I recently attended a meeting for NSW School Principals and had the pleasure of listening to a presentation given by one of Australia’s leading psychologists, Dr Michael Carr Gregg. Dr Carr Gregg shared his concerns regarding, what he called, “well-being and mental health crisis” for Australian children aged 8 to 12 years. The issues he raised, were certainly aligned with my own concerns and sadly they were on par with the many serious issues I see here at Claremont and hear about in the media.
As I write this weekly newsletter, I do not want to sound alarmist, but I believe that we need to take this more seriously than ever before and respond as a school community accordingly. It was once my thought that the Primary Years were the ‘safe haven’ years for children. These were the years when we as educators and parents would lay the firm and solid foundations for young children and pre-adolescents. These were the years that we would equip children with the skills for making wise decisions, provide them with values and a moral framework, equip them to be resiliency and enjoy that wonderful sense of safety that comes with childhood. Surely one’s childhood should be the years of being carefree and happy with eyes wide-open with wonder and curiosity. I still advocate and strive for all of these things, perhaps more than ever before. However, the reality is that, thanks to technology, the adult world is encroaching into the primary years and little kids are being impacted. It is no wonder that we hear that our hospitals and medical professionals are seeing more and more children being treated for depression, crippling anxiety, panic attacks, anorexia for both boys and girls, self harm and talk of suicide.
If this alarms you, it should. As a school community, we need to be working together to seek solutions and support and strengthen the home/school partnership. It was fabulous to talk about this with the Claremont Dads, who on Monday attended the Fathering Project meeting at the Coogee Diggers. We shared stories, strategies, ideas and solutions. We worried together about some of the things we are aware of, especially when one dad mentioned that at his daughter’s high school, data was published suggesting that 85% of the entire Year 11 cohort (girls and boys) were taking prescribed anti-depressants. We heard stories of young teenage boys who do not attend school because they are unable to leave their bedroom due to online gaming addictions. We were encouraged and affirmed, however, by the reminder of the importance of dads being involved in the lives of their kids. On the flip side of some grim statistics we learnt that there is significantly less likelihood for teenagers and young people to be impacted by these issues when their parents are actively involved in their lives… coaching, supporting, disciplining, having rich conversations, allowing for mistakes, following through on consequences, growing resilience, and essentially being involved in a way that is not being a helicopter parent or a parent who creates a ‘Bonsai Child’.
Our School Discipline and Anti-Bullying Policies
So with these comments, my reassurance to our Parent Community, is that Claremont takes this very seriously. Our priorities focus on your child’s safety, well-being, happiness and their learning. Next week, we shall introduce our revised ‘Discipline’ and ‘Anti-Bullying’ Policies. These documents align with the contemporary issues that we are dealing with as a school and wider as a community. I would hope that we have the support of all parents as we implement initiatives, and further refine our school-wide behavioural expectations.
Kids and Smart Phones
Dr Michael Carr Gregg sought the opinion of Principals in the auditorium on the issue of smart phones and devices in schools. Dr Carr Gregg has been commissioned by the NSW State Government to write a report regarding the use of technology in schools. This comes on the back of a number of countries such as France and Malaysia that now have complete bans. My personal opinion is that technology, when used wisely, with appropriate infrastructure, filters, fire-walls, supervision and education, is rich, valuable and wonderful for learning. However, this must come with some strict guidelines. I am so pleased with the success of our 1:1 iPad Program but certain consequences must be put in place should children ‘break the rules’, and of course parents must have the assurance that our IT systems are safe and carefully monitored.
What we are seeing in the lives and the world of some students
I’d like to give you the heads-up with a few issues that concern me deeply. These things are based on issues and incidents that my staff and I have to respond to at school over recent months.
• Online bullying from home, where children connect to each other on apps and games. Many harmless looking kid’s games, come with the ability to chat with friends and strangers.
