever hopeful that here they are learning about determination, perseverance, and collaboration – forged in the sheer grit required to master skills that sometimes aren’t mastered easily. Thank you to all involved in supporting a full fortnight of Eisteddfod performances, Athletics events, Touch carnivals, Mooting, Orienteering, Art Exhibitions … (the list is indicative, not entire); I have no doubt that parental commitment has been a driving force behind each achievement: hats off to you!
Some Days are Diamonds… 27 July 2018
‘No tolerance for average’, was the mantra of Professor Fiona Wood who entertained, inspired and challenged her audiences at breakfast at Fairholme and the Women of Strength luncheon, both held on Friday. That her life story is full of above average experiences – many of which have been wrought from sheer hard work – gives great weight to her maxim. She is one of those speakers who commands audience attention, not just because of her witticisms, her intelligent insights, or her passion for her work, but because what you see is what you get.
Professor Wood is literally an Australian Living Treasure; Australian of the Year in 2005, she was bestowed with the honour of being the most-trusted Australian in a Reader’s Digest poll for six successive years from 2005 to 2010. When you hear her, the breadth of her Yorkshire accent and her stories of growing up at the head of the mine where her father had worked as a coal-miner from the age of 14, there is some irony in these quintessentially Australian stamps of honour. But she is an Aussie, nonetheless, and her tenacity, persistence and dogged determination mirror the qualities we love to envisage as our national trademarks.
For the Year 12 girls who attended the breakfast on Friday morning, her words will reverberate throughout their life in their study and in their work. In the midst of Professor Wood’s long list of achievements, there is a gentle humility that reassures us of her deep humanity and reminds us all that achievement gives no licence for conceit, self-importance or narcissism. The first time I heard her speak was in her home town of Perth, close to 15 years ago, not long after the Bali bombings – she was just as impressive. As a mother of six, she painted the most down-to-earth picture of the work/home juggle. She told the story of arriving home in the evening after a day of saving lives (literally) to find her husband and six children draped casually across sofas in their lounge room, eating pizzas direct from cardboard boxes and laughing in unison at some slapstick comedy show. They barely acknowledged her entrance. She walked from there to the kitchen where a dishwasher was begging to be unpacked. From there she turned her eye outside to see a full washing line circulating in the breeze and being showered upon by a rainy sky.
How did she respond? As only one can. She returned to the lounge room, sat down, and started to cry. Yes, she’s human to the core and unpretentious and so very, very clever. When a student enquired at breakfast whether there was any research she was working on, she responded with the most palpable joy and passion. We heard the story of a collaboration between doctors and researchers across the world; of leaps forward in the development of cells for skin regeneration and her wish to be 30 years younger so that she could utilise technology that will change people’s futures – for the better. It was a privilege to hear her speak because of who she is and what she does, daily. There is no dissonance between how she lives and how she works. Significantly, it is her mantras – ‘no tolerance for average’ or ‘get up every day and play your ‘A’ grade game’ – that will stay with me. Such simple truisms. Who are we to do any less?
When you add to this feast of words, the work of our hospitality students at the Women of Strength function; the skill of our singers and mouth organist at the breakfast; and the performances of Chamber Strings, dancers and singers at the luncheon, it is clichéd but true… some days really are diamonds.
Travelling the Distance 21 June 2018
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I, I took the one less travelled by and that has made all the difference. Robert Frost
Having spent the last month in destinations as diverse as Winton, Longreach, Townsville, Narrabri, Burren Junction, Glen Innes, Brisbane and yes… Toowoomba, I have a renewed appreciation of the phrase - distance travelled. Much as I always admire the kilometres covered by our boarding families, I also like to think of this phrasing metaphorically. They are words, for example, that are always front of mind in November, when the last tartan-clad Year 12 girl meanders her way out of Fairholme. She may falter a little as she goes, torn between the safety of the known and the lure of the unknown, but invariably she will impress me in her leaving. I will see the distance she has travelled between her arrival at the College and her departure; I know the incalculable possibilities of distance to travel that lie ahead.
In the long yet fast years that constitute an education at Fairholme, there are so many occasions when I want to whisper, ‘Hold on - the best is yet to come.’ I want to call it out to girls who have lost sight of the finish line; overwhelmed by workload or friendship challenges, or to parents who too have their view of completion truncated by the dilemmas of steering a daughter through the tumultuous terrain that is adolescence. Oh to be able to crystal ball our way into the future!
