Your voice, with ours in partnership, needs to speak ‘loudest’ to the girls in our care. At Brigidine College we have a plan to enable more students to flourish and achieve to their potential. Our Positive Education framework, ‘Flourishing with Strength and Gentleness’, is designed to focus on six critical areas and give students both the language and the mindset to continually improve and develop holistically into the fine young women we know they are able to be.
The six areas are simple enough to state, but putting them into practice in one’s daily life provides a consistent and positive framework for navigating life. Sometime in the next few weeks I will be emailing all parents a small guide to understanding more of the language and the terminology associated with positive education so that, together in partnership with you, we can provide the right environment for our girls to flourish into young women.
With Michael Carr-Gregg’s sound advice and a solid positive education framework to work from we can provide the right words and encouragement for our girls in 2017 and beyond.
You can always contact me, or any of the relevant Year Coordinators or College Psychologists, to support you and your daughter with any issues or concerns for her while at Brigidine.
Assistant Principal Pastoral Care
The Kildare Ministries’ vision and values complement the Brigidine College strategic intent to ensure opportunities for girls and staff to grow in understanding Christ’s mission to love and serve humanity, furthered through the objective to promote an informed culture of advocacy through outreach, social justice and immersion.
At Wednesday’s assembly, two groups presented their experiences during the Christmas holidays where they were challenged to go beyond their comfort zone. During the holidays, 40 girls and six staff volunteered with Antipodeans working in villages in Vietnam. Also seven girls, with three staff, worked at the Marist Sony Children’s Holiday Camp caring for children with disability.
Overall our four days of hard work, taught us that the simple things in life, such as going to the bathroom, isn’t so simple for everybody in the world. We worked hard as a team to overcome the difficulties we faced along the way and were able to give back to the community that so warmly welcomed us during our stay in the Mekong Delta.
The trek through the villages taught me the value of love and happiness - the beauty of the Vietnamese and their environment appeared so much more beautiful as we were removed from our western world, where we are too commonly exposed to hate and violence. An experience I will never forget.
All student companions, supported by a team of dedicated teachers and medical staff, had quickly learnt about the challenges and demands involved in caring for a child with special needs. We all discovered the unconditional love and happiness these children so willingly share and which has given everyone involved a unique and life-changing experience.
I learnt so much about privilege and all the things we take for granted every day. I learnt about how one can face obstacles and challenges every second of the day and still remain the most optimistic out of all of us.
As a Catholic school, our call is to provide an education inspired by the life and ministry of Jesus. This is an education that is transformative, developing in the girls a growing capacity to engage with empathy in the lives of one another and the wider community. Grounded in the Christian story is the College’s strong commitment to education for justice, taking on board Catholic social teaching to demonstrate a preferential option for the poor.
True courage, rather than mere bravado, assists us in developing a strong sense of self-worth. Like the cowardly lion, who constantly searches for courage outside himself, we may already be more courageous, more heroic, than we imagine.
Assistant Principal Religious Formation
At Wednesday’s Assembly we enjoyed the wonderful celebration of many students from Year 12 2016 who had achieved an exceptional result in their HSC examinations. We highlighted the eleven nominations for the HSC showcases of OnStage (Drama), Callback (Dance), ArtExpress (Visual Arts) and Encore (Music), the five places in the State of which there were two 1st places in Drama and Business Studies (it is remarkable to consider that this is the second time for Business Studies in three years), eighteen All-Rounders who had achieved more than 90 in each of their ten units, thirty girls who had achieved ATARs over 95, six of which were over 99 and finally, the Dux and Proximes. It was a sight to behold to see so many girls excited about being back to share their success and one that made everyone in the assembly feel very proud. Ella McCrindle, the Dux of the College, spoke to the assembly about her reflections on completing the HSC. She emphasised the importance of choosing the right subjects, ones that were enjoyable, interesting and achievable, not ones that were cloaked in the myths of scaling. She shared her own unique study techniques but in essence, they came down to the usual ingredients for success – time management, persistence, the positive value of failure, lots of practice and shared conversations with equal minds.
In the afternoon, I presented an analysis to staff which parents will be able to hear on 21 March. Whilst retaining a caution about the representations of success in the mainstream media, the articles in the local newspapers featuring our girls presented a much better view of success focusing on the benefits of hard work and future aspirations. We were able to reflect that two students with ATARs of 99.6 and 98.9 were not on the All Rounders list because they had high Band 5s, not Band 6s, in two of their subjects which are amongst the most rigorous and difficult a student can choose. We acknowledged the growth in numbers and achievement in STEM subjects, with many Band 6s in Mathematics courses. It was hard to believe that two students who could achieve 98% were not in the top 20 places for the State. One of the rich observations was to recognise the breadth of success across the full range of courses and we offer more than most. Performances and major works that are nominated achieve full marks and not many schools would be celebrating the same range and number as Brigidine. We noted that many of the girls in Year 12 continued their commitment to sport, music, Duke of Edinburgh awards, cocurricular participation in clubs, competitions and leadership roles. It did not prevent the high levels of success achieved by many girls and in fact, may well have contributed to it.