• I see children who are using Instagram, Facebook and other forms of social media that are clearly identified as being for users aged 13 and older. Children must lie about their age to become users. Don't forget that creepy adults also lie about their age and pretend to be a harmless 14 year old kid.
• There are students who have set up YouTube Channels. To make matters worse, they are using their name, and they talk about their school, their house and give other personal details.
• I am hearing that many students are playing ‘Fortnite’ which is considered to be perhaps the most addictive online game ever.
• I have seen students looking at, and playing Grand Theft Auto.
• We have children who are messaging mum and dad on their iWatch during lessons and school time.
• I see children overly worried about their body image as they obsess over the number of steps they take at school, constantly checking their fitness on their Garman or Fit-Bit.
• Most children, are given mum or dad’s hand-me down smart phone, which essentially gives them the ability to access pornography and other unhelpful content within a couple of clicks.
• Children who are receiving psychological help for self harm and/or having suicide ideologies. Our data shows that 25% of our 2017 Year 6 student cohort, presented for these issues and required counselling, psychological or medical intervention.
We may wonder why the adult world is encroaching into the precious years of childhood. Is it because we are handing the adult world to our children? It would be neglectful to drop your child off onto a dark street in the middle of the city at night, yet isn’t this what we are doing when we let them navigate the internet on a smart device? Our kids may be accessing highly dangerous content, and providing their personal details and data to strangers, often while sitting next to mum and dad at the Café.
It has been a long standing policy that phones are banned at school. Earlier this year, I mentioned that Apple iWatches (or similar) are ‘discouraged’. On Monday, I will be informing all students that these devices will now be completely banned at Claremont. If your child has one, he or she must hand it in at the office on arrival at school and collect it at the end of the school day. I would expect that parents have the necessary safety talks and rules associated with having these devices while walking to and from school, and when at home.
Four of the Core Values of Claremont College summarise my concerns.
Engaging learning through quality teaching across the curriculum with innovation and creativity.
Providing a nurturing school community through care and respect for self, others and the environment.
Growing and affirming the character, leadership and a sense of purpose for each individual child.
Having faith in Christ and following his word in our lives.
Let’s work together to give all of our children the safe and happy childhood that each one of them deserves.
Thank you Robert Collins @Robbie36 for the beautiful photo.
Meet Adnan, Sunjay and Anaya...
It comes with an incredible sense of satisfaction when I hear the news of children who have been rescued and whose lives have been powerfully changed. These kids did not go to school but once were forced to work in child labour. Thanks to Project help India these kids now have the opportunity to receive an education, to learn, be cared for, make friends and have a class full of other kids who they can laugh and play with.
These precious kids now have a safe haven, a place of belonging and a kind teacher who keeps her watchful eye on them.
These children no longer are subjected to the cruelty of a harsh adult work, forced to do what no child should have to do. They are now safe from the dangers of exploitation and away from a dark world that no child should ever be forced into.
Just this month, I have caught up with the story of 3 remarkable kids who attend our centres in either Kotdwara or Bijnor.
Adnan is 9 years old and is in 3rd Grade. His father died and the family were forced to live on the streets. Poor little Adnan had to make a living by collecting and selling rubbish from off the streets. We have helped Adnan’s family and he now attends school 6 days a week.
Sunjay is 14 years old. He stopped going to school and was forced into labour due to poverty, working hard for 2 years. He is back at school and thriving in his learning. He has big hopes for the future and he dreams to become a doctor
Anaya is 11 years old and has spent most of her childhood working in the harsh conditions of domestic labour and making an earning from picking through garbage. Read her story as reported last week (mid September) by our Project Officer in Kotdwara:
Anaya is one of the students in our Kotdwara Slum Centre. When Anaya came to us she could not utter a word. Dirty hands, shabby clothes, sweaty brow and the look of misery and desolation were writ large on her face. This barely 11 year old child was the hardworking breadwinner of a poor family. The time that should have been spent in gaining basic education and in playing with friends was being devoted to pick garbage. The hands that could be used to build the future of the country were being taught to wash dirty floors and utensils. A valuable life was being severely ruined. After 6 months of being at the Slum Centre, Anaya has a spark in her eyes as she dreams of a future for herself. Now she is also going to School. She is in 6 class. If you ask her, she says she wants to be a doctor, to be able to cure her ailing mother. Anaya was freed from domestic labour with the help of dedicated efforts of organisation.
