Comunication and Community

This week’s blog is about communication, an issue that affects our entire school community. Communication is not just about how we transfer information and keep in touch with what’s happening at school – though that’s important – it’s about how we connect with each other, about how we engage with everyone around us. I believe it’s central to how we function as a community and to how we feel about being part of the KPS community.  Over my years at Kew Primary the subject has certainly come up a lot so I thought it might be time to tackle the issue for the bog.

The school has a communications sub-committee which has recently taken off under the leadership of Julie Coleman. Julie has Ryan in Grade 4 and Damon in Grade 2 and in her other life she is Human Resources Director at Monash College (a subsidiary of Monash University) where she manages the HR issues associated with roughly five hundred staff. I’ve not known Julie long, but after talking to her for an hour, the phrase: If you want something done, ask a busy person comes to mind.IMG_6731

I thought I’d start by talking to Julie about how she sees communication at KPS and what plans she and the committee have for the future.

Jacqui: I think there are some things we do really well around communication and some things we could do better. Is that how you see it?

Julie: Yes, I think that’s true. At the beginning of the year there was discussion at School Council about the fact that parents were looking for increased – and more consistent – communication. So to start with we decided to change the structure of the committees. We took communication out of the Education and Policy subcommittee and established a new one, Funding, Communication and Marketing with the emphasis on building a community within Kew Primary School and the local area. We added funding –including grants, sponsorships and voluntary contributions – because we felt it was important to communicate how the voluntary contributions are used to fund different projects.

Jacqui: So what has the committee done so far?

Julie: Well, we’re doing two things at the same time. The first is looking at what we can achieve quickly and easily; changes we can implement that will make a small, but significant and immediate difference. The second is to develop a broad and comprehensive three year Communication Plan that will address some of the bigger, long-term issues.

Jacqui: So let’s start with those small, more immediate changes.

Julie: The very first thing we did was to work with Aisha in the office to send out notices to parents reminding them about the Newsletter and the Bulletin; about how they can access them and what information they contain.  They are both a critically important method of communication, but only if people read them, of course!

We also sent out notices inviting parents to attend Friday assembly and giving them an idea of what they could expect: curriculum updates, teachers’ news, sports results, community announcements and students’ achievements. Last week Grade 3-6 students received awards for participating in house athletics which was fantastic to watch! And the CARE Program dances are always really fun.

Jayne Campbell, one of our former committee members, has had a really good look at the school website and has done a great job of reviewing the content. Jayne and Ruth, from the office, have made a number of changes and it’s now looking really good. You can check it out here.

Photos of School Council members are now on the website so that parents can identify them around school and raise any issues of concern they may have. We’re also going to include a summary of the outcomes of each School Council meeting in the Newsletter so parents have a clearer idea of what is being discussed and decided.

The PTA has also been putting out regular notices about fundraising events and has been getting a really great response from parents keen to volunteer.  So far this year they’ve run the Flower Power Trivia Night, Mother’s Day and Father’s day stalls, the Father’s Day Breakfast, Prep Parents’ Welcome Drinks and the Peppercorn BBQ. They’ve also had a lot of interest in the Art Show they are planning for October, 2014P1060544The Building and Grounds subcommittee have had terrific success with the last two working bees lead by Stewart Waters working closely with Robin Grace and Andrew Searle with 124 people attending, along with Channel 9! The KPS Working Bee Newsletter showcased the achievements from spreading 26 cubic metres of mulch, to building a shed in the kitchen garden.1308 KPS Working Bee 012

Jacqui: I know one of the things that parents love is the class newsletter from their child’s teacher.

Julie: Yes. Individual class or year level newsletters are a really important link between parents and teachers. They ensure parents are able to keep up with what’s happening in class, and enable teachers to call upon parents for help or support where necessary. They include details about homework, excursions, curriculum, activities and ways that parents can support their child’s learning at home. The newsletters will go out twice a term for Prep to Grade 2 and once a term for Grade 3 – 6.