The recent Winton ICPA (Isolated Children’s Parents’ Association) was itself a foray into the future and a delightful tour of the nostalgic past; a chance to touch base with soon-to-start parents; parents of current girls; parents of old girls; and ‘old’ girls. What affirmation of distance travelled when you hear Fairholme Old Girl, Heidi Begg (2008) confidently discussing her new business - SPOT (Speech Pathology On-Line Therapy); or hear that Linda Ogg (2012) has almost completed her education degree; or that Ruby Elliott (2013) will soon join the ranks of nurses. No surprise that Sophie Elliott, Head Girl (2006), was the Promotions Officer for the ICPA Conference; what impressive distance Sophie continues to travel in life after Fairholme - navigating with determination through pathways that aren’t always smooth. I muse with parents of these girls that organisation of march pasts, formals, bake sales, assemblies and themed dinners have held them in good stead for occupations that require collaboration, community involvement and roll-up-your-sleeves hard work.
At the conference we had the privilege of listening to journalist Kathleen Noonan and acclaimed country singer Sara Storer being interviewed by Andrea Crothers. Kathleen and Sara shared stories of life at, and beyond school - the distance travelled in their lives. I could have listened to them for hours; to their words peppered with paradox and rich with self-effacing humour. It was heartening, as always, to see success sit so humbly upon shoulders; to know that these two women who have achieved much, credit their achievements to ordinary stuff ... like the responsibility of chores throughout childhood - bringing the house cow into the yard for milking each night; or setbacks met with steely determination and a willingness to shift direction in order to grasp opportunity. Kathleen painted an exquisite metaphor for us; she spoke of taking the chip off our shoulder (whatever that chip is, we’ve all got one in some form); and putting it in our pocket; making it the ‘something extra’ in our pocket; making it the reason to keep going, to persist, to travel the extra distance. ‘Touch it in your pocket,’ she said, ‘and remember why you are persevering.’ We can maintain the chip, or we can name it, address it, and use it as impetus to keep going. It’s always our choice.
After all, we do have to persevere when travelling distance. Think of country travel as our Boarder families do. There are short cuts, of course, but there are a lot of long, tedious straight roads too, often pitted with pot holes. There are kangaroos, bush pigs, and occasional guileless emus to contend with, and road trains that appear endless and impossible to overtake safely. Travelling west late in the afternoon means blinding sunlight. But there are also vast open plains, mountains that appear blue on the horizon, sorghum crops standing to attention, the fluff of cotton crops caught in road grass and cattle that graze, oblivious to the traffic that passes them. We all have to travel distance to get anywhere. It’s in enduring the potholes, persisting through the tedious kilometres, and making the decision to overtake that we are forming our future selves - we are touching the chip in our pocket and remembering why it is important to persevere. Keep going, keep going, keep going ... words attributed to Sir Winston Churchill.
You will either step forward into growth, or you will step backward into safety. Abraham Maslow
As our mid-year break approaches we pray for safe travels for all, and especially the staff and girls venturing to Arnhem Land. I look forward to my own travel - my husband and I are venturing from Townsville to Mt Isa, retracing the footsteps to my first western teaching post and visiting Fairholme families – past, present, and future, along the way.
May the recalibration that a good holiday brings refresh us all for the term that lies ahead. Thank you for your support throughout another ‘full’ term at Fairholme: much distance travelled.
The Quest for [Im]Perfection 8 June 2018
What’s your perfect holiday experience? Mine is invariably a bit flawed, a bit bumpy and dare I say … not so perfect at all. Hence, I’m always intrigued when asked where I went on holidays that the pat response is often – ‘that must have been amazing’. Yet, when I reflect back on my most recent holiday experience I think first to its beginnings: boarding a plane, travelling in the middle seat in of the centre row in economy class for close to 26 hours (a few extra hours thrown in because inclement weather delayed the landing) and finding myself standing outside my accommodation in Lisbon, waiting and waiting and waiting for our host to arrive. It didn’t feel perfect. And that’s OK with me – the beginning of that holiday, one that also included long boring hours in transit at Dubai Airport, was simply that – a beginning and a means to a delicious end – albeit with a range of experiences in between: many imperfect.