I think you will see that their smile says it all.
Life is full of threats. They say that when we are under pressure, this is when a leader's true character shines ...so what will people see? Will a threat get you down and bring out the worst in you? Or do you see this as an opportunity to learn, grow and depend on God like never before?
I think of blatant threats when somebody who hates your guts and threatens to hurt or harm you. This certainly happened to me when I was a kid at school, especially as a teenager when I was bullied and teased, sadly repeatedly for a number of years.
In my work and career, I have been threatened with legal action and this is scary. Threats in our world of work are all around. They are so often sneakily packaged in passive aggressive behaviour, politeness and smiles that come with vindictive daggers in your back.
I have also have had times when I discovered that others were actively trying to undermine me and my leadership, trying to satisfy their own agenda. It’s devastating as a leader when this comes from someone who you trusted and actively encouraged to grow and flourish under your leadership. It’s tough dealing with this betrayal and I have lost a lot of sleep over this. I have asked myself “was I too naive, too trusting, did I make a hasty decision in employing them, or was I just bloody stupid?” I’m comforted that the Psalmist King David knew this well and his writings are full of his reflections, trying to make sense of (to the extent of having to run and hide for his life) betrayal and threats. I love that David always concluded that God is is safety, his rock, his refuge, the one he could fully trust.
In you O Lord, I have taken refuge;
let me never be put to shame, deliver me in your righteousness.
Turn your ear to me come quickly to my rescue;
be my rock of refuge, a strong fortress to save me.
Free me from the trap that is set for me, for you are my refuge.
Into your hands I commit my spirit, redeem me O Lord, the God of truth.
Psalm 31 - wow what a prayer!
If you am going to successfully make it through the long haul of the leadership journey, value your team. If you are going to look after yourself, don't think you can do it solo. As I write I am thankful for the amazing people on my team who I work with. We often say “I have your back!” and without the sense of confidence this brings, I couldn’t do my job or be the leader I need to be. Effective teams are filled with trust and respect.
So back to the concept of threats... threats provide opportunity for reflection, growth and the joy that comes from knowing and depending on God. He has my back 24/7. I recently learnt at Cambridge that a “threat carries seeds of advantage.” Threats to your team provide opportunity to come together in unity, purpose and to enjoy that great satisfaction when you learn that “the answer was in the room”. A glass of wine, shared together (make that a bottle if it’s to be shared) at the end of a hard week, to celebrate the challenges fought and the battles won, also does the trick. It also helps you to walk away from the job, enjoy your weekend and set you all up for the issues that still may be waiting when you go back to work on Monday morning.
Thanks Ian Espinosa @greystorm for the great photo.
I recently heard a great talk by one of Australia’s leading psychologists, Dr Michael Carr Gregg. http://michaelcarrgregg.com/
What he spoke about provided some great reminders and challenges about how I care for myself and ultimately for others. Let’s face it, if I don’t really care for myself, how can I be in my very best of shape to care for others. My recent time at Cambridge University reinforced this and my leadership coaching certainly reinforced this point. My coach summed it all up by saying “care for yourself Doug! You care for others but who cares for you?”
It sounds almost selfish to say this… “I must care for myself”. “Put yourself first!” As a Christian, I believe so strongly in the concept of servant leadership and putting others first, but really, am I going to be my very best for others if I am not prioritising my time and resources to be and become the very best person that I can be? I am no good to others if I am a stressed out, good for nothing mess.
