Dear Parents, Guardians, Staff and Girls
ST JOHN’S D.S.G.: END-OF-YEAR NEWSLETTER
As I absorb the busyness associated with the final week of the year, I am struck once again by the amount of change which looms in all of our lives. We have bid farewell to our Matrics who are both excited, yet at times emotional, as they reflect on so many happy memories with friends at school. We have also had a farewell function for staff leaving, which has provided an opportunity to think about change. This change causes both apprehension, as well as excitement in anticipation of new opportunities, for the individual and the school. Mevrou Frith Malherbe, in particular, stands out as she leaves an incredible legacy following her 34 years at St John’s D.S.G.
If I look back on my life and think of times when I went through significant change, I recall the anxiety, but on reflection now, these changes moulded me into who I am today. I am most grateful for the manner in which they have influenced my life. Like a tree that grows back with vigour when pruned, I have seen how changes in my life were actually necessary for me to grow and be influenced in positive ways. Leaving school was scary, but led me into a university life which challenged me intellectually and opened doors for me socially, as well as developed my confidence. Getting married and having children were significant in growing me into a more responsible person. In another significant change, we moved as a family to Johannesburg at the end of 2004, and I took up a teaching post at St John’s College having taught in Pietermaritzburg for over a decade. This experience, whilst daunting, inspired and energised me as a teacher and I loved my four years teaching at this world class institution, which simultaneously embraced modern teaching methodologies and sound traditional values. Without going through these changes, I would not be where I am today.
George Bernard Shaw once said, “Progress is impossible without change, and those who cannot change their minds cannot change anything.” John F. Kennedy expressed a similar sentiment: “Change is the law of life. And those who look only to the past or present are certain to miss the future.” A necessary quality in order to thrive in modern society is adaptability; the ability to adjust to new conditions. Life is more dynamic than at any time in history, so we have no choice in schools but to teach children to be adaptable and open to new ideas and processes. Knowledge and facts are easy to access these days, so we need to focus on teaching skills such as critical thinking, problem solving, and how to adapt, under varied conditions.
Too much change, however, can cause unhealthy levels of pressure, resulting in anxious, stressed children. They react by either withdrawing or looking for escape mechanisms – most of which are not beneficial. It is, therefore, vital that as traditional church schools, we retain the emphasis on teaching sound Christian values and principles, as well as balance. In this, we at St John’s are well placed as we are constitutionally committed to a liberal education. Sir Wilfred Griffin Eady defined liberal education as being education for its own sake and personal enrichment, with the teaching of values. It is designed to empower individuals and prepare them to deal with complexity, diversity and change. It helps students develop a sense of social responsibility, as well as strong and transferable intellectual and practical skills such as communication, analytical and problem-solving skills, and a demonstrated ability to apply knowledge and skills in real-world settings. This is only possible, however, in an environment with relevant, appropriate stress levels.
Carol Dweck is generally regarded as the leading expert on the development of a growth mindset. Her research revealed that if we can change students’ mindsets, we can boost their achievement. “More precisely,” she stated, “students who believed their intelligence could be developed – a growth mindset – outperformed those who believed their intelligence was fixed.” This implies that we can ‘grow our brains’ just as we can grow muscles by regularly exercising. We can foster this growth mindset by encouraging children to focus on the process that leads to learning, such as developing a sound work ethic, or trying new strategies as we approach challenges. Dweck continues to elaborate, stating that, “the most common misconception is simply equating the growth mindset with effort.” She emphasises the short and long term benefits of a focus by approaching challenges and setbacks from different angles, rather than a focus on marks and assessment-heavy curricula. This can be achieved by encouraging effort during the process as opposed to the results, and praising children regularly for attitude rather than the outcome. “The path to a growth mindset is a journey, not a proclamation”, according to Dweck. This approach, which is so suited to our liberal education, not only allows, but demands that we view our teaching methods and how we assess from a different angle.
With this in mind, I encourage you to support us in approaching change as a necessary process in order to keep our school relevant as we look towards 2020. My ‘2020 vision’ is that: we accept that there will be challenges as we enter 9 to 10 months of building our new classrooms and library in our R-Block, as well as our new entrance and reception area; we use our extended cultural and clubs slot in the Senior School timetable to broaden the scope as we educate girls in a balanced and holistic manner; and we embrace the new teachers and girls, who replace those leaving as an opportunity for us to grow ourselves. I encourage us all to enjoy and use this time of change to assimilate the good that comes from this process as opposed to fearing it, as we ourselves adapt.
The school was built on a foundation of the faith and strong Christian heritage instilled by the Sisters of St John the Divine 122 years ago. This cannot and may not change, and provides comfort as we not only accept change as we look ahead, but thrive during the process and not just the end result.
I invite the whole community to join me in the excitement of good changes in 2020, particularly those relating to our new building project, which we are well into preparing for, as well as new mechanisms aimed at reducing toxic stress in girls, who live in a society often at war with itself. With this in mind, I encourage you to reflect and meditate on the following two scriptures:
Philippians 4:6-8 “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.”
Romans 12:2 “Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.”
Mrs Frith Malherbe (Afrikaans Department) leaves us after an incredible thirty-four years of service to the school. I thank her for her consistent energy, drive and wisdom. Mrs Malherbe has been a constant source of reason and loyal support to me and the school, and leaves a legacy which will remain in the hearts of all who have had the privilege of getting to know her, for decades to come.
Mr Ross Payne, our Transport Manager, also retires at the end of the year, having started working at St John’s in 2001. I thank him for his dedication, and for always being prepared to go above and beyond the call of duty. Mr Payne’s special rapport with his colleagues and the girls will be missed.
Mrs Simitha Singh leaves after twelve years of service to the school, as EMS and Technology teacher. She has been most willing in getting involved in numerous school activities. I wish her well in her future.
Mr Gino Redlinghuys leaves us to take up a promotion post at Merchiston from next year. We thank him for his efficiency, support and endless patience in answering our many I.T. related questions.
Mrs Colleen Raciborski, Head of the Life Sciences Department for the past four years, leaves us to take up a teaching position in the U.K. I thank her for her work ethic and contribution in the classroom.
Miss Carly Smith leaves us to take up a post at Treverton, following a year with us as the Grade 6 teacher.
Ms Christel Röhrs leaves us again, after filling in as locum school counsellor for the past few months.
Mrs Jean Rose has been involved in assisting with policies and support of the management team in various areas, and will continue to support the school when needed next year.
In the Junior School, the Interns who are leaving us are Miss Natalie McEwen, Miss Sarah-Jane Byrne and Miss Ntokozo Ndlovu. Miss Samantha Duckworth will be moving in to the Resource Centre in 2020 and Mrs Nicole Coetsee will become an Intern.
I would also like to mention that Mrs Simone Zartmann has resigned to take up a position at St Charles College. Her leaving date will be confirmed once we have secured a replacement English teacher. In anticipation of her imminent departure, I wish to extend my sincere gratitude to her for her 16 years of loyal service to the school, and her many roles taken on with drive, efficiency and energy during this time. She is an outstanding English teacher, who has influenced the lives of so many girls.
I wish to thank the entire community for another most successful and happy year, and hope that you are all able to enjoy the Christmas holidays with those who you love.