When I think of travel experiences I think of a gamut of occurrences, events and moments – some of which nudge perfection and some that don’t: a little like life itself. I remember being stranded at Washington DC Airport because there was no record of me on the passenger list for a flight to London; standing for hours at a crowded airport in Rome waiting for a delayed Ryanair flight to Glasgow – fearful I was going to miss my niece’s wedding (I didn’t) or literally crawling out of a tear-gas filled railway station onto Istiklal Street in Istanbul where riot police held their shields and weapons centimetres from my face. These weren’t the close-to-perfect holiday moments like seeing Michelangelo in Florence; or my first glimpse of the Colosseum in Rome; or stumbling upon a New Year’s Day Church service in Budapest – The Church of Scotland in Hungary where a Franz Liszt music student played the most exquisite rhapsodies as an interlude, whilst the Hungarian minister rehearsed his sermon. I can remember the first nata I ate in Lisbon; fish and chips at the Spit at Mooloolaba as a five year old; the first bite of bratwurst in Berlin; or the confronting but deeply moving experience of Auschwitz. The list of special moments still linger, so readily able to be conjured back into life.
But those moments are made special or important, because of the myriad imperfect moments that encase them and give them perspective. Bathroom stories from the backblocks of Beijing, or travelling on trains in India, or losing my [then] young children at Christmas markets in Krakow; these reflect a lot on the resilience and fortitude that links with travel, particularly when you do travel even just a little off the main tourist trail. And whilst I don’t want to repeat any of the scary, frightening or downright boring moments of travel – I wouldn’t trade them for a moment. They define parts of me and they also define those tantalizing rare moments where life comes to a halt and demands that you stand to and note overwhelming beauty, kindness, or simply the difference between someone else’s way of life and your own.
Travel can be difficult. My own children seem to thrive upon making it more difficult than most. They insist on travelling solo to developing countries, or hiking in high altitudes or to places where Wifi is a concept, not a reality. Occasional messages do get sent, with intermittent periods of non-contact, sometimes weeks in length. When those messages do come, they aren’t always as comforting as one might want as a parent: ‘Hey mum I just rode on Death Road in Bolivia,’ or ‘I’ve just survived a potential mugging in Medellin – all is well, I’m loving this place’ or ‘Just in Bogota now. It was a terrifying flight.’ Despite the lack of sleep they can cause their mother at times, they emerge stronger as people; yet the notion of, or expectation of, perfection never hovers anywhere near their lips. Their experiences are about challenge, risk and, intentional or not, personal growth.
Perfection is an illusion, at best a fleeting image, a passing moment, or a special feeling. It’s elusive, yet for some of us it’s viewed as a worthy goal. We want to airbrush ourselves into perfection because for that short moment we will be special, extraordinary or … perfect. People tell me it’s a girl thing, a parent expectation inflation thing – or something that’s OK to aspire to … I’m trying to shed myself of it. Thus, when, at a recent Alliance of Girls Schools Conference in Adelaide I had the choice of a number of breakout sessions including: ‘Piercing perfectionism: Emotional agility, bravery and the role of individualised wellbeing’ and ‘The language of initiative’ – I chose the latter because I think proactive steps are better than reactive ones. But my peers chose the former in droves. They sat on the floor, stood, and crammed into a session that perhaps has too much meaning in our lives as educators of young women. I don’t want it to be an unwritten text for girls at Fairholme.
No surprise that Rachel Downie’s outstanding #stymie sessions also touched on this topic – a thirst for validation of worth on-line, and a voracious appetite for a like per minute, often gained via the construction of images of ‘perfect’ beauty. Rachel Simmons (2018) in her article Perfectionism among teens is rampant (and we’re not helping) reminds us that: Social media has accelerated ‘the pursuit of teen perfection, introducing a place where the drive to project success, as much as a wish to connect, draws youth like moths to the digital flame.’
