The truth is: the natural world is changing. And we are totally dependent on that world. It provides our food, water, and air. It is the most precious thing we have, and we need to defend it. ― Sir David Attenborough
Sustainable practice and the reduction of our environmental footprint is something the MGGS community is keen to advance. The Navy Blue dinner being held this Friday evening is focused on bringing our School community together to assist in raising awareness and funds for this important MGGS strategic goal. It is set to be a wonderful night of connecting with friends across the School after the hiatus of the past two years. Please join with me in supporting the amazing organising committee led by Julie Chiodo by getting behind the raffle, bidding on items in the air auction and rallying together on the night to make it the success we know it can be. The cause as many of you know is very dear to me. It starts by what we can all do as individuals and in collaboration, role model to our Grammarians, and educate about the preciousness of our environment.and the importance of protecting and caring for our planet. The latter was greatly reinforced throughout my recent sabbatical.
Since returning from sabbatical leave, I have been speaking to staff and students about my four key learnings that are pertinent to MGGS. I have placed these learnings under the headings of our Strategic Plan. The first is about Culture. We are a brave school, we have always been fearless, and this is in our cultural DNA. Part of our mission is to develop ethical women of action, and we need explicitly to teach this. One of the things that has been troubling me most as an educator in recent years is that we live in an era of inter-generational discord and cancel culture. So many in society are easily offended, quick to judge and condemn. With the fast-paced, highly connected technological world we live in and the social media echo chambers we find ourselves part of, the trap for us all is to become myopic about our world view.
How do we help young people to sit comfortably with discontent, develop listening skills and learn to navigate challenging opinions?
To become ethical women of action, they need to be able to come to the negotiating table, welcome others, listen to alternate views, and be prepared to hold conflicting thoughts and reach collaboration and consensus. In short, they need to be able to be disinterested in the best sense of that word. Unless we teach our students the skills to do this, it will be difficult to enact positive change. Simply put, our MGGS culture, with the values of self-discipline, courage, compassion and integrity, must be lived and deeply embedded in our graduates. I have asked our teachers from Early Learning to Senior Years to find time in their classes to tackle the wicked problems that don’t have obvious solutions by means of Socratic discussion so that our Grammarians engage in critical thinking and learn the art of civil discourse and respectful disagreement.
The second key learning was around Learning. Whilst overseas, I witnessed high competition and quality in graduates. At our alumnae events, I met women who had broken through barriers of gender in their careers and were eminent in their fields of endeavour. We need to be rigorous in our approaches to learning and wellbeing. We need to stretch and extend our Grammarians further than we have to date. We need to build into every program enrichment and support. The young scholars I met at The University of Cambridge shared many of the qualities I see in our Year 12s — they were intelligent, curious and engaging. I have asked our teachers to spend time lifting expectations and providing possibilities to expand our Grammarians’ horizons. Opportunities such as the Yale Global Scholars Program, the Global Online Academy or the Henley Royal Regatta all require effort and excellence. We can do more to lift our Grammarians’ eyes to prospects like this and inspire them to achieve their great potential.
The third key learning centres on the Environment. As mentioned above, a large part of our 2020-2025 Strategic Plan focuses on sustainability and is my biggest learning from the sabbatical. For the first time in my life, I flew directly over the Arctic Circle. I finished my leave on a small island in the Andaman Sea that was devastated by the 2004 Boxing Day Tsunami and will surely disappear into the ocean when the oceans rise. It was a confronting bookend to a sabbatical. When travelling to the United Kingdom, The United States of America, Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, and transiting in Japan, I witnessed a planet under pressure. I also witnessed countries that have progressed much further in renewable energies and with a greater focus on using resources sustainably. I saw a high prevalence of the rewilding of urban spaces, solar energy, wind turbines, electric vehicles, paperless businesses, recycling and paying a high price for unrenewable resources. Australia seems to be a long way behind where we should be as a strong modern country. At the University of Cambridge, I met a group of academics representing the best universities worldwide who made up a group called The Centre for Climate Repair. This group was composed of chemists, engineers, and biologists engaging in deep collaboration to solve climate change damage. Their key focus now is working on refreezing the Arctic. I learned that they were using the Great Barrier Reef as a test model on a smaller scale for the Arctic Circle conundrum. This was a group of the world’s brightest minds coming together with rigorous intellect, hope and informed optimism to make positive change. Speaking with our teachers and Grammarians, I have shared this insight and said that we have much work to do. We must all be careful about our impact on the planet, initiating positive measures as individuals and as a school.
The final key learning focuses on Community. We are a globally connected and highly regarded school. Our reputation precedes us, and we belong to a wider network of elite schools and educators. Our social media is followed, and our website is known. It is important that we continue to nurture our global position. As part of the sabbatical, I travelled to our UK sister school, Godolphin, Salisbury, and also met with the senior leadership team of our Canadian sister school, The Bishop Strachan School, Toronto, to re-establish the MGGS Exchange Programs. I am delighted that the Exchange Programs will re-commence in 2023, and applications for the Bishop Strachan School are already coming in. If you are interested in your daughter participating in these exchanges, please get in touch with Mrs Renee Jackson, Student Enterprise Manager. In September, I will travel with Ms Robyn McCutchan, Executive Director, Marketing and Community Engagement, to Thailand and Vietnam International Student Fairs to recruit from among the international cohort of students lost during the COVID pandemic. International students at MGGS may be only a relatively small cohort, but we welcome and celebrate the valuable diversity and global perspectives they bring to our campus.
In summary, the challenges arising from the four key learnings are:
- How do we help our Grammarians to sit comfortably with discontent, develop listening skills and learn to navigate challenging opinions?
- How do we provide even more rigorous learning and wellbeing opportunities for our Grammarians?
- How do we actively pursue a sustainability agenda with hope and informed optimism as a community?
- How do we continue to build a global profile and reputation for MGGS?
Sabbatical leave provided me with time to reflect deeply on the needs of our community. As we recover from two-and-a-half years of disruption and enter our 130th year of existence, now is the time to strengthen our focus and proceed with clarity of conviction to meet these challenges.
Being a principal gives me the opportunity to work alongside amazing students in an environment where the exuberance of youth underpins our every day. Over the last few weeks, it has been my absolute privilege to read the applications and interview shortlisted potential candidates for the 2023 School Captain and Vice-Captains. This is a humbling experience as all applications highlight the extent of the contribution these students have already made to our School and their courage in putting their hands up for such significant roles in their final academic year.
This year, we had an overwhelming number of students who applied for these positions. The shortlisting process is difficult, and I empathise with those who miss out on the chance to be interviewed. I want to express my personal gratitude to all the applicants who put themselves forward for these important roles, cognisant of the time and energy required to lead the School well. The consistent thread evident across all applicants (a very MGGS quality) is the ability I saw in candidates ‘to take oneself seriously, whilst holding oneself lightly’.
I look forward to many wonderful events this term, especially the long-awaited Music Concert at The Edge tomorrow night. I hope to see you there!
Yours in learning
Dr Toni E Meath