Helping our girls to achieve their full personal potential

From the Head of Griffith House and Year 9 Coordinator

At School Assembly last week, Dr Bell spoke to the girls about the importance of eating healthy food, engaging in regular exercise and gaining adequate sleep. She encouraged the girls to practise the habit of consuming nutritious food with the consumption of less healthy “treats” occurring only occasionally.

The subject of eating a balanced diet to maintain strong physical health is very topical at the moment with various media reports exploring the disturbing possibility that the current generation of teenagers will not live as long as their parents.  In The Weekend Australian, February 12-13 2011, an article by Alexander Gambotto-Burke entitled “Mum’s the word on obese kids” featured the work of Flinders University senior lecturer and dietitian, Anthea Magarey.  Magarey heads the Parenting, Eating and Activities for Child Health programme, known as PEACH, designed to engage parents of younger children in making healthy lifestyle changes to ensure a healthier future for their offspring. Gambotto-Burke states in his article, “findings released this week by Cancer Council Australia and the Heart Foundation back Magarey’s claim that child inactivity and obesity are a big problem”.

We feel very confident at Brisbane Girls Grammar School that the girls are provided with a wealth of information about nutrition, exercise and sleep.  The Year 8 Health Studies programme includes a “Nutrition for Life” course focusing on nutritional balance.  We also know that parents do their very best to ensure that their daughters consume nutritious meals, as we are all familiar with the old adages, “you are what you eat”, and “a healthy body equals a healthy mind”.

On the subject of a healthy mind, I was enthralled by Dr Andrew Martin’s presentation to the Academic Staff in late January entitled “Motivation, Engagement, Learning and Personal Potential.”  Because of my additional role as one of two Year 9 co-ordinators in 2011, I was especially interested in how Dr Martin’s research related to the Year 9 cohort, and the different results for girls compared with boys, as the 14-15 years age bracket is sometimes referred to as the “motivation wilderness.” Dr Martin defined “Motivation and Engagement” as “students’ energy and drive to learn, work effectively and achieve, and the thoughts and behaviours that reflect this”. He also defined “Academic Buoyancy” as “the ability to deal with setbacks at school, academic challenges and schoolwork pressures.”  He explained that the complexity of girls’ minds is reflected in the element of perfection that often exists, meaning that they may not be satisfied with high achievement. As well, higher levels of anxiety are sometimes experienced in the process which can sabotage girls’ attempts to reach their full potential.  The powerful impact of thoughts on feelings and behaviour was emphasised when Martin outlined the three types of thought that relate to levels of Motivation and Engagement, which he called Boosters, Mufflers and Guzzlers, also referred to as “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly!”

Motivation and Engagement Wheel, reproduced from 'How to Motivate Your Child for School and Beyond' (Bantam) by Andrew Martin (2003)
Motivation and Engagement Wheel, reproduced from 'How to Motivate Your Child for School and Beyond' (Bantam) by Andrew Martin (2003)

Dr Martin’s “Motivation and Engagement Wheel” featured above communicates these concepts in a way that words cannot.  I will provide some explanation of the slide to help you understand Dr Martin’s research results. He emphasised that the five C’s (confidence, coordination, commitment, composure and control) are indicators of academic buoyancy.  He also made the point that for girls, anxiety is the biggest problem of all in the formation of ‘muffler thoughts’. Anxiety creates doubt in a student’s mind about her capacity to do well which links in with failure avoidance and procrastination.  Mounting anxiety can lead to the student placing obstacles in her own path and reducing effort in order to have “an alibi” for failure.  “Guzzlers serve as protection for self-worth and self-esteem”.  Dr Martin’s presentation covered numerous other illuminating points about a student’s Personal Potential Network, with Academic Buoyancy and Academic Courage featuring strongly.  His publications are listed at the end of the article for your reference.

While reflecting on Dr Andrew Martin’s presentation and its relevance to the girls I teach and interact with on a daily basis, I contemplated some girls’ tendency to over-think and over-analyse, especially in negative ways.  In very plain language, if you eat too much, it’s a problem.  If you eat too little, it’s a problem.  The same simple equation applies to thinking!  With our Grammar girls, it’s a very rare problem to encounter “under-thinking”.  The problem for some of our girls is over-thinking which can increase levels of anxiety.

In our classrooms, in our House groups and in all our co-curricular activities, we try so hard to help our girls to reduce anxiety, increase persistence, courage and self-belief and, ultimately, to achieve their full personal potential.

Ms J O’Sullivan

Martin, A.J. (2003) How to motivate your child for school and beyond. Sydney: Bantam.

Martin, A.J. (2005) How to help your child fly through life: The 20 big issues. Sydney: Bantam.

Martin, A.J. (2010) Building classroom success. London: Continuum.

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