Not only more dissatisfied with what they have, young people are also seemingly more dissatisfied with who they are (Eckersley, 2006). Platforms such as Facebook, Instagram, and Snapchat have become ubiquitous, occupying 2 out of every 5 minutes spent online (Global Web Index, 2016). The popularity of these platforms is, in part, explained by how they allow users to curate a perfect public image (Mendelson & Papacharissi, 2011). Yet, rather than alleviate presentational and interpersonal anxieties, studies indicate that exposure to others’ perfect self-representations within social media can intensify one’s own body image concerns and sense of social alienation (Grabe, Ward, & Hyde, 2008; Paik & Sanchagrin, 2013) (Curran & Hill, 2017, p.3)
It’s why there are a plethora of news articles with titles like: Overcoming toxic perfectionism in teenagers; Perfectionism among teens is rampant (and we’re not helping); More College Students Seem to Be Majoring in Perfectionism; Why Are More American Teenagers Than Ever Suffering From Severe Anxiety? Helping a Perfectionist Child Worry Less and Do More; 10 Ways We're Fostering Anxiety Rather Than Resilience in Today's Young People; The modern problem with pursuing perfection; Are You a Perfectionist?; Perfectionism is destroying the mental health of my millennial generation; The problem of perfectionism: five tips to help your students, and the list goes on and on and on.
In 2016 Clare Kermond wrote in her article, Overcoming toxic perfectionism in teenagers:
Here’s a quick test: If your teenage daughter makes a mistake in her written work does she cross it out; erase it and keep going; or does she rip out the whole page and start over. Does she do draft after draft after draft? Does she come down on herself like a tonne of bricks over small mistakes or a test result that is worse than expected? If you answered yes to some or all of the above questions, your daughter may have a problem with perfectionism – and it can be linked to serious mental health problems.
So what to do about perfectionism? Challenge the term and reframe it – the notion of ‘seeking excellence’ (a Fairholme core value) is far healthier. Implicit in ‘seeking excellence’ are wending pathways, uphill climbs and setbacks. Take pause from social media and accept responsibility for putting parameters in place for our own on-line behaviour – and that of our children. Reduce our own parental expectation inflation tendencies. Sometimes, relentlessly pushing our children to the pinnacle presents us with a whole new set of problems we didn’t anticipate – we expect pinnacle moments to happen again, and again and again. They can’t and they won’t. It can be a long fall from the summit, especially if we have never developed the tools to navigate falling.
Travelling to holiday destinations never occurs without pitfalls, and perfection or fame are ethereal concepts – our Presenting Fairholme speaker from 2017, a Fairholme Old Girl and emerging Hollywood actress, put it beautifully when she said:
Fame is fleeting. It is the challenges you have faced and how you chose to overcome them that makes life interesting. Just like travel – a whole lot of life is schlepping, dragging that suitcase, standing in lines, sleeping on trains, losing your damn passport.
So here’s to looking more realistically at the [im] perfection in our lives; interpreting the steep climbs and unanticipated stumbles as typical, not atypical. Remembering, that for most of us, despite our best intentions, a whole lot of life is spent (metaphorically speaking) in economy class, in the middle of the middle row, with long delays at airports and schedules that don’t align perfectly and that, because of those times, we develop a much deeper appreciation of the special moments that nudge the edge of perfection. That is, if we stop yearning for the unattainable and attend to that which is special and worthy and of value – lest, in a state of narcissistic fervour, we fail to appreciate small victories, and, more importantly, those of others. Oh to be happily [im] perfect…
Curran, T., & Hill, A. (2017). ‘Perfectionism Is Increasing Over Time: A Meta-Analysis of Birth Cohort Differences from 1989 to 2016.’ Psychological Bulletin. 1 – 20
Kermond, C. (2016). ‘Overcoming toxic perfectionism in teenagers’ Sydney Morning Herald. 23 October 2018. Retrieved on 1 June 2018
Simmons, R. (2018). ‘Perfectionism among teens is rampant (and we’re not helping)’ The Washington Post. 25 January. Retrieved on 1 June 2018
Enable (v)ɪˈneɪb(ə)l,ɛˈneɪb(ə)l/ 25 May 2018
My Year 10 English class will tell you that I am fixated with words. I love their nuances, subtleties and etymology. Most of our lessons involve an aspect of spelling and some discussion about the derivation of words, parts of speech, synonyms etc.
I hope these girls’ vocabulary is expanding as the year progresses because: words have weight; literacy is a powerful tool and language knowledge enlarges the world. Words have the potential to humanise, to allow the development of empathy, and to give us voice. Essentially, they can change our world and the world of others simply by changing our view, our perspective, or our outlook.