So with this thought, here are some thoughts by Dr Carr Gregg (mixed with my own reflections). I’m thankful for his wisdom and for the opportunity to learn from this inspiring man.
TEACHERS AND PRINCIPALS DO NOT HAVE IT EASY
When it come to Australians, teachers are ranked as having the highest occupational stress. Compounding this, is research that shows that it’s even worse for Principals. I can’t believe that my job is more stressful than any other job in Australia, but then when I think about my day to day, I am not surprised. Did you know that Australian Principals are bullied my than any other job in this country? According to statistics, 20% of my staff team will suffer from a DSM mental health diagnosis and this is consistent across most sectors of the Australian workforce.
We have to get our act together as Australian leaders to understand stress in the workplace and to respond as we care for our staff and communities. Three current reports are worth reading;
TOP 10 TIPS FOR LEADERS
So listen to the advice you would give to others …care for yourself.
Here's some thoughts…
1. Work at your metacognition - your self talk - “if you can’t change something, change the way you think about it.”
2. Don’t personalise the problem....you are hearing the pain and anxiety of others. Don't own their issues and don’t take the problem home.
3. Practice gratitude, reflect at the end of each day and be thankful
4. Prioritise relationships - have a rich repertoire of friends and be a good friend to others
5. Sleep well - don’t be sleep deprived. Check out the Professor Russell Foster TED TALK
6. Exercise - take 10000 steps a day, get into aerobic exercise. For me this means getting up at 4:55am four days a week – but it’s worth it!
7. Practice mindfulness, optimism and kindness. Check out this book “Why kindness is good for you” by David Hamilton.
8. Watch your diet - what we eat directly impacts our mood,
- Check out the Deacon University Food Mood Centre website
- no fast foods as this exacerbates anxiety and depression
- enjoy a Mediterranean diet
- eat eggs (colene helps memory), Greek yoghurt (tyrocene), blue berries, glucose at breakfast (carbs, toast, fruit), avocado, walnuts and certainly avoid alcohol
9. Plan for your future, set goals. Have something to work towards
10. Dr Carr Gregg did not say this, but for my Top 10 I would add, humble yourself before God. In other words, don’t think you can do this by yourself. Search your heart, search your soul and draw strength on God. He wants to do the leadership and life journey standing by your side, leading the way, He has your back and He carries you when it's all too much.
One of my guiding Bible verses as a leader and for my life on general is Luke 10:27
"'You must love the LORD your God with
- all your heart (my emotions, my love, my devotion)
- all your soul (my spirit, my inner most passion and being)
- all your strength (my energy, my body and my fitness),
- and all your mind (my thinking and my intellect).
' And, 'Love your neighbour as yourself.' So in other words, put God first, look after yourself second so that you can be your very best to equally love people and in doing so point them to God.
Isn't this ultimately what leadership is all about.
It's the most important job that any man can be given. We don't even have to have kids to be a man of influence and significance in the lives of others. Each one of us is watched by countless others. We model our beliefs, values, attitudes, decisions and so much more. Never underestimate how much you are loved and respected and how much you mean to someone else.
As a Dad, a husband, an uncle, brother, neighbour, teacher, work colleague or friend, I encourage you to celebrate Fathers Day, by reaching out to the people in your life and give them words that instil worth, value and purpose. Not just today but everyday.
To my kids ...you are the best and I love you!
What does the Lord require of you and me?
to act justly,
to love mercy
walk humbly with your God
It was a privilege to spend close to three weeks at Watoto in Uganda. Watoto is a school with over 1000 students (K-12). These beautiful kids are mostly orphans, and each one has an incredible story of being rescued, loved and being given a life of hope and purpose.
Working most evenings in 'Baby Watoto' feeding the newborns and playing with the toddlers before bedtime was both fun, and exhausting.
