Annual Speech Evening 2016:
Lisa Kaplan’s Address
Good evening to the Chairman of Council, Mr Phillip Myburgh and Mrs Myburgh, our guest of honour Mr Brent Lindeque, members of the Kingsmead Council, distinguished guests, parents, staff, pupils and, most importantly – our Matric class of 2016.
Thank you for joining us to reflect on the year and what a year it has been! Nearly a century ago William Butler Yeats wrote his poem,”The Second Coming” – “Turning and turning in the widening gyre, The Falcon cannot hear the falconer; Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold; Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world, the blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere the ceremony of innocence is drowned; The best lack all conviction, while the worst Are full of passionate intensity.”
Who would have thought that Yeats’s poem would have held such significance for 2016?
The world headlines have been dominated by the Syrian refugee crisis; confusion around Brexit; natural disasters and, of course the man that Bruce Springsteen has called a “moron” – Donald Trump. Closer to home the municipal elections and the university crises have overshadowed any other news. The UN International day of peace slipped past on the 21 September, hardly noticed. In the last few weeks, Brangelina – or should I now say definitely Brad and Angelina – has been the focus with a divorce settlement said to exceed R5.5 billion.
The only thing we can possibly do in this unpredictable world is to teach our children predictable skills.
Fortunately every four years, we have a powerful reminder of what makes this world great and it shows us true examples of what it means to push the limits, show pride for one’s nation and humanity in every sense of the word – the Olympics and Paralympics!
Some of the greatest lessons were again learnt this year in Rio. I am sure that there were few dry eyes as the Olympics’ Refugee Team walked into the Opening Ceremony in the Parade of Nations. Surely, their definition of success at the Olympic Games must be different to others?
Angela Duckworth and her concept of “grit” as being a combination of passion and perseverance for long term goals was seen in the Paralympics over and over again. This is not just resilience, but also toughness and it requires us to run life as a marathon and not as a sprint. She says that we need to get gritty about getting our kids grittier and that grit might be the best predictor of how you’ll end up living your life. This also resonates so well with the outlook of the growth mindset that we have strongly adopted at Kingsmead. As Sia sings in “The Greatest” –͞ “Uh-oh, running out of breath, but I got stamina, And uh-oh I see another mountain to climb, But I, I got stamina.”
It was reassuring to see that things we are grappling with at Kingsmead are universal issues. When I attended the “Global Forum on Girls’ Education” in New York earlier this year, themes running though the conference were the pressure on our girls to succeed; girls developing their own voices; girls leadership; diversity in our schools; connectedness and skills needed for the future.
Arianna Huffington spoke about the incredible influence that teachers have on our girls’ lives and also about how we are all drowning in data and yet we seem starved for wisdom.
Lisa Damour spoke on her book – “Untangled”, giving some practical advice as to how to understand adolescent girls using her model and explaining how we need a new framework for talking to our girls.
Rachel Simmons spoke about the concept of “Effortless Perfectionism” – where our girls are feeling the pressure to hit the highest levels in every domain. She also said we need to lean in, but also need to lean inside.
At Kingsmead, we place emphasis on research skills. This reminds me of when a student, who had clearly not been through Miss Bocher’s rigorous research skills course, approached his teacher asking: “I don’t understand why my mark was so low. How did I do on my research essay?”
To which the teacher, clearly not a Kingsmead teacher replied: “Actually, you didn’t turn in a research paper. You turned in a random assemblage of sentences. In fact, the sentences you apparently kidnapped in the dead of night and forced into this violent and arbitrary plan of yours clearly seemed to be placed on the pages against their will. Reading your paper was like watching unfamiliar, uncomfortable people interacting at a cocktail party that no one wanted to attend in the first place. You didn’t submit a research paper. You submitted a hostage situation.”
Well, that clearly did not happen at Kingsmead.
And so “Courage always” is needed in every sphere of our girls’ lives. David Whyte’s definition of Courage resonates strongly with me and with the way in which D V Thompson envisaged it in her writings:
“Courage is a word that tempts us to think outwardly, to run bravely against opposing fire, and perhaps, above all, to be seen to do it in public, to show courage; to be celebrated in story, rewarded with medals, but a look at its linguistic origins leads us in a more interior direction and toward its original template, the old Norman French, Coeur, or heart. Courage is the measure of our heartfelt participation with life, with another, with a community, a work, a future. To be courageous, is not necessarily to go anywhere or do anything except to make conscious those things we already feel deeply and then to live through the unending vulnerabilities of those consequences.”
More and more we are learning about how important failing is for our girls and let me tell you, girls don’t like to fail. Rachel Simmons writes that:”Failing well is a skill. Letting girls do it gives them critical practise coping with a negative experience. It also gives them the opportunity to develop a kind of confidence and resilience that can only be forged in times of challenge.”
We need time for discussion and debate and space to be mindful. More than ever, we need to create a culture where it is alright to make mistakes.
Our challenge is to help girls to see failure in a more positive light. Girls are more affected by failure than boys, because girls, particularly intelligent girls, are prone to believe that it’s talent, not practise, that leads to success – in other words that failure is a result of lack of ability and that this reflects directly on them.
