Posted on November 26, 2019 / From the Principal
This week we have a special guest introduction from Elizabeth Cutter, Head of Girls’ Middle School.
The power of one
For most of my life, my main philosophical belief has been to hold onto hope. Hope for change, hope for a brighter future and hope for past wrongs to be made right. Too often I have seen young people who are weighed down by the challenges of life and the prospect of a gloomy future. I believe that we have a collective responsibility to help each young person see the opportunities for change that lay ahead for them, with a future that is light with possibilities and to help them to never lose their hold on hope.
One of the most profound achievements for our students this year has been the establishment and development of our Green Team. This student driven group, established by Mrs Anne Bortolussi, has organically grown throughout the year with a palpable impact on our school culture. Rather than focus on the overwhelming negative predictions for our environment, they seek out solutions and practical changes that are achievable and measurable. The Green Team ethos of “it is far better to have a whole lot of people doing things imperfectly, than to have just a few people doing it perfectly” permeates all that they do. This year alone they have improved our waste management across the schools, increased recycling and reusing, fundraised over $10,000 for FareShare who focus on feeding the homeless with food waste from supermarkets. They have empowered student voice through the ‘2040’ movie screening and increased awareness throughout the school community. What a testament to the character of our students and what a great example of hope.
A few weekends ago, I joined our Green Team on their inaugural FareShare fundraising walk. Throughout the day when several walkers asked who our students were, I was saddened to hear the cynicism displayed when they asked me what I had done to force them to be here. This was of course the complete opposite. I was the one who had needed some convincing to get up early on a Saturday morning and pound the pavement for a good cause. It was the selfless attitude of our students, and a belief in a better tomorrow that was inspiring me, one step at a time.
I find this sense of optimism from our young people a refreshing change from the doom and gloom of global predictions. They are realistic in their approach and empowered with knowledge in order to drive change. Across our Girls’ Middle School we are increasingly seeing advocates for global environmental change, equity and justice for those who do not have a voice.
In our Year 9 pastoral program we study a film called ‘Girl Rising’ which shows case studies of the injustices being faced by many women around the world. This builds on our Days for Girls social justice program in Year 8, where the students create sustainable hygiene products for disadvantaged women. Our girls are supported in developing a global perspective of the challenges that face women today and then practical strategies to help. I recently investigated Australia’s ‘Gender Gap’ as part of our Year 9 financial literacy program. With my optimistic bias showing, I had confidently predicted that we would be in the top 20. We are in fact currently ranked 39th (out of 149 countries) from The Global Gender Gap Report 2018. This report looked at economic participation, political empowerment, educational attainment, and health and survival.
Being 39th doesn’t sound too bad, until you realise that we were 20th in 2008. A very rapid decline over the past 11 years. This could be attributed to the upward progress of other countries; however, when comparing ourselves to other like countries such as the UK, NZ, Canada, France or Germany, we are significantly dragging our heels. Some of the most interesting points were that whilst we are leading the way (#1) with regard to our educational attainment for women, our weakest areas were that of economic growth and political empowerment.
Image source: World Economic Forum 2018, The Global Gender Gap Report 2018, http://www3.weforum.org/docs/WEF_GGGR_2018.pdf
Here again was an opportunity to be informed and to act. We need to continue to find ways to equip our girls with the capacity for leadership and advocacy. To build a culture our students feel safe and empowered to speak up and out to our community. To stand for government, and political change. To be able to look the future in the eye and know that they have an equal and powerful place in our world.
In the words of the Green Team, “it is far better to try, than to do nothing”. As educators and parents what simple steps can we take today to help these goals become reality for our young women?
- We know that girls thrive in a learning and home environment where they feel connected and valued.
- We can be vocal about the potential we see in our young women and help them to see it for themselves.
- We can encourage our students to work in a collaborative manner to build greater self-confidence and expression of ideas.
- We can offer genuine and meaningful praise for valuable character traits.
- We can continue to teach and encourage financial literacy at school, and informally around the dinner table.
- We can talk about politics, management, or governing a board as being an opportunity for advocacy and change.
- We can provide a safe learning environment where our girls can feel able to step out and take calculated risks.
We can continue to celebrate their conviction to create a better world, as I saw demonstrated during our FareShare walk by our team of cheering parents.
Most of all we can give them the gift of a future filled with hope, one step at a time.
NB This report is well worth a read (in particular pages 20, 74-75) if you have a moment http://www3.weforum.org/docs/WEF_GGGR_2018.pdf