From the Principal: 22 April 2024

From the Principal: 22 April 2024

Term 2 has started with a flurry of activity, and it seems as though we have well and truly settled in to the rhythm of the term. The gorgeous autumn weather has provided a backdrop for a series of important occasions in our first few weeks, from our whole school Commencement Assembly, to Year 10 students heading off on various outdoor education camps – it has been all systems go. 

During the term break I was fortunate to walk the Milford Track. The Milford Track is a one-way hiking route in New Zealand, located amidst mountains and temperate rain forest in Fiordland National Park in the southwest of the South Island. 54 kilometres of beautiful pristine forest, big skies and, luckily for our walking group, no rain! When I walk, I meditate and empty my mind of the clutter, the ‘flotsam and jetsam’ of life, and my attention turns our Grammarians and to my vision for MGGS. I am grateful for the rhythm and the peace as my breathing falls into pattern with my walking. With clarity of thinking, one can distil and contemplate the road map ahead. As we enter Term 2, we will begin to gather both qualitative and quantitative data from all members of our community. I encourage all to engage in our surveys and focus groups. We are a successful school, yet there’s always room for improvement and themes that will emerge through the surveys and focus groups will assist to compose our next Strategic Plan for 2025-2030. 

The collection of data is essential and highlights areas that we can focus on for improvement. For example, when we surveyed the parents in Term 2 2023, we found that we needed to provide better career guidance for our Grammarians, that some parents found navigating eVI difficult, that we could provide better value for money, and that after COVID some families did not feel connected to the community. This feedback allowed us to work on our communication and assistance in these areas, aligning standards and behaviours to our School values and ensuring that parents are feeling a sense of connection with the School. The same survey highlighted the strengths perceived by the parents, such as, our teachers were highly knowledgeable and skilled and supportive of the children, that our Grammarians are safe and they are building strong networks, and that MGGS has a strong and progressive curriculum. Hence, we can see why data such as this gives us the opportunity to work on meeting our community needs and aspirations.

In 2024, 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 into the classroom and beyond. Academic, Robert Sylwester challenges the educator to keep the chemical, physical and structural characteristics of the brain in mind when contemplating teaching and learning. He (2005) 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. 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. (Sylwester, 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 teachers 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 Sylwester. 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. 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. We understand girls’ education and are known for it!

On Friday 26 April we have the opportunity to share our knowledge and experience when we host the inaugural International Coalition of Girls Schools, Australasian International Symposium on Educating Girls. As expert in girls’ education, MGGS is honoured to host this international event with close to 500 international participants, including our teaching staff. This day will be an asynchronous learning day for most of our Grammarians with a large number representing the School as Symposium guides and ambassadors. It will be an opportunity to share our ‘rich jungle learning’ with teachers from around the globe!

Our 57th 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 Alice in Wonderland and how the characters came to be there. Each House was given a character – Hensley, the Cheshire Cat, Mungo, the Mad Hatter, Taylor, the White Rabbit, Clarke, the Red Queen, and Blackwood, Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum. The overall winning House was Clarke with their wonderful interpretation of the Red Queen’s journey to Wonderland. The choreographers did a sterling job designing the creative dance alongside the fostering of House spirit by the Clarke House Captains, Isabella Troise and Saskia Dowd.

We were delighted to welcome renowned and award-winning Australian children’s author, Louise Park to speak to our Years 4, 5 and 6 in Wildfell on Thursday 18 April. Park started with a general discussion about her books, her writing process, idea-creating, building worlds and the editing and redrafting process. This was interactive and our Grammarians loved it! Park then focused on her latest award-winning book, Last Man Out: A Portrayal of the Gallipoli Evacuation and what’s involved in writing narrative or creative non-fiction. Our Grammarians enjoyed a slideshow of photos and personal artefacts showing battlefield conditions, daily life at the front, the respect shown to both sides during the campaign, and evacuation details from the last week on Gallipoli. This was a timely learning opportunity for our Grammarians as a prelude to Anzac Day.

I am pleased to announce that we continue as education partners of the Melbourne Writers Festival, 6 to 12 May 2024. We will be most fortunate to listen to outstanding writers and involve our Grammarians. I hope that you can also join this iconic Melbourne event. On Thursday 9 May, the MGGS Community is exclusively invited to hear author Lauren Groff speak about the importance of reading widely and curiously, at all ages. Join Lauren in conversation at the Conversation Quarter in the State Library of Victoria from 5.30pm.

In closing, I hope to see you at one of the many events coming up. Please remember that we are here because of and for your daughter. Please do not hesitate to get in contact with the School if you have any questions or need support. Have a happy Term 2!

Yours in learning,

Dr Toni E Meath