In my role, I like to read to try to keep up with issues, particularly those that are relevant to children and education and preparing students for the world they will enter after school. One organisation I find informative and useful is the Foundation for Young Australians (FYA). Established in 2015, the FYA conducts research into challenges young people are facing and then collaborates with young people, education and industry experts to take action.
Looking at their website over the weekend, https://www.fya.org.au/research/, I read some articles that are pertinent to the COVID-19 pandemic. As I read, I was reminded of a number of conversations I’ve had with many of our students over the last week or so, the gist of which has been that 2020 was not what we were expecting. Whilst we acknowledged that there has been a great deal of change, and even cancellation of some things, we also discussed how different does not have to mean bad.
The FYA’s article The Role of Resilience in Times of Crisis discusses the strengths and challenges young people who have experienced crisis bring to times of challenge. Whilst the research targeted young people who experienced homelessness, its premise is that young people develop resourcefulness when they face significant challenges:
Systems knowledge – young people need an intimate knowledge of how our societal systems work and how they will operate within them. Through our current restrictions and closures, children and young adults have become more aware of some of the ways education, employment, government and health systems operate in our lives and there is a good opportunity for us to have conversations with our children around these. At Girls Grammar, we have explained to students why the government is putting in place requirements, what this will mean for them individually but also what it means as a society. In the boarding house, I have talked to the seniors, explaining how governance works in this situation and the difference between the Australian government setting regulations and the Queensland government having overarching decision-making for our state. Lessons like these will benefit them as they grow into adulthood and approach greater independence.
Perseverence, resilience, grit – the development of these will influence young people’s attitude and approach to the inevitable obstacles they will face. Current restrictions have lasted over two months and some forms of restrictions will be in place for many months to come. The lesson for young people is in understanding that there will be challenges and difficulties in life and we can’t always control these – but how we approach them and our attitude to obstacles will influence our outcomes. Over the last two months, I have had many people say to me what a tough time to be in school leadership. My response is inevitably “and what an opportunity”. This last six months has allowed Girls Grammar to showcase how flexible, adaptable and professional our staff are – they delivered a high-quality online learning program to ensure our girls’ learning was not compromised and I know many parents are very appreciative of their efforts; our parents came together through messages of support, offers of help, acts of generosity and general understanding despite inconveniences. Whilst initially challenged by the restrictions to return to boarding, I’ve watched our girls find new ways of spending their free time, increasing their exercise and outdoor time, or finding new games and activities to play together. The ability to persevere and work through problems is only developed through experiences that take us out of our comfort zone and even push us to what we thought were our limits.
Resourcefulness – The current circumstances have also required us to be more resourceful, another great life skill for our students to learn. We have had to find new ways of teaching and learning, of holding meetings, of interacting and conducting activities. Instead of assemblies, we film a weekly message to students, and we check in with students remotely via Teams. Our Head Girls and House Prefects used the void created by assemblies to introduce a new House competition, using their resourcefulness to run it virtually. All our students also learn resourcefulness at home, watching their families adjust, finding new ways of spending time together, returning to past leisure activities, talking to grandparents and loved ones via FaceTime or socialising with friends via apps such as HouseParty.
Over the last couple of weeks, I have been talking with the Year 12s about 2020 and how we can be resourceful – the changes have been hard for them as it is their final year. Other students will have another Mother’s Day luncheon or help out at another Race Day or run the cross country. Acknowledging that we can’t control what has happened, or the government restrictions in place, we’ve been proactively talking about the next six months and what we would like to see happen. I’ve asked them to identify their ‘must haves’ – the things they are passionate about being able to experience this year; We’ve also talked about the things they’d like to have if they can and also the events they don’t mind missing. It is important that they have a voice in this process and that they are given some control over what their final year looks like. We are currently planning a revised events’ schedule, which we will communicate once we hear further about the easing of government restrictions.
One final point that has been highlighted over 2020 is that challenges like the global pandemic also require us all to draw on our reserves of empathy. We need to look out for each other and work together if we are truly going to flourish. Once again, I do thank every member of our community, students, parents, staff, Old Girls and friends, for continued kindness and concern for each other.