‘In Principal’

‘In Principal’ 2019

A Perfect Storm 13 June 2019

Perfectionism isn’t a behaviour. It’s a way of thinking about yourself – Andrew Hill

My husband is an obsessive photographer. We have files and files of digital photographs, including one file that seems to be unique to us, dubbed with a lack of eloquence as the ‘The Ugly Album’. It is an album filled with the sort of shots most people delete – a failed birthday cake with broken candles, my daughter’s face pressed against a glass panel as a toddler, captures of our son ‘dressed up’ by his older sister, or shots of our golden retriever wearing comic glasses. It reflects a particular type of humour, no doubt, but throughout our children’s lives it’s also been a gentle reminder that not all images are perfect, nor us; nor life itself. We dip back into that file from time to time and laugh – always at ourselves. It seems a stark contrast to the social media air brush mania which sees image after image of perfect people enjoying perfect occasions, and, not surprisingly, has led to the rise of the FOMO phenomenon. Perfection. Perfectionism. The perfect storm for seas of trouble.

Hmmm – how often in our regular conversations with our children do we debunk the myth of our own perfection? I don’t mean that we need to do this by a public tearing ourselves to shreds for not achieving a goal, or making an error. I’m thinking of a more self-deprecating conversation that enables us, and therefore our children, to accept that very human state of imperfection. How often do we simply give credit to perseverance, commitment to a task, along with a clear acceptance that such admirable traits don’t ever reap a perfect result ... and to be more than ok with that? Some good old fashioned clichés like: I gave it my best shot or it was 110% effort or I gave it all I have, never go amiss – if we mean them. If our rhetoric matches our body language. Indeed, how well do we respond to our own inevitable short falls in regular life? They are watching us … listening to us… we are the voice in their head when expectation and reality aren’t in alignment. They are even observing interactions between Mum and Dad – how well they tolerate one another’s imperfections, even in spaces and places as mundane as the dishwasher. According to psychologist, Amy Bach, one of the most regular household arguments between couples relates to the proper (perfect) way of loading the dishwasher, (cited in Khazan, 2018). Oh the perfection complex … another negative by-product of social media; another link to anxiety, self-doubt and feelings of inadequacy. When our sense of self is contingent on how others view us, (Khazan, 2018), then we are more than vulnerable to the perfection complex; that unattainable but relentless drive for flawnessness. Strivers, drivers, competitors, high achievers... beware. Nehmy (2019) in his article ‘Is your parenting style making your teen anxious?’ writes that ‘perfectionism is a hidden enemy, because it masquerades as diligence.’ Further he adds that parents can ‘inadvertently reinforce and reward such striving, even when it reaches an unhealthy state.’ The temptation is strong to feed and support passion but there is a point at which support looks very much like over-investment.

Part of the recent ICPA (Isolated Children’s Parents’ Association) Conference in Charters Towers involved the most delightful panel session which explored a diversity of topics: from mother guilt; balancing life, work, family; gratitude; through to the complex relationship between parents and children. Australian comedian, Fiona O’Loughlin was one of the panel members. As the mother of five children she is, it would seem, well placed to explore the topic of perfectionism, or rather its counterpoint: being satisfied with ‘enough’. She shared the story of pulling up at school one morning, 20 minutes late, but feeling relieved to have got all five children out the door and safely launched to school. Her son mumbled in monotone voice as he exited the car, ‘We’ve got assembly today and I need a cow costume.’ As parents, we all know and dread that moment: assembly item failure looms big, and how we respond in that moment actually does matter. The quality of the cow costume far less so, but, inevitably with parent guilt hovering, and a perfection gene lurking, we often fixate on the metaphoric cow costume.

I loved Fiona’s response to the absence of cow costume: a dash home, instructing her son to grab his dad’s brown jumper and a quick dash back to school. Walking in to the assembly with her son clad in his dad’s brown jumper she noted far more elaborate cows – impressive Brahmans, elaborate Friesians, and other intricately constructed costumes, including, what appeared to be hand-sewn hooves. The question begged: who created those costumes? Did the creators of these costumes actually sleep at all in the lead-in to the assembly? Should Fiona have made a costume, or did the brown jumper suffice? Nehmy (2019) reminds us of the importance of ‘normalising difficulty, discomfort and mistakes.’ And we need to do this naturally ourselves, not through gritted teeth, folded arms and stern faces. Body language needs to reflect the sincerity of the words.

Having missed a couple of calls from my adult daughter during the past few days and feeling guilty because I should have phoned her back swiftly, I was reminded yet again of the danger of that imperative word - ‘should’. I should have… I should be there… I should. When we pepper language with should we invariably underpin that high bar with guilt. That we are all flawed, that we make hundreds of mistakes [sometimes] daily and that what you see is never the full story … is sometimes forgotten in the myth of perfectionism, one magnified by social media the overzealous, enthusiastic and ‘world-wide’ storyteller (Sherry, 2019). How refreshing to hear a panel of accomplished humans share stories of imperfection, of accepting limitations and the joys of being at times, satisfied with enough - good enough, fair enough and simply, effort that is enough.