Rowena and I had such a wonderful time - thank you Watoto for your love, warmth, generosity and kindness. You really looked after us and you treated us as family. You will remain in our hearts and prayers and we look forward to returning.
My days were full and busy. Some of the things I did during my stay included;
The chances are that when when things are rolling along well, when the momentum is gaining speed, just when you least expect it, something will occur that was not foreseen and totally unexpected. It may be a crisis, some bad news that rocks your community. Maybe the news is not as critical but it still comes unexpectedly, for example, a key staff member (the one with all the promising talent), popular with everyone, has received a promotion with a competing organisation. This is the stuff that is hard to stop thinking about when you’re trying to get to sleep. ...so as leader, are you prepared for this, and how do you respond?
Those who you lead, need you to be able to cope and be in charge. If you are facing a significant crisis, understand that people go into shock - you have to respond to this situation and respond to people’s needs. People need to feel safe. Do you keep your calm and communicate safety and confidence? Be prepared. Did you have a Critical Incident Policy to help guide you personally, while you yourself, may be feeling numb and upset?
Many years back, I had to respond to situation involving the murder of a parent of my school, and the kidnapping of the student. It was as horrific as you can ever imagine. We were all devastated. We cried together and I really was numb. My team was upset and I found it difficult to think clearly. What helped and got me through was our 'Critical Incident Plan and Procedures' which outlined the steps that we needed to take. While things were going crazy around me, I found confidence in following the checklist of steps and actions that we had devised within this policy. I was able to deliver strong and confident leadership despite feeling like I was out of my depth and ‘wetting my pants’ having to deal with something like this. God was good, as He always is, and I felt His strength and guidance.
When a crisis occurs, have a meeting (this gives people confidence), you need clarity for who is responsible for what (categories of incidents) key roles, contacts, and an action plan. People like to have a task and responsibility so don’t underestimate how well they will do their job under pressure. Have just one person who is authorised to talk to the press (it will probably be you) - get the detail of the micro correct, or the press will eat you. Anticipate your social media response and get onto this. Five minutes to set up an action plan is going to set you and your team up for a good response to whatever you are facing, and ultimately ensure the best outcomes for whatever the crisis might be. Contact the external bodies who are there to help and never forget that an intentional, drop everything, quick arrow prayer, keeps you and your team connected with the One who you need the most when things are bad. He wants to do this with you and He promises to be by your side through it all.
One of the keys to our leadership success is ‘expecting the unexpected’. It seems ironic but it’s actually possible to plan for this.
Thanks @tompumford for the great photo
I have just had the privilege of attending at Advanced Leadership Program at the Judge Business School, University of Cambridge (link). The experience was incredible and I cannot recall having ever learnt so much, and been challenged and stretched in my thinking in such an intense way. The course itself spanned 17 days, 130 hours of teaching, 40 speakers delivering 38 topics which included an expanse of topics. I have listed some of these topics to paint a picture of what some of the key areas that a contemporary leader needs to be aware of and considering;
The role of a leader is complex and multifaceted. People and communities need leaders and perhaps one of the greatest needs a community or organisation needs from its leader(s) is to deal with the unforeseen.
Big change happens slowly and humans want safety. They need to feel safe and secure within their community of belonging. Change is disruption. Change is expected, but we don't necessarily know what to expect. The future is always determined by the unexpected. As a leader, when you think about the future, you must consider how is it going to be different?
The quality of leadership is found in these things;
At Cambridge one of the speakers said that you also need to have “a sense of your timing.” In other words, a leader needs to understand that s/he is positioned ‘right here’ and ‘right now’ with the conviction that God has placed you where you are, with the people you do life and work with, for a purpose. They need you to be confidently doing your very best, seeking to be your very best, strong in the knowledge that God is with you in this – even with the change that is relentlessly knocking on your office door.
In my role as an educator I cannot stress enough my belief and conviction that when it comes to kids with special needs, we have been doing some things terribly wrong.