The Class Reps are also a really important conduit for information between parents and teachers. Nikki McConnon has developed a set of Class Representative guidelines which have been circulated to teachers and current class reps. for feedback and will then be endorsed by School Council. They should provide individual class reps with a clearer idea of their role and hopefully result in greater consistency over the different grades. We’re also making some administrative changes so that the class lists will be available closer to the start of Term 1.

Another possibility we’re exploring is setting up a buddy system for Prep Parents where we match first time prep parents with an ‘experienced’ prep parent. I think it’s really important to provide new parents with a lot of information and help them engage with school in those early weeks. The idea is that the experienced parent would provide information and show them the ropes, and hopefully overcome some of those initial anxieties that everyone has when their child first starts school.P1050814

Jacqui: I’ve had a look at the School Communication Plan which I have to say looks fantastic; really well researched and very comprehensive. You’ve done a great job there. Can you tell me about it?

Julie: The School Communication Plan was a joint effort with members of the Funding, Communication & Marketing Sub Committee and School Council. We are really keen to build a stronger school community through a more inclusive, transparent and consistent approach to our communications and we thought that a clear plan with objectives that spanned over a 1-3 year period would support that goal.

It also gave us a chance to promote the really good things that are already happening at our school while recognising there are a number of opportunities for building on those achievements. We’ll prepare a plan to address all these issues and are keen to involve the school community in that journey.

Jacqui: And what about the thorny issue of voluntary contributions? The two blogs I wrote on that subject earlier in the year generated a lot of discussion. At that stage about 35% of families had paid. Have we managed to increase that?

Julie: Yes, last term we updated the voluntary contribution letters that went home to families explaining that the school only receives around 33% of its funding from the government. Many parents were surprised by this figure. The school can’t invest in any discretionary programs – cooling solutions, running track, a kiln for the art room – without increasing our voluntary contributions. To date, just over 50% of families have paid so we have increased our contribution from 32% earlier in the year which is great, but we still need to build on that.  We’re hoping to get to 60% by the end of this year. I think 70% is a reasonable target for the future given the demographics of our school. Leo Arantes, another committee member, is building a barometer to record our progress so look out for it!

Jacqui: You recently won a grant from the Leader Newspapers; that’s a great start.

Julie: We were really pleased to receive such strong support from the Kew Primary community which resulted in our winning $1,000 towards the plumbing to connect the water tanks to the kitchen garden. This grant also resulted in a great story in the Progress Leader in July.  Plus, we recently received an IBM grant of $1,500 towards the purchase of TVs to connect to IPads for Grades 3-6.1308 KPS Working Bee 019

We’ve applied for a number of other grants including natural turf for goal ends on the oval, lighting and sensor lights to protect the CARE chairs from vandalism at night, a running track and war memorial to commemorate past students who fought in World War 1.

Jacqui: You’ve already made a number of changes and you have a great plan for the future. How will you measure whether you are on track?

Julie: We’ll look for an increase in parents subscribing to the newsletter, checking the website and reading the blog. We’ll also monitor parent attendance at meetings and school functions and involvement in the PTA and sub committees.  We want to increase the number of positive stories in local media – three so far this year! And, we hope to see an increase in voluntary contributions, donations and sponsorship received by the school.  Will continue to do parent satisfaction surveys and respond to their concerns.

It would be great if people could have a look at the Communication Plan and if anyone has comments, suggestions or ideas, please get in touch:  You can contact me here:julie.coleman@mcpl.edu.au

Jacqui: Thanks for your time and commitment to a really important issue. I think you’re’ doing a great job.

Jacqui Tomlins and Julie Coleman

Members of the Funding, Communication and Marketing subcommittee are:  Julie Coleman (Convener) Jacqui Tomlins, Claire Tanner, Leo Arantes, Janine Arantes, Jeremy Whelen, Sally Marsh and Chelsea Carmichael.

The Resilience Project

What’s the best way to change your mood quickly and easily?  Have a glass of wine?  Buy a lottery ticket?  Call a babysitter?

And what about the kids? Give them the iPad? Pass round the biscuit tin? Take them for a hot chocolate?

Actually, it’s none of the above. Research shows there are three things – readily available, free and legal – that can improve your mood almost instantly: music, exercise and laughter.

