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)
The Higher School Certificate has been in sharp focus this week for the students of Years 12, 11, 10 and the parents of Year 9. It is a reminder of how significant this credential features in the lives of students in a secondary school and it has offered some interesting snapshots into the journey they are travelling.
Year 12 girls can be seen in quiet places doing last minute reads of notes or calming themselves into focus before a three hour examination. Their faces reflect a myriad of states of mind; earnest endeavour, concentration, anxiety, lack of sleep, confidence and readiness. All have arrived at the point that has been talked about for so long. The two years of learning, the months of preparation and the weeks of study have all converged on a single examination. It has been reassuring for teachers to listen to the girls’ comments following each examination that they felt the questions allowed them to demonstrate their best. Teachers have noted the work ethic of this Year group and feel confident that all their efforts will result in well-deserved performances of the highest standard. Already the acknowledgement of six nominations for Drama, four nominations for Dance and one nomination for Music to the BOSTES showcases of OnStage, Callback and Encore is an indicator of this.
Year 11, by contrast, are entering their HSC year and refining their study programs. The Preliminary courses and the results of the examinations have enabled them to consider and make decisions about the best combination of subjects that they will enjoy studying and reward them with a qualification that offers them many choices post-school. Their faces reflect their hopes and dreams, tempered by the deep breath that accompanies the realisation of the year ahead. Major works in the form of performances and submitted works need to begin in earnest and a Parent Information Evening held this week reassured parents of the support they can give. Year 11 are the new leaders and role models for the College and are clearly looking forward to the contribution they will make. Their Leadership Camp was an enthusiastic and intelligent discussion of what was possible for the coming year.
Year 10, in the midst of all this, have returned to school in senior uniform with a sense of anticipation about what lies ahead. They have made their choices for the Preliminary Course and one senses their excitement as they realise they have control of what they will learn. Excepting English and Studies of Religion, they are able to elect those subjects that interest them, engage them and in which they feel they can do well. They recognise the importance and challenge of aiming high and striving for the best possible result in the HSC. They can glimpse their future careers in their subject choices and this, in itself, is preparing them for another journey that begins after school. At the end of this term Year 10 will embark on a transition to senior studies program, one in which they will experience their chosen Year 11 subjects and the skills set required to become personally successful.
Year 9 face a different journey to that experienced by Years 10, 11 and 12. They will be prepared for a new HSC in which new syllabuses for all the courses in English, Mathematics, Science and History will be rewritten to encompass the demands of the Australian Curriculum, already in place in Years 7 to 10. Their HSC will be based on stronger standards that target expected standards of literacy and numeracy aligned to NAPLAN. Assessment and the HSC examination itself will be developed around different requirements and we await those changes as we embark on the planning process in 2017 for implementation in Year 11 2018. The Parent Information Evening for Year 9 parents this week drew attention to these changes and their implications for students and their teachers.
The synchronicity of four Year groups being so focused on the Higher School Certificate emphasises clearly the importance of planning this journey carefully and offering positive support and guidance. This ensures that the effort and application over a two year period is enjoyable, though challenging, and relevant both now and in the future.
Assisstant Principal Teaching and Learning
On Wednesday of this week we celebrated the various achievements of the 2016 HSC class – in service, application to studies, academic achievement and excellence, cocurricular involvement and extraordinary contribution. Many of the girls walked across the stage to great acclaim and some of them didn’t – that is the reality of an awards ceremony. There is always an element of competition and competition results in both win and loss. And we live with that. But the one thing they all have in common is the gift of their education and that is priceless. There is no competition involved so everyone is a winner if they have opened their minds to learning.
I have been lucky throughout my life. I had two parents for whom education was paramount. My father was identified as intelligent by the nuns who taught him in a tiny country town. They told my grandmother that dad needed to go to boarding school as the local high school only went to Year 9, Third Form in the old language. So dad was sent to Sydney and finished his education at Joeys and then went on to Sydney University. Mum also completed high school and went on to Sydney Teachers’ College where she trained as a teacher. For them, education was what the Irish poet, William Butler Yeats, described, not as the filling of a pail but as the lighting of a fire. And that was what they modelled to me – a love of learning, of discovering, of experiencing, of sharing.
My father once told me that he would not be rich enough to leave his five children much money but he would make sure that we would get the best education he could afford. When I was in Year 12, dad and mum had five of us in private schools and it was a struggle but, for them, it was worth it. Dad never got to see the other four finish their HSC but we all did.
