Once a Grammar girl, always a Grammar girl

Mrs Kristine Cooke, Director of Information Services and past student

This week the School celebrates its 137th birthday. While this is a cause for both celebration and pride, it must be more than a nostalgic looking-back. The members of the School community value our history, heritage, learning culture and the education it has afforded past and current students. However, the paradox of this School with its long history is that it has always been in the vanguard of those who offer a forward-looking education for adolescent girls.

The School aspiration, to be a leader in exceptional scholarship, strikes a chord with many past students whose experiences of the education we received are filled with expectations of doing our best, striving hard and contributing to the community and the world. When I was a student at the School, the teachers asked us what we wanted to do with our lives. No matter what the answer, the expectation was that we would be the best we could be. This meant that the students left the School at the end of their secondary schooling only to start a further educational journey. Thus, ‘life-wide learning’ may be the modern term but it is not a new concept.

Those who founded the School firmly believed in the importance of the education of young women for themselves, their families and the colony as it was then. To provide in 1875, a liberal, grammar-school education for girls in a small and emerging town must have seemed to some to be pointless or misguided but the women who came to lead and teach, and the girls who came to learn and aspire, did not see it in those terms. Not for the Grammar girl was schooling about manners, watercolours and home crafts, rather Latin, algebra, and gymnastics. Close examination of the 1899 hand-written timetable reveals that, from the very beginning, the School looked to the future – for its students, for its staff, and for the School itself.

What is interesting for someone who experienced Grammar education as a student and then as a teacher is that scholarship is an expectation not only for the girls: the expectation of the teaching staff is also to continue to learn, to study, to explore, to conduct research, to be challenged to be the best teacher you can be. The Grammar teacher is expected to be an academic leader and role model for the students. How can we teach students to have ‘systematic curiosity’ if we do not engage in it ourselves? How can we enrich students’ learning experiences if we do not strive to create new, exciting, rigorous and stimulating ideas and lessons? How can we challenge the young minds in our care, if we do not demand it of ourselves?

James O’Donnell, classicist and author from Georgetown University, wrote, ‘Change is the law. Stability and consistency are illusions, temporary in any case, a heroic achievement of human will and persistence at best. When we want things to stay the same, we’ll always wind up playing catch-up’ (2012, p. 228). Grammar teachers know this ‘law’. Students change, technology advances, classes and curricula alter, new ideas and strategies emerge, nothing is ever static – and certainly not this School. Therefore, to teach new students year after year is to look forward and search out ways to embrace the new.

The School sustains this concept by providing staff with generous professional development support. It invests in its personnel because the quality of the teaching has a direct impact on the quality of the learning and the most engaged teachers are those that are professionally and personally challenged. This belief and approach is publically supported by the Principal, Dr Bell (2012). Staff members are expected to look beyond the usual offerings to the experience that affords them the opportunity to step out of their comfort zones and into their students’ shoes. By becoming learners of the unknown, it is possible not only to empathise but also craft more meaningful learning environments. This attitude informs the next 137 years for the School.

The young women in the photograph (above) of my own Year 12 class (or Sixth form as we knew it) is living proof that Grammar girls go on to set high standards for themselves and kept learning. There are teachers (two who returned to teach at this School), nurses, businesswomen, a librarian and author, musicians, et cetera who worked hard, kept studying, raised families, worked in the community and made an impact. They did not stand still.

It is valuable to look back, certainly, but this School has always had an eye to next practice and leading the way. It is not always a simple task to choose a strategy or a direction from the plethora available but that should not stand in the way of exploring the new and the dynamic. The attitude of my own teachers about constantly striving for achievement and improvement hold true into my professional life so it is hoped that all students who leave the School with the Once a Grammar girl, always a Grammar girl mantra in their heads, will never forget that learning is individual, on-going, and exciting.

References

Bell, A. A. (2012). Funding futures: the Gonski report and exceptional education. The Australian Online, February 23 retrieved March 03, 2012 from
http://www.bggs.qld.edu.au/funding-futures-the-gonski-report-and-exceptional-education/

O’Donnell, J. (2012). “Everything is in motion” in This will make you smarter: new scientific concepts to improve your thinking. Brockman, J. (ed.). New York: Harper Perennial

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