‘In Principal’ 2019
Living Treasures 15 November 2019
‘The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others.’ Mahatma Gandhi
I have been going to the same gym for eleven years … if you were to add all my visits over that time, it might average as just two a week. I used to be more dedicated than I am now, even though a good friend accompanies me and we try to keep each other honest to our commitment. There are others who began around the same time as me whose paths I’ve crossed often, who do the same classes as we do – like us, these are the long-term regulars. There are many whose names I don’t know – a young blond woman and her partner – who always seem to be there irrespective of time of day. They are focused, they lift heavy weights, and run on the treadmill for hours … they are formidably fit but they always have time to smile - wave – acknowledge.
Gyms are interesting places; like schools they have their own unwritten rules. There are those that place a towel on a machine and thus the machine belongs to them. There are those who expect to sit on the same bike for each spin class and make their indignation clear, if it is not available. There are those who go quietly about their routine. There are those who want to chat. And there are those that don’t.
Having been to this same gym for well over a decade (albeit the gym has had three name changes), do I have greater rights than those who are new? Do I have a right to my favourite bike when I go to my early morning spin class – even if I’m a few minutes late, and when I walk into a Pilates class, can I reasonably expect to claim a particular spot for my mat and be cross if someone else is there? How inclusive am I when someone new arrives? Is it more my gym than it is someone else’s?
We could ask the same questions at Fairholme – does someone have greater claim because of longevity, the time when they began, or because they have generational links? I’d like to think not. What they undoubtedly have through longevity, however, is a wider network of connection, a deeper understanding of culture, and perhaps a greater attachment to the unwritten protocols that support that culture. Perhaps there is a deeper indebtedness, perhaps not. At ‘Presenting Fairholme’ we were delighted to recognise the service of five of our regular archival assistants: Jocelyn Mercer, Leona Morton, Sue Palmer, Kay Gregory and Heather Harrison. All of these service award recipients are mothers of past Fairholme students, and, included in that five are past Prefects, a Head Girl and former staff member, and the daughter of an original Spreydon student. According to our archivist Mrs Jenny Noble, ‘What they don’t know about Fairholme’s history or Toowoomba’s past is simply not worth knowing.’
These humble but knowledgeable women have been volunteering at Fairholme every week, since 2009. They have, according to Jenny Noble, ‘turned boxes of stuff into a historical resource for current and future members of the Fairholme community.’
I sat with them briefly on Tuesday this week, and I delighted in their skill as they slowly, patiently, meticulously and carefully restored book prizes donated by the family of a student who finished at Fairholme College nearly a century ago. There was laughter, discussion about the quality of the books, the story of the donor, and general chit chat about Fairholme-esque topics, politics and the weather. I could have sat there all day and listened and observed. Their general knowledge is outstanding, their love for Fairholme – palpable, and their camaraderie – heart-warming. Despite their longevity of service, and their clear attachment to ‘their’ school, there is also a refreshing humility in their manner; they are beautifully inclusive and keen to preserve history for the future – whomever is part of that future.
In fact, I even suspect that, if I were to run into them at my gym, they would give up their bike for me, or for someone else. It’s no wonder that they have been dubbed our living treasures, and we are so grateful for their conservation of our history through their weekly service to the College – it preserves the future for everyone associated with the school.
You Can’t Say No? 31 October 2019
‘Oh it seems to me/That sorry seems to be the hardest word.’ (Elton John)
Elton John’s classic could easily be rewritten and retitled. In the context of raising adolescents I quite like the idea of ‘NO seems to be the hardest word’. I remember clearly the impact of the word No on my thirteen-year-old daughter, Natalie – albeit in 2003. The first occasion that comes rapidly to mind was a conversation around new netball shoes. The memory is strong because I think this may have been the first adolescent tantrum we had encountered; its flavour and appearance redolent of a toddler paroxysm but with much more sophisticated and hurtfully direct language. Natalie had decided that the skill of her netball match play had a direct correlation to the amount of money we, her parents, expended upon her shoes. Of course, what she had in mind were the top-of-the-range model that every girl in her team, and probably Australia, possessed. It was a Saturday and we were about to get into our car on our way to Grand Central when I broke the news (I thought quite judiciously and gently) that I was happy to put in $100 towards her shoes: yes, in 2003, that did buy an excellent netball shoe.
Her response was extreme, to say the least. A majestically orchestrated tantrum followed. We were denying her of future representative honours, her opportunity to become a Firebird had diminished in an instant, and we were possibly the cruellest parents in the world… quite possibly. Our next-door neighbour at the time, is a great friend and just happens to be a highly accomplished school principal. Even she was impressed by the strength of Natalie’s response. I remember that she came outside to make sure that there wasn’t a medical emergency, third world war announcement, or dreadful family tragedy that had just occurred.
