The Thistle - An E-Newsletter of Scotch College, Perth, Western Australia

"The ultimate result of shielding men from the effects of folly is to fill the world with fools." Herbert Spencer

Last week, I was a part of a large group of staff that accompanied our Year 9 cohort to Rottnest Island. I have written previously about the enormous benefits which flow from such an undertaking; for individual students, the year group and for us as staff. From the staff point of view, particularly House Heads, it provides a wonderful opportunity to get to know their boys really well. Spending an extended period of time with them across a variety of activities and in a communal situation is so helpful in terms of "knowing the boy". That all of this happens in a natural environment magnifies the health benefits.

Your boys are funny – they make me laugh so often, whether it is deliberate or not. They are frustrating – they often do not listen to what we tell them, even though we tell them for their own good and we have told them several times. They are respectful (most of the time). They are heart-warming, when you see them perform a deliberate act of kindness for someone. And they are polite, saying please and thank you more often than many adults I know.

They are also a work-in-progress. Teaching has taught me to be more patient; that meaningful change happens very slowly, but it does happen, despite (of perhaps because of) set-backs. Teaching has taught me that we should be careful not to pigeon-hole a boy – they can do amazing things and they can also change, and will do so if we show them what is good and kind and best for them. Teaching has taught me that we should not be too forceful in putting our hopes and expectations onto a boy – because he has his own aspirations regarding what he wants to be. But teaching has also taught me that we should still set high standards for – and hold high expectations of – them.

Teaching has also taught me that we cannot build a resilient generation capable of dealing with the problems of the 21st century by wrapping them up in cotton wool and seeking to protect them from issues or events which might prove uncomfortable, challenging or confronting for them. Indeed, these are the very issues we must discuss with them, not in shrill voices but calmly and rationally.

This year, for the first time at Rottnest camp, we ran a Wellbeing session with the boys one evening. I spoke to them about the three pillars of Wellbeing at Scotch College, which I wrote about in the last Thistle. I also spoke to them about the importance of mindfulness and emotional regulation. We got the boys to reflect on things that have gone well so far this year, and a couple of challenges they have faced. We got them to think about targeted acts of kindness they would perform in the next few days, and we got them to write a letter to their Year 12 selves, which they sealed in an envelope and which will be presented to them at their House dinner at the end of Year 12. These were all deeply reflective activities and I was so impressed with the way the boys listened and engaged with this session.

During the History session, I encourage the boys to explore and to ask questions. We then do some literal exploring – of the barracks, and a shipwreck – and we look into some of the deeper, darker history of the island relating to its years as a prison for Aboriginal men. The island's mantra is "Acknowledge; Reflect; Respect" and, as I explain to the boys, this can be seen as a microcosm for our nation. We can no longer shy away from the difficult chapters in our history; we must explore these with sensitivity and honesty, seek ways to acknowledge what happened and find a pathway for us all to move beyond that suffering and division.

Exploration involves risk; asking questions involves risk. Riding a bike and snorkeling on a shipwreck and living in a community each involve risk. But if we are not willing to expose our children to some risk, and to the possibility of them making mistakes, they will struggle to learn how to cope in life. This is what experiences such as Rottnest camp provide: a series of small opportunities for the boys to go outside of what they are used to, to take on manageable risks, perhaps even to act foolishly and then learn to live with the consequences of that folly.

Surely, these are the goals of a great education: to embed a lifelong willingness to explore with compassion and to question with respect. The capacity to recognise and deal with risk; the ability to see the opportunities that lie buried within challenging situations; the willingness to acknowledge when we have made a mistake; the strength to learn from that in order to do better next time; and the desire to use our understanding to help others – these are the fundamentals to living a good life. And this is all we want for our boys.

Brain Reset sessions

These sessions are designed to enable Year 11 and 12 students to better manage stress and perform at their best more often. There have been studies that link mindfulness and meditation with reduced anxiety as well as improved concentration, focus, overall health (mental and physical) and test performance.

The sessions begin with a stretching routine and relaxation techniques for the body. The second half focuses on calming and clearing the mind, allowing students to function better afterwards.

We intend to run these sessions on the following days:

  • Monday 11 and Tuesday 12 March (Week 7)
  • Monday 18 and Tuesday 19 March (Week 8)
  • Monday 25 and Tuesday 26 March (Week 9)
  • Monday 1 and Tuesday 2 April (Week 10)
  • Monday 8 and Tuesday 9 April (Week 11)
  • Tuesday 30 April and Wednesday 1 May (Week 1, Autumn Term)
  • Tuesday 7 and Wednesday 8 May (Week 2 - EXAM Week)

These sessions are free. The time slot will always be 3.45-4.30pm, so this gives students time afterwards to get back to study. Afternoon tea is provided. Please encourage your son to attend.