Since returning back to school....

Thursday, 25 Nov 2021

Since returning back to school, we have all noticed a change in some children most particularly many boys. I am not one prone to generalisations, so I phoned 4 of my principal colleagues over two weeks to ask them what they had noticed since the kids had returned from lockdown. I did not prompt them or skew their response by telling them in advance what we had noticed so what was interesting in hearing their responses is how much in alignment we were. Without exception, boys and girls (but mainly boys) were not managing conflict well. They were fighting more often, being rude more often and the teachers in all the schools were spending copious number of hours managing misbehaviour. 

Why would this be?

  1. Schools – more often in some cases than homes - are places that help children build resilience. 4 months of being at home has lowered resilience levels in many of our children. The Japanese have an expression – ‘Fall down 7 times, get up 8’. Children today seem to live by a new twisted maxim: ‘Fall down 7 times and mum and dad will pick me up 6’. 
  2. Too many kids are ‘king of the castle’ at home and many parents seem to think this is normal. The child then has an expectation that s/he should be ‘king of the castle’ at school.
  3. Taking responsibility for one’s actions is completely anathema to some. The child is inculcated into a world of individual rights more than collective responsibilities. 

Many would have seen (Principal of St Andrews) John Collier’s article in last week’s SMH where he said that many parents had become “chauffers, cheerleaders …. abrogating their authority and letting children have their own way too often”.   This is commonly felt amongst those of us who have done this for a while.

We are working through the various issues which we all anticipated (we saw the same but to a lesser degree in 2020) but please be aware that these are issues/behaviours children bring to school. Schools are not the causal reasons as to why children cannot resolve conflict and naturally enough, we don’t invite children to be disrespectful or rude.  

Speech Night, Graduation, Presentation of Awards and Self-Esteem

All parents are cordially invited to join us at speech night this year. This is an evening that gives us the opportunity to recognise many students who have achieved and to challenge our students with some important messages.

This night is about emphasising what children have achieved and what they have done. It is about the appropriate recognition of mastery, persistence, and hard work. It is not about promoting how children feel. The self-esteem industry has wrought havoc across many schools but we are determined Mount Sinai won’t be one. This evening is not about mouthing self-contradictory slogans like ‘everybody is special’ – after all, if that were the case; is anybody special?

Feelings of self-esteem in particular, and happiness in general, develop as side effects of mastering challenges, overcoming frustrations, excelling and achieving. The feeling of self-esteem is a by-product of doing well and working hard. There is no question that feeling high self-esteem is a delightful state to be in but trying to achieve the feeling side of self-esteem directly, before achieving a good work ethic and outcomes, confuses profoundly the means and the end.

So let me be clear about this awards evening. Prizes are not like lollies to be distributed evenly between everyone. Prizes are limited and will be distributed to some children. Others will miss out. Missing out does not mean children have no worth. It means you keep working hard, you work harder and you aim higher. In fact, we often say a child learns just as much from not receiving an award as s/he does from receiving.

I am sorry if this does not resonate with everyone but those who have endowed prizes would expect no less and the philosophy of our school is to encourage traits that will truly drive success.

Schools have always been interested in three kinds of outcomes:
1. Skills - what our students are able to do
2. Knowledge  - what they know
3. Character formation - the kind of people they become

Our limited number of prizes recognise these aspects.

As I sat on the beach for a short while on the weekend, I was watching beachgoers everywhere, but more listening to the PA which was blaring the names of nipper winners in age categories. It was very straightforward and no-nonsense. Age winners Under 9, 10, 11 and 12 were announced – so all could hear wherever we sat on the beach.

It was a particularly Australian moment, not only because it was so good to hear the way in which it was done, (and the interspersing announcements of the sausage sizzle) but because it was reminiscent of a bygone era when it was perfectly acceptable to have first, second and third. A bygone era when everyone else didn’t cry or carry on because they weren’t awarded. A bygone era when there was no need to follow up by giving the other 40 participants in each category a ‘certificate’ so they could feel ‘valued’.

This is what has systemically contributed to lowering resiliency in children. Those who did not win learnt as much as those who did and hopefully, they will try harder next time to push their surf skis that much harder as they compete. When did the need to reward every inconsequential act begin? (“You picked up litter well – have a certificate” / “You helped your teacher – have a trophy”).

I am pleased we stopped this nonsense years ago and to this day have reduced the need to hand out certificates. In so many instances, the ones we do hand out are not from us but from external organizations that run Mathematics, English or cultural programs. They post certificates to us. Whilst we do honour these, we are very selective as it truly is futile to keep handing out awards, rewards and certificates that bear no relationship to true achievement and in the vain hope that the child’s self-esteem will be enhanced.

Please encourage your children to congratulate their friends as they receive prizes and demonstrate for one last time this year through this action that they are a mensch – that character formation is just as important as anything else.

So, back to speech night! Let’s hope we have another successful evening and teach our children to build character through congratulating the awardees. That will say more than anything about them and their ability to face the realities of the workforce.  

Please note that following my message regarding the Rapid Antigen Home Testing the College has the supply of the kits. Parents are not expected to source these themselves. If we have a case of COVID, these will be sent home to the particular grade.  

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