‘No’, I said with irony tinging my response, ‘just a discussion around netball shoes.’
‘Oh’, she replied wryly, ‘Netball shoes.’
I don’t remember the details of what happened next, but have no doubt it was not a happy family moment. I do know that Natalie did not buy ‘those’ netball shoes for some time. She actually saved birthday money and money from the cleaning jobs she completed next door with uncharacteristic enthusiasm for our knowledgeable and wise neighbour. How easy it would have been to buy the top range shoes: much more peaceful, and of course, at a time when alignment with one’s daughter waxes and wanes, there would have been a delightful feeling of allegiance and agreement. She would have been happy. There would have been no cross words exchanged, and life would have been peaceful – until the next time, and the next time, and the next…
Saying no does not guarantee a peaceful existence, sadly. We may (or may not) be comforted by the words of David Palmiter, a clinical psychologist and professor at Marywood University in Scranton who assures that parenting a teen is inherently stressful, even in the best scenarios (in Neighmond, 2014). The parent who tells you that their adolescent daughter is always even in temperament, accepts your every word, and happily follows your directions, either isn’t being truthful, or they haven’t yet begun the path to independence that allows them to become functioning adults in the future. Palmiter (in Neighmond, 2014) does assure us that the challenging, questioning and sometimes patronising manner of our adolescents is in fact ‘healthy’ (really, David?) and may well mean that you are doing things right as parents. Yes, even when it feels otherwise …
Adolescents are very clever in their quest for independence – it is an intrinsic drive to be separate from parents whilst at other times strongly knitted to them – no wonder it’s confusing. Our girls can become experts in sharing the partial truth of a situation. They give enough factual information to help us to believe their story. At times when they have slipped up, there’s often a sanitised version of the situation, one that includes details and omits others, that positions us to see them as victim, as someone who just made a silly choice but didn’t realise the consequences. Or they give us information about how much worse other children are, which leads us to some momentary back- patting. Because we want to believe them. We want to believe this precious child who we see as an extension of ourselves. So what do we do? Do we allow our daughter to gain a valuable lesson, do we seize the ‘teachable moment’, or do we blame others and shield her from any learning, in order to ‘protect’ her from consequences? Or, when it is appropriate, do we say, ‘No, I think there’s more to this story’?
How many of us avoid saying no because it is simply too hard? It causes tension. It leads to insufferable teenage tantrums. It means there is an imperfection or humanness in ourselves or our children that we don’t want to acknowledge. Of course, once we ease the guidelines there is just another situation around the corner where it becomes even harder to say no. Because then, when we need to pull out the BIG NO, the definitive no, the one that matters a great deal to our daughter’s safety, our values, and our peace of mind, we have lost the skill to do so. Nonetheless, we must also be judicious in its use, because ‘there are only so many times you can say no’ (McCoy) and maintain a relationship.
In her article, Cusk powerfully describes oft fraught nature of adolescence:
Until adolescence, parents by and large control the family story. The children are the subject of this story, the generators of its interest or charm, but they remain, as it were, characters, creatures derived from life who nonetheless have their being in the author’s [parents’] head.
A large part of parental authority is invested in the maintenance and upkeep of this story. But it is perhaps unwise to treasure this story too closely or believe in it too much, for at some point the growing child will pick it up and turn it over in his hands like some dispassionate reviewer composing a cold-hearted analysis of an overhyped novel. The shock of critique is the first, faint sign of the coming conflict, though I wonder how much of what we call conflict is in fact our own deserved punishment for telling the story wrong, for twisting it with our own vanity or wishful thinking, for failing to honour the truth. (Cusk, 2015)
I trust you too are surviving the netball-shoe moments and weathering the storm of independence-seeking behaviour. Beneath their quest for separation is also a powerful drive for closeness and time – your time, always. Our challenge is to unpack the murky entwining of the two, to be comfortable to say both yes and no – as appropriate – and remember that our job is ultimately to let our children go and grow with the skills of reality, not perfection. We all watch on, with heart in mouth as they stumble, and as we stumble to guide, to chide, and to raise the best person we can, even if it means an occasional but definitive NO!
‘Oh it seems to me/That [NO] seems to be the hardest word.’ (apologies to Elton John)
Cusk, R. (2015). ‘Teenagers: what’s wrong with them?’ The Australian. April 25, 2015.
