Opinions

A collection of writing by Leaders of Frenshamto read the next article, please scroll by using the right or left arrow.

Ms Julie Gillick, Head of Frensham

In a recent media report [Jordan Baker, SMH, 3 September 2018] Sydney University revealed a ‘world-first plan’ to evaluate how graduates communicate, solve problems and work with others – to work against what was described as ‘blinkered focus’ by high schools on HSC marks and ATARs. The university is reportedly aiming from 2020 to give a description of each student's mastery of these so-called soft skills as an attachment to their academic transcript, in response to employer concerns that grades do not tell them enough about prospective employees.

In fact, I believe high schools have been well ahead in knowing that the broad context of education has always mattered – that skills and attitudes that define character have always mattered – and that what the world needs is morally and ethically disciplined thought-leaders and problem solvers skilled and willing to inspire and drive good decision-making, with and on behalf of others. To that end, secondary school educators worldwide are intensifying the debate around the extent to which time and focus should be given to curriculum review, to facilitate focus on learning at a level well beyond training for an examination. [It is claimed that Sydney University's work is being closely watched by organisations such as the NSW Education Standards Authority, which manages the NSW curriculum and the HSC.]

Associate Professor Peter McCallum, the University's Director of Education Strategy, believes Sydney University will be the first in the world to assess every student on a range of ‘graduate qualities’ ranging from ‘influence to inventiveness’, developing an evidence-based way to measure the qualities.

It is noted that final reports will include graded verbal descriptions of the Graduate Student’s abilities in the following areas:

  • Depth of Disciplinary Expertise (how they apply knowledge)
  • Critical thinking and problem solving (questioning of ideas, evidence and assumptions)
  • Communication
  • Information and digital literacy (ability to locate, interpret, evaluate information)
  • Inventiveness (generating novel ideas and solutions)
  • Interdisciplinary effectiveness (integration of multiple viewpoints)
  • An integrated professional, ethical and personal identity (understanding interaction between one's personal and professional selves)
  • Influence (engaging others in a process, idea or vision)

We are watching with interest the progress of this approach at tertiary level, at the same time as we are about to publish a draft of our Frensham Graduate Profile, developed by a staff team over the past six months, as an outcome of our Character Education research. What we are learning through the research is that our holistic approach demands, by nature of the experience, development of many of the ‘key competencies’ considered essential to achievement beyond school. Our next step is to clarify - for students, parents and teachers - the linkages from the breadth of what we expect of students, to their learning in the classroom.

Ms Julie Gillick, Head of Frensham

Scientia Professor and Professor of Educational Psychology (School of Education, UNSW) Andrew Martin, places ‘valuing of school and studies’ at the top of his list of “Motivation Boosters” for students, and we salute our parents for the example set for children and teenagers across Gib Gate and Frensham that is ‘boosting’ student motivation to strive, contribute and excel.

There is an intense sense of shared responsibility that characterises our School community and underpins the culture of growth and excellence in which students are immersed. To note some recent examples: Gib Gate and Frensham parents move mountains to attend scheduled Parent-Teacher discussions – and engage readily in consideration of the feedback shared; teacher professionalism (and humility) and parent knowledge of ‘your child’ come to the fore when we are discussing particular issues of individual student progress, or when student error requires deep thinking by all of us, to agree on strategies for recovery or restoration of trust.

The past few weeks have been filled with opportunities to test and build on our partnerships with parents – from Book Week at Gib Gate to Father’s Day events, Concerts, Drama Productions, Sport events and Parent Teacher Discussions.

I reflected earlier this week with senior students and staff on the old Irish custom where each night the warm coals from the evening’s fire are buried in the ashes at night – to preserve the fire for the cold morning to come. Instead of cleaning out the cold hearth, people use yesterday’s glowing coals preserved under beds of ash overnight, to have a fast-starting fire the next day. After a weekend filled with positive, shared experiences, where many had glowed (like the coals) or in whose company we had felt inspired, I asked everyone to consider what it might look like and feel like if each of us, in the company of our friends, considers ourselves a keeper of those glowing coals – for each other and with each other – ever-ready to fan the coals to rekindle the warmth of our good memories and to use this energy to embrace the new day.

