Proof positive: Knox Grammar transforms traditional education for the 21st century

Total Fitness … Knox Grammar School’s innovative Positive Education program is a quantifiable success.

Boasting stately buildings and manicured grounds, Knox Grammar School on Sydney’s Upper North Shore would appear to be the epitome of old school.

But looks are deceiving. Knox is in its 10th year of a transformational project to bring pastoral care to the forefront of the school’s culture. Its Total Fitness program broadens the school’s remit to cultivate students’ characters as well as their minds. Integrating the principles of Positive Education into a traditional academic setting, Knox’s cutting-edge methodology seeks to equip students with the knowledge and life skills required to flourish in a globalised economy.   

“We are renewing the traditional model of education through thoughtful innovation and a focus on preparing students for a rapidly changing world,” says Scott James, the school’s newly appointed headmaster.

“The 21st century is an interconnected, diverse world. Students need to develop empathy and collaboration skills to prepare themselves for the evolving workplace of the future.”

Positive Educator … Knox Grammar School’s newly appointed headmaster Scott James.

The program has special relevance for Mr James who initiated a re-think of pastoral care when he came to Knox in 2009 as head of the Senior School. An extensive research review lead the school council to adopt Positive Education as an evidence-based framework for a rejuvenated school culture. Working with Sydney’s Positive Psychology Institute Knox developed its data-driven Total Fitness Positive Education program in alignment with the school’s unique heritage and values.

“Total Fitness is about holistic education. We focus on the whole student — academic, social, physical and spiritual aspects — based on the science and evidence of Positive Education. All our staff are trained in it, which allows them to focus on the optimal functioning of students in our care,” says Mr James.

Since its implementation in 2011, Knox has tracked the program’s impact on staff and students. The results demonstrate improvement in key areas of the school with the Knox community enjoying significantly greater stakeholder satisfaction than that of comparable schools.

While the data offer quantifiable proof that Knox is tracking in the right direction, Positive Education has made a difference at every level of school life, Mr James says, by nurturing “non-cognitive life skills, such as “empathy, tolerance, compassion and understanding of other people’s points of view”.

“I can see it in the everyday development of these skills in the staff and students. You can see it in the classroom and on the sporting field.”

The equal emphasis on staff wellbeing distinguishes Positive Education from other pastoral care models and underscores the school’s holistic educational approach.

At Knox, every activity presents a mentoring opportunity. “All our teachers are also mentors trained in Positive Education,” says Mr James.

Holistic approach … Every teacher at Knox Grammar School is also a mentor trained in Positive Education.

Adult guidance is supplemented by ‘boy to man’ mentor programs, Mr James says, “because we believe boys learning from boys is critical”.

Knox is a perennial high achiever in the HSC but recent years have seen even better results with the school ranking in the top 20 last year.

Mr James attributes this happy outcome to the extensive support the school offers students in those stressful senior years. “In years 11 and 12 we have a senior academic mentor to help the boys with time management and goal setting. Students have a mentor for the pastoral side and the academic side,” Mr James says.

In the school’s boarding houses Positive Education extends to every aspect of student life. “Our staffing structures facilitate a family atmosphere for boarders with a husband and wife team leading each house, while our “whole of life” boarding programs give boys opportunities to acquire life skills and credentials,” Mr James says. “We support them to do their RSA course, barista courses, learner driving as well as co-curricular activities.”

“Our boarders are extremely successful academically. There’s no doubt that the academic support and availability of resources 24/7 that contributes to that,” he says.

Proud heritage … Knox Grammar School offers best-practice education in a traditional setting.

Improved wellbeing and academic outcomes are just the beginning though. Mr James has an ambitious and wide-ranging plan for the school’s progress in the years to come.

He is “committed to building a learning community of the highest quality” that will empower students to succeed to their fullest potential. Central to this project is the cultivation of core character traits: integrity, resilience and the pursuit of excellence.

“My vision is to be an exemplary school developing within a caring, Christian environment to produce young people with a sure knowledge of who they are and how they want to live,” Mr James says.