Neighmond, P. (2014) ‘Want More Stress In Your Life? Try Parenting A Teenager’ › (July 16, 2014)
Embrace the Near Win… 15 October 2019
Every time we set a goal – be that public, or private – we place ourselves on course for success or failure; at least that’s the dominant reading of such scenarios. Rarely, do we give enough psychological attention to near wins or near misses, because we tend to work in absolutes around occasions like grand finals, jobs, leadership positions, eisteddfod performances – we are winners or we are not. What about our near wins? What about our nudge at success? It is these moments that are the propellants for future goals and achievements – not always in the same context, or for the same occasion, but these moments provide fuel to push us onwards towards new targets. I am hopeful that our athletes who recently competed at National Equestrian Championships, State Tennis Championships, Vicki Wilson Championships, All Schools’ Touch Tournament or National Athletics all embraced their near wins, as well as their wins, and paid due attention to the learning inherent in these important moments.
I’ve watched a lot of sport in the past three weeks – Vicki Wilson Netball games, the AFL and NRL Grand Finals and a series of All Schools’ Touch games over this weekend just passed. I’m reminded of how much we learn on the field, or on the court - about ourselves and our team mates. How we approach a final, how we fight back from being down on the scoreboard, and how gracious we are in winning or losing all reflects a lot about individuals and teams.
As I write this article it’s just over three hours since our Open Girls’ Touch team were knocked out of the finals grouping at the All Schools’ Touch competition. They lost 4-3 in a tough match and they played hard. From the sideline, I could say they didn’t play their best match of the tournament – but then again the sideline view is a skewed one. Despite the clarity of vision we often believe we have as onlookers, there’s nothing like being out on the field, or on the court. We don’t really know how much the opposition has dictated the play, or if a referee decision or three made the twenty-five minute game more gruelling, nor do we know whether some players were carrying undisclosed injuries … after all that’s the complexity of sport. It isn’t always as it appears to spectators. A lot of factors align (or don’t) when the pointy end of a season or tournament is reached.
Our three Touch teams played some fantastic Touch over the weekend. They also waded through mud, slipped over, got pushed too hard on a touch, won, lost, dropped balls, sprinted hard, had referee calls go against them (and for them) and shivered on sidelines as they cheered on one of the other Fairholme teams. They learned yet again about being part of a team, the importance of every member within that team – irrespective of touchdowns scored – and, importantly, that sometimes the game itself matters much more than the end point. Sometimes, a near win can be more motivating than an actual win … sometimes Sarah Lewis in her 2014 TED talk writes of the importance of embracing the near win, because, in her words, ‘Coming close to what you thought you wanted can help you to attain more than you ever dreamed you could.’
It’s why the folklore of AFL grand finals is repeated annually: ‘You can’t win a grand final until you’ve lost one.’ It’s why Richmond Tigers and the Roosters were the real favourites for their respective final wins, whilst Greater Western Sydney and Canberra Raiders were the fairytale favourites. It’s why the commentary post-match inevitably took the line of – Well they’ve won before, so they understand what it means to play in the big arena. They know that a grand final is unlike any other match. Our Netballers and Touch players learned a lot over their respective tournaments. I think they all learned again about those important life lessons, like keeping their heads up, even when the scoreboard is not in their favour. They learned to keep going, until the final hooter sounds – the Fairholme echo, ‘finish well’, resounding loudly. They learned to be generous in their forgiveness of their teammates’ errors (and their own) and supportive of effort rather than outcome. So much more is learned than how to play better, stronger, faster … yes, so much is learned about life itself on a grassy field or a lined court.
Games aren’t won or lost on the basis of a referee’s call, even in the sting of a ‘six to go, six not to go’ call! They are won and lost long before the players take to the field or court. If the parents of our Senior Vicki Wilson team were to add the minutes and hours of practice and games that preceded the girls’ grand final, they would give testament to that. Finals are a little transitory really; often just an hour or so to prove a point, or demonstrate how a season (and all that’s gone before it) of work can lead to an outcome. Like so much of what we do that has a quantitative endpoint, we can too easily focus on the ‘test’ itself and deny our memory of the all important lead-in Preparation, practice and the will to succeed figure highly in such circumstances. There are no short cuts to success in matters that matter. Fairy tale finishes don’t occur just because we wish them to, feel that we are entitled to them, or believe they would make for a better story-line. There are no promises in sport, and in life itself, and sometimes, our efforts place us a long way from, or alternatively, very close to, success – but not on the target itself. It happens to us all, to everyone. Getting some practice in during school is not a bad thing at all.
But when there’s been effort and focus and hard work, we really do need to embrace the near win more. The near win propels us on to a future success, it gives impetus and focus and a drive that a win can sometimes deny us.
