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From the Principal: 13 May 2019

From the Principal: 13 May 2019

Term 2 has started with a flurry of activity and it seems as though we have well and truly settled into the rhythm of school. As the earth tilts further from the sun and autumn progresses, it is an important term for learning, studying hard and making the most of every opportunity here at MGGS. The gorgeous autumn weather has provided a backdrop for a series of important occasions in our first few weeks, from our ANZAC day assemblies, our Celebration Assembly, to Year 7 students heading off on camp to Toolangi and the Year 10 Social; it has been all systems go.

I would be remiss, however, not to highlight how we finished our first Term. The 52nd House Drama Festival held on the last day of Term 1 was spectacular with over 400 students participating. The performances were sensational with a multitude of creative costuming and an intelligent play on the provocation of Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory 30 years on. The Drama Captains, Isabella and Amelia are to be commended on leading this event and highlight of the calendar. The overall winning house was Mungo with their wonderful interpretation of Augustus Gloop written by Lily and directed by Isabella and Scarlett. The choreographers, Chrissy and Indianna, did a sterling job designing the creative dance alongside the fostering of House spirit by the Mungo House Captains Eliza and Arabella who led a mighty Mungo chant at the conclusion of the event.

Welcome back to our students and staff who travelled to the US and to Europe on the Study Tours. Our students on these tours have been fine ambassadors for our school, for Victoria, and for Australia.

Much has happened worldwide in the last few weeks. On Easter Sunday, we witnessed the tragic events unfold in Sri Lanka where many lost their lives. Just as we gave heartfelt thoughts to the people of Christchurch in their recent tragedy, we also send our thoughts and prayers to the people of Sri Lanka and know that many lives and families have been impacted upon. We have a large Sri Lankan community in Melbourne and I know that they will be feeling deep loss and pain.

Strategic Review

As we head in to our Strategic Review phase this term, it is important to pause and contemplate how far we have come in education and how far we are still to travel.

In 2019, we know a lot about how we learn and indeed this understanding helps us as educators to enhance the classroom experience. As an internationally renowned contemporary school, it is important that we can articulate how our pedagogical practice reflects this learning in the classroom and beyond. Academic, Robert Slywester challenges the educator to keep the chemical, physical and structural characteristics of the brain in mind when contemplating teaching and learning. He argues that learning is vital in humans and this is why we have an extended time from infancy to adulthood, marked by the developmental stages of childhood and adolescence (Slywester, 2005). During the years of schooling, it makes sense that teachers use this time to provide a rich curriculum to assist the forging of new synaptic links. There are over 100 billion brain cells in each human brain and each is connected to thousands of others by tiny dendritic branches. Learning involves the learner wiring up a tiny part of the brain. With difficult tasks such as writing, only by doing things over and over again does the learner establish a learned pathway. This is why ‘drilling’ and ‘practice’ remain important parts of effective teaching and learning. Sylwester (1998) claims:

We don’t teach a child to walk or talk; we simply provide opportunities for adaptions to an already operational process…The foetal brain thus develops general areas dedicated to various basic human capabilities within a certain range of variation, such as our ability to process language. Infant brains are born capable of speaking 3,000+ human languages, but they’re not born proficient in any of them. (Slywester, 1998, p.8)

Sylwester (1998) is not implying that humans learn regardless of teaching and the role of schooling is inconsequential, but rather he wants to highlight the importance of the teachers’ role and their responsibility to stimulate learning. The implications of brain research for teachers are profound, enabling them to understand how individuals learn, including many things not explicitly taught. So with the new developments in brain research and the understanding that intelligence is so much richer than just cognitive ability teachers need to find new strategies to take to the classroom. Edelman (1989) suggested that we think of the brain as a ‘rich jungle’ environment. Sylwester (2000) supports this concept and expands upon it, explaining that in this ‘rich jungle’ the neural networks we are born with adapt fluidly to a continuously changing and challenging environment.

