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Principal's Blog

2016 TERM 4

Leaving Space to Grow - End of Year Speech

Ladies and Gentlemen, Boys and Girls,

I frequently reflect on competence and fear as I strive to run an empowering, happy school. I see happy and empowered as intrinsically linked, as my ongoing observation is that we humans are happiest when we feel ownership over what we do.

A weekly joy for me is watching small children making sandwiches as they prepare for outing. Fear, competence and efficiency are all at play in this exercise. Fear as to the amount of jam potentially added to the sandwich (this fear is well founded). Efficiency and competency also get a good airing as speed (or lack thereof) and mess (in abundance) are also clearly on display. I used to have to leave the room to avoid interfering in small children sandwich making… I now watch the whole event with joy. By the time the children have spent a few years with us they are proficient sandwich makers, something I see as an essential skill. I am saddened that for reasons of safely and efficiency so many children simply grow up without these. The view that school is primarily a place where literacy and numeracy prevail demotes looking after yourself and getting along with your fellow humans as less important. I view these as essential.

Making sandwiches is a simple illustration of how our school leaves space for the children to learn by themselves. Space is important. Free time is key to our school, and something that is not easy to achieve. My most constant challenge as a school leader is in regard to free time. There is always a worthwhile lesson to be taught and someone wanting to teach it… yet the stamp of being an FCS graduate is not merely academic proficiency in these, it is the ability not only to think for yourself, but to act on your thoughts and beliefs. The FCS 40th Birthday celebration was a wonderful affirmation of these qualities. Observing our young adult graduates, it was clear that they brought something special to the world – not only academic proficiency but character. They radiated a quiet belief in themselves, and an appreciation of their ability to determine their own destiny and to influence the path of those around them. As children, their experience of agency, that is, the feeling that they have ownership over what they do has a profound effect on them, giving them a confidence that they are able to make our world a better place. Freetime, unstructured and uncontrolled time is essential for the lived experience of agency.

My clearest individual experience of leaving space for children to sort it our themselves was watching a group of Littlies on camp negotiate turns on a swing… it took over an hour until the first child actually got a swing. It is so easy for an adult to step in and organise turns and make it fair – children readily acknowledge the authority of the elder to sort it out. Many of us adults do this as a matter of course, but I have trained myself to step back. Adult imposed fairness and organisation deny our children the chance to negotiate an outcome that all are happy with. We all encounter adults who lack the ability to negotiate and compromise. Perhaps when we are not frustrated by them, we reflect upon the grief that this causes them in their lives. At FCS, I acknowledge that to enable the children to gain the skill of negotiation we adults must allow our children some space to work things out for themselves. When I remember this, the children’s excruciatingly slow negotiations morph into an hour spent on an essential life skill.

This is not to imply that we adults have no role to play. Of course there are situations in which adult wisdom and advice are required, but most situations of negotiation amongst children do not require our input. Our role mostly consists of leaving space, with the belief and expectation that our children are competent and can and will work it out themselves. A belief in the competence of children underpins the ethos of our school.

We adults also have a role in providing opportunities that do not naturally occur in the day to day lives of children. Our school plays offer our children the opportunity to work on a long term project that involves both memory and team work and the clear expectation that they can speak and perform in public, and enjoy it. Or bike camp where they learn that they can ride through the country. Or accommodating the request of a child who proposes a new timetable for the day, or a reorganising of their classes so that they get an extra sport or an extra art or free... there are many variations to these requests. In considering a politely put request, my starting point is always a yes, with many proposals granted every week. The child’s experience here is that when a request is politely and charmingly put, it is likely to be met with a positive response. This important personal feedback is dulled in a rigid system that cannot adjust to a personal request and thus cannot reward a polite, courteously put request. If I want to raise polite, open, flexible children my personal challenge is to remain open and flexible and to remember that keeping to the timetable or running that particular class is not the ultimate goal of the school. Hopefully another result of this is that in years to come when our little ones are in positions of authority that they too will exercise kindness and discretion, rather than enforcing rules and systems for the rules and systems sake… that they too may step back and work to achieve a happy, kind and helpful outcome.

I also love the fact that in our school children themselves teach classes to other children, proving that teaching is not the exclusive domain of adults – that we are all teachers.

Looking after babies and toddlers is an activity that our children excel at and joyfully engage in, and where our children experience their own ability to bring about a happy outcome. Regarding babies, I do wish to thank the parents of our school who daily hand over their tiny tots to our children to look after – a more fearful parent would deny our children the opportunity to demonstrate their competence. I cannot over-state the contribution that pre-schoolers make to our school. Allowing, expecting our children to look after little ones sets the expectation that looking after others is simply what we all do, that we all have the power to give the gift of kindness. Our school allows this space, and has been blessed through uncountable acts of kindness. This experience of continual acts of kindness has a profound effect on our world view when multiplied over many years.

It is always hard to pick a moment in a whole year where growth and happiness were most clearly demonstrated, but the buzz when the Brunswick Street Biggie girls cooked lunch for the whole school – adults and children – 80 people is one of these moments. The only adult contribution was my discussion with the girls regarding quantity – they had never cooked for 80 – so wanted some guidance regarding the amount of food needed. Having given them this, I provided no further input. The girls themselves headed to the supermarket to do the shopping and then spent a morning in the school kitchen cutting, dicing, cooking, serving and cleaning. As the morning wore on, a buzz began to fill the kitchen and quickly the whole school, emanating from the Biggie girls who were buzzing with pride and happiness at the general acclaim that their delicious meal generated from the rest of the school. These girls were rightly proud of themselves; they were the heroes of the day. Heading a school where such empowerment occurs is a pleasure and a privilege.

Thank you parents for your faith and trust in us. It is your faith and trust that support our school and allow it to be a very special place.

Merry Christmas.


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