Our Senior Vicki Wilson team and U15 Touch team finished second in Queensland in their respective finals. Both teams appropriately embraced their near wins. I loved watching their effort and their skill, their grit and their determination – it had a poetic quality to it on both occasions – and I have no doubt that next time these girls face up to a challenge they will do so with greater confidence and greater resolve, irrespective of context. After all, Lewis (2014) reminds us that, ‘we thrive not when we’ve done it all, but when we still have more to do.’
Lewis, (2014). TED Talk. Embrace the Near Win
If You Get Caught Speeding… 20 September 2019
It’s expensive when you park for too long in Wandoo Street in Brisbane – or so we discovered on Father’s Day. As we drove off and ventured along James Street, a flapping ticket tucked under the left windscreen wiper came into view.
‘Hmmm … I’m thinking it looks a lot like a parking ticket,’ comes the voice of our almost thirty-year-old daughter. ‘Really, that’s not fair, we must have only been there for ten minutes over the hour.’
‘There were a stack of others there before we parked - I hope they…’ and then I stopped myself.
The words… ‘If you get caught speeding it’s not a defence to say, but so were others,’ came bubbling to mind. It doesn’t matter who else was speeding. It really doesn’t matter - ‘you are responsible for you’. Gosh, how easily we had fallen into a ‘that’s unfair’ frame of mind and started to focus on everyone else’s behaviour, ignoring our own. Thus, with a little reluctance but a clear sense of obligation, we have (of course) paid the fine, and have made a very strong mental note to observe parking restrictions into the future - especially in Wandoo Street. It’s a fairly trite example, I know, but I was struck at the time by our immediate reaction - and a little horrified, to be honest.
The feeling hurtled me back to one Christmas holidays when our children were very young. We were on our annual pilgrimage to South West Rocks, to a favourite camping spot. On route we called in to Kempsey to pick up some groceries. Mitchell jumped out of the car with enthusiasm and jammed his bare foot onto a large piece of broken glass. And there began our long-awaited holiday - with blood, screaming and tears. We bundled ourselves back into the car in search of a doctor open late on a Saturday afternoon. I admit that a plethora of thoughts ran through our minds - ‘Why doesn’t the Council clean up the streets?’ ‘Why can’t people pick up their own rubbish?’ ‘Why weren’t you wearing shoes, Mitchell?’ and finally … ‘Why didn’t we check on Mitchell’s footwear ourselves?’
Yes, sadly, sometimes our very human and understandable default mechanism in an uncomfortable situation is to look everywhere but to our own behaviour. It’s so much easier to be cross with the Kempsey Council for Mitchell’s multiple stitches, or berate him for being bare-footed on a footpath, rather than wonder why we didn’t suggest footwear to our own four year old. And then there’s that other uncomfortable bind - our response will become his response to similar situations into the future. In her article, ‘The Things Our Kids Will Learn From Us (whether we like it or not)’, Karen Young writes:
Kids don’t miss a thing. Not a single thing…. as much as they are sponges, they are mirrors. Beautiful mirrors in fleshy skin suits with uncensored actions and uncensored words that they learned from watching and listening to us. The number of times I’ve gone to re-direct my children to a better response or a better way of being and truth stares me down like I’m a hunted thing - they learnt that from me - the good things and the not-so-good things. I didn’t tell them. I didn’t teach them. I just ‘did’. And it’s powerful. (Young, 2015).
What do we want our children to learn from us? Answer: ‘A tolerance of delayed gratification and a strong sense of gratitude’, says Dr Rangan Chatterjee (2019). In his article ‘Six ways to raise a resilient child’, Chatterjee talks about supporting and allowing the development of our children’s skills to overcome difficult experiences, and, importantly, to be shaped positively by them. ‘We can’t remove all the challenges they face,’ he writes, but we can pass on skills to ‘help them [deal] with stress and adversity.’ We can teach, model and nurture a mindset that acknowledges that I will feel down at times, but I do know how to pick myself back up again. I do have the skills to wait my turn, and I am grateful for all that I have. Chatterjee believes that ‘helping our children navigate the stresses and strains of daily life is more important than ever.’ His article finishes on a beautiful note - he describes an exercise in modelling gratitude where one replaces those inevitable, well-intentioned but often harried and cliched, after-school interchanges; you know, those questions like … ‘What did you do today?’ ‘Who was annoying?’ ‘What did you do at lunch?’ Instead, create a new ritual …
What did someone do today that made you happy?
What did you do today to make someone happy?
What have you learned today?
Chatterjee (2019) reminds that simple questions like these can reframe a day, they can lift mood, and they can teach those fundamentally important skills of gratitude, optimism and kindness - skills for life, and skills for perspective. Whilst they might not always safeguard us from the wont to deflect blame when we get caught speeding, or parking too long in a regulated area … they are skills that humanise us and, as we know, our children don’t miss a thing - they are sponges and they become our mirrors - and we really do want them to develop strong mental muscles - and pay their parking fines with good grace, don’t we?