My own children will tell you with confidence that I failed many aspects of parenting, as will I. Whilst I could easily throw together a batch of muffins before school for the week’s lunchbox, the ability to construct an appropriate costume was a bridge too far. My son became both adept at walking home from secondary school and waiting patiently for a pick up. My daughter is still waiting for the perfect three-tiered cake she anticipated on her 13th birthday; it simply didn’t happen. She managed netball seasons and representative netball ... without the perfect netball shoes - you know, the top of the range ones with arches made from homespun silk and soles handcrafted by artisans (yes, slight exaggeration) and similarly, our son did manage to wear his old cricket shoes for a whole season after losing his brand new ones, after just one wear.

They endured slightly imperfect sporting seasons perhaps, but they managed the experience and perhaps they learned those vital life lessons - that perfection is elusive, reality, sometimes a bitter pill to swallow; that life does go on, well enough, without the best cow costume ever constructed …or sport shoes that cause envy. Both son and daughter whilst always loved, also learned about missing out; delayed gratification and imperfect parents. I hope it has protected them from an ‘all or nothing’ mindset, because perfectionism is undoubtedly on the rise, fuelled by carefully curated air-brushed images and endless snapchat photographs that record perfect people indulging in perfect moments: it is, in the words of author, Brene Brown – people ‘trying to gain approval’. Far better to raise a child who takes failure square on the chin, who can say when they have worked hard and received a disappointing result. ‘I’m disappointed, but it’s okay; I’m still okay.’ And to have parents who mirror those words, genuinely, without a subtext. When we do – that’s healthy. If the message is: ‘I’m a failure. I’m not good enough,’ that’s perfectionism (Ruggeri, 2018) and a perfect storm for a sea of problems.

To be courageous, we must be willing to surrender our perfectionism,
if only for a moment. If my self-worth is attached to being flawless,
why would I ever try to learn anything new?
After all, learningrequires mistakes.
(Vironika Tugaleva, The Love Mindset)

And, it’s time we talked about it – the importance of difficulty, discomfort and disappointment as tools for learning and growth. I might just take a quick browse through the Evans family ugly album and, ever so humbly, remind myself of our own collective and very human imperfections.

References

Babur, O. New York Times. August 17, 2018 Talking About Failure Is Crucial for Growth. Here's How to Do It Right

Khazan, O. The Atlantic, 2018 ‘The Problem with Being Perfect

Nehmy, T. ABC News Analysis, 9 June 2019 Is your parenting style making your teen anxious?

Ruggeri, A. BBC, 2018 The dangerous downsides of perfectionism

Sherry, S. The Conversation, 2019 ‘Young people drowning in a rising tide of perfectionism

In Search of Empathy 31 May 2019

Learning to stand in somebody else’s shoes, to see through their eyes, that’s how peace begins. And it’s up to you to make that happen. Empathy is a quality of character that can change the world. (Barack Obama)

On Friday, I watched the Year 12s at ‘Shave for A Cure’ closely. There were tears, shock, photographs in the thousands (it is 2019 after all) and for so many, there was a precious lesson in empathy – a small glimpse into the world of those who have faced blood cancer. I do wonder how the 24th of May 2019 might play out in their lives: a school day unlike any other. It may become a poignant reminder that life isn’t always a smooth path, or it might provide a life-long nudge to support those in need, or, importantly, it might have a tangible effect, it might actually change their view of what matters and enhance their empathy for others. I applaud the bravery of those 52 girls whose important gesture has elicited generous donations that will make a difference, where making a difference is crucial. Similarly, those girls who assisted at Rosie’s on Sunday are learning about life beyond the grounds of Fairholme. They too are learning empathy.

Michelle Borba, author of the cleverly titled: UnSelfie: Why Empathetic Kids Succeed in Our All-About-Me-World, contends that we can learn empathy, and that we can also teach it sharing stories with a humane foundation, modelling compassionate behaviours, along with actual acts of kindness, all build an ability to see the world from the shoes of another. ‘Empathy is not a fixed trait; it can be fostered’ (Madigan, Jenkins and Jambon, 2018, p.1). My daughter works at a school in Melbourne for students aged 12–25 who have disengaged, or are at risk of disengaging, from mainstream education. Invariably, there are complexities in the lives of these young people that require the greatest of compassion, unconditional love, and a fierce determination to reach positive outcomes. Whilst at times I am beyond terrified by the risk-filled environment in which she works, and appears to thrive, I am also regularly heartened by her (often) daily stories of children who have made progress against any odds of them doing so. I’m humbled by the actions of the teachers and youth workers she works alongside, those who must have an empathy gene that is larger than most. Although I also know that whilst some children seem to be born with kindness, we do have a responsibility as adults (yes, yet again – more responsibility) to model it, foster it and support its growth in our children. ‘Shave for a Cure’ is one example of fostering empathy – in those who participated directly, and those who supported it financially.

Ironically, on the same day as ‘Shave for a Cure’, my twitter feed included a link to an article ‘Seven Ways to Foster Empathy in Kids’. Its author, Jill Suttie, critiques Michele Borba’s book where Borba asserts that photos and selfies themselves are not problematic, rather the underlying view that the subject of the selfie, is at the centre of the universe. When we become centred on self at the exclusion of others, it is no surprise that narcissism and self-absorption linger close by. Paradoxically, whilst the digital age has heightened connectivity it has also decreased face-to-face relationships. This, in turn, cited in Price-Mitchell (2015), may have led to a 48% drop in empathic concern for others over recent decades (see the abstract). It’s why engagement in Arts activities and sport are more important than ever – not only is there creativity, expression, musicality or physical development involved, there is also a plethora of opportunity for face-to-face relationship-building.