New words challenge us, they make us think and they make us think differently about assumptions and presumptions.
The child begins to perceive the world not only through its eyes but also through its speech. And later, it is not just seeing but acting that becomes informed by words. (Vygotsky, 1978, p. 78).
Our words inform our actions. As teachers and as parents our words enable the actions of the children in our care. A recent discussion on an early morning walk with my exercise buddy, good friend and fellow Principal involved a discussion of the verb – enable (along with other various permutations – enabling, enabler, enabled etc). I said something to the effect – ‘I used to think that enabling was a positive word - which meant to coach, guide or lead someone to better outcomes. I don’t think that anymore. I think its prevailing meaning is negative; that it means to diminish resilience, rob learning and to debilitate through the way enabling is practised.’ It is practised every time we stop our children from consequential learning.
It is evident when we cover for our children, make excuses, align with them even when we know we shouldn’t, and fail to act when a NO is required. It is palpable when we gift a smart phone to our emerging adolescent, load it with data and say: ‘be careful’ but put no tangible guidelines in place. Back to our conversation – my Principal colleague nodded in agreement. ‘It’s true,’ she said – ‘when did that change happen?’ When did enabling become a term to describe stealing initiative?
Young (2014) – clearly far more up to date with contemporary parenting language than me describes enabling as: ‘any behaviour that makes it easier for your child to continue down a destructive path.’
In a refreshing counterpoint to the negative connotations of enabling language, Ritchhart, in his text ‘Cultures of Thinking’ (2015) writes of the language of initiative; of language that can shift our thinking and hence our activity: positively and proactively.
Whilst his book is directed to the teaching and learning environment of schools, I see it more broadly – as very much of relevance to the home environment, too. For example, he refers to researcher Heath (1999 in Ritchhart, 2015, p. 111) identifying the use of modals – could, would and should statements to enable positive learning and thinking outcomes.
‘Could we try this?’ ‘Would this work, this way?’ or ‘Should we be considering a different way to solve this?’ Ritchhart extends this further (p. 125) when he discusses the importance of utilising the language of initiative and independence to lead students to do their own thinking, rather than teachers rescuing and furthering student dependence upon them. The same could be equally true for parents. Ritchhart stresses that teachers need to utilise language within the classroom that models independent rather than dependent thinking modes (p. 368). In other words, choice of language has a profound impact upon enabling either independence or dependence.
This generation, more than any before needs skills to confront challenges independently and collaboratively. Because – ‘a generation of […] challenge-avoidant young adults is not going to be prepared to deal with the mounting complexity of life and take on the emerging challenges of the 21st century' (Larson, 2000, p. 170).
Colleagues from a girls’ school in Adelaide have adapted Ritchhart’s philosophy within their own classrooms. Through utilisation of the key questions listed below, they have seen enormous growth in emerging adolescents’ independence of thinking – they call these questions to foster initiative. Whilst they are designed for classroom implementation, these questions also have great relevance to questions we might ask of our own daughters as they navigate the challenges inherent in adolescent or emerging adolescent life, questions such as:
- How are you planning on?
- What are you wondering about?
- What will you do next?
- What makes you say that?
- What have you decided to do about that?
- What do you do when you don’t know what to do?
- What’s your plan for working through this?
- Would this work? Why?
- What have you done about that?
Here’s to reclaiming the verb ‘to enable’ and enacting it as a positive action, one that empowers our daughters to take agency in their own learning; be that learning in the classroom, or learning through life.
Heath, C. (1999). On the Social Psychology of Agency Relationships: Lay Theories of Motivation Overemphasize Extrinsic Incentives. Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes Vol. 78, No. 1, April, pp. 25–62, 1999.
Larson, R. (2000). Toward a psychology of positive youth development. The American Psychologist, 55, pp. 170–183.
Ritchhart, R. (2015). Creating cultures of thinking: The 8 forces we must master to truly transform our schools. NY., John Wiley & Sons.
Vygotsky, L. S. (1978). Mind in society: The development of higher psychological processes. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
Young, J. (2014). When Helping Your Child Becomes Enabling: and how to know the difference › Posted Feb 05, 2014. Psychology Today.
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