Perhaps the beckoning holidays allow us to start a new dinner-table ritual?
Chatterjee, R. (2019). ‘Six ways to raise a resilient child’ › The Guardian, 5 January 2019.
Morin, A. (2018). ‘Mentally Strong Kids Have Parents Who Refuse to Do These 13 Things’ › Well-Being, January 4, 2018.
Young, K. (2015) ‘The Things Our Kids Will Learn From Us (whether we like it or not)’ › Hey Sigmund: where the Science of Psychology Meets the Art of Being Human.
I will prepare and some day my chance will come (Abraham Lincoln) 5 September 2019
Just last week I wandered through the Amy Carson Room where a dozen or more Seniors were working through QCS questions together. Nothing special, given that QCS will have been and gone by the time this newsletter is published? I think not. It was special. It was before 8am in the morning and not a teacher in sight… student agency was palpable. I felt like an interloper, and a superfluous one at that. And I was. These girls were organised, focused, and utilising their own skills to facilitate understanding and learning — it doesn’t get much better than that in a school context.
Head of Sport, Tony Tregaskis, likes to talk about the power of a team and the acronym: Together Everyone Achieves More. When you see the Fairholme Athletics team in operation at Toowoomba Secondary Schools Athletics you can feel the team effect; it’s special too, and its creation is deeply embedded in the culture of the school. This truism could not have more relevance for the way in which the QCS results are calculated — the performance of Team Fairholme has a bearing on each individual’s results. That’s why teachers, under the leadership of Dr Carole Hill, have worked with such focus over the past year to draw together the QCS student team, to prepare them for what is to unfold— because the accountability for outcomes ultimately lies with them. We can mark practice exams, give feedback, provide direction, but without student agency within the process, our efforts and our focused buzzing, are to no avail.
When I look at the NAPLAN results for this year I am reminded, too, that these results can in no small way be attributed to a culture of learning, a culture of high expectations and the College values of ‘seeking excellence’ and ‘collaboration’. Our girls take such situations seriously but not obsessively; they do know that as part of a wider team, their own effort matters. Similarly, the work of Senior School teachers in preparing 2020 assessment items for endorsement within the ATAR process has mirrored such a culture — they, too, have sought excellence and worked collaboratively; this has been reflected in the positive feedback received on Friday from QCAA.
Look no further than the work of Chris Fagan in patiently developing and preparing a team of AFL footballers, some with individual brilliance but, importantly, a group bound by a determination to work together towards the best outcome possible. Fagan has been rebuilding a culture since his appointment in 2016 and, in every sense, the Brisbane Lions have been preparing for a finals berth for the past three years. Colin Powell (former US Secretary of State) says, ‘There are no secrets to success. It is the result of preparation, hard work, and learning from failure.’
Ironically, we so often seek out a short cut, or a quick means to accomplishment, or we look enviously at the easy success of a peer. Nothing of value is achieved without preparation and repetition of skill, and that is why true accomplishments have weight and meaning. Chris Fagan reminds us: ‘The biggest mistake you can make in finals is when you think you have to raise everything by 25 per cent. It’s not that. It’s just doing what you do well, over and over again.’ Preparation, practice and repetition, whilst mundane at times, are the bedrock ingredients for ‘chance’ success.
The words of Abraham Lincoln — ‘I will prepare and some day my chance will come’ — could be the motto of Australian, Steven Bradbury who, in 2002, won a gold medal at the Salt Lake City Winter Olympics … because he was the last man standing, literally. A speed skater, Bradbury took gold when the other four competitors in the race crashed on the last bend. It was a spectacular finish. Bradbury was a hero for some time; deemed the luckiest man on the ice. Australians adored and applauded the underdog who made good in the most unlikely circumstances; someone who took his chance. What people failed to remember was that Bradbury’s mere presence as a competitor at the Winter Olympics was the result of years of groundwork, practice and persistence. The famous finish occurred because of a lifetime of preparation. Some day… my chance will come…
Guthrie, B. (2016) Dec 2, 2016 7:59am Fagan sets about changing Lions’ culture ›
Author unknown. The Age, July 15, 2019 1:46pm Model of a rebuild: How Fagan revived the Lions ›
When The Plan Doesn’t Run To Plan… 22 August 2019
If we’re really honest with ourselves, we are all compulsive script writers. We make plans, construct visions of idyllic outcomes for ourselves and our children, or make decisions based on what will, or at least what should happen. Not surprisingly, when things don’t run to (our) plan, we can feel affronted, disappointed or, at worst, ready to blame and attack the first sign of a possible culprit. What a wonderful skill it is when we can readjust, realign our expectations and simply get on with things.
