From the Principal

Very quickly we have come to the end of another very productive Term. The term has flown from my perspective, a view I’m sure is not shared by everyone but with so much happening I find it hard to believe that the eleven weeks have disappeared. We have been able to achieve a great deal in this time and we can look back with a real sense of pride. Having said that I am sure all in the community will agree that it is always nice to reach the end of a fruitful and very busy term.

Generally the past ten weeks have lived up to all of our expectations with regards the trials and tribulations one comes to expect in a vibrant and dynamic secondary college. We have had a number of wonderful activities and events as mentioned in previous newsletters that have ensured a very eventful term. We have gathered in prayer for the College Mass, celebrating Mary Help of Christians, as well as our Mother’s Day Mass. The College competed on a variety of sporting fields, making a number of finals, winning six premierships, certainly the best results in my time. Congratulations to all the boys who represented the school especially those involved in finals. A special congratulations to the Years 7, 9 and 10 football teams, the junior and intermediate badminton teams and the senior soccer teams on winning their respective premierships. We have also been active in the area of social justice with all boys endeavouring to make a difference through social justice activities. The music team accompanied by our Year 7 music classes performed exceptionally well at the Autumn Concert entertaining the audience on the night. In amongst all of these activities and events we have also been able to accomplish exciting teaching and learning. It has been a very productive and rewarding term and all involved should be congratulated for the part they played.

Last Thursday evening we had approximately 250 beautifully attired young men and women join us at Merrimu Receptions to experience the Year 12 Formal. The social provides an opportunity for the boys to celebrate a wonderful year in their lives, their final year of secondary education. The maturity and class these young people displayed was a credit to themselves first and foremost, to their parents secondly and finally to Salesian College and all the schools represented by the girls.

The boys were very enthusiastic, positive, and in a happy frame of mind from the outset, hell bent on sharing a great night together. The boys and their partners danced from the minute the music came on right up until the music stopped at the end of the night. They shared good humor in the way they danced and chatted, but also in the awards that were presented on the night. They interacted with their teachers showing the care and respect they had for them with a willingness to include them in their celebrations. It is a night that I hope they reflect on fondly in years to come as I know I will. This annual event is a great evening as experienced during previous years. The Year 12 Formal lived up to the standards and traditions of years past setting the tone for future groups to live up to. Congratulations to all in attendance and a special thanks to Mr Chris Pye and Mrs Rhea Beurs for their work with the boys in organising the evening and bringing such a great night to fruition.

This newsletter will be my last for a term as I will begin a term of enrichment leave and long service leave next Friday. A significant part of my trip is a pilgrimage across Spain called the Camino Santiago or the pilgrimage of Saint James. The walk is a 780 km walk over 33 days providing time for reflection and renewal. In this, my last newsletter before heading off, I thought I would make some links between my walk and the journey our students are making, especially our senior boys. As I ponder what is likely to be a very physically demanding trek requiring determination and persistence, I couldn’t help but liken it to the trials and tribulations of the Year 12 boys. My journey commences with a goal and a particular mindset that I am sure is to be tested over the journey. I will have days where I ask myself what I am I doing this for. I will have days of great joy. I will learn new and wonderful things. Get to know a new culture and I will experience pain. I know that if I persist and if I work hard and stick to my plan I will achieve my ultimate goal and experience great joy on completion. I too believe the same experiences, feelings and challenges face our students and I encourage them at this time of the year to revisit their initial goals, to refocus, work hard and persist to enjoy the success that will follow.

I use the work of Carol Dweck, author of Mindset and a professor of psychology at Columbia University to look at a very important aspect of how we approach our daily challenges. Her focus is our mindset and she argues that we need to adopt what she calls a “growth mindset.” Dweck’s research shows that people break down into two basic psychological mindsets: fixed and growth. Those with fixed mindsets tend to think that basic abilities and talents are fixed traits. They are less curious, less interested in learning and more reluctant to make mistakes. Those with growth mindsets, on the other hand, are more willing to take risks and learn new things. Dweck believes they are more resilient as a result.

The fixed mindset thinker tends to rely on the tried and true – even if it’s not working. Learning is static – a fixed thinker often sees themselves as a finished product. The fixed mindset is usually averse to change and the emotional world is kept hidden.
According to Dweck, “Mindsets frame the running account that’s taking place in people’s heads. They guide the whole interpretation process. The fixed mindset creates an internal monologue that is focused on judging. This means, “I’m a loser or I’m a better person than they are.” Dweck adds that “the person with the growth mindset is also constantly monitoring what is going on, but their internal monologue is not about judging themselves and others in this way. They’re attuned to implications for learning and constructive action. What can I learn from this? How can I improve?”

