Ms Amy Woodgate | Head of Junior and Middle Schools
These were the three guiding principles presented to our new Year 7 cohort at the beginning of their ‘Character Builders’ day during their Transition Program last week. The facilitators from ‘Character Builders’ encouraged each of our students to challenge themselves to do each of these things throughout the day and moving forward as a Year 7 cohort.
Stepping Up is about challenging and perhaps pushing yourself outside of your comfort zone to lead, speak up, and take a risk. For some students, and adults, this comes easily. They are comfortable to take charge in a group situation, be the spokesperson in an activity, organise a game in the playground or come forward to address a concern. However, for some, their perception is that this ‘is not me’, and will never be. The ‘Character Builders’ leaders provided our students with opportunities throughout the day to ‘step up’, supporting students to recognise this in others and know that they are capable of ‘stepping up’ in a variety of ways, even if they didn’t initially think they could.
Stepping Back is being inclusive, recognising the strengths and ability of others and taking the opportunity to step back from what may be your ‘usual’ role and allowing and inviting others to ‘step up’. It is having an understanding of time and place and knowing how to best utilise your own strengths as well as the strengths of others to ensure the collective group is successful.
Stepping Up and Stepping Back are both more powerful when it occurs within a culture of encouragement. Encouraging others seems like quite a small thing to do but making sure this encouragement is authentic and meaningful is the challenge. Encouraging others can be as simple as a genuine smile, an enthusiastic ‘keep it up’ or more specific recognition through the acknowledgement of someone else’s strengths and emotions in a situation.
Our Year 7 students embodied these three principles throughout their ‘Character Builders’ day as they encountered a range of team and individual activities that required them to work in various groups, face challenges and push through even if they may not initially be confident to complete a task or take on a role. The ‘Character Builders’ facilitators modelled language and behaviours that have seen our Year 7 group connect with one another and begin to build a positive peer culture that will be the foundation for their future years at the College.
Another highlight of the day was the session exploring the art of conversation through conversation circles. The students were introduced to the terms ‘thick questions’ and ‘thin questions’, with the idea being that a ‘thick question’ is open and allows the person you are conversing with to share more deeply about themselves, their experiences, their feelings or ideas. ‘Thin questions’ are more closed, often a yes/no response or a simple statement of fact.
We may think that our young people love a good chat but when beginning the conversation circles process, the art of conversation at a deeper lever was initially quite difficult. For two minutes at a time, they attempted to ask ‘thick questions’ of their partner. After getting through dates of birth, how many pets or what sports they play, the conversation became a little more stilted. As the students moved through partners, however, the noise level and animation of the group slowly increased. Students became more comfortable, they began to share more openly and they inched towards developing deeper connections with one another. They stepped up, stepped back and encouraged one another.
The messages from the ‘Character Builders’ day are not just restricted to our Year 7 group. They are equally relevant to all in our Junior, Middle and Senior Schools. At SCOTS PGC, the culture of encouragement and support is embedded across the College. We see it in the classrooms, on the playground, in the Dining Hall, on the stage or out at a sporting fixture. Our boys and girls, irrespective of whether they have an official leadership badge or not, are invited to step up each and every day in whatever avenue they are pursuing. As our College vision states, we exist to ‘inspire our boys and girls to be their best’ and always aim higher, perhaps asking some ‘thick questions’ along the way.