So next time you’re cranky or fed up or stressed, grab your iPod and listen to Pink, head over to the gym, or watch something funny on YouTube.  You could try this:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Bi-TRzJtS1c

And the kids? Kick them out into the garden, turn on the radio or do something guaranteed to make them laugh – watching me dancing around the kitchen always works in our house. I learnt this – and a lot of other useful things – at the recent seminar for parents run by Hugh van Cuylenburg, founder of The Resilience Project. http://theresilienceproject.com.au

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According to Hugh, resilience is the ability to manage difficulties and bounce back from adversity. Resilient people know they can find a way to make things turn out for the best; really resilient people are ‘bulletproof’.

Hugh, a former primary school teacher, now works with young people in schools teaching them the emotional skills to develop this resilience. He also runs workshops for teachers and parents.

I think, these days, our kids have to negotiate some pretty complex relationships at home and at school, and anything that helps them mange the cut and thrust of the classroom and the school yard is a good thing.

The statistics on mental health are pretty alarming. According to Hugh, 25% of adolescents in Australia will suffer from some sort of mental ill health and these figures don’t seem to be getting any better.  For years, the focus of psychologists has been on what makes people unhappy or depressed and treatment has been aimed at restoring people’s mental health to some kind of neutral norm. Very little attention has been paid to what actually makes people happy, what gets them past that neutral, central point to somewhere much better.

In recent years this has changed with the emergence of the field of Positive Psychology which looks at the idea of positive emotion. Positive emotion is what makes people flourish and thrive and also builds cognitive capacity.

Research suggests that there are two significant things that help us develop positive emotions: gratitude and performing acts of kindness. People who are grateful, who feel and express gratitude on a regular basis, tend to be happier and more resilient. Similarly, performing small acts of kindness for someone each day makes you feel good. When you feel good, you are better at helping and looking after other people which in turns creates more positive emotion.

A substantial part of Hugh’s presentation was based on the work of an American psychologist Karen Reivich who has identified Seven Learnable Attributes of Resilience:  emotional awareness, impulse control, optimism, causal analysis, empathy, self-efficacy and reaching out.

Hugh described what each of these mean and the impact they can have on our sense of well-being.  The one area that really resonated with me in relation to the kids was emotional awareness. Hugh talked about the importance of kids being able to identify exactly how they feel, and of having the language to be able to talk about it. He gave an interesting example.

He works with adolescent boys in the juvenile detention system. These young people, he said, have extremely poor emotional awareness. If you ask them how they feel they say:  ‘s**t’. They just feel ‘s**t’ and that covers everything: sad, annoyed, frustrated, angry, depressed, hopeless etc. The problem is, you need to identify the emotion you are feeling before you can actually do anything about it.

Boys in general, Hugh said, find this more difficult than girls. The workshop Hugh ran with the Grade 5s was designed to help the kids start thinking about how they identify their emotions and give them some language to help them express how they feel. That’s the first step to fixing the problem.

It’s hard to encapsulate the whole presentation here. Hugh also shared some very moving stories and slides of time he spent working with very poor communities in Dhaka in Bangladesh and told an extremely funny story about meeting Buddy Franklin!IMG_6596

I counted at least 100 parents in the audience and clearly people got a lot out of the session; it was thought-provoking and informative and, on a number occasions, laugh out loud funny.IMG_6598

It made me remember something my mum used to say when I was growing up. She had this expression: PMA! Jacqui! Remember PMA! You can do anything as long as you have PMA. It drove me crazy, but I think it rubbed off.

Positive Mental Attitude! It was the seventies!

Katrina Whelan was also at the session and has come up with some great suggestions of books on this subject. Over to Katrina…

I never wanted to be the mother who rushed her children from one activity to the next, cramming their little lives with an overwhelmingly big schedule. Yet somehow, with four children on different schedules, I feel like that mother. And I was reminded of it when my son in Grade Three said to me ‘When does it end?’ Thinking he was talking about the end of the school term I replied, ‘What? School?’. ‘No… everything….’ he said. By everything, I’m pretty sure he meant swimming, footy, music, gymnastics and lacrosse. See? I am that mother.