When my son and his partner planned their four month trip to India, I am reasonably confident that they wrote a script for how things would unfold. I admit that when they announced their ‘gap year’ plans (there have been quite a few post school gap years I might add), which adds a two year working trip to Glasgow to the India sojourn, part of me wished that I had raised a less adventurous son. With effort, the sensible part of me was reminded that it is my job to raise independent adults, not dependent ones. Inevitably there were some date changes as they created their plans and recreated them too, but all seemed on track for their early morning departure on Sunday 4 August. In a gracious moment we had agreed to drive them to the Coolangatta airport at a ridiculously early departure hour. But, a phone call just a week before departure changed that.
‘Hi Mitch.’ I stopped myself from asking why he was calling mid-way through a work day because I knew that it wasn’t likely to be an enquiry about my health and wellbeing.’
We’ve had a bit of a hitch with our plans,’ he pronounced, full of bravado.
Plucking a concerned but casual tone from my repertoire, I asked, ‘Have you had a flight change?’
‘You could say that.’ Pause. ‘Hmmm, my passport has just gone through the wash, along with my Indian travel visa.’ Long pause - some intentional tongue severing on my part – don’t say those words, Linda, that are hovering on your lips, don’t say: ‘How on earth did that happen?’ And so I let him fill the gap and take responsibility for a small mistake with larger consequences.
‘Love rarely runs on time’ (words from a Paul Kelly song), despite our best intentions, despite our considered expectations, despite our best planning: plans rarely run exactly to plan either. A new passport and visa were ordered… they arrived about 12 hours before the rescheduled flight. I managed to avoid saying, ‘Do you think you might have cut things a bit fine?’ although I thought it. Because, as author Michael Grose reminds, ‘as parents our job is to make ourselves redundant from the earliest possible age and make our kids independent’ (interview with ABC Radio Canberra, 2017). It was an unfortunate washing episode, but, in the greater scheme of things, it was a mistake that could be fixed – and one that could be fixed by Mitchell, even if he didn’t approach it – my way.
As the parent of young adults I continue to learn about the complexities and simplicities of parenting. I’m learning that important lesson, not necessarily quickly or easily, but I’m learning that my children’s decisions are not my decisions, that I may (occasionally) be invited to proffer advice but that’s the end of my jurisdiction, really. If I could step back to parenting adolescents again I might have practiced letting go a little more intentionally. Psychologist, Kirrilie Smout (2019) prompts us to consider that teenagers who don’t have scope to make their own decisions flounder when we can’t help them in the long term. It is our role to ensure that they can live without us walking beside them, and without us offering too much input. She says that: ‘if we have not gradually provided more and more freedom while we were there to coach and support them, then their mistakes may have much bigger consequences.’
Smout writes of the three ‘P’s of puberty: perspective, peers and place. She states that adolescents want their own perspective – or their own opinion to be respected. Further, they also have a need to choose the adolescents with whom they spend time with and when they do so – in short, we cannot manufacture their friendship group for them and neither should we try. Finally, they also need their own place and space – sans adults. And, Smout notes insightfully that ‘these teenage desires can be terrifying for parents’. The courage to let go is, in the words of author and psychologist, Haim Ginnot: ‘our finest hour as parents’, especially when our overriding instinct is to hold on tight. Of course, as we know, letting go does not mean the relinquishment of boundaries nor the permissiveness of agreeing to our child’s every wish – much as they invite or position us to their side, at such points in time. The tightrope walk is a delicate balance between setting clearly defined parameters and offering space for decision-making. It is catastrophic if we don’t do both.
Yes, whilst plans should be constructed thoughtfully, they also need to be sufficiently flexible to allow for the things that we can’t predict, the surprises and the disappointments that can make us better, stronger, more robust, capable human beings. Thus, when we received the text messages included below, we smiled wryly, reminded that the hitches in travel are often the defining moments, the bedrock of memories and that they rely on our personal resilience to become the special, rather than the catastrophic moments. After all, like songwriter Paul Kelly reminds us – love [and plans] rarely run to time [or to plan]…
The Finish Line Fascination 9 August 2019
Given the effort involved in completion of tasks or events of significance, there is, not surprisingly, a corresponding fascination with finish lines. We like to cross them, we like to tick them off on lists written methodically in diaries, and once we have done so, many of us are propelled to find new, more challenging ones to cross. We seek them out, avoid their existence, or develop anxiety as we envisage their proximity. Some thrive on them, and others abhor them. No doubt, Mrs Laura Anderson, Mrs Ross and Mrs Wallis have been ruminating about half-marathon finish lines for months leading up to their run on the weekend, and a significant number of our staff must also ‘think finish lines’ on a weekly basis when they front up for their Park Run fix. Yes, many of us love a good finish. I also admit to an interest in how others approach finish lines – whether they approach them at all, how they approach them, and how they approach the crossing of them. How does the finish line appear to a marathon runner; a one-hundred metre sprinter or a student sitting an exam? Does it loom large in their consciousness, or is it merely a necessary endpoint?