Most importantly, what matters is that each girl feels she has been successful. At the morning tea last December, there were girls celebrating their ATARs flushed with the thrill of having achieved more than they thought possible. Irrespective of whether it was 67 or 82 or any other, they had accomplished their dreams and were looking forward to university or TAFE courses, employment or gap years. In a Year 12 exit survey, 94% felt that Brigidine had enabled them to feel successful. Of all the statistics we have been celebrating, that is probably one of the most satisfying.
Assistant Principal Teaching and Learning
Welcome to all of you to 2017, especially to our new girls in Years 7 to 11 and their families. It is a pleasure to welcome you to our community.
I thought I’d start the year by telling you about Cleo, my 5 year old grand-daughter. On Tuesday she started Kindergarten and she has been buzzing with excitement for months. In November she announced that she was a big girl because she was no longer going to Building Blocks, her pre-school, but was going to big school after Christmas. Her only sadness about leaving Building Blocks was that her friend, Maureen, could not come with her as she wasn’t starting school for another year. Maureen has autism and Cleo was her only friend. Cleo told her mum that Maureen had to come to her birthday party last August and Maureen’s mother told my daughter that Cleo was the only one to invite Maureen to a party.
Cleo has had her school gear ready and, for the past few days, her parents find things parked at the front door – school bag, hat, shoes – and they are put back in Cleo’s room only to reappear the next day. Now she’s announced she needs a desk to do her homework like her big sister in Year 6 and has rearranged her room to allow for a desk.
Last Wednesday she watched the movie, St Trinian’s, and that has added to the excitement – arming yourself with hockey sticks and bashing up the boys from a neighbouring boys’ school to defend the honour of your school because you love it and ‘no boys allowed’!
Last Monday night she asked her dad what would happen if she wrestled a boy when she started school. Her dad told her she might get into trouble and that might not be a good idea on her first day. Cleo looked at her dad and asked, “Wednesday then?”
So why do I tell you about Cleo?
I admire her – she’s brave, fearless, passionate, excited and determined. She sees school as this magical place which will open up all the knowledge she is hungry for. She’s been practising her numbers and writing her name and everyone else’s. She’s been on YouTube to teach herself “gynnastics” as she calls it.
I want her 13 years of schooling to be a source of joy. I want her to ask questions, find answers, become excited by what she discovers, have friends who support her and prevent her from wrestling and bashing up boys; I want her to sit at her new desk when it comes and see her homework as an opportunity to seek out interesting information, and unravel the complexity of her world. I want her teachers to see the quirky child who is open to being guided but independent enough to want to take her own path on this mystical educational journey. At this moment in time, there are no obstacles – everything is possible and her world is exciting and welcoming.
And that is what I hope for each of our girls at Brigidine – to be fearless. I don’t want obstacles to prevent them experiencing all that their education and their school can offer. I want them to open themselves to all the learning that comes, challenge what they don’t understand until that understanding is theirs. I want them to love what they do and never let anyone take that passion away. I want them to be good to each other and be the friend they need others to be to them.
I want all of our girls and Cleo to have the best experience, one that will set them up for life. Education is the responsibility of each of us – we need to take ownership and continue our love of learning and hold the hands of the Maureens who come into our lives.
I took some of these thoughts to last Monday’s Honours presentation evening. I was treated to the most intelligent, thoughtful reflections on questions and issues of interest to students in Years 7 to 12. I was challenged to rethink my diet, which cosmetics I should use, how I should use my time, the role of mythology and moral purpose amongst many. I felt in awe of the articulate, high order thinking that had driven the research and led to the conclusions presented. It struck me that we rarely seek the input of students in making important decisions that affect them yet it was clear that they were more than capable of visioning alternative viewpoints that challenged the status quo with cogent reasoning.
They proposed the development of a Facebook page that would communicate important current affairs in an informed, balanced way that could fill the present gap in most students’ knowledge in the most accessible way. Instead of locking in on the evils of Facebook and social media, I determined to be open-minded and listened. It was a great idea. I left thinking it would be a good idea to round them all up and ‘listen’ to more.