Ms Janene van Gogh, Director of Studies – in Residence

Most tertiary institutions have listed among their graduate attributes the ability to think critically. Laszlo Bock, senior executive Google explained: “The number one thing we look for is general cognitive ability, and it’s not IQ. It’s learning ability. It’s the ability to process on the fly. It’s the ability to pull together disparate bits of information. The ability to think critically is what makes us adaptable and capable of tackling new challenges. These skills are increasingly necessary in a rapidly-changing business market and in societies in which there are no longer jobs for life.”

What does it mean to think critically, and how do we develop this in our students? Critical thinking is at the core of most intellectual activity that involves students in learning to recognise or develop an argument, use evidence in support of that argument, draw reasoned conclusions, and use information to solve problems. Examples of thinking skills are interpreting, analysing, evaluating, explaining, sequencing, reasoning, comparing, questioning, inferring, hypothesising, appraising, testing and generalising. (Australian Curriculum)

Specifically, critical thinking is:

  • questioning other thinking
  • embracing other thinking
  • questioning one’s own thinking
  • putting logic before bias
  • recognising contradictions
  • willingness to be wrong

In addition to subject-based content, all syllabi address important contemporary themes and general capabilities as students prepare to live and work successfully in the 21st century.  These include Australian Curriculum cross-curriculum priorities and general capabilities of:

  • critical and creative thinking
  • ethical and intercultural understanding
  • literacy and numeracy
  • personal and social capability
  • information and communication technology capability

Students need to build strong cognitive skills that extend beyond simple recall or application of learned procedures into authentic critical thinking. Class activities and assessment tasks provide opportunities for students to engage in the cognitive skills of inferring, analysing, evaluating, justifying, categorising and decoding. Schools cannot teach students all the knowledge they need to survive in a rapidly evolving society, but can teach them how to think in a way that works for the knowledge they will gain in the future.

Ms Janene van Gogh, Director of Studies – in Residence

The research is clear: we must work in partnership with parents to ‘set the stage’ for what children will value at School. For example, we need parent/school alignment on the beliefs that: ‘everyone can improve their ability to learn’ and ‘students must be accountable for their actions’.

(From Ms Janene van Gogh's presentation to Year 10 parents)

With origins in the sporting world and incorporating influences from adult education, psychology and management, Coaching is now mainstream in many medium to large organisations across industry sectors. For many years at Frensham, we have been applying the coaching principles to our work with senior students, through mentoring, and are now directing our attention in an extended, highly focused way on Year 10.

For our purposes, coaching is defined as: a one-to-one conversation that focuses on the enhancement of learning and development through increasing self-awareness and a sense of personal responsibility, where the coach facilitates the self-directed learning of the coachee through questioning, active listening, and appropriate challenge in a supportive and encouraging climate. [Ref: Professor Christian van Nieuwerburgh, 2012] 

This definition highlights the intent of coaching (self-directed learning and development) and the outcomes of coaching (self-awareness and responsibility). 

Coaching is designed to assist students to reflect, establish and achieve their own goals in order to move forward in their learning. Most importantly, it is about listening to students and trusting in their ability to identify a problem, as well as the steps to take to overcome it - as opposed to simply telling them what to do. It easier and quicker to show or tell students what they should do in response to a problem. However, just giving the answer is not a long-term learning strategy to development of a growth mindset. Telling someone how to solve a problem encourages the exact opposite: a belief that ‘I don’t have to think because someone will tell me what to do.’ We can be most helpful by holding back, not rescuing or jumping in to fix things. 

The Frensham Growth Coaching project, developed by Dr Ruth Phillips (Academic-in-Residence) with Ms van Gogh and our Studies Team, aims to provide students with the support to empower them to become growth-focused learners, with the character and skills to enhance their performance - academically and in all aspects of their daily lives including: increased self-confidence and self-awareness; improved relationships; better decision-making; the ability to set and attain meaningful goals; the ability to cope in challenging circumstances; greater resilience when challenged. 

