Monday, 27 July 2015

Adolescents and alcohol (2015 Term 3 Week 3)

Last week we were very pleased to host Paul Dillon from the Drug and Alcohol Research and Training Australia. Paul is one of Australia's leading authorities on issues to do with teenagers and illicit drugs. He spoke with our Year 10 and Year 11 students, as well as addressing teaching staff, conducting round-table discussions with the PDHPE staff and presenting to parents. 

Paul is very generous with his intellectual property; his presentations can be downloaded here, which may be of particular interest to parents who were unable to join us for the evening session. He also blogs here and here - this second site is particularly oriented towards young people and their questions about illicit drugs. The DARTA site also contains some helpful fact sheets and other resources.

There were four issues arising from Paul's presentations that I think are worth highlighting with the school community.

First, it's not all bad news when it comes to drugs and alcohol in Australia. The mainstream media have a tendency to sensationalise reporting on drugs and alcohol in a way that distorts the facts; bad news sells better than good news! As a result, many good news stories about drugs and alcohol are getting lost or downplayed. For example, alcohol consumption per capita in Australia is at the lowest level since 1965. In addition, the proportion of young people self-describing as non-drinkers is the highest since records began to be kept in 1984; 60% of Year 10 students describe themselves as non-drinkers, as do one in three 17 year olds.

Second, there are a large number of good reasons to attempt to delay or prevent the commencement of drinking. Brain development is negatively affected by alcohol and the adult brain does not finish maturing until well after adolescence. The earlier drinking starts, the greater the risk of future alochol-related problems, whether dependency or addiction. Young drinkers are also much more likely to become sexually active at an earlier age, with the associated risk; they are also more likely to become victims of violent crime. The disinhibiting affect of alcohol degrades an adolescent's already marginal capacity to make wise decisions.

Third, the primary responsibility for guiding teenagers through these years belongs with their parents. Parents need to be parents, not to be their teenager's best friend or one of the gang. The four key words in our relationships with our children are "I love you" and "No"! On a very practical level, if you want to delay or prevent risky drinking and/or illicit drug use:
  • Know where your child is
  • Know who they are with
  • Know when they will be home 
Fourth, it is not OK to provide young people under the age of 18 with alcohol. Under Section 117 of the New South Wales Liquor Act 2007 it is illegal to supply alcohol to people aged under 18 years in a private home unless it is supplied by the child’s parent or guardian, or an adult who had the approval of the child’s parent or guardian. A person convicted of secondary supply in NSW can be fined up to $11 000 for each underage drinker involved.

I commend the links provided earlier to you for your information and exploration. We anticipate continuing to have Paul work with us and our students over the next few years.

Tuesday, 21 July 2015

What are we building? (2015 Term 3 Week 2)

It is no secret to our school community that Inaburra is planning to undertake a major building project in the near future. Since the launch of our 2013-15 Strategic Plan at the end of 2012, we have flagged our intention to replace the demountable classrooms presently at the centre of the school site. 

Over the last couple of years we have been exploring best-practice in the design of learning spaces. The traditional school model of 'cells and bells', which largely emanates from a factory-model conception of education, is under threat. The space in which learning takes place has an impact on the learning that happens there. Given that our goal is to shape young people who have the capabilities outlined in the Inaburra Learner Profile, we want to develop spaces that will facilitate this goal.

In particular, libraries are going through an existential redefinition. Libraries are no longer the major community repository of information for research, as online connection has democratised data and made it ubiquitous. Rather, libraries are becoming a community gathering point or watering-hole that provide a context for individual and group learning. Our Senior School library, built in a much earlier stage in the life of the school, is ready to be supplemented with a new learning commons.

Our research also included reflection on the present and future needs of the school community and the surrounding neighbourhood; a range of stakeholders, including students, staff, parents and local residents were consulted. As a consequence, it became evident that increased carparking onsite would be wise, increased playground space for the Junior School would be useful and a central location for our Learning Enrichment team would be helpful.