Thus, teachers and parents become facilitators who help to shape a stimulating social environment that helps students to work alone and together to solve the problems they confront. (2000, p. 15)

The philosophy of our Junior School is one of Reggio Emilia and reflects this theory put forward by Slywester. It is a pedagogy, or a heutagogy, described as student centred, experiential, relationship driven within a learning space that is rich with provocation. I have been talking to our teachers about fostering the ‘rich jungle classroom, rich jungle mind’ or that a great education at any age or stage is about providing lots of stimulus and resources that will capture the imagination, stretch the thinking and inspire the learner. I recently attended a public lecture with nine of our ELC and Morris Hall staff, exploring the Reggio Emilia philosophy and the notion of a child centred approach was the essence of the visiting academics, Paola Strozzi and Fiippo Chieli’s address.

We can translate this thinking to our Senior Years Program where the learner is immersed in a learning environment of agency and self–determination with robust resources and support. Learning happens at the point of engagement of the knowledge or skill and at MGGS we see that in our sportswomen, musicians, and scholars not only in the classroom but also well beyond on a daily basis. Our Strategic Review will give us the opportunity to have an accurate picture of this.

Sports Survey

Many of you contributed to the Sports Survey early in Term 1 this year. The feedback received across our community – students, parents and recent alumnae – demonstrates the importance of choice, diversity and quality options for our girls to stimulate engagement in sport.

Early this year, Sport Australia released the National Sport Plan 2030, with a vision “to be the world’s most active and healthy sporting nation, known for its integrity and sporting success.” To be effective, the National Sport Plan 2030, must be a catalyst for positive change throughout Australia’s sporting ecosystem – which includes the role we play here at MGGS.

Combined with the release of MGGS’s Strategic Review timeline, we now believe the Stage 1 findings from the Survey should be added to the more robust investigation into how sport, fitness and wellbeing is considered over the next 5-10 years at Melbourne Girls Grammar.  The reporting to the community, therefore will now coincide with the presentation of the Strategic Review in Term 4. 

I would like to take this opportunity to personally thank you for your investment in this initiative and in advance for your support during the Strategic Review period.

Uniform

The School uniform is an important visible symbol of MGGS as an entity and of a student’s membership to our community. I have always believed strongly in the power of the uniform to bring everyone together and create school morale. All students are expected to wear the uniform appropriately and this is clearly set out in the School Diary. The wearing of a uniform symbolises affiliation and pride and how it is worn speaks volumes of the School. Overall, most students are wearing the uniform well, however, I seek support from parents to ensure that their daughters arrive each day with blazers, appropriate length of skirt and the correct socks and shoes. Some students are still learning to knot their ties, however, by this stage of the year, it should be well practised.

Additionally, I believe it is important that our Grammarians have the opportunity to wear shorts and trousers as part of the uniform. This option is one of comfort and warmth, and furthermore research shows that girls do less exercise when wearing a school dress. I think it is appropriate that we look at adding this to our uniform in the very near future and I will be meeting with student leaders and other community stakeholders to discuss this introduction.

Staffing

A warm welcome to our new staff who have commenced this term.

Ms Breanna McGrath – Careers Coach

Ms Kirsty Ross – Senior Years Pathways Planning, Learning Strategies, Coach/Teacher

Ms Suzy Marty – School Counsellor (Junior Years)

Mr Danny Geiger – Head of Snow Sports

Ms Shannon Sweeney – Executive Assistant to the Principal

Mrs Kokila Kaggodaarachchi – Accounts Payable Administrator

We wish them all both professional reward and satisfaction in our community.

I hope to see you at the upcoming Senior Years Production for 2019, Radium Girls. This is a thought provoking drama based on the true story of the dial painters who made labour history. I am pleased with the choice of this drama as it allows our Grammarians to explore history through a politically gendered lens. It is an intelligent and thoughtful piece of work and it speaks to the values of Melbourne Girls Grammar of integrity, courage, self-discipline and compassion. So, if you haven’t purchased your ticket yet, the clock is ticking!

 

Edelman, G. M. (1989). Neuronal Darwinism. London: Oxford University Press
Sylwester, R. (1998). Student brains, school issues: A Collection of Articles. Arlington Heights, Illinois: Skylight Training and Publishing
Sylwester, R. (2000). The Role of Wisdom in Intelligence. Retrieved May 15, 2009, from 2009 www.brainconnection.com.
Sylwester, R. (2005). The School’s Role in Developing Intelligence: Retrieved May 15, 2009, from 2009 www.brainconnection.com.

Author

Dr Toni E. Meath, Principal