It takes a village

Mrs Jody Forbes, Director of Student Counselling

This week our Year 12 girls sat the annual Queensland Core Skills (QCS) exam. While it is soon to be phased out, the QCS Test has for many decades represented the pinnacle of secondary school, with the result contributing to a student’s final Overall Position (OP) score. For many students, their OP number carries great weight. While some believe it is testament to their sustained effort, others feel it represents their value as a person and is predictive of their future prosperity, success and happiness. The reality is that the QCS Test is only one piece in the puzzle of successful graduation. While important, neither the QCS grade nor OP score define a girl, nor do they guarantee future success. In the coming months, while many will focus on our graduating cohort’s grades and scores, we must not forget to employ a holistic view of each student’s progress. What is of greater significance, despite not having a scoring mechanism, is each graduate’s social and emotional development, as well as her character, integrity and empathy.

As our Year 12 graduates walk across the stage on Speech Day, what is it that we as a School, as parents, and as a community hope that they have gained from their 17 to 18 years in the world? How will we know they are ready for what awaits them, and whose responsibility is it to ensure they are prepared? While a Senior Certificate or OP score may stand a student in good stead, it is not the only requirement for a successful future. Experts suggest that ‘soft skills’—those interpersonal or ‘people’ skills—like listening, empathy, flexibility and optimism are just as, if not more, important to success as training and qualifications (Doyle, 2018). In fact, psychologist, Dr Daniel Goleman, has suggested, ‘academic intelligence offers virtually no preparation for the turmoil—or opportunity—life’s vicissitudes bring’ (Goleman, 1995, p. 36). Goleman describes emotional intelligence as the ability to motivate oneself, persist in the face of frustration, control impulses, delay gratification, regulate mood, and maintain empathy and hope. His research suggests emotional intelligence can be more powerful than academic intelligence with regard to success. Psychologist and President of Yale University, Dr Peter Salovey, has proposed five domains of emotional intelligence— self-awareness, self-regulation, self-motivation, empathy and social competence (Salovey & Mayer, 1990).There is little doubt that these domains are essential to future personal and professional success and happiness. Yet, the education system does not tend to scrutinise or reward our graduates’ development of each domain. One wonders what the outcome would be if each student graduated with a score on both academic performance and emotional intelligence.

Approaching graduation, the School’s Student Care team reflect upon what it means for a Year 12 girl to be adequately prepared. In our opinion, a fully formed graduate will have experienced success, a dose of challenge and a drop of failure. We know that Girls Grammar has a long tradition of nourishing character as much as minds. The challenge is for us to sustain this commitment. We hope that even our most academically bright students will have navigated a failure or hardship while behind the safety of the white picket fence.

At the commencement of the 2018 School Year, academic staff attended a workshop titled ‘Creating Cultures of Thinking’. Presented by Simon Brooks and Ryan Gill from Harvard’s Project Zero, the workshop opened with the following question: ‘what do we want our students to be like when they are adults?’ Interestingly, none of our teachers focused on academic qualities. Rather, the responses centred round more holistic values such as ‘fulfilled’, ‘happy’, ‘thoughtful’, ‘confident’, ‘kind’, ‘optimistic’ and ‘resilient’. Next, we were asked ‘are we providing an education that helps children to develop these thinking dispositions?’ From the classroom to the sporting field, the café to the playground, Marrapatta to Student Reception, every environment, every interaction and every member of our community is tasked with the responsibility of helping create academically and emotionally intelligent young women.

If it really does ‘take a village to raise a child’, Girls Grammar is part of that village. In today’s world of individualism, many suggest that our village is sparse and parents feel isolated in raising their children. My work with families often reveals how relieved parents feel to understand that other parents (including myself) are facing the same dilemmas. Just as parents benefit from banding together and supporting each other, girls too benefit from the wisdom and support of a trusted adult in the form of a teacher, coach, counsellor or mentor. Each one brings their own expertise and skills. At times, it is little more than offering a different perspective, or perhaps providing similar advice as their parents, reinforcing its validity.

A village is only successful when members are working together for a shared purpose. Our village works best when parents and the School align, respect each other and are consistent. If we want our students to be persistent and resilient then they must face challenge, be guided to grit their teeth and push through. If we want our students to be motivated and manage their emotions then we must allow them to experience distress and learn to bear it. If we wish to raise young women who can hold their own in various situations and sustain good relationships, then we need to allow them to navigate playground squabbles themselves and learn to assert their needs. If we want our girls to possess integrity then we must challenge them when they are rude or disrespectful and expect them to make amends.

Just as students must wrestle with the academic rigour in order to improve their grades, so too must they face frustration, distress, confronting conversations, or bear disappointment from a member of their village, if they are to become emotionally intelligent.  Yet many experts warn that the age of political correctness, entitlement and cosseting parenting can risk the teaching of such lessons. Whether it be a teacher holding a student in at lunchtime in order to finish incomplete homework, a Head of House challenging a girl about inappropriate behaviour towards a peer on social media, cafe staff expecting students to clean up their mess after lunch, or a parent refusing to deliver forgotten items from home so that their daughter faces the natural consequences of being disorganised, these are important lessons from which the village must not shy away.

Adolescents can be quite shrewd in obtaining their desired outcome.  They can toss difficult problems onto parents like the proverbial hot potato. So too can they expect parents to rescue them, or defend them from any chastisement. The challenge for the adults in the village is to recognise what forms of distress are essential to promote growth and internal resolve. We must then bear our children enduring such distress and trust that we are working together for the same purpose—to grow young women complete with wisdom, imagination and integrity.

 

 

References

Doyle, A. (2018).  Soft skills list and examples: Soft skills for resumes, letters and interviews. The Balance Careers, retrieved from:  https://www.thebalancecareers.com/list-of-soft-skills-2063770

Goleman, D. (1995). Emotional Intelligence: Why it can matter more than IQ. London: Bloomsbury

Salovey, P & Mayer, J. D. (1990). Emotional Intelligence. Retrieved from http://citeseerx.ist.psu.edu/viewdoc/download?doi=10.1.1.385.4383&rep=rep1&type=pdf

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