As a rule, it is natural for humans to take the course of least resistance. This can also apply to parents, who will often attempt to move mountains in order to make their children’s lives easier. Educationalists have at times referred to ‘helicopter parents’ who hover around their children, waiting to jump in and rescue their child when things go wrong. More recently, ‘bulldozer parents’ have appeared. They charge in and clear any obstacles or challenges ahead of their children by threatening educators who don’t follow their script, or arrive with armies of lawyers or doctors prior to any playground activity or outing. This can rob children of growth opportunities. Fortunately these parents are relatively rare at St John’s!
I would, however, like to challenge parents and teachers to view obstacles in a different light. If we encourage girls to choose courses of greater (or at least some) resistance, they will develop balance and resilience. This is vital if we are to teach girls to cope in the real world. Observations from the recent Comrades Marathon, and speakers from recent conferences I have attended support this stance.
Comrades Day was a special one for our community, with a number of our staff and parents competing, and a great deal more supporting in one way or another. It impressed me that it is each competitor’s reaction to their success or failure on the day that is as important, if not more so, than the result itself. Genuine humility was evident in the successes, and courage and acceptance for those who did not achieve their desired outcome. Those who put in the most hard work in training were rewarded for this. Teenagers can learn from this. You get out of life what you put in, and challenges, hills or even failure along the way can be seen as opportunities for growth and development. In the same way that gravity helps us to maintain strong muscles by providing resistance, we need resistance to grow and develop.
I heard a talk at the recent SAGSA Conference in Durban by renowned American author and psychologist, Lisa Damour. According to Damour, ‘School is supposed to be stressful, as school is about change. We’re stressed when operating at the edge of our capacity. This is the only way we grow.’ Effectively, she suggested that if we do not expose children to moderate challenges, which increase when necessary, we will not take them out of their comfort zones, and they will not grow. In the same way that a Comrades runner needs to endure rigorous, difficult, and sometimes painful training in order to prepare and grow muscles for the ultimate challenge, teenagers need disappointments and anxiety-causing activities to prepare them for life. The safe environment of a school or home is a better place to develop and hone coping skills, than the harsh outside world. She advises girls to overcome fear when facing difficulties, by doing the activity regardless. This can be achieved by embracing potential growth opportunities and pushing through with courage. Avoidance fuelled by fear inhibits growth, and nurtures anxiety.
Life Counsellor, Fiona Marshall, endorsed this message. At our recent SAHISA Conference, held here three weeks ago, she emphasised the importance of stress or challenges in our lives, stating that our bodies are geared to deal with stress and adrenaline. ‘It’s a lie,’ she said, ‘that real living is stress-free living. We need to accept and normalise stress.’ She challenged teenagers (and adults) to look at obstacles in life as natural opportunities, which help us to develop into capable, resilient people. Stress is only unhealthy she said, when we ‘stress about stress’ – in other words, if we constantly worry that all stress is bad.
Donald Bradman is recognised as possibly the best cricketing batsman ever. In his training, he bounced cricket balls off an uneven surface, bouncing it backwards and forwards off his bat, to sharpen his reflexes and get used to balls coming at him in an unpredictable manner. He would not have been the batsman he became had he practiced batting by bouncing a ball off a smooth, predictable surface. This trained him to face top bowlers in test cricket, whose goal was to get him out by being as unpredictable in their bowling as possible. In the same way, we need to expose girls to unpredictable challenges and obstacles in life where they will meet many difficult people who are trying to ‘get them out’.
As parents I urge you to take this advice, and use it constructively, allowing your daughter to learn valuable life lessons by dealing with difficulties herself. Your motive for wanting to protect her is no doubt based in love, but like a marathon runner she can only develop her ‘resilience muscles’ by exercising them through taking responsibility for herself and facing resulting consequences. This is not only beneficial from an educational perspective, but essential for her development. We need to trust our children and schools enough to allow space and freedom for mistakes, which can then be corrected in a nurturing, supportive manner. This is a necessary part of life which is crucial to making us stronger.
Our new Counselling Psychologist and School Counsellor, Miss Gina Laurie, joined us on 1 June and is settling in well. We wish her and her future husband, Paul, well as they celebrate their wedding on Saturday (23 June) and look forward to welcoming Mrs Bees back to St John’s D.S.G. next term.
In the Junior School, the following staff are leaving today:
Mrs Karen Currie, (Remedial teacher), has been in the Junior School for eleven years and though she is leaving the classroom, we are delighted that she has accepted a position as After-Care teacher.Mrs Belinda Quin will be replacing Mrs Currie.
Mrs Nicky Redmead has been with us for two years and will be moving to Durban, where she has taken up a teaching post at Crawford La Lucia. During her time at St John’s D.S.G. Mrs Redmead has assisted in the classroom room in the Junior School, run the Library and taught I.T. We will miss Mrs Redmead’s organisation and enthusiasm. Mrs Nicole Coetsee will join us in Mrs Redmead’s place.
Miss Bridgette Fiphanza, (Multi-purpose teacher), leaves us after six months to pursue her studies.
WORLD CHOIR GAMES
The Senior School Choir will be participating in the Interkultur World Choir Games in Pretoria from 4 – 14 July. We wish them well and know that the hard work and dedication from the girls and Music Staff will ensure an enriching experience.
RAFFLE BOOKS (fundraiser for the Parents’ Association)
All girls have been issued Raffle Books by their class teachers today. Please encourage girls to sell as many tickets as possible. Completed Raffle Books and the money are to be returned to School by Friday, 10 August. There are four wonderful prizes to be won and the draw will take place at the Parents’ Association 100 Club Draw on Wednesday, 15 August, 2018.
I wish the entire community an enjoyable winter holiday with your families. I hope that girls make the most of the opportunity to relax with the long cold nights, perhaps with the company of good friends and family. We look forward to seeing you all in July, with the Grade 12 girls ready to write their Trial examinations and the Grade 9s prepared for their uHambo experience.