At the Presentation Events at the end of last year, we publically launched our intention to move ahead with a major building project, using this video

During the course of this year I have been meeting with small groups of parents explaining our plans, answering questions and inviting families to contribute financially. I am delighted that we have raised over $80K so far through contributions from more than thirty families. 

The building project is being conducted under the NSW Government’s SEPP (Infrastructure) 2007 as a complying development. In accordance with the legislation, the plans have been certified and lodged with the Sutherland Shire Council and public notification has taken place through an advertisement that you may have seen in the St George-Sutherland Shire Leader.

During the holidays, as is our usual school practice, we sent a letter to some 400 households in the vicinity of the school, notifying them of our plans and inviting them to attend a public meeting to explain and discuss this initiative. In the past, some of these public meetings have been quite volatile. In contrast, our meeting last week was very low key. Only seven local residents attended and we were able to hear, take on notice and respond to their particular concerns. I am hopeful that this building project will not be marked by significant controversy and angst in the public arena.

We are now in the process of finalising the tender documents and contracts; during the rest of the year we will be planning and preparing for the project. At this point we are hoping to commence the building at the end of the school year and our (very early) estimates are that it is likely to take at least eighteen months.

While it is evident that the construction period will cause significant inconvenience to the life of the school in the short term, the long-term benefit will be experienced both in a couple of years and in the decades to come. 

If you would like to find out more about our plans or contribute to this project, you can find more information here. I would be delighted to meet with you at one of our Creating Our Future events.

Tuesday, 14 July 2015

Returning to school and resilience (2015 Term 3 Week 1)

I suspect that the countdown to the return to school has a different tone in different households. For some it is a matter of great excitement and anticipation; for others, it is less so. 

A friend commented recently that her daughter's response to returning to (another) school after the holidays was 'I can't even remember who I do and don't get on with anymore'! Other students may not relish the demands and challenges of learning, compared with a few weeks of unstructured leisure and relaxation. Our Year 12 students are conscious that they are entering into their final term of secondary school, which engenders mixed emotions in and of itself.

Overall, it appears that most of our students enjoy being at school. In the recent parent satisfaction survey that we conducted, 87% of participating families agreed with the statement "My child likes going to school" and 85% agreed with the statement "My child speaks favourably of his/her experiences at school". These responses align with the various student surveys that we have conducted in recent years. 

I am also pleased that our staff enjoy being here too! In our 2014 annual staff engagement survey, 94% of staff agreed with the statement "I am proud to tell people that I work for Inaburra" and 96% agreed with the statement "I like the kind of work that I do". For all that we all love and look forward to the non-term time breaks when they come, the Inaburra staff are also glad to see the students return.

Notwithstanding the generally positive outlook that most of us have towards the term ahead, the reality is that the term will be mixed. There will be good days and bad days, positive relationships and negative ones, triumphs and disasters. Life in this broken world has this mixed character, which is one of the reasons why resilience is such a vital capability.

Resilience is the capacity to cope with adversity, frustration and disappointment. It is the ability to encounter difficulty and to keep going. 

At Inaburra we are explicit in aiming to shape young people who are resilient and responsible risk-takers. Risk takers are mentally and emotionally prepared to take a chance which may result in failure. Responsibility helps them to work out which chances are worth taking. Resilience helps them to cope when they fail. Since failure is an essential element in the learning process, our children must be prepared to face it and overcome it.

Resilience is learned through multiple factors. One of the crucial ones is the way that we model and demonstrate the framing of failure and disappointment. The chart below outlines some of the ways that our speaking with our children can help them to develop their resilience. I commend the linked website to you.
As we make our way through this term, with its inevitable ebbs and flows, can I encourage you to have in mind the goal of developing resilience in your children? The world of the 21st century world is one of increasing volatility, unpredictability, complexity and ambiguity; resilience will be invaluable for them.