“I have key focus areas for the school: leadership, teaching excellence, learning excellence, Knox Total Fitness and global mindfulness, which is critical to give students the opportunity to engage in social justice programs, community service and immersion activities. These experiences give students a sense of mastery and efficacy and help to develop rapport with other people,” he says.

“Knox is a school for boys of all abilities, races and creeds where they’re supported as equals. With our understanding of mental fitness we can teach boys to deal with setbacks and develop grit. We emphasise ‘stickability’ — staying on task and employing a growth mindset.

“Intelligence is not innate but can be developed.”

 

References

Knox Grammar School website
http://www.knox.nsw.edu.au/

Positive Psychology At Work: Research & Applications – Part 3 School Case Study & Impacts
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-x5ksxyHC8k

Positive Psychology At Work: Research & Applications – Part 4 School Case Study & Impacts
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ExTxdUuUvkk

Tough love trumps puppy love: Expert parenting advice from teachers, researchers and Trinity Grammar

There are as many different ways to raise children as there are parents and kids but some styles are definitely less effective than others.

Too permissive or outrightly neglectful child rearing are obviously problematic but research shows too-close supervision can be almost as detrimental to children’s development.

From tiger mums to doting dads, there’s mounting evidence that over-involved, “helicopter parenting” is at the very least, counter-productive, if not damaging.

Standing on their own two feet … even puppies benefit when parents encourage them to overcome obstacles on their own. Credit: Shutterstock

Interestingly, this holds true not just for human parents but for canine carers as well.

A study on guide dog training released this week, shows that overprotective canine mothers produce less capable offspring as measured by guide dog training completion rates.

The researchers attributed the dogs’ handicap to their mothers’ propensity to shield them from adversity in the first few weeks of life. Over-zealous protectiveness inhibited the development of resilience in puppies with lifelong temperamental consequences.

“It seems that puppies need to learn how to deal with small challenges at this early age and, if they don’t, it hurts them later,” lead researcher Emily Bray said in a University of Pennsylvania media statement.

“A hypothesis might be that you have to provide your offspring with minor obstacles that they can overcome for them to succeed later in life because, as we know, life as an adult involves obstacles,” said Bray’s co-researcher, Robert Seyfarth.

Indeed. A growing body of opinion sees overcoming failure in childhood as integral to long-term success.

In The Gift of Failure: How the Best Parents Learn to Let Go so Their Children Can Succeed, US teacher and author Jessica Lahey cautions, “today’s overprotective, failure-avoidant parenting style has undermined the competence, independence, and academic potential of an entire generation.”

To counter our modern tendency to coddling, Lahey offered these words of parenting wisdom to Psychology Today readers:

  • Failure helps children learn about themselves…and they will recover
  • Be patient and trust in your kids
  • Remember that when we say “Let me do that for you,” we are telling our kids we don’t think they are capable
  • Let kids make mistakes that test their abilities. This is a good thing that will strengthen learning and teach them how to be resilient
  • Remember that intelligence is malleable. The harder kids work to overcome challenges, the smarter they become
  • The children of parents who support autonomy are more competent and resilient in the face of frustration, so give kids space to work through temporary setbacks
  • Kids who pursue their own goals are far more likely to meet those goals and stick with activities for the long haul

Experts agree that allowing children to make and learn from their own mistakes is of primary importance but knowing exactly when — and how far — to let go can be difficult to judge.

An “authoritative” parenting style that tempers discipline and clear expectations with warmth and acceptance is generally considered to be the approach most conducive to raising resilient and successful kids. It is also the most closely associated with good academic results.

As children move into the later stages of adolescence, it’s important to allow them greater autonomy but within the framework of “a secure and predictable environment”, says Andrew Martin, professor of education psychology at UNSW.

Some parents may be reluctant to pull back at this stage, fearing the worst; but it’s a normal and necessary part of helping them grow up, Dr Martin says.

“Undoubtedly, they will push and exceed the boundaries, but that and its consequences are part of the development of their identity and understanding the social ‘norms’ to which they will be held to account in adulthood.”