Ms Julie Gillick, Head of Frensham

In the words of Aristotle (384-322BC): It makes no small difference...whether we form habits of one kind or of another, from our very youth; it makes a very great difference, or rather all the difference

Recently I wrote about Parent/School ‘alignment of values and expectations in setting the stage for students’ as the proven most important contribution parents can make to their child’s success at school.

I am providing some detail around that message, by drawing from a letter I drafted for Frensham Advisory Committee consideration: To what are we asking you (as parents) to say ‘no’ or ‘not yet’ - with us...and why? 

In the letter (about ‘no’) I open with a summary of where we are expecting parents to be aligned - in the interests of safety and well-being of your daughters, and in support of the School and fellow parents. The summary list includes: ‘illegal everything’ - for example: underage drinking, supply of alcohol to underage teenagers, underage sexual relations, and use of ‘fake ID’ to access hotels and nightclubs. It also includes: unsupervised parties; weekend parties as the ‘norm’ during term time; inappropriate posting of photos or commentary on social media – by students about others or about themselves and/or in a way that would discredit their own reputation or the reputation of your family or the School; bullying - through exclusion or through exertion of power over another girl, or through mindless, inappropriate behaviour...

Whilst many parents may feel that the above list is ‘surely not necessary to clarify’, the feedback I get is that parents need as much support as possible to set norms at the highest level, and that with greater clarity as a parent community, everyone is positioned more strongly to support good decision-making around parenting, for the safety and wellbeing of all of our students. 

In a text I recommend highly to parents, Andrew Mullins (p.44 Parenting for Character, 2005) confirms the challenge: 

Parents are facing a great deal of competition in raising their children, competition from the peer group, from the media, from the bad example of role models in society. If, in the face of that pressure, parents abrogate their responsibility to raise their children well, children will suffer. A good parent does not throw in the towel. 

At Winifred West Schools, our mission is to provide a caring and supportive environment where we actively encourage students to grow in wisdom, self-assurance, leadership by example, and integrity and humility, to become responsible, contributing members of society. Our efforts focus on the fundamentals of good parenting; providing both care and discipline in partnership with parents, we aim to provide a consistency of guidance and care, so that your sons and daughters can thrive in terms of character, leadership and wellbeing. 

Parental boundary-setting is vital to a child’s development. During formative years, parents routinely say ‘no’ to children to keep them safe and teach them about relationships and respect for others. As children mature, clear boundaries remain essential, to help teenagers to develop emotionally and build resilience. 

In summary, why say ‘no’ or ‘not yet’? 

1. Emotional development 

While teenagers may think they know what is best and want to exercise ‘control’ of their own lives, they need clear boundaries that help guide them to become emotionally and developmentally equipped to self-regulate and make ‘good decisions’. For parents, the aim is to teach your teenager what you know and help them to realise there is still a lot yet to learn. It is also crucial to communicate the reason behind the boundaries you have set so that they come to understand the importance of making considered decisions. 

2. Tolerating disappointment and building resilience 

It is important that children and teenagers be given the opportunity to process feelings of disappointment to build resilience that will help them cope when things inevitably fail to go their way in adult life. By saying ‘no’ to your children you will teach them that disappointment is a part of life and, with your help and guidance, they can develop ways in which to cope. Children that have every demand and whim gratified are less likely to develop the skills necessary to cope with disappointment and frustration. 

3. Decision-making skills 

While your children benefit from having clear boundaries, it should not mean protecting them from failure. It is suggested that you give your children the opportunity to learn from their own experiences, allowing them to feel that they have some freedom in making their own choices and to learn from their mistakes. While saying no to a wilful teenager can be difficult, it is a parent’s ‘job’ to help their children stay safe, while also allowing them to develop the skills to become emotionally and physically healthy adults. 

Important also is that parents (whilst more experienced than their offspring) do not always have all the answers. If you are having trouble communicating or managing expectations you are setting, seek assistance from someone that your child respects and trusts. As you are probably aware, your son or daughter may more readily accept the same advice delivered by someone else who is influential in his or her life.