I don’t tell you this to dwell on my childhood but to remind the girls of the extraordinary gift that their parents and teachers have given them and it is a gift that they should nurture. The purpose of education is not to make us remember that Captain Cook claimed discovery of Australia nor the equation of the area of a circle. We live in an age when we can google most things so knowledge is at hand. What education provides us with is the intellectual capacity to think deeply and critically, to judge and assess and take up the ultimate challenge of acting wisely with the knowledge and understanding that our education has given us.
Education is essential to intellectual freedom and it improves how we view, exist in and participate in the world. Despite great progress in the last few decades, millions of children are still denied their right to education. Restricted access to education is still one of the certain ways of transmitting poverty from generation to generation. Education reduces poverty, boosts economic growth and increases income. It increases a person’s chances of having a healthy life, reduces maternal deaths, and combats diseases. Education can promote gender equality, reduce child marriage, and promote peace. In sum, education is one of the most important investments a country can make in its people and its future.
According to the United Nations Organisation, educated girls and women tend to be healthier, have fewer children, earn more income and provide better health care for themselves and their future children. Women currently represent two thirds of the world’s illiterate. 63 million girls of primary and lower secondary age are not in school and participation of girls in school decreases as they move through the education system. Can we even begin to imagine the long term impact of such global crises as that faced by Syrian refugees.
Nelson Mandela stated that “education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world”. Just imagine if our Year 12 were to leave this place with heads full of knowledge that had little purpose beyond the attainment of a grade or an ATAR. What I hope for each of them is that the journey they have had so far is just the first step and all the wisdom and understanding that is the sum total of their education is what enables them to go forth from Brigidine as women committed to making a difference, to using the gift of their education to enhance their world and the lives of others. Father David Ranson’s challenge to Year 12 in his homily on Monday night at their Graduation Mass was to be the person who makes it happen, who makes a difference.
During the Mass last Monday evening, there was a prayer that ended
Understand that I’m doing the best I can
With what you have given me.
Because all that I have to work with ...... is me.
I want Year 12 2016 to know that what they have had to work with has value beyond understanding. They should never underestimate what it is that they bring. My wish for them is that they stay true to who they are and do the best they can with the gifts God has given them. In doing this, they grace the world with their presence and make it a richer place. I have no doubt that this world will be better for their presence because each of them truly understands what it means to be educated and to have the courage to remain open to learning.
With the recent canonization of Mother Teresa I resurfaced a book a friend had presented to me at the time of her beatification in 2003. It is titled Mother Teresa: Come Be My Light and details the private writings of Mother Teresa. Compiled by Brian Kolodiejchuk, MC, the postulator of Mother Teresa’s cause for canonization, the work covers the inner spiritual life of one of the most beloved and significant religious figures in history. Anyone who visits the Missionaries of Charity in Kolkata and serves in places like Kalighat, Prem Dan, Daya Dan or the Loreto school would testify to the legacy of St Teresa.
Along with many staff, students and alumni, I have experienced the Pilgrimage of Hope serving alongside Mother Teresa’s Missionaries of Charity Sisters. This is an experience to treasure for life. Mother Teresa’s canonization reinforces her life as one of total service as an icon of God’s tender mercy, radiating the light of God’s love to everyone she met, especially the poorest of the poor.
Not everyone can experience the Pilgrimage of Hope, however as St Teresa attests, “You can find Calcutta anywhere in the world. You only need two eyes to see.” She challenges all to aspire to the selfless quality of being a servant, ready to provide service, especially to the marginalised. Furthermore, she proposed that “If we pray, we will believe. If we believe, we will love. If we love, we will serve.” This resonates perfectly with the foundational elements set by the Sisters of St Brigid. Core to the patronage of St Brigid is a commitment to hospitality and service with a focus on the poor. As part of the College Strategic Plan it is crucial that this element underpins all areas of College life.
Recently I attended a conference organised by the National Catholic Education Commission (NCEC) and found it interesting to learn more about current trends in schools across Australia. A key theme of the conference centred on the heart of education; a belief to get to the core and away from the superficial, offering real and substantive learning. Many facilitators challenged a lip service model to service learning posing such questions as:
What do we want to achieve? Do we engage in Service Learning simply because it ‘looks good’ for the school? Is it trendy? Is it merely a ‘feel good experience’ – a moral notch on the belt that I have done my bit, or we have done our bit, to tick the box of moral responsibility in the context of our brotherhood and sisterhood?