I was fortunate enough to attend the Cross Country dinner on Monday night, to share some thoughts about being part of a team – part of something bigger than oneself. Mr Tregaskis spoke about the same values – including some reflections on his favourite saying: Together Everyone Achieves More. Before the dinner began, all mobile phones were collected and placed in a basket. There were no selfies taken during the night. There was a gentle hum of conversation, a Cross Country clip was shared and the evening was punctuated by an obligatory, but always significant, jump’n’jive. To finish, staff and students cleared tables, stacked chairs and collapsed the trestle tables before heading home for a good night’s sleep. Were they developing empathy? Is that too big a stretch? I think not. In a small way they were; they engaged in face-to-face conversation, they listened politely to those who spoke, and they ‘helped with the dishes’ at the end.

Developing empathy doesn’t always occur in great acts of service, it can also develop when it is embedded in the smallest of actions too – stacking a chair, listening to hear, or taking time to consider the world from another viewpoint. I read it in #STYMIE notifications where girls are genuinely concerned about others – not for any gain themselves but because they care, deeply. There are some extraordinary students here at Fairholme: girls who care before they judge, who include others over and over again and who simply have the ability to consider someone else’s situation. To be truly empathic often requires bravery in taking action, in suspending a self-centred worldview and suspending judgement. What we seek to do, is to ensure that we consciously and explicitly offer opportunities for empathy to build – we all have a responsibility to this generation and future generations to be bigger than a selfie, and thus to challenge and disrupt the emerging age of narcissism. It can be as simple as ‘connecting behaviours to feelings when we talk to [our children], to help them to understand cause and effect’ (Madigan, Jenkins and Jambon, 2018, p.1).

We want to develop moral character rather than tangible rewards for service actions. I’m hoping that Friday’s ‘Shave for a Cure’ was first and foremost about the development of moral character and skills in empathy; any tangible rewards were secondary. To make a difference one must first take action – thank you to the many who did so on Friday.

References

Madigan, S., Jenkins, J. & Jambon, M. (2018). ‘Three strategies to promote empathy in children.’

Price- Mitchell, M. (2015). ‘Empathy in Action: How Teachers Prepare Future Citizens.’

Suttie, J. (2016). ‘Seven Ways to Foster Empathy in Kids’

Commitment 17 May 2019

Commitment ‘The state or quality of being dedicated to a cause, activity etc’ Oxford Dictionary.

Following Saturday afternoon’s Pre-Eisteddfod Choir Concert, Prefect for the Arts, Sienna Davis, thanked Music staff and members of the College Choirs for their participation and, importantly, for their commitment to their craft. For those of us fortunate enough to hear the girls honing their skills prior to the Toowoomba Eisteddfod performances, commitment was on display, on stage. Whilst Mr Dixon did remind the girls that some further rehearsal was important, there was no doubt to any of us, that significant musical distance has already been achieved this year, and that distance cannot be achieved without that essential quality – commitment.

Like a needle stuck in a record’s groove, I often hear my parents’ words ringing in my ears with resounding clarity, ‘If you say you’re going to do something then do it. It’s as simple as that, Linda.’ As an afterword they would often add ‘and do it as well as you can.’ Sometimes when opting out seems like a tantalising option I am drawn to that voice in my head with its persistent unshakeable and unavoidable echo … at such times I am simultaneously ungrateful and grateful for their Presbyterian work ethic, which they continue to model into their eighties. Yes, words have power but their effect is greatest when our actions match them. Their actions, and those of so many other influential people in my life, are the road map that continues to direct me, even when the pathway is obscured.

Fortunately, there have been many other teachers in my life who have reinforced the notion of completing that which you have begun and being a reliable team member. They are the adults who come to mind when asked, Who has had the greatest positive influence on you? As a young university student I worked for a dentist at the Fiveways – the intersection of Indooroopilly, Swann and Gailey Roads in Brisbane; and there I also learned lessons in commitment, work ethic and meeting obligations. I remember ringing Mr Kenny, my employer one rainy Wednesday evening, when an unfinished assignment deadline was hovering and saying that I had missed the bus to work. 'Not a problem,’ he said, 'I’m driving to pick you up right now. Where will you be?’ He added, ‘We’ve got a full list of patients tonight, two emergencies on the list, and I need you to be there.’ Clearly it was not the response that I anticipated or needed to hear – or was it? I remember standing nervously outside the gates to QUT Kelvin Grove – the first and last time Mr Kenny ever couriered me to work. It was a particularly quiet drive to the surgery and in that voluminous silence was an important message about commitment resounding with unwavering clarity; about the fact that in the workplace, people depend on you. If I’d been entirely honest with myself, there was also a message about being organised to meet deadlines.

I’m grateful that Mr Kenny was a patient teacher – that without berating me (or firing me) he taught me very clearly that if you say you’re going to do a job, then you need to do it. The assignment got finished in the early hours of that morning. It wasn’t my best (sorry Mum and Dad!) but at least I met my commitments. The worst of it would have been tiredness and a less than average assignment, and the best was the enduring realisation that the responsibility lay with me – not with my parents, not with the fabulous Mr Kenny, but with me. As parents, sometimes we need the quiet resolve of Mr Kenny, the insistence on our children meeting their first commitment, or regular commitments, because when we do that, we become the guiding voice into their future workplaces, homes and communities, and we raise children who will be respected for their responsibility and will be highly regarded members of teams. What a great legacy.

