Dear Parents, Guardians, Staff and Girls
ST JOHN’S D.S.G.: END-OF-TERM NEWSLETTER
I have recently had the pleasure and privilege of signing a new contract offered to me by the Board, extending my time as Principal at St John’s D.S.G. until the end of 2026. As I reflect on this honour and affirmation, I am both humbled and excited at what will, no doubt, be a fulfilling and simultaneously challenging task. I have discovered that the role of a Principal is more draining than I could have anticipated, yet more rewarding than any other role that I could imagine. The responsibility and joy of facilitating the moulding of young lives, filled with dreams and potential, into young women of significance, grace and influence. It has been and continues to be a delight. I am constantly aware of the incredible people around me who work with me in achieving this noble dream. I am most grateful to the Board for trusting me with this immense responsibility and assure you that I will carry out this role with wisdom, courage, empathy and utmost dedication, always serving the interests of the St John’s D.S.G. community.
Managing Stress and Anxiety in 2020
The world is undoubtedly becoming more complex and uncertain, for many reasons. It is no wonder that children (and adults) are more anxious than at any other time in history. We face an uncertain future caused by climate change and global warming, an increase in crime and unemployment statistics in the country, political instability with political parties at war with each other and themselves, social media and electronic device addictions of various kinds, cyber-bullying, fake news, economic stress around the world as markets react to all of the above, and a culture obsessed with materialism and the debt resulting from this, encouraged by those who profit from lending. On top of this, the global Coronavirus pandemic affecting travel, tourism, and global events around the world, with the number of infections and deaths increasing daily, is causing public alarm.
As stated by Dr Madeline Levine in her bestselling book, The Price of Privilege, ‘In spite of their economic and social advantages, teens and pre-teens from privileged families experience among the highest rates of depression, substance abuse, anxiety disorders, and unhappiness of any group of children in society.’ In order to unleash potential, girls need individual, personalised guidance from those skilled to identify and nurture uniqueness in a way suited to each child. If girls are surrounded by caring relationships, exposed to some positive stress and develop responsibility in a safe environment, they will develop the self-esteem and confidence to succeed.
With this in mind, it is essential that we adapt our thinking and attitude towards both parenting and teaching, in order to nurture and affirm this generation of technologically advanced children, who are simultaneously battling to handle stress or depression as they post electronic profiles showing the
opposite. Rather than be intimidated by girls (and boys) armed with their devices, access to knowledge and confident masks, we need to nurture them and access their true feelings by spending quality time with them, affirming them meaningfully, and showing them that we care. A device can never replace the human touch or the heart of a loving, caring adult, who is consistent and persistent in this simple quest. The battle to win our children’s confidence is one which we simply cannot afford to lose. With the right approach, we can transform an anxious, depressed generation into responsible, influential world leaders of the future who will save our planet.
According to Greg Baer (American Author, motivational speaker and M.D.) on the Real Love website (www.reallove.com), we need to love our children unconditionally in order to reduce their anxiety. He states that “If we love them unconditionally, we’d love them no matter what. But if loving them becomes more difficult when they’re difficult—whining, arguing, fighting, withdrawing, even stressed and paralysed—our love is conditional. Unconditional love or Real Love means caring about another person without wanting anything from them in return.” This is harder than what we think, but it is essential that children know that we, as parents and teachers, love or care for them for who they are as opposed to what they do or how they perform. Anger and disappointment from us as adults are interpreted as “we don’t care” about them. They then learn to ‘perform’ in order to win our approval, which undermines confidence, as opposed to simply being content with who they are.
In a world obsessed with materialism, performance and image, the solution to managing stress in our children is simply to love them for who they are and to trust them as they grow into young adults. This is core to their development, and interestingly, the same levels of care and developing trust are the qualities that differentiate the teachers who have the most significant influence on children. It is incredibly rewarding to see an anxious child transform into a confident, capable, content young adult when trusted and shown appropriate levels of care and love.
Only once this is in place will they become motivated themselves to perform optimally, as their motivation is then internalised and they have the freedom to perform to their own standards. I am confident that your daughter’s dreams and visions are bold, inspiring and honourable, and may surpass your own expectations of her if you learn to listen and to trust her. A controlling parent or teacher who is easily irritated or focuses on results is doing the child a significant disservice at a critical stage in her development. It is so easy to micromanage our children’s lives, to step in and correct when we see her struggling, but we have to be consistent and strong in this. Allow her the space to make some mistakes, to try things for herself. Give her small age-appropriate errands and space to complete them and love her unconditionally whether she performs them well or not. You will see that young ‘caterpillar’ metamorphose miraculously in front of you over time into a self-assured butterfly who will perform according to her own ideals and goals, and you will likely be astounded at the results. Her dreams may well differ from yours for her, and although you may give sound advice, ultimately you have to be brave and trust her enough to give her the space to follow her dreams and set her own life goals.
In conclusion, before we can ask our children to get top results and degrees, qualify for top jobs or positions, or to become inspiring, motivational leaders, or just good, grounded people, we first need to focus on some simple truths. Love them, trust them, give them age-appropriate space, help them to develop a sense of community and love for others, and you can then sit back satisfied as a parent and watch your daughter fly as she feels confident enough to fulfil her own dreams.
Mrs Danelle Stumke (Junior School Head of Sport) is leaving us to return to the classroom at Pietermaritzburg Girls’ High School. We wish Danelle all the best and thank her for her contribution to St John’s D.S.G.
Mrs Sam Barraclough also leaves us having taught part-time in the Life Sciences Department for the term. She and her family are relocating to New Zealand. We wish them well.
Thank you to Mrs Andrea le Roux, who has been the locum teacher in the Afrikaans Department while Miss Erica Ras has been on extended leave.
We wish Mrs Sarah Cole-Edwardes well as she marries Gregg these holidays and wish them a lifetime of happiness together.
Covid-19 virus update
We have been in regular consultation with other ISASA schools and managers, as well as medical experts. We have taken advice from authorities and the Health Department, in order to ensure that we are handling the COVID-19 global pandemic responsibly. As you will know by now, we are preparing for possible school closures and online teaching if necessary, and our teachers and girls are ready for this possibility. We have also cancelled non-essential activities such as outings, tours and many extracurricular activities until we have more information, to ensure that our girls do not fall behind in their academic work. We will keep parents informed with updates in the week before schools are due to re-open on 14 April. We believe that this has forced us to look at teaching methodologies from a different perspective, which will ultimately bring about growth and positive change in the school in the long-term. Thank you for your support in this, and I ask that you keep reminding your children to avoid shopping malls and public places as much as possible during the holidays and to continue with their well-drilled routines to prevent contamination, which have been well-publicised. This may be an excellent time to spend quality time together as a family and to focus on supporting each other and connecting in ways which are not always possible during our normal busy schedules, as mentioned in my message earlier.
Our building project is still on track, and the first-floor slab was thrown during the past few days. We are delighted with the progress and are enjoying the visible changes, which are happening fast. We are still hoping to have the project completed in late October and excited by this possibility. Once again, we will keep you informed regarding progress.
We are delighted to inform the community that we have purchased and installed a generator for the school to ensure our power stays on during the regular electricity outages. This is a tremendous support, especially to the kitchen and Boarding Establishment.
I wish you and your loved ones a wonderful holiday.