If a child can’t read at the pace of others, or if a child is struggling with their learning, perhaps they have a physical, behavioural or intellectual disability, what do we do? Generally, thinking that we can better cater for their needs, we remove them from their classroom and from their friends, and teach them somewhere else. The stigma can be painful. At times this is fair enough because maybe there are better resources, a better or more specific program with access to skilled, specialist staff. However, most of the time we have got this so very wrong.
Keeping students who have disabilities with their friends, peers and other learners is what they need. Inclusion is not discriminatory and it is equitable. We must rethink school and classroom design to cater for the vast array of needs that all students bring. To take things further, in India where we are working, it’s wonderful just to get them out of their house. Here's what I mean;
A couple of years ago, I visited one of our small school projects in Kotdwara. At a community meeting I asked;
“Where are the kids with special needs?”
“What do you mean?” was the reply.
“Well, where are the kids who might have a disability” I asked.
“A disability? What do you mean?
“Like a child who is blind, or a boy or girl who can’t learn like the other children”
“Oh yes, we have lots of kids like that”, was the reply.
“Well where are they?” I asked.
“They are at home”
“Why aren’t they here at school?”
“They can’t go to school because they have a disability” was the standard reply.
The conversation would have gone in circles until I realised that the common place mindset was that school and a children with a disability were seen as being mutually exclusive. I have since learnt that many children with disabilities in India (and also in other third world communities) live at home for their entire life. These children whose families live in poverty really are the “poorest of the poor”. These kids are never educated because their parents have no money and no one has have ever offered them a vision for how a school might cater for their needs, and how learning might actually change the course and trajectory of their life. So often these parents live in shame for having such a child, rather than being helped, equipped and supported in the challenges they face. To have a child with a disability is a significant liability.
Last week I visited a remarkable place, the Gem Foundation in Kampala. Rowena and I were incredibly inspired. Children with ‘significant’ needs were loved, cared for, and given a quality education, not to mention meeting their developmental needs through individual health plans. Kids with Downs Syndrome for example, were seen as being valuable and important individuals.
I’m proud that in June we started a small project at Kotdwara. Naomi, who is one of our amazing teachers holds a class 3 mornings a week, for three children, each with a disability. These kids are from families who live in terrible poverty. Their parents would otherwise never imagine that their children could be educated in any way - let alone loved, valued and embraced by others. The children are given a healthy snack, they play with toys that they never see at home, have stories read to them, and an educational program is being implemented as we determine how we can best meet their individual needs.
It’s early days and we love these remarkable kids as if they were our own. Each has their own beautiful personality and we are enjoying getting to know them better. They make our lives brighter and richer simply by knowing and doing life with them.
Rabiya is from a Muslim family. He was impacted by neonatal drug taking, was born premature and although “he understands everything” (not sure what this means) he cannot speak or walk. He loves coming to our centre where he is learning to read. His smile lights up the place when he arrives.
Farah is 18 years old. Both of her parents have polio and they cannot walk. Farah loves coming to our centre and she cries when she has to go home.
Ayush is ten years old and he is from a Hindu family. He has never been to school. When at age 5, his parents realised that he had a mental disability, relatives advised his parents to “throw him out or send him to an orphanage”. Ayush’s mother was determined to keep him and now she is finally receiving some help and support from Project Help.
So what’s the vision? Perhaps you can help? We would love of course, to receive your generous donation but even more valuable than this, we are reaching out to ask for specialist help and guidance. Some of the questions we are asking include;
The need is great, our resource is minimal. Our love is huge and we are confident that we have friends and networks who would like to share their love too.
Our starting point is to gather some like-minded, passionate educators or people involved in helping children with disabilities to meet with me to get things rolling, and to help me get a clearer sense of direction. Perhaps you can’t help, but maybe you know someone who might be interested, if so please forward this email to them.
As with all things we have experienced with Project Help, we know this to be true;
Thanks as always,
Love Doug :-)