Thus, on sporting sidelines and as an audience member I am always attracted to those familiar faces of girls who invariably meet their commitments. They’re not always the fastest runners, the highest achievers academically, or the most talented musicians, but those girls have character. I see them pounding the oval after school where there is no audience; they’re the Year 12s who rise early to run through QCS questions before school; they’re the girls who meet their sporting commitments on the weekend of that well-known Toowoomba Schoolboy Rugby match; and they are the girls who participate in the annual Choir Camp and return on time for their musical rehearsal. Or, they’re that girl who stands on the sideline cheering on her teammates, with a leg in a moonboot or an arm in a sling – yes girls, we notice you and value that work ethic a great deal. We know that you’ve already learned more in education than that which is formalised and quantitative and measurable. There is, after all, more to formal education than formal education. The hidden curriculum is more pervasive in shaping who we are and who we will become in our lives than the curriculum that is mandated through the Queensland Curriculum Assessment Authority.

‘If you say you’re going to do something then do it. It’s as simple as that, Linda.’ And just in case you forget… ‘make sure that you do it as well as you can.’ Thanks Mum and Dad – and Mr Kenny, too for not enabling the easy option out even when I sought it with determination; sometimes ever so persuasively. Thank you to all of those teachers, adults and peers throughout my life who have modelled that adage – whilst it is typically both a blessing and a curse, I’m glad it’s an echo, a reminder, about what is important as a member of any team, anywhere, in any context. Commitment trumps talent in the long lessons of life, the important ones that create character: commitment – ‘a declaration of action towards something bigger than you are’ (words loosely attributed to Gandhi).

Why Travel? 2 May 2019

Time and time again, I’ve been taught by travel that we all have so much more in common than not. Allison Fluetsch

Having just returned from Sakura season in Japan, along with two dozen students and parents, I’m reminded, yet again, why travel entices me. I admit that I choose very deliberately to forget the discomfort of economy class with its seats that I try to rationalise as being ‘armchairs of the sky’ and ‘the passage to new lands’ (but realistically are always too close); the obligatory nasal assault of an eggy breakfast before dawn; and the long wending queues filled with fatigued travellers that miraculously appear upon arrival – as if a surprise to airport staff that three flights, including two A380s arrived on time and were filled with passengers. Yes, travel is not glamorous for the economy traveller, and, at times, it’s simply hard work - but like so many things – it’s worth the discomfort to unearth the treasures of difference and the delights of the unexpected.

Give me foreign streets to explore, language other than English to decipher, a menu I can’t decode, and I’m happy. Admittedly, I even enjoy exploring supermarkets in overseas destinations – comparing prices, goods and the purchases of locals. In that delicious juxtaposition of the familiar against the unfamiliar, I am absolutely present – except, that is, for that moment when I recently exited a bullet train with my ipad stashed carefully in the mesh pocket of the seat in front. Yes, travel also involves problem solving, trouble shooting and the need to do so – on the run, literally. Fortunately, on this occasion, the negotiation skills of Mr Goodsell, coupled with the honesty of the Japanese populace, meant I was quickly reunited with my lost property. Further, it provided a humble reminder that seasoned travellers also need to pay heed that ever-repeated advice: to check the seat pocket in front.

I typically remark to students as they head off to Europe, Japan or other destinations that travel is not always a 100% happy enterprise – a little like life itself. It is often, that when we return safely to our homes and the routines of life we know so well, that those travel moments take on a new meaning. It is as if we need a familiar context to examine those unknown contexts and assimilate those diverse travel experiences into our regular life: an exercise in perspective. Returning home gives a new appreciation for the plethora of things we take for granted, whilst being in a different country pushes us to consider life from a different vantage point – it seems like a win-win to me.

As part of the recent trek to Japan we had the pleasure of visiting Soshin School in Yokohama, the girls’ school from which students have joined us for a term-long experience over the past few years. Here is a school so like ours and so different from ours. Once, on a visit, Mrs Friend and I stumbled upon a day when the Soshin girls were rehearsing for a Dance festival – it felt like February at Fairholme when Marchpast practice and preparation dominate the psyche. Here, the class sizes bulge to beyond forty, computers are a rarity and girls bring three pairs of shoes to school each day – outside shoes, inside shoes and sports shoes. There are shoe lockers and umbrella stands and shiny linoleum hallways where staff and students shuffle elegantly in slippers. There is no morning tea break and lunch is eaten in classrooms. From the upper floor of one building, we could not see the Great Dividing Range, rather, a snow-capped Mt Fuji. ‘Same same but different’ as they say, and in that difference lies the delicacy of travel, for me, anyway.

The Fairholme girls who travelled on this trip were brave – for lots of reasons. Travel requires a degree of bravery from us all. Furthermore, venturing into the unknown evokes vulnerability, yet, in the words of author Brene Brown – ‘vulnerability is [also] the birthplace of innovation, creativity and change.’ We are, on travel occasions like this, a long way from home, sometimes feeling unwell or homesick and we find ourselves in the midst of the unfamiliar, with diverse travel mates and, often, ambiguity. What is going to happen next? Where am I? What is that food before me? How can I sleep on a futon on the floor with a hard bean-filled pillow, and is an onsen experience for me? Yet, we inevitably survive and thrive, and come to know ourselves a little better. We learn to wait, when plans change course and, at such times, unconsciously we are expanding our ability to be both patient and resilient. Travel teaches us humility, it gives scale to who we are and how small our footprint is on the world stage. It exposes us to both privilege and poverty and, I think, begs us to be broader in our world view and more compassionate in our understanding of others. It stretches our mindset and generally reminds us that most people, most of the time –irrespective of race or creed – are good human beings. Travel tragic and travel blogger, Alison Fleutsch, says it this way: ‘time and time again, I’ve been taught by travel that we all have so much more in common than not.’ I’d also like to think that its inevitable bumps, deviations and challenges grow us as people.

