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“The Importance of Human Connection, Support and Consistency for Teenagers” by Anita Gibson, Head of Middle School

My father has a story he loves to tell about the time when he realised I was not going to be as easy to manage as my two older dutiful and well-behaved siblings. It goes something like this…

As a small child I plucked up the courage to ask my mother, ‘Mum, can I get my ears pierced?” Mum gave a dismissive response, “Go and ask your father”. I apparently skipped away, not the slightest bit phased by her passing of the buck, straight into the backyard whereupon I altered the question, ever so slightly, to my father: “Dad, can I get my ears pierced when I am seven?” “Sure” he replied, presuming I would forget about it in the coming days, but as I skipped away back towards the house he questioned his response and called out, “How old are you?” “Seven,” I replied. Within an hour, I had my ears pierced, and I swear my Dad was never fooled again.  

As Secondary School teachers and as parents, we are regularly challenged by adolescents hoping to find a chink in our armour. I don’t begrudge children for this, after all, we are dealing with teenagers and they naturally want to see what they can and can’t get away with. At Matthew Flinders Anglican College, we are blessed with good-natured students yet, while our issues are minor to that of colleagues in schools with significant student behaviour management concerns, we still have to be clear to our students what is ‘above the line’ and what is ‘below the line’. Walk into any school and students will be able to tell you who are the ‘strict’ teachers and who are the more ‘relaxed’ teachers. As a leader and a stickler for consistency, this causes me some concern. 

Over the holidays I read When the Adults Change, Everything Changes by Paul Dix. The book is largely focused on behaviour management in schools, but as a new parent I found myself questioning if my child would one day use the same trickery on me that I used on my Dad. I found myself panicking, asking my husband if we shared the same beliefs on parenting and what rules we might have for when our child begins to push boundaries.

Dix describes schools as similar to the family environment where, if adolescents don’t get the same consistent response from Mum and Dad – or, in our case, every single teacher – school culture will inevitably be eroded, perhaps not overnight, but in little incremental moments. So how do we ensure that Matthew Flinders Anglican College maintains its position as a top Queensland school with a consistent approach to building a respectful school culture? Dix would argue it is simple: our College must ensure that we encourage positive human interaction between our students and staff, where adolescents know who they can trust and who they can go to if they want to voice a concern.

Towards the end of last year, I listened to a webinar by Paul Dillon, Director and Founder of the Drug and Alcohol Research and Training Australia (DARTA). Paul tours the country speaking to parents and schools about safe partying. The key message I took away from his webinar was very similar to that shared by Dix: stay connected to your teen and make it perfectly clear that they can call you anytime and that you will listen or, in the case of partying, pick them up to ensure their safety. It is no different here in the College with the relationship that our students build with their Homeroom Mentor. The Mentor’s role is to be there for their students and to, no matter what, listen with empathy, kindness and care.

I regularly hear our Head of Senior School, Mr Gary Davis, use the phrase, “It takes a village to raise a child” and this is indeed the case when it comes to the partnership between home and school. At the beginning of each year, we run a series of information sessions for parents to help navigate the year ahead. In a Secondary School environment, while we place a strong emphasis on students becoming more independent, these sessions are essential to ensure that we are collectively on the same page when it comes to raising successful graduates who possess courage, respect, compassion and integrity. 

 Anita Gibson | Head of Middle School 

 

Learn more about the innovative Middle School program at Flinders, and discover how a Flinders education will benefit your child as they enter Secondary School. Families considering enrolling for Year 7 2021 are invited to attend an information evening to be held at the Flinders Performance Centre on Tuesday, 25 February, at 6:30pm.  Please complete this form to secure your booking.

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