Ms Sarah Boyle, Head of O’Connor House
Trust 100 per cent in the universe and it will give 100 per cent back to you. This quote has stuck with me since I first heard it when I was in Year 10. There have, of course, been many times when it has been difficult to trust that everything would be okay, and to surrender the control that we all crave, but I believe there is something in this sentiment. In the coming paragraphs, I would like to trace the significance that I think this aphorism holds for the Brisbane Girls Grammar School girls of 2017, both in their social and their academic lives.
In Daring Greatly, psychologist Brené Brown explores this concept. Essentially, she argues that we are all vulnerable. Challengingly, and perhaps paradoxically, she adds that we need to trust, to take risks each and every day, and that only by doing so do we develop courage, compassion, and resilience. The inseparable vulnerability and courage that Brown promotes characterise the experiences of the girls of Brisbane Girls Grammar School.
The girls are not new to paradox; having reached the point in their lives where they begin to see themselves as individuals, they simultaneously crave a sense of belonging and a ‘tribe’. It is a time of uncertainty, and – no matter how reassuring a parent’s words and hugs – the girls themselves need to be both vulnerable and courageous so they can grow emotionally, socially, and importantly in our context, academically.
The foremost issue for adolescent girls is friendship. In primary school these may have been relatively uncomplicated, but at high school they can be a complex, fluid roller coaster, for girls and their families. The foundation of all good friendships has always been trust, and this assumes vulnerability. Brown sees that ’being vulnerable and open is mutual and an integral part of the trust-building process’ (45). Making new friends or developing an existing friendship requires give and take, which in turn need courage and kindness to ensure that the individual is truly valued and those invested in the relationship have a common understanding.
During adolescence the girls learn to navigate and understand the intricacies and pitfalls they may come across. Brown uses a Marble Jar analogy (47-49): when friendships start off, the jar is empty, as trust has not yet been developed sufficiently. Through the actions of the individuals invested in the friendship, marbles are added to the jar, symbolising courage and vulnerability shared, and trust built. Of course, over time, and especially during adolescence marbles may be removed. Naturally, it takes more courage and resilience to want to invest in that friendship again to restore what was lost. In the interests of as many full jars as we can foster, the Ethics programmes in Years 7 to 9 explicitly teach the qualities of being a good friend and provide strategies to manage difficulties.
Truly engaging in learning requires vulnerability, courage, and resilience. Being vulnerable in learning means being open to feedback and having the courage to try something even if we are wrong, and then when we are, having the resilience to try again and learn from the experience. It’s not easy, but it becomes easier over time and with maturity. At times, girls may feel that the constructive feedback they get from teachers in class is a judgement of them as individuals, rather than of their development of skills in a subject. It is crucially important to understand that the teacher is – as Brown puts it – ’sitting on the same side of the table’ as the student. This sitting together is what makes it possible to create a school culture of daring greatly, of ‘honest, constructive, and engaged feedback’ (197).
Learning can be uncomfortable and make us feel like we don’t know what to expect next. Trusting the learning process and those who sit with them through it, is what sees girls grow not just intellectually, but in courage and resilience. Working harder might seem like an appropriate response to disappointment at school, but trusting teachers as learning partners and mentors means taking a different path; that of working smarter. If girls can look – with the guidance of their trusted teachers – for specific areas to give 100 per cent, the academic universe will, over time, repay them in spades.
So, as the new school year launches and the girls settle into the rhythm of timetables, homework, and of rekindling friendships, let’s help them to embrace a culture of daring greatly. Our School should be a place where individuals dare to be their true selves, with the courage to dip their toes in the unknown, and to bounce back with resilience. As Brown sums it up:
growth and learning are uncomfortable . . . you’re going to feel that way. We want you to know that it’s normal and it’s an expectation here. You’re not alone and we ask that you stay open and lean into it (198).
Brown, B., (2012). Daring Greatly. Penguin Life; Australia.