Comparatively, the same could be said of starting at boarding school or school camps – those experiences we sometimes fear can become the greatest of times because we discover that we have the capacity to overcome discomfort, the unknown, and the unanticipated. We can all grow our brave hearts. Our Japanese tourists – students, their families and staff can be justifiably proud of the way they ventured into new arenas with such enthusiasm. Travel encourages the adoption of new perspectives and, as we know, to do so can be both exhilarating and discomforting – sometimes simultaneously. Therein clichés like ‘no pain no gain’; ‘one must climb the tree to gain the fruit’ or in Warren Wiersbe’s wisdom: ‘If you want to enjoy the rainbow, be prepared to weather the storm’ have great resonance. Travel from an economy seat is never perfect (those seats really are too close for comfort) but there are moments, so many great moments that emerge because of some discomfort – and for the gift of a new perspective, I am always so grateful. That’s why I travel.

References

Brown, B. (2012). ‘Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead.’ New York: Gotham Books.

If you can’t be kind. Be quiet. 3 April 2019

There was a recent post on the Fairholme facebook page this week that said: ‘If you can’t be kind. Be quiet.’ It attracted a lot of likes from our online community. Perhaps because it was an apt illustration of the way in which social media can be used to transmit ideas and thoughts positively, rather than destructively. Perhaps it was a timely message, in the face of the Christchurch attack perpetuated by a terrorist and white supremacist, or perhaps it reflected a core tenet of Christianity – ‘do unto others as you would have them do unto you.’ We all benefit from kindness and thus it is of benefit to others when we extend kindness.

As we know, the Easter break nudges and with it the prospect of time – time at home, time away from home, or merely time away from the routine of school and schooling: time for kindness. For Christians, it marks the most important festival of the year: a time to pause and be thankful for the gift of life through Christ’s sacrifice on the cross. Always, this period in the year pushes me to a position of reflection, awe and of deep thankfulness.

I trust that we can all celebrate this holiday season with gratitude, and with due reverence for our New Zealand cousins for whom life has been redefined through the actions of one man: a racist, a terrorist, a white supremacist … a man who believed himself to be better and more important than others, a man who played God by choosing who deserved to live and who deserved to die. When he opened fire he took so much more than the lives of the innocent – he destroyed the optimistic outlook of Muslim communities in New Zealand and across the world; he stole peace and hope from the Christchurch community, and he shattered the city and the nation’s sense of safety.

Appropriately, across the world, there has been an outpouring of grief, despair and protest. There has been a plethora of social media posts, news bulletins and articles – and rightly so, because innocent people died at the hand and the choice of an adult. This is an action that demands our attention, and through its tragic wake we seek answers. Always, when tragedy occurs we must stop and ask – why? We might ask our God – why, but we must also ask what made this man act in the way he did? What led him to view himself as the saviour of white supremacists such as himself? What culture within Australia enabled and fed his hatred, his racism and his deep-seated intolerance of difference?

Journalist, Richard Glover, points to social media, as so many have, in the wake of this tragedy, as ‘the support engine for the seven deadly sins – lust, gluttony, anger, envy, sloth, avarice and pride.’ He writes eloquently of the ‘seatbelt moment for social media’ where finally governments are taking powerful legislative action to halt the amplification, the magnification and the augmentation of the ugliest of human behaviour. And I for one am rejoicing. Let me be clear, however; it’s not that I think that social media is responsible for a terrorist’s actions – that would be an easy out – a belief that human behaviour and choice are no longer in existence, completely usurped by the power of technology. But, there can be no denial – social media is an unfiltered megaphone where the ugliest of ideas held by humans can be spread with epidemic speed: invasively and, to a large extent, without our conscious knowledge. It is, as Glover (2019) writes, both an echo chamber and ‘a propaganda service for terrorists of all kinds.’

So what can we do in Australia or at Fairholme to stop such an event from happening again? Perhaps we answer, ‘nothing’, for we see it as an act of terrorism that we personally would never perpetuate and therefore we bear no responsibility: it happened to other people, it happened in another country – it’s not our problem. I think not. I think that every time we make a racist remark or a derogatory remark, every time we fail to be inclusive or patient around difference or whenever we think ourselves superior or better than another person – then we gift people like terrorists a little more confidence in behaving in the way they do, to believe the things they do. We give permission for hatred, and when we do, we must bear some responsibility; we are in some way complicit with those actions.