To help parents find the right balance between strictures and structure, Trinity Grammar offers this excellent advice:

Encourage independence
Don’t be tempted to do everything for your child because it’s quicker, they need to gain some independence from a young age, so even a pre-schooler can be encouraged to do things on their own, like dress themselves. For older children and teens, resist the urge to solve their problems and protect them from disappointment – they will learn much more from making mistakes and considering the consequences of their actions. Demonstrate your belief in your child’s abilities to boost their self-esteem and confidence.

Maintain stable and loving relationships
This applies to relationships between parents, children, other family members and with the Church. Ensuring a child experiences secure relationships based on respect, trust and love shapes the way they manage relationships for the rest of their lives. If they experience conflict being managed in a respectful way, children in turn will learn to manage conflict in a passive rather than aggressive manner. If you apologise to your child for a wrongdoing, they learn the importance of acknowledging mistakes and considering the feelings of others.

Be there for your children
It is easy to get bogged down in the routine of daily life and chores that need our attention. Regularly put aside some of those tasks and make a point of spending time with your children and simply having fun. This will strengthen your relationship and is rewarding for both you and your child. Properly engage with your children, whether it be through play or really listening to what they have to say.

Set clear rules
Children crave boundaries and need clear rules for behaviour. Try to avoid making threats you do not plan to carry out and instead be consistent and ensure you and your partner provide a united front to avoid confusion for children. Although the equilibrium can sometimes be difficult to maintain, parents must balance empathy and support with structure and clear expectations.

Be a good role model
We can try to teach our children morals and values by talking about it, but children learn far more from the behaviours of their role models. Try to be the person you want your child to be, whether that be patient, loving, trustworthy, respectful or all of these things. For example, if you demonstrate sensitivity, your child will develop empathy for others.

Love unconditionally
You teach your children many life lessons through the simple act of loving them. They learn when you show them affection, play with them, provide encouragement and advice, and offer them security. By remaining steady, being attentive and listening to your children, they become self-confident with higher self-esteem. Praise them where it is due and try to avoid comparing siblings to each other.

 

References:

Children of “tiger parents” develop more aggression and depression, research shows — Stephen Smith, CBS News, June 20, 2013
http://www.cbsnews.com/news/children-of-tiger-parents-develop-more-aggression-and-depression-research-shows/

7 crippling parenting behaviours that keep children from growing into leaders — Kathy Caprino, Forbes, January 16, 2014
https://www.forbes.com/sites/kathycaprino/2014/01/16/7-crippling-parenting-behaviors-that-keep-children-from-growing-into-leaders/#207130b85957

Helicopter parenting bad for kids: study — AFP, NewsMax, June 2, 2015
http://www.newsmax.com/Health/Health-News/helicopter-parents-study-brigham/2015/06/02/id/648311/

Successful guide dogs have “tough love” moms, Penn study finds — Michele Berger, Katherine Unger Baillie, Penn News, August 7, 2017
https://news.upenn.edu/news/successful-guide-dogs-have-tough-love-moms-penn-study-finds

How allowing children to fail helps them to succeed — Susan Newman, Psychology Today, August 11, 2015
https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/singletons/201508/how-allowing-children-fail-helps-them-succeed

How to maintain the balance between boundaries and freedom in secondary school parenting — Andrew Martin, The Conversation, July 13, 2017
https://theconversation.com/how-to-maintain-the-balance-between-boundaries-and-freedom-in-secondary-school-parenting-80388

Celebrating parents and six tips for effective parenting — Trinity Grammar website
http://info.trinity.nsw.edu.au/blog/celebrating-parents-and-six-tips-for-effective-parenting

Co-ed Or Single Sex: What Will Work Best For Your Child?

Australia has perhaps the widest range of schooling options in the English-speaking world, including a comparatively high proportion of single-sex schools in both the public and non-government sectors.

While co-education is the predominant mode of schooling in the US and Canada, and is rapidly becoming so in the UK as well, gender-specific education remains a popular choice for Australian families.

Greater than the sum of its parts … consider all the elements to find the right school for your child.

This is especially true in NSW, where there are more than 130 single-sex schools throughout the independent, public and Catholic school systems.

Sydney-based parents have many excellent schools of either type to choose from and deciding between the two can present a real dilemma for many.