That whilst legs propel us forward in any race (metaphoric or otherwise), it is our hearts that keep us pushing toward the finish line. And this thought can be extrapolated to any number of situations in school, and in life beyond the school gates. Even my gym instructor used a similar analogy in Friday’s bike class when she said, ‘It won’t be your legs that stop your effort; it will be your head’ (and there I had been thinking that it was the 5.30am start that was prohibiting my full engagement). Pain researchers argue that the difference between an elite athlete who wins and one who doesn’t is about perceptions of pain, rather than physiological limitations (Hutchinson, 2018): [it is] ‘the brain that applies the brakes before the heart, lungs or muscles fail.’ Research has pushed physiologists to conclude that, to a much greater degree than suspected, limits exist in our head (ibid, 2018). According to Tim Noakes, author of The Lore of Running ‘the brain is the ultimate determinant of performance.’
This is illustrated, according to Noakes, in the story of twenty-one-year-old Kenyan, Samuel Wanjiru, who won the gold medal in the marathon at the Beijing Olympics in 2008, running only his third 42.195-kilometre event. With five kilometres to go and the finish line in sight, Wanjiru purportedly kicked for home with the pace of a 1500-metre runner and the attitude of a veteran athlete. However, his finish at the Chicago Marathon in 2010 was considered his finest race, or at least his finest finish. Less than fit, and not even given a chance by pundits, Wanjiru sprang a demoralising sprint on a small rise with less than 500 metres to run. His manager at the time, Federico Rosa, stated that Wanjiru had ‘won with his mind’ (Rice, 2012).
I positioned myself at the finish line at Friday’s Athletics carnival; watching each crossing with great interest. I even stared down the tunnel of the 100 metre track lined with spectators and wondered how that view appeared for each runner. It can seem a long way, away – or all too close. Yes, I admit to loving a good Athletics Carnival (and the Fairholme one is always exceptional). I love seeing students challenging themselves in a different context. I love the 600-metre race as much as the Open girls’ 100-metre sprint. The PCG relay, Boarder v Daygirl relay and Year 12 tug-of-war are highlights too – herewith is the most spectacular feeling of camaraderie. Whilst the finish line matters, the collaborative effort matters so much more. No doubt our brave staff runners would attest to this, too.
When our debaters took part in their semi final at Downlands College on Wednesday night they too negotiated a finish line, albeit one dictated by topic, time and debate etiquette. Each girl knew that in four or eight minutes she must convince the adjudicators, that her argument was robustly constructed, articulately phrased and more convincing than her opponents’. When the final bell sounded, the finish line had been crossed and there was no opportunity for recourse. You can’t change a result by reliving the experience, and you can’t successfully argue the toss with the umpire or referee after the final whistle has blown – although, I admit that I have seen a lot of that unfortunate behaviour over time. You can, nonetheless, learn a lot about yourself before and after an event; mental preparation is as important as skill preparation. It can be the defining difference: mental toughness can be a stronger propellant ‘on the day’ than performer expertise.
With a Musical pending, eisteddfodau concluding, and QCS looming, there have been, and are, many finish lines in sight. How we approach them matters; how we reflect upon them afterwards matters a great deal, too. These events require enormous participant energy (be that as an organiser, coach, conductor or performer). They are exhilarating, high-adrenaline experiences for those involved. They deserve both our preparation and our deeper reflection upon conclusion. Yet, it can be said about any great race that whilst legs propel us forward, it is our hearts that keep us pushing toward the finish. May we all retain the requisite perspective to see these next events to fruition, to cross the finish line at our best – knowing that psychological and physical rehearsal and practice, with some degree of discomfort, pain and distress actually make for an easier run across the line that matters.
It is said that Wanjiru ‘won the race with his mind’…
Hutchinson, A. (2018). Why are elite athletes able to speed up when they see the finish line?
Rice, X. (2012). The New Yorker. ‘Finish Line: an Olympic marathon champion’s tragic weakness.’