Tragedy demands action. It requires us to pause and reflect on the effect that we have on the whole complex web that forms the culture of Fairholme, of our wider society and of the world itself. Yes, from little things big things do grow. How appropriate, that within the Easter season we think in terms of our own renewal, new growth and adoption of a new outlook. It would seem that legislative changes will force technology giants to do so – to muffle the megaphone that it is, to be accountable in this cyberspace space of almost unlimited power, and finally to think of people before profit. It is not technology itself that is bad or evil but it can be the mouthpiece for those destructive inherent beliefs and behaviours of some; behaviours that seek to judge, exclude and condemn others in the ugliest of ways. I simply can’t bear the thought that we don’t seek to be inclusive, to be kind; to be respectful of all. This Easter especially, where there is time to pause, may we take time to remember all those who have been affected by the events in Christchurch and pray for their healing? Most of all, let us remember that our actions now, tomorrow, on line, and into the future can, will and do make a difference … we choose.

Look no further than the words of Farid Ahmed whose wife Husna was shot dead at the Al Noor mosque while trying to usher other women out – trying desperately to keep them safe from harm. Farid told a newspaper journalist that he had ‘no hatred’ towards his wife’s killer, just a deep sadness. Farid’s response exemplifies forgiveness and a deep humanity that simply takes my breath away.

Thus, quite simply: If you can’t be kind. Be quiet. What a powerful and beneficial choice to make!

References

Glover, R. (2019) ‘The Seatbelt Moment for Social Media.’ Spectrum, Sydney Morning Herald. March 30 – 31 2019; page 3.

Much More Then a Sherrin Football… 22 March 2019

A good father-daughter relationship… can empower daughters to believe in themselves and to prosecute a case with conviction and confidence. It can bestow upon a girl a sense of belonging, a self-efficacy and a resilience for life. - Madonna King

Just in the last week my early morning walk took me past a park in central Noosa. A father and son were playing soccer, the boy: skilled, the father: patient. The boy was almost dancing on the turf, so quick were his movements. I watched on as his father retrieved stray kicks, volleyed the ball back and forth, encouraged, and … laughed. It looked like so much fun that I wanted to scale the fence and join in. Perhaps it was a reminder of the countless hours spent kicking a red Sherrin leather football back and forth to my father on lazy Saturday afternoons at a time in life when phones were big, black and ugly and attached to walls by spiralling cords – immovable, singular objects within the family home that were used sparingly and with scrutiny. I’m sure, that as the father of four daughters and no sons, kicking an AFL ball was an activity he needed as much as me. For him it was possibly the physicality of the experience, for me it was not about training for the AFL Tribal Cup (it didn’t exist) but it was about uninterrupted time with my dad.

Yes, as I watched the father and son totally immersed in the simplest of activities, I felt a bit wistful; reliving those precious moments where time seemed to be slower and less complex; where the simple things were all we knew and where I had my father to myself … albeit wordlessly kicking an AFL ball to and fro. I learned a lot on those afternoons. I learned to persist, as my father’s endurance seemed to be endless; I learned to keep my eye on the ball, both metaphorically and literally; and I learned that improvement equated to effort – my effort – not my father’s but my own. I hung on the occasional words he spoke – the cue to draw the ball close to my chest or to jump higher for that elusive mark. Realistically, I didn’t need feedback, or praise, I just needed his time and his attention. Further, engaging in sport also gave me space. It gave me, in Atkinson’s (2014) words, ‘an interior experience, and the beauty and the joy of it, its sovereign territory belonged to me.’ It was an investment in our relationship as well as a foray into mindfulness.

Little did I know how significant those afternoons were. I don’t remember when they stopped being so, or how old I was when friends took precedence over the trips to the park down the road. During those lazy Saturday afternoon moments kicking that polished red leather Sherrin football, we were laying a foundation of trust and respect to help us through the bumps of adolescence, my adolescence – the period of time it took for me to define myself separately from my parents – that important but emotionally fraught sociological phenomena we’d like to hurdle but can’t. Susan Bonifant captures this in her article, ‘The surprising way teens talk about the parents they seem to ignore’ (2016) when she says, ‘the issues we face with our teenagers grow vastly more complicated every day, and although the specifics differ, the things they need most from us are the same. Teens need us to respect their individuality and to refuse to give up on them.’

I love that notion – of parents refusing to give up on their children – and by that I don’t mean extremities of parent abandonment or disowning their children, I’m referring to that enduring belief that adolescents can and will find their way, what’s more they can do it without our overzealousness. Not giving up is about severing our tongue before we release a tirade of ‘If onlys’, ‘Why haven’t you?, or worse, ‘Why can’t you be like…….?’ Admittedly, as a parent, I’ve grown practised at tongue holding and reframing my own expectations; after all, they are my expectations – not theirs. Yes, continue investing in your relationship with your daughter (or son) – it doesn’t have to be through kicking a red Sherrin football, or a soccer ball, as we know, because it’s not about the activity, it’s about time shared and the precious life lessons learned in the simplest of ways.

My dad and I actually enjoyed fishing together. He did more for me than help me get my fishhooks out of treetops though. He taught me values, discipline, appreciation for life and learning, and so much more. He helped me to recall the simpler times of my youth and the incidents that shaped my personality. Wilda Young, Fishhooks in Treetops

References

Atkinson, J. (2014). ‘How parents are ruining youth sports: Adults should remember what athletics are really about.’

Bonifant, S. (2016). ‘The surprising way teens talk about the parents they seem to ignore.’ The Washington Post.

King, M. (2018). Fathers and Daughters. Hachette: Australia.