I was reminded of the importance of slowing down and appreciating the moment at Hugh Van Cuylenburg’s excellent presentation on resilience at school recently. There were lots of ‘take-home’ messages; as a start, my whole family is writing down three things we’re thankful for each night (after just a week or two, I can already say that this exercise has been extremely positive). I also made a point of noting the books Hugh suggested for further reading (I love any excuse to visit a book shop). It was this list that had me thinking about books written for young children on the topic of mindfulness.

While the kids from Grade Three upwards will enjoy the benefits of Hugh’s resilience project in the classroom, I thought it was timely to highlight three particular picture books (suitable for Prep – Grade Two) that have wonderful, relevant and simple messages about mindfulness for younger children.

The first is Take the Time by Maud Roegiers.Take-the-Time-Mindfulness-for-Kids Through gentle rhyming text, Take the Time shows kids how to be self-aware and mindful of their feelings and also provides some very simple strategies for calming down. That may sound a little heavy, but the book is anything but; the basic message is ‘slow down and take time’.

When everything is topsy-turvy with my head spinning and my feet up in the air,
I slow down and take the time to be with my friends,
To stick to things I know,
To close my eyes when I’m hugged…
To do the things that make me feel good.

The second book is Today We Have No Plans by Jane Godwin.today-we-have-no-plans When I first read it, I was completely wooed by Anna Walker’s beautiful illustrations (find the picture of the swimming pool to see what I mean). And then I let the words sink in; they’re wonderful. The story follows an ordinary week in the lives of a little girl and boy beginning with the rush of Monday morning, to swimming on Tuesday, after-school care on Wednesday, music on Thursday, shopping on Friday and sports on Saturday.

But then… Sometimes when Sunday comes around
Clocks seem to slow their hands
And Mum and Dad don’t rush about
They say, ‘We are not going out,
Today we have no plans.’

And so follows a lovely description of pyjama days, building cubbies, baking cakes, playing in the backyard, doing craft and basically taking the time to slow down. The book has broad relevance, no matter how many extra-curricular activities are on your schedule.

Finally, Dallas Clayton’s An Awesome Book of Thanks! an-awesome-book-of-thanks-bThis a terrific choice for kids of all ages, particularly for reluctant readers. The quirky drawings and off-beat text describe all the things we can be thankful for, from ‘…foxes, dachshunds, oxen, snakes…’to ‘Thanks to music and dancing and singing…’. The book is also peppered with other with more subtle messages about gratitude. For example, a picture of a monster falling off his skateboard is accompanied by ‘Thanks for those bumps and those bruises that turn ‘couldn’ts’ into ‘could’.an-awesome-book-of-thanks-a

Take the Time and An Awesome Book of Thanks! are available online from Book Depository.  http://www.bookdepository.co.uk/Awesome-Thanks-Dallas-Clayton/9781935597377

Today We Have No Plans is widely available at all good bookshops. http://www.penguin.com.au/products/9780670075201/today-we-have-no-plans

Also check out Dallas Clayton’s webpage, www.veryawesomeworld.com where you can read some of his books online.

 he books Hugh referred to in his session are:  

Authentic Happiness by Martin Seligman http://www.readings.com.au/products/11190600/authentic-happiness

Flourish by Martin Seligman  http://www.readings.com.au/products/14378675/flourish

The Resilience Factor by Karen Reivich  http://www.readings.com.au/products/5278527/the-resilience-factor-7-keys-to-finding-your-inner-strength-and-overcoming-lifes-hurdles

Love 2.0 by Barbara Fredrickson  http://www.bookdepository.co.uk/Love-20-Barbara-Fredrickson/9781594630996

The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin http://www.readings.com.au/products/8833935/the-happiness-project-or-why-i-spent-a-year-trying-to-sing-in-the-morning-clean-my-closets-fight-right-read-aristotle-and-generally-have-more-fun

Jacqui Tomlins and Katrina Whelan

Some cause happiness wherever they go: others whenever they go: Oscar Wilde.