Striding out for pathways to empowerment

In The Age (Saturday 11 September 2021), Principal, Susan Just shares why she believes helping students develop adaptability and resilience is necessary in preparing them for their future and how our Year 9 Howqua program helps shine a light on the capabilities of young women.

Adaptability and resilience are necessary skills for the 21st century, writes Anders Furze.

For many schools, the days of viewing students as “empty vessels” to be filled with knowledge are long gone. To best equip students to navigate the uncertainty of the 21st century, many schools are combining traditional learning areas with a focus on transferable skills such as adaptability, resilience, problem solving and communication.

“One of the reasons these skills are so important is precisely because we are in such a rapidly changing world,” says Marise McConaghy,  principal at Strathcona Girls Grammar. “We’ve learned that, of course, over the past 18 months. But it’s not just the overall world that’s changing. It’s workplaces, and the way relationships within them work. Those important personal skills are really critical.

”Just as the world is changing, so is the nature of work. Up to 85 per cent of 2030’s jobs haven’t yet been invented, predicts the Institute for the Future.

“We have children entering [our] school at six months of age. What they’ll be doing 18years from now is really hard to imagine,” says Andrea Elliott, acting deputy head of Junior School at Westbourne Grammar.

“We’re educating into a world that’s almost unknown. So, we focus on the skills to apply new knowledge, new developments in technology and science. They will need these skills to really make a difference in the world.

”The changing nature of work also means it is vital for students to embrace lifelong learning, McConaghy notes, so they can develop themselves both professionally and personally into the future.

“I love the idea of finding areas where girls are curious, or just making them curious generally: about how the world works, and why it’s working in this way. It makes the students want to learn, whether they’re 18 or in the Early Learning Centre.

”Westbourne Grammar School follows the Reggio Emilia philosophy in the early years, which sees students as competent, capable and curious. From this starting point, the school emphasises the whole child, not just their academic performance, deploying an inquiry-based approach to learning throughout the whole school, Elliott says.

“We see children constructing and co-constructing their knowledge in a social context. When we’re looking at a concept, we all start with a surface-level of understanding. And then we go into questioning, researching and deepening our understanding. We’re really wanting students to develop greater ownership of their learning and develop those independent skills, which are so important.

”For Lauriston Girls School principal Susan Just, collaboration is an “essential skill” helping to power 21st century workplaces. “It’s about collaborating with others who have different things to offer at the table. Not just cultural differences but intellectual differences, differences of opinion and thought.

”Lauriston’s Howqua program helps its year 9 girls develop several transferable skills. Founded by former school principal Ruth Tideman in the 1990s, the program sees students spend five weeks at a time over12 months at Lauriston’s dedicated campus in Victoria’s High Country. The regular academic program is taught, while Tuesdays and Wednesdays are devoted to an outdoor program which progressively builds up students’ fitness, confidence and skills as the year progresses.

 “In year 9, you’re very much at that point “In year 9, you’re very much at that point in your development where you’re thinking about who you are as a person, and how you relate to other people. We talk among the staff and with the girls about this formation of identity, your personal values and principles.We want the girls to know that they’re capable.

”The Howqua program is designed for students to develop their personal identity and identify their strengths. They undergo a digital detox with social media and phones banned. Instead, girls are encouraged to have face-to-face conversations and take responsibility for their behaviour. Acommunity service program also runs, plus co-curricular activities and a sequential wellbeing program. It all culminates in three-day and seven-day hikes through the Victorian Alps, designed to celebrate their achievements and learning over the year.

“A lot of [thinking] about these experiential programs is often quite male centred,”Just says. “We often forget that girls are equally as capable in the outdoors as young men. Our program really shines alight on that level of capability that young women have. We should always remember not to pigeonhole girls into a specific box of what they can or should do.

”Outside of the classroom, co-curricular programs play a vital role in developing these critical skills. Not only do they offer students the chance to contribute to their community, but participation empowers students to pursue their own interests, giving them agency over their learning. At Strathcona Girls Grammar, the cocurricular program broadly aligns with three areas: sport, performing arts and service.

McConaghy says the program is designed to empower girls to step beyond their comfort zones.

“Our performing arts festival is organised by the girls in their house. They do everything – script, music, choreography, lighting, stage set – and the older girls direct the younger girls. We want to empower them and give them a voice. Because they do have interesting things to say, and we want to develop their confidence and leadership. “We don’t want overly compliant, dependent girls leaving the school thinking they don’t have agency and a considered view which is worth expressing.