We Need To Talk About… 7 March 2019

When Maree Crabbe ventured fearlessly into the contentious topic of pornography at a community session for parents, just over a week ago, she used the phrase: ‘it’s time we talked about …’ Whilst she was referring explicitly to pornography at the time, she also emphasised that the way in which parents talk with their children about weighty subjects makes such a difference. Further, she implored parents in the room to regulate their children’s technology use, an echo of #stymie founder Rachel Downie who advocates for the use of the internet management system, Family Zone, in and out of school.

As I have indicated in previous newsletters, pornography is considered the most significant sex educator for many young people (more than 90% of boys aged 13 to 16 had seen online porn before smartphones even existed). Given that the nature of contemporary pornography is graphic, aggressive in nature, and typically constructs women negatively and in a derogatory manner, it is a subject that warrants discussion, warrants filtering from private devices we purchase and pay for, and it will not go away simply through our will for it to do so. Just because it is tough to talk about does not grant us permission to ignore it, or rely solely upon schools to take full responsibility.

Whilst there are moments in a session with Maree Crabbe that are akin to a root-canal filling with or without anaesthetic, she speaks with great knowledge and wisdom. Pertinently, she speaks with concern for females whose construction in the world of ubiquitous pornography renders them helpless, as victims, and as hapless targets for male predators. Before you shudder in the same way I did when I saw the word pornography as core to the program at last year’s Alliance of Girls’ Schools Conference, be reassured that all effective parenting, now and before us, is based upon good relationships and an understanding of those teachable moments when we do need to talk about that which we find uncomfortable, or difficult. Further, venturing into conversations around respect, consent, critically literate approaches to technology use; and gender equality, all lay the groundwork for a positive sense of self – especially when these values and ideas are modelled consistently within the family home.

I thank those Fairholme parents who bravely joined others from across the region to hear Maree’s insights and wisdom. In being there, or for others who have wandered onto Maree’s website www.itstimewetalked.com, you have taken strong strides towards empowering both yourself and your children within this difficult space. We do need to keep communication lines open with our children; we do need to model respect in our relationships with all; we do need to utilise everyday examples in media as springboards for discussion; and we do need to consider our children’s access to technology. It is time we talked …. about things that matter, about our values and about gender, remembering that we are collectively seeking to raise confident, resilient and strong women.

For all parents who are keen to be active in the monitoring of their daughter/s privately owned technology, and thus to enable those conversations where teachable moments lurk, I have included, again, information regarding the internet management system: Family Zone.

  • Fairholme is using Family Zone to manage internet access by students while their laptops are at school.
  • Fairholme College wants students to be protected on the internet, no matter what device they are on or what source of internet they are using. Therefore we have arranged for parents to have access to the Family Zone’s Mobile Zone app to manage internet access on College-supplied laptops when students take them home and also for use on privately owned devices (such as mobile phones).
  • The school is covering the cost and has already installed the Mobile Zone app on all college supplied laptops. However you do still need to create a Family Zone account if you wish to manage your daughter’s laptops when connected to the internet at home – *an annual fee may apply.
  • If you would like to upgrade your Family Zone account, to cover privately owned devices and/or other children in your home, please contact their friendly Support Team on 1300 398 326 or refer to Fairholme’s Cyber Safety Hub

Peering Into The Future, Now21 February 2019

I could never have imagined that my first taste of avocado as a ten year old, would foreshadow a penchant for its creamy fruit. I remember my mother spreading its greenish-yellow flesh onto buttered toast and me falling for the taste, instantaneously. My father was appalled. At that time he had no avocado palate. Of course none of us could have imagined the prime place of smashed avocado on every café menu across the country from the dawn of the twenty-first century. Neither could I have possibly envisaged that I would spend part of December of 2018 reading a book entitled The Land Before Avocado. Thanks, Richard Glover, for providing a captivating view of my past and hence a humbled view of the present and its future. The avocado boom was an impending trend that passed my crystal-balling abilities. Yet the future is always a tantalising space; we like to speculate about it, imagine it, and, if we are brave enough – we attempt to predict its path.

It is an oft-asked question, ‘What’s the future of education?’ It’s the billion-dollar question really, and, if I could possibly provide an erudite response, I would. Alas, I suspect the future is already amongst us, the technologies and approaches we dreamed of just a year ago are with us and before us. Last Tuesday, I strolled through the Greta Centre and watched as our Year 10 cohort engaged in their Specialist Elective … STIMulated for those girls dabbling in the technologies of virtual reality, 3D printers and innovative, entrepreneurial problem-solving. Somewhere off campus, girls were undertaking their first taste of avionics. Others were working with the Mater Hospital for a serious foray into the practical application of health science, whilst some dedicated fitness fanatics began a certificate in that discipline. My list of the specialist electives is not exhaustive but, significantly, what struck me was that I had that unique sense of strolling through the future, whilst being very much within the present. As Ashleigh Brilliant reminds, the trouble with education is that the future is not what it used to be.

And it’s not. Although I was born long before smashed avocado was a diet staple, I see it as a tasty metaphor for the pop-up shop, app development, on-line culture this young generation inhabits. Through these mechanisms, I get to peer into, and journey through, the future. Don’t imagine for a moment that this techno-rich culture defines adolescents’ world in an absolute sense. It doesn’t. Having watched the Equestrian Team in action on Saturday and the Laura Geitz Netballers on Sunday, I’m appeased and heartened that there are other elements that drive their worlds – sport, music, reading, conversing … the list meanders onwards.