Service learning is becoming more of a focus in teaching pedagogy. Indeed the Board of Studies, with the advent of ROSA (the NSW Record of Student Achievement), recognises a broader cumulative record of achievement. This will acknowledge a more comprehensive snapshot and will include aspects of service. With a vision for a transformational aspect to education, service learning aims to extend and deepen classroom learning through service to others. It is undertaken by the girls in the context of meaningful school community partnerships and at Brigidine is seen as an essential component in the overall curriculum and pastoral experience of all students. It is part of holistic education.
All College service learning programs aim to build relationships and challenge the girls to give and receive, to look beyond themselves, to seek out the needs of others and to respond by sharing their gifts of time and talent. The essential learning experience in programs is to realise that giving is difficult but that selflessly helping others is the most rewarding and gratifying way to live, just as St Teresa of Kolkata modelled in her life.
With this mindset for service learning it is encouraging to see College staff, students and parents prepared to volunteer in the myriad of opportunities available at Brigidine. Programs such as the recent immersions to Thailand, Laos, Cambodia and Goodooga, the Marist Camp, Duke of Edinburgh Awards, Year 10 Community Involvement, charity fundraising initiatives, Year 11 Street Retreat, and the 40 Hour Famine all give meaningful experiences.
In a society that increasingly knows the price of everything but the value of little, if we have not convinced our young of the absolute necessity of living a life for others then we have failed them – we have failed the future. As Mother Teresa once said, “If I ever become a Saint, I will surely be one of darkness. I will continually be absent from heaven – to light the light of those in darkness on earth.”
May the Brigidine community continue to follow in St Teresa’s footsteps.
Assistant Principal Religious Formation
I recently had the good fortune to travel and one of my true pleasures is people watching – you know what I mean. You sit at a café or on a bench and watch the world go by in its infinite variety. You imagine the lives of the people you see, imagine what their families are like, where their homes are, if they are safe, if they are happy. There are stories to be read in the way they interact with each other, their choice of clothes, the expressions on their faces and the accessories that adorn them. The best moment was in a small mountain town in Italy called San Gimignano. We stayed in a beautiful hotel just outside the walls of the old town and caught a bus around the walls to the other end so we could wander through the town back in the direction of the hotel. About two thirds of the way through is the Cathedral, in Italy called the Duomo, and, in front of the Duomo is the main piazza or plaza. There are no cars, just crowds of people, mainly tourists with a few locals, old men, sitting around the piazza, drinking coffee and chatting to each other. I sat down on a ledge and started to indulge in checking out the crowd. The variety was endless and I was fascinated. A German family stopped in front of me. Dad was very tall, tanned and good looking. Mum was attractive, much shorter than her husband and they had two children. The girl was in her very early teens, shorts, T-shirt, ballet flats, earphones in and phone in hand. Sound familiar? But it was their little boy who took my notice. He was about five or six and wore the thickest lensed glasses I had ever seen on a child. Dad never let go of his hand and, when he said he needed to go to the toilet, Dad walked him off, his huge hand enveloping the child’s in a way that spoke volumes of the love he felt for this little boy of his. Mum and Dad chatted to each other negotiating where they would meet up and the way they looked at each other told me that this family was safe. Love was what bound them, even their teenaged daughter sunk in the world of her music. She might have positioned herself on the periphery but the connection was visible.
The next group which grabbed my attention was a group of nuns. Now, our nuns in Australia wear ordinary clothes so we often wouldn’t know they were nuns except for a little cross or religious symbol they wear on their jacket or collar. These nuns were a little like our nuns in this year’s musical, The Sound of Music. They had on their religious habits or dress, black, sitting just below the knee, ¾ sleeves with a small white rolled collar. On their heads they wore a black veil with a rolled white edge, held in place by a headband beneath. Now, there is nothing extraordinary about this until I noticed their footwear – not so traditional. It was about 30 degrees and humid so they had allowed themselves the luxury of no stockings – very sensible. But here is what I saw. The eldest nun wore walking sandals with Velcro straps; two others wore joggers and sandals but the one that amused me no end was the youngest – she wore crocs. Now, they were black to match the habit but I couldn’t stop smiling – this was the newest look for religious orders. Old habits and modern footwear.
Suddenly I was distracted from the nuns by a young woman walking right past me. She would have been about 20, had very short blonde hair, and the body of strong athlete such as you might see in shot put. She was very solid and her legs were solid muscle. She wore a T-shirt and denim shorts which were quite fitted and went down to her knees. Why did she grab my attention? Well, one very powerful leg was tattooed in the most brilliant colours, totally covered. On the front, from knee to ankle, was a tattoo of Bart Simpson. On the back was a beautiful depiction of Springfield, houses and fields with the sun shining down. I couldn’t take my eyes off the back of her leg as she walked away from me, not from shock or surprise, but taking in all the aspects of the image. Now, while I am not a fan of tattoos, there was an element of gratitude within me for the fact that she had at least chosen to avoid black and blue and skulls and banners and had chosen instead a colourful image of frivolity and fun.