During the ALTitude project in which all Brigidine teachers researched important questions that could lead to improved practice, a thread weaving through many resolutions was the importance of student voice. The research clearly showed that the opinions and feedback of the girls should be one of the drivers of change in an educational community. It was evident that we should include the girls when we are considering changes to curriculum, learning, spiritual formation, leadership, cocurricular opportunities and wellbeing initiatives. The model of shared wisdom suggests that one person or one group does not possess all the answers. The benefit of listening and valuing the girls’ contributions is to act more thoughtfully to create changes that are welcomed and which meet everyone’s needs. Listening to student voice would enrich this community and valuing it would empower girls to initiate ideas and lead change in their own right. We would be foolish to ignore it. Perhaps this is the essence of what is required in the rest of the world.
Assistant Principal Teaching and Learning
Over the last week Years 7-10 students have participated in their end of year examinations and it has been a time of pressure and stress for a number of our girls. Pressure and stress are inevitable parts of life and examinations at school could be seen as a sound preparation for these future challenges or alternatively as a time of heightened anxiety for some girls.
When we are stressed we are forced to respond to the situation in the ‘fight or flight’ basic human response. Studies have shown that our response in these times can actually lead to increased performance. It only becomes debilitating when the stress levels are too high and cause the person to not function well and think clearly. Managing the stress levels with sound practices and common sense approaches are the key. Prue Salter’s study skills suggestions in last week’s Matters are good options for students and parents to think about for these examinations and for future ones as well.
The thinking around examinations and the feedback of results and comments from teachers are a critical part of the development of a ‘growth’ mindset. Our approach to the overall wellbeing and mental health of the girls strives to move students away from a ‘fixed’ approach that says things like “I am always bad at this subject” or “I am not good at examinations.” Just because they have not done well in the past does not necessarily mean they will do so now. Each examination should be an assessment of knowledge and skills but also enable students to formatively build on their weaknesses and continually improve. The feedback which goes beyond the final mark should be thought through and discussed with parents and teachers. Even if the subject will not be studied in 2017, the learning from the approach taken to study, the application and effort shown in the course and the connection with the teacher and their approach, all need thoughtful reflection and consideration after the examinations.
This is the time of year for feedback and reporting and the language we use around these times is critical for girl’s learning. The girls will watch closely your responses, both verbal and non-verbal, to the examination marks and to the report comments. Some suggestions for effective future learning and a positive approach might be to discuss things like:
- How did you feel you went in that subject? Did you give your best?
- What do you think the teachers are saying about your approach to learning?
- What are your strengths? How do you prefer to learn and study topics?
- What are areas to improve? How can we work on these for next year?
Make a time to talk through the examination grades and the feedback in a settled and definite time. Make sure your daughter is prepared to talk through the report and not rushing out the door somewhere. Avoid the confrontation and emotional response to the mail arriving at the door. Pick your time and your words carefully. Your feedback and your approach are critical for effective learning for girls. Focus on the positives first and then move to some of the areas for improvement. If she is a high achiever, ensure you acknowledge her effort and approach as well as the grade. Marks aren’t everything in this approach.
We can’t wish examinations and testing away in school life. They are an inevitable part of the education landscape at the moment. What we can do is think about the way we respond to challenges and learn from the experience. In the end these life skills are more important and will improve the wellbeing and outlook of the girls for their future examinations at senior level and beyond Brigidine in their tertiary studies and work place situations. We encourage all girls to do their best and to approach the examinations and the end of year time with a positive attitude and growth mindset.
Assistant Principal Pastoral Care
The Association of Independent Schools of New South Wales (AISNSW) recently commissioned research on the economic importance of the independent school sector in the state. The report, delivered by AEC Group Pty Ltd, outlined key findings on the various economic contributions of the sector.
Brigidine is one of about 400 member independent schools in NSW that are supported by AISNSW, working in a cost effective manner for governments and therefore taxpayers, alongside Catholic systemic and public schools, and serving a diverse range of needs in the community.
Through independent education, families are able to exercise choice for students on a range of factors such as educational philosophies and religious affiliations.
It should be noted that some of the following results are compiled from AISNSW members being the majority of, but not all, NSW independent schools.
In 2013/2014, the independent education sector contributed:
More than 191,000 school children in NSW were entitled to, but did not take up a places in government schools, saving $2.1 billion for the Australian and NSW Governments.
In addition to the current benefits outlined above, the report identifies strong arguments supporting future economic benefits of enhanced educational outcomes for individuals and society overall.
(Source: Economic Significance of Independent Schools to the New South Wales Economy A Report Prepared for the Association of Independent Schools of New South Wales by AEC Group Pty Ltd September, 2016)