But, in thinking of the paradox of future dreaming, the master-planning process Fairholme is very much about imagining the future, now. It is about that heady experience I enjoyed last Tuesday during the Specialist Elective sessions – of navigating the future whilst existing in the present. Mrs Mavis Foote – a student of the College in its early years – said that Spirit was the greatest feature of Fairholme, but she also added this: ‘We left that School with a feeling that it had affected our whole lives. We were given certain principles to follow on which to base our lives. What better can a school do than to feed the present but to lay a guiding hand on the future?’ That is the essence of masterplanning – not pushing our own ‘here and now’ barrow of what we want, but, in the exquisite words of Nelson Henderson, we are planting trees, under whose shade we do not expect to sit … Thus, as we journey through our master-planning process with Brisbane firm: m3architecture, we will be laying a guiding hand into the future and planting metaphoric trees under whose shade we may not ever sit.

I am hoping that many will take up the opportunity to engage in this process and be part of our Town Meeting scheduled for 6.30pm on 23 April. On this evening M3architecture will work with us to glean an understanding of our collective vision for Fairholme’s built environment. Churchill encapsulated this in 1944 when he stated, ‘We shape our buildings, and afterwards, our buildings shape us.’ There are many ‘smashed avocado’ opportunities for the Fairholme of the future and I trust that you earmark this date and enjoy the chance to explore the fabric of our future Fairholme community.

‘Nothing we can do can change the past, but everything we do changes the future.’ Ashleigh Brilliant.

To Begin… 8 February 2019

I admit that I love the beginnings of school years: the energy that is palpable, the influx of new faces and the learning possibilities for all. I find it exciting. But I could easily swing into nervousness rather than excitement if I so chose – and it is my choice.

Beginnings bring opportunity but they also bring change and change itself is often seen as daunting. Whilst parents may embrace the start of a new school year after weeks of, ‘What are we going to do today?’ or ‘Can I?’ or ‘I’m bored’ conversations, others may not. Implicit in beginning, fear may lurk – because for some, starting at a new school is the biggest change they have ever confronted. Quite simply, starting at Fairholme is an act of bravery for some of our new students and their families. Exchanging a distance education classroom sited in your family home hundreds of kilometres from a city for the middle school at Fairholme is a significant change; leaving the security of a school where you know every single teacher, student and those students’ parents constitutes change; and so, too, sending your daughter overseas to an unknown homestay family is an act of trust. Thus, for many parents (even those who have grown weary of the ‘can’t we do something exciting today’ conversations) – the beginning of a school year can bring other change complexities and realities.

Similarly, each staff member and student who began the term at Fairholme last week could be placed somewhere on the sliding scale between anxiety and excitement. Whilst the physiological symptoms are the same – heightened heart rate, butterflies fluttering in one’s stomach, sweaty palms, restless sleep – the words we attribute to each of those emotions are very different. As we know, cognitive behaviour therapists tell us that the way we think directly links to the way we feel. When our self-talk or conversations are negatively based, invariably so too are our feelings. Change your thoughts. Change your feelings.

Recently, I asked my wise mother about how she had dealt with my three sisters and me leaving home, travelling overseas, living in different states of Australia, and her considered answer was, ‘I’ve never spent time worrying about the things I cannot change, I’ve just accepted them and got on with things.’ And she has. I envy the straightforward and resolute worldview of my mother. Like others of her vintage she has lived through a world war, a depression, recessions and personal tragedies – I value her clear perspective on things. Leigh Sales’ book Any Ordinary Day: What Happens After the Worst Day of Your Life? reminds that …. ‘to spur growth, it [the change] must be seismic; it must shake you to your core and cause you to fundamentally rethink everything you believe. The higher the level of stress caused by the event, the greater the potential for change.’ I am eternally hopeful that beginning at Fairholme does not, will not, on any measure, equate to anyone’s worst day of their life but I am cognisant that for some – travelling thousands of kilometres from another country to be here; leaving family; exchanging a classroom in a different sub-school or meeting hundreds of new students – can be daunting, confronting and, depending on the situation, life-changing.

Whilst Sales’ book speaks to tragic events, it also relates directly to the notion of beginning again after a significant change of direction, traversing the unanticipated fork in the road, or venturing into a foreign context. She explores the positives that can follow momentous change and the way in which stress can be used for good. For some of us, stress propels us forward, it provides the impetus to begin, and it can allow us to achieve at our highest level. Yet, the words and feelings that we attribute to stress often brand it erroneously. Stress can also paralyse us and render us frozen, and we have to work hard to navigate our way forward to a new perspective. Change your thoughts. Change your feelings. Look up, look ahead, and channel an optimistic perspective as you do, because ahead of us lie myriad opportunities for growth and great potential to change positively.

The energy of classrooms; the Year 12’s launch into 2019; our Boarders’ trip to Wet and Wild; the first forays into new subjects; the anticipation of a school musical, school camps on the horizon; and the selection of sports teams … so much has already begun and so much has yet to begin. May the sliding scale of excitement verses anxiety nudge its way closer to excitement on every count as we begin a new year, embrace new experiences, and look forward to the changes that can occur when we seek out opportunity and allow any stress we feel to be a propellant and not a repellent. As we begin again, or begin anew, may we remember that we have already taken the largest and most difficult step.

After all, ‘The beginning is the most important part of the work’ (Plato, The Republic).

Dr Linda Evans | EdD, MA, BEdSt, Dip T, MACE, MACEL