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Principal's Blog

2023 Term 3


Stoicism was once a quality that was greatly admired. The ability to quietly persevere despite hardships and setbacks. The Stoic accepts that life throws up injustices and that unkindnesses will be received, but does not consider these hurdles a reason to quit or complain. In the contemporary world, the qualities associated with Stoicism would likely fall under the banner of resilience.

Resilience acknowledges that we humans will inevitably face setbacks. The Resilience Movement has observed that the overcoming of hurdles contributes to greater future resilience; the experience of getting through difficulties helps build confidence and an understanding that future setbacks can be tamed. A night or two away on camp is a challenge for some children. However, having completed it, the child is better equipped to meet future challenges where Mum and Dad are not around. One of my favourite times is watching the first-time campers return to school. Many have clearly grown through the experience, bigger and stronger for having had this time away from family. Singing in public is a similar challenge for many.

I’ve watched the current deification of feelings run headlong into the Resilience Movement and derail it. In many schools (and many other settings), the promotion of the value of feelings has led to apprehensive, fearful children. That is, children who are upset and disempowered by the small slights (and even unintended unkindnesses) that are an inevitable part of human interactions. Children who are deflated by the adults in their lives failure to support them and push them to overcome small hurdles. I see our role as educators to acknowledge that the occasional experience of meanness is normal and that it can be overcome… that life throws up a range of challenging experiences that can also be conquered. I see adults as having a role in sharing our experience that overcoming fears and worries builds strength. We have a duty, in being privy to this, to raise children in a manner that supports them to overcome the feelings that would otherwise hold them back.

The concept of resilience understands that an active, engaged life requires the overcoming of small worries, unkind words and confronting situations, and is founded on the understanding that perseverance builds strength. The Resilience Movement actively engages with the concept of grit, and embeds an understanding that things will sometimes get tough. In life it is necessary to be comfortable with discomfort.

I see educators (parents and teachers) as having a role in building strength. Honesty and expectation are both important. Honesty, in acknowledging to children that life is not all fun and roses, while also projecting the expectation that challenges can be overcome. Going against the tide, acting in a play, playing a game in which you are not proficient, looking after a baby and putting yourself forward for a new role or job, for example. My guidance to children in these situations is, well, of course you feel nervous, but get on with it anyway.

I’ve been increasingly concerned over the last few years about the apparent deification of feelings. My observation is that this has undermined children – diluting their confidence and raising their anxieties. The well-intentioned practice of inquiring about children’s feelings (rather than reflecting upon demonstrations of persistence) appears to have conveyed the impression that feelings occupy a high pedestal in the gamut of human endeavour. This is not to make any claims that feelings are unimportant: they are. My observation is that in over-valuing feelings, we are inadvertently undermining our children. In a focus on feelings, we turn conquerable concerns and small worries into unconquerable issues, and in doing so, undermine young people's ability to make the most of the plethora of opportunities that life offers. In engaging in repeated discussions of feelings, we run the risk of the child gaining the understanding that their feelings are the key prism through which to view the world.

My thought is that instead of delving into discussions on feelings, in most instances our children would be better assisted by a short ‘you’ll be right’ delivered in a supportive manner in which the child understands that we, the adults, do not see this challenge (and its associated feelings) as either unexpected or an unconquerable hurdle. I see this as a pro-resiliency rather than pro-anxiety approach.

A feeling-centred engagement distracts children from a focus on endeavour, and in doing so, contributes to a missing out on the confidence that overcoming hurdles brings. That is, the practice of persistence helps us to overcome feelings that would otherwise hold us back. Success, measured in terms of career or happiness, requires us to persist. Conversely, a failure to overcome or master our feelings leads to our being enslaved by them, and the walking of a path defined by distress and failure.

My mother held, and projected, the expectation that we, her children, were capable. In raising us in this manner, we all came to see ourselves as such. We grew up understanding that we were able to overcome unkindness and the challenges we would face. She, while being a person of great sympathy, was not a person who placed a premium on discussing feelings.

In looking back at this manner of child-raising, my assessment is that she committed the greatest act of kindness a parent can perform. Her gift to her children was raising us with the belief that we all had the capacity to overcome the hurdles we would face, and that whinging and excuses are unattractive and disempowering. We all admire those who persist, and especially those who persist quietly.

Timothy Berryman (Principal)

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