With a wealth of research on the topic available, there is a strong case to be made for the merits of each. Excellent academic results can be seen in both types of schools and there are no distinct drawbacks to either schooling style.

However, they do differ in terms of environment and social factors.

Research shows that girls are more likely to excel in music, maths, and science subjects when they attend single-sex schools. It is presupposed that the absence of boys may help girls to develop greater self-confidence in their abilities as well as making them more willing to speak out and perform for an audience.

Meanwhile, boys are said to benefit from male-centric teaching methods, which are more readily delivered in boys-only schools.

Dr Tim Hawkes, former headmaster of The King’s School in Parramatta, is a vocal advocate of gender-specific teaching methods.

“We must allow boys to be boys, we must allow them run in the playground and learn according to their learning style and not try to force them to adopt learning behaviours that are antithetical to the way they discover and learn new information,” he says.

On the co-ed side of the ledger, Barker College head Phillip Heath makes the point that the contemporary workplace is a mixed-gender environment and that schools need to prepare students for adult reality. Last year he announced that Barker College would be transitioning to a fully co-ed school by 2022 because “life is co-ed.”

“Barker College aims to prepare young people for much more than an ATAR or even for life at university. The real purpose of a school is to support students to reach their full potential in the workplace and in their communities, and in building strong relationships and families,” Mr Heath told the Hornsby Advocate.

Proponents of single-sex schooling counter this view with the argument that schools aren’t employment training centres but are instead, as MamaMia contributor Zoe Rochford wrote in defence of girls’ schools, “a safe place where developing brains can learn about things, both conceptually and practically, from a distance. They’re a recognition that our adolescents aren’t ready for the “real world” yet – that they still have learning and growing to do… If that means that single-sex education suits some brains better, the way it did mine, then so be it.”

That said, international research demonstrates that teacher quality is the most decisive factor in academic outcomes. Breaking down the various influences on education attainment including individual capability, family background, teachers, principal, peers and school, the data shows that 50 per cent of achievement can be attributed to a student’s academic potential and 30 per cent to teacher ability, with the other elements making up the balance.

It’s probably fair to say that a school is greater than the sum of its parts. No single institutional component will make or break a student’s education but the overall mix will have a huge impact.

In a column for the Manly Daily, Greg Whitby, executive director of schools for the Parramatta Catholic diocese, counsels parents against focussing solely on the single sex vs co-ed issue, advising them to look at the bigger picture.

“To put it simply, there are good single-sex schools but also some pretty poor ones. The same applies to co-educational schools.

“The best learning environments for young people are the ones that respond to their social, emotional and learning needs, that allow for diverse opinions, encourage healthy and positive relationships­ and ultimately reflect the diversity of the communities in which they live,” he writes.

When it comes to deciding between a single sex or coed school, there is no clear winner. Like many complex questions, the honest answer is: it depends. There are distinct advantages to each type of school but, ultimately, the best option is the one that suits your child the best.

References:

Research versus the media: Mixed or single-gender settings? — Helen J Forgasz, Gilah C Leder and Calvin Taylor, Monash University, 2007
http://www.aare.edu.au/data/publications/2007/for07148.pdf

Teachers Make a Difference: What is the research evidence? — John Hattie, University of Auckland, Australian Council for Educational Research, October 2003
https://www.det.nsw.edu.au/proflearn/docs/pdf/qt_hattie.pdf

Barker College becomes Sydney’s first private boys’ school to welcome girls across all grades — Jake McCallum, Hornsby Advocate, November 4, 2016
http://www.dailytelegraph.com.au/newslocal/hornsby-advocate/barker-college-in-hornsby-will-introduce-female-students-to-junior-year-groups-in-new-coeducational-scheme/news-story/32934b26dbcbd698426a48e89d884b40?nk=71c909cf3ea5cdff59e0c34f1859f415-1493967386

A prestigious school goes co-ed and suddenly everyone’s saying how evil single sex schools are. Rubbish. — Zoe Rochford, MamaMia, November 8, 2016
http://www.mamamia.com.au/benefits-of-single-sex-schools/

Dividing line not key to success – Greg Whitby, Manly Daily, February 18, 2017
http://www.pressreader.com/australia/manly-daily/20170218/283167198322183