She goes on to talk about factors that inhibit our mindsets things she refers to as blind spots or walls of protection. She states that while there are many forces that coalesce to form a fixed or flexible mindset, beliefs are at the core. Think of beliefs as Walls of Protection. Constructed mostly from early experiences and reinforced by culture and habit over time, they are the bedrock of all mindsets.

We adopt most beliefs from our parents and caregivers that harden into a world view. Our perceptions are filtered through these beliefs. Beliefs are formed and reinforced in the service of our needs – the need for love, safety and affiliation being the foundation upon which other beliefs are built. These walls of protection can only offer superficial relief. They can never satisfy the real need beneath so in a sense we become prisoners of our beliefs. Blind spots are covers for those unmet needs.

Physicist Leonard Mlodinow, author of Subliminal: How Your Unconscious Mind Rules Your Behavior writes, “All of our social perceptions that seem real are made of data from our past experiences, beliefs, expectations and even desires. They are not a direct result of what we experience but rather are constructed by our minds.”

Exploring Blind Spots

So how can we see what we can’t see? If we wait till experience happens to us, we may never recognize or understand how blind spots are shaping our lives.
We’ve got to actively seek where the blind spots are and how they work. If they’re “blind” it’s safe to assume they are serving to keep us away from old wounds or unexplored fears.

Here are some places to look:
• Over-reliance on rationality. First we have to clearly define what we mean by being “rational.” Emotional intelligence is a balance of drawing upon our intellectual and emotional wisdom for guidance.
• Stuck in the mind-body split. We don’t understand the difference between the mind and the brain and still try to compartmentalise rather than integrate parts of our experience.
• Short-term fixations. Work, money, relationships, instant gratification – they come in many forms and often mask deeper unmet needs.
• Chronic gap between intention and action. Has the words – avoidance – written all over it. Look for blind spots here.
• Need to control. It doesn’t matter what it is. It could simply be the need to control a conversation. The need to control is a sign of a fixed mindset trying to hold on to power that is, of course, an illusion.
• Weak relational skills. This blind spot often reflects a more self-serving nature or fears associated with dealing with others. Social neuroscience is called that precisely because our brains are social. We don’t live in isolation and some of us spend little time learning to develop our so-called “people skills.”
• Over-reliance on the past. The past is a rich resource for learning about our experience, but too many of us chart our course solely based on what we did in the past.
• Lack of vision for the future – it’s been said that we spend most of our time thinking about the past or the future, but I am often surprised at how little visioning people do of the future they would like. While a clear and positive vision of the future must be tempered by the realities of change and uncertainty, we often get “pushed by pain rather than pulled by vision” in moving forward.
• Intolerance of the unknown. Another reason we keep ourselves in the shadows of our blind spots is an inability to tolerate uncertainty. Some of us are very reluctant to admit there is a LOT we don’t know. Many people have a bias towards knowing. They can’t imagine practicing what the Buddhists call a “beginner’s” or “don’t know” mind. Maybe because admission of not-knowing appears weak or stupid – or vulnerable – and most important – out of control. There’s great freedom is adopting a “beginner’s mind.” Suzuki Roshi said, “A beginner’s mind is wide open and questioning. An expert’s mind is closed.” “Don’t know mind” gives us a vibrancy and flexibility to the world we live in. In many ways, the beginner’s mind is the ultimate growth mindset because it is always ready, willing and eager to see the world afresh.

Our blind spots can have a deep negative impact on the quality of our lives. Every part of life is touched by them. The more that we uncover our blind spots, the richer our experience becomes. We grow more confident, resilient and patient – especially with ourselves. Our relationships get more balanced. Our organisations get healthier. And our cultures have more equanimity.

Dissolving blind spots isn’t easy. It takes commitment. You’ll move out of the shadows and into the light and find yourself saying less of “what was I thinking.”
Louise Altman, Partner, Intentional Communication Consultants

I use this reflection as part of my preparation for my trip to ensure I get to experience the richness that lies ahead as I walk across a new land, meet new people, explore my spirituality and generally broaden my view of life. I pose the challenge to the boys and ask them to reflect on their mindset. Are they open to new possibilities, are they up to the challenges study puts before them, have they got the courage and persistence to stick to their goals and meet all the elements required like preparing and sitting exams and completing assignments. Through understanding our own fixed mindsets and pushing through barriers and not just paying lip service to the challenges, but truly understanding that it’s not the destination, it’s the journey that shapes us. After all, if it doesn’t challenge us, it doesn’t change us.

I finish with this quote from Richard St. John who reminds us that success is not a one-way street, but a constant journey. “Too often we allow ourselves to focus on the destination and miss all the richness and joy the journey provides.”

I wish all in the community the very best in my absence especially Mr Neil Carter and Mr John Visentin who will guide the ship whilst I’m on leave. I know they will do a great job and the school is in very capable hands. I hope all the boys have a restful break, keep safe, enjoy some time with their family and friends and return in two weeks’ time ready for another big term.

God bless.

Rob Brennan