The sun’s still going to come up tomorrow 29 July 2019
I didn’t win a tennis match. It’s not the end of the world. It’s a game. I love playing the game. I do everything in my power to try and win every single tennis match. But that’s not the case. It’s disappointing right now. Give me an hour or so, we’ll be all good. The sun’s still going to come up tomorrow. (Ash Barty, 2019)
I’ve followed Ash Barty over the past few years with great interest – not because I am a great tennis critic but because her approach to winning and losing fascinates me: there’s not a discernible difference between the two. She is even in temperament. She is self-effacing. She is modest, and it’s so refreshing. After being fed a diet founded on entitlement and tantrums, how soothing for the spectator digestive system to ingest graciousness coupled with determination; and, to find compatibility between the two. When Barty fell short against Alison Riske in the fourth round at Wimbledon, there were no histrionics, no racquet slamming or umpire abuse, just a humble resignation that she was beaten on court by a better player on the day.
I am under no illusion (or delusion) that Barty wasn’t struggling beneath the surface, or that the disappointment of missing out didn’t dig deeply into her psyche, or that tears and a tantrum may have lingered closely. But we didn’t see evidence of that: we saw acceptance, diplomacy and a determined nod to the future. Indeed, we witnessed perspective and resilience, qualities that will take Barty far further than the impassioned fuel of bitterness and resentment. What valuable lessons for us all. How well do we miss out on our heart’s desire, or, more significantly, how graciously do we support our children when they miss out on their heart’s desire? Do we look to blame, or do we encourage them to grow?
Author and psychologist, Judith Locke, in her book The Bonsai Child, discusses the development of resilience and the importance of noting occasions when we give our children the impression that life will deliver whatever they want or expect. She adds that, as parents, to do this means that life is ‘going to be very, very hard for them’ (p. 127). And it is. Similarly, Michael Carr-Gregg (2014, p.26) cautions that adolescents ‘need opportunities to experience feelings of anger, sadness and disappointment, so they learn to get over them.’ There is a sad irony that bulldozing your child’s path to free it from obstacles will essentially rob them of the skills to negotiate life itself.
My father loves reading, literature and words, generally. From time to time I receive articles, or quotations, or suggestions for reading. Years ago, he sent me a brief email at a time when he perceived that I was struggling (and I probably was). It just stated the words of Shakespeare from his play: Macbeth: ‘Come what, come may, time and the hour runs through the roughest day’, with a postscript – you might find this useful to ponder on. Thanks Dad! At the time, I was possibly seeking out more compassion or sympathy; no doubt I would have loved him to catapult into my world with a bag of solutions or a magic wand, but he couldn’t and he didn’t. What he did do, was to encourage me to a position of perspective and contemplation. In his own way, he reminded me that the sun will come up tomorrow, and that is a positive.
According to author and psychologist, Lisa Damour (2018), research indicates that ‘achieving mastery in difficult circumstances builds both emotional strength and psychological durability.’ Further, she states that ‘stretching beyond familiar limits doesn’t always feel good, but growing and learning — the keys to school and much of life — can’t happen any other way.’ Thus, feeling stressed, distressed or disappointed doesn’t have to lead to a disastrous outcome; it is the fuel of stretching our capacity and whilst such circumstances are inevitable throughout life, they can also be developmentally advantageous for our children – at any age. When we let them learn.
Futurist and statistician Mark McCrindle has predicted that children born in 2010 will have at least five careers in their lifetime – that’s not jobs, that’s careers. They will have at least 20 employers during their working life (Grose, 2017, p. 39) and their ability to follow unchartered pathways, bounce back from setbacks and readjust expectations are pivotal skills in such an unpredictable environment. Yet, we know that, in general terms, we do too much for our children. We give too much, they have too much, and we smooth too much. One in three girls and one in five boys in Australia live with an anxiety disorder (Grose, 2017, p. ix) fed from fear – fear of making a mistake, or fear of disappointing others. Judith Locke cautions us against an obsessive focus on emotions, or believing that anything other than happiness or success is an aberration or abnormal (p. 50).
Here’s to Ash Barty and Sam Kerr – athletes of the future who have demonstrated so clearly in the past month that fairytales are fictional; that all the hope in the world doesn’t write the script for a happily ever after ending, and that to lose, to miss out, to make a mistake, or to experience disappointment doesn’t have to lead to an ugly aftermath. Because, after all, despite disappointments, the sun is still going to come up tomorrow…
Carr-Gregg, M. (2014). Strictly Parenting: everything you need to know about raising school-aged kids. Penguin Group, Australia.
Damour, L. (2018). How to Help Teenagers Embrace Stress The New York Times, September 19, 2018.
Grose, M. (2017). Spoonfed Generation: how to raise independent children. Penguin Group, Australia.
Locke, J. (2015). The Bonsai Child. IngramSpark, Kelvin Grove, Brisbane.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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
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