And it suddenly hit me – the grace and glory of humanity. If God created us in his own image and, in each of us can be seen the face of God, then our beauty lies within. Within we are all the same; it is only our packaging that is different. Every tourist in San Gimignano that day, wandering the streets and churches, sitting in the piazzas eating pizza and gelato, gazing in awe at the beauty and history of this little town, shared a common humanity. These tourists represented countries from around the globe – there were Australians like me, Americans, English, Europeans, Africans, Asians and probably a mixture for good luck. But we all shared a moment in time because, at heart, we were the same. Probably somewhere in the world is someone writing an article on the strange lady who sat on the perimeter of the piazza checking out everyone who walked by.
Today we announce our leaders for 2017, a variety of girls, each of them different and unique who will bring their own special quality to the role they assume. At their core is the common humanity that connects us all and their shared purpose to serve their school and the students and staff within it. I’d like to think that each girl who takes on a leadership role will keep the image of the father, holding the hand of his son, and that will be the way you lead us through 2017 – by our side, guiding gently. They have the support of their school and this will give them the courage to lead with strength and gentleness.
“I know what a good man is, because I’ve seen it in my father.”
– Raymond Gaita (author of Romulus, my father)
This is a tough standard for all fathers to consider in the week leading up to the celebration of Father’s Day on the weekend. It is timely every year to reflect on the key role fathers play in the raising of their daughters. Recent studies and research are showing that the keys to understanding this new ‘millennial’ generation are communication and reclaiming one’s place in the hearts and minds of your children.
This is a generation of kids that are growing up in a culture of criticism and critique with a huge array of shallow and ‘overblown’ people claiming their time and attention. The focus seems to be strongly on external appearances and making quick judgements of others with the simple tap of a keyboard. Our girls are so image conscious and the external self is even more dominant and prevalent in girls’ thinking today than it was when most of us were teenagers. Our challenge as educators and parents is to tip the balance back toward the inner qualities and being ‘real’ with oneself. The girls need us to provide them with advice, common sense and a sound perspective even when they seem to not want this from us at all.
In recent years the role of father has changed. Many fathers have worked hard on being more involved with their children and being ‘hands on’, they have been involved in their children’s sports, coaching and helping with homework. The physicality of doing things with your kids and being fun are an important dimension of being a father, but it is not all there is either.
“Whatever words we utter should be chosen with care - for people will hear them and be influenced by them for good or ill”
Research shows that this new generation of kids needs to hear from their fathers. Mothers play a key role too and it is understood that their advice and relationship is critical for girls. Some well-chosen and considered comments from their father can greatly influence a girl’s thinking and outlook. Being present to your daughter when she is feeling fearful, lonely or sad is important for fathers. It isn’t just Mum’s work. Talking honestly about feelings and values is important, and being able to admit to weakness and feeling vulnerable can greatly assist in the social and emotional development of children.
One of the best techniques fathers can use is storytelling. Passing on wisdom and knowledge through stories based on their own experience is a simple and effective way to influence children. Telling realistic stories about times when things were difficult, or when you faced a challenge in your life can help girls navigate through the world. A father’s ideas and life stories will have an impact on girls and they will remember these messages as they face new challenges and new experiences in their own life. It is well known that the men they will connect with in their own life in relationships will be based around their experience with their own father.
The studies show that we can and should reclaim our place as parents and give not only support and encouragement, but carefully chosen thoughts and suggestions when we feel we need to. For times when the clothing is not suitable, the attitude is not right, your daughter’s company concerns you and the priorities are not in alignment, is a time for Dad and Mum to work together and present a combined block of wisdom and experience to assist our girls to navigate the adolescent minefield.
One of my favourite thinkers and Parent Educators, Michael Grose, puts it this way for fathers:
“A man’s got to talk to get his messages through. He can start by letting his kids know when their behaviour is likely to offend others; when they behave like chumps when they are not yet champs; and when they need to show respect to those who’ve trod whatever path they are on before them. This is what great fathering is about in these interesting times in which we live.”
We wish all of the fathers in our community a rewarding and enjoyable Father’s Day this weekend.
We are mindful of those families who will be missing their fathers through loss and distance this weekend. We know their spirit and love stay with us and guide us in our own journeys throughout life.
Assistant Principal Pastoral Care