Girls are also more sensitive to how teachers praise them. Simmons encourages us to praise the effort and not praise the traits and abilities – like being “smart” or “nice”. Girls need space to experience failure and not be rescued by adults.
The Girls’ Leadership website recommends the following five points in order to create strong female leaders with necessary skills:
1.Coach girls to speak confidently: Girls can undermine themselves when they speak. Phrases like “kind of” and”sort of” weaken their statements and also saying “I’m not sure if this is right… or sounding like everything is a question, hinder a girl’s ability to share her ideas confidently.
2.Teach girls to navigate conflict: girls are often taught to suppress their feelings in order to get along with others. We need to encourage girls to speak honestly and avoid social shortcuts like texting and social media.
3.Encourage girls to own their success: When girls are complimented on their achievements, they also tend to deflect praise or minimise their accomplishments. Saying things like I was lucky or others helped me, rather than giving themselves the direct credit.
4.Inspire girls to go for it: Some girls don’t speak in class unless they are 100% sure that they have the right answer. Encourage them to step out of their comfort zone and explain that being brave is rarely about dramatic moments; it’s a skill acquired little by little.
5.Finally – celebrate female leadership.
Judy Willis in her article – “The Neuroscience behind stress and learning” tells us that neuroimaging shows disturbances in the brain’s learning circuits and neurotransmitters when they are in stressful learning environments. It is thus a matter of science that when students are stressed out, the information cannot get in. She goes on to say that superior learning takes place when classroom experiences are relevant to students’ lives, interests and experiences.
Alfie Kohn says that the highest level of aha moments of insight and creative innovation are likely to occur in an atmosphere of exuberant discovery where students of all ages retain that kindergarten enthusiasm of embracing each day with the joy of learning.
Pupil well-being is integral and at Kingsmead we are renowned for it. We recognise how an optimistic, non-stressed environment is the optimal learning one.
Our focus remains on the individual girl. One of our objectives is that every girl will be known and cared for, and we achieve this through exceptional staff, willing to go the extra mile, through small classes and through staff committed to the learning, emotional, physical and spiritual needs of the girls. Our aim is to ensure that every girl feels that she belongs, that she matters, that her needs are being addressed and her talents recognised. As important as the academic and extra-curricular programmes, is the extensive pastoral care programme and network of staff dedicated to ensuring that each girl can deal with the ups and downs, that she develops self-confidence, a sense of purpose and an awareness of her place in her community, often experienced through our extensive Service programme.
John Wood, Founder of Room to Read writes: “Education has a ripple effect. One drop can initiate a cascade of possibility, each concentric circle gaining in size and travelling further.” Our School’s exceptional teachers create these ripple effects every day.
Thank you to the Council under the leadership of Phillip Myburgh for its unwavering support. They give us the backing to move forward and enable us to create those ripples. Our Council is made up of volunteers who provide their time and substantial expertise for the betterment of our School.
It would be remiss of me if I did not mention Sue MacEwan, as this is her last official Speech Evening and the last time I will force her to sit on the stage with me. Sue – we have celebrated yet another successful year together. We complement one another in so many ways. Thank you for the 20 years you have given to Kingsmead. It would be interesting to do the maths as to how many pupils have passed through your hands at Kingsmead.
I thank the members of the School Executive team for a year of extraordinary effort. The Whole School Executive made up of Sue MacEwan, Ingrid Beekhuizen, Irene Ilsley, Sue MacKeown, Derek Hird, and then the Senior School Executive who also sit on the Whole School Executive – Piers Cruickshanks, Lora Foot, Hayley Pienaar, Tracey Minnie, Robbie Pullen, Elsabe Fourie and of course, my Deputy Saartjie Venter – who is just the most wonderful person to work with. Thank you to all of you for the debates, discussion and friendship. We have moved mountains this year and I look forward to continuing this journey next year.
To the administrative and service staff. Thank you for running so much behind the scenes and ensuring that things flow smoothly. I appreciate your input and your efficiency. Particular thanks to Evani Naidoo who is the most fabulous PA and to Cyril Mitchley and Geraldine Church who have led their support teams so ably this year.
To the academic staff – you continue to provide big school opportunities and yet small school care. It is this world class staff that provides the magic in the school. You are passionate, supportive and dedicated to learning and teaching. You work to inspire, encourage and support our students.
To the girls: you have never been busier. Life at Kingsmead is never dull and insular. Thank you for your enthusiasm and your dedication to the school. To the Class of 2016, you have remained consistent throughout the year. You have implemented all that you have said you would and you have been well-respected as a grade by the other girls in the school. To Amy, Monica and Tahiyya – you have led with aplomb – and I have been so impressed by your commitment and your time management. You have made things easy for Miss Venter and myself this year and you will be remembered as a superb group of leaders.
Matrics – I wish you all well in the future and for your matric exams. My dedication to you is also from the Olympics as I believe that Katie Perry’s –͞Rise͟– sums up your attitude, your enthusiasm and how you will make a difference in the future:
“I won’t just survive
Oh, you will see me thrive
Can’t write my story
I’m beyond the archetype
I won’t just conform
Don’t doubt it, don’t doubt it
Victory is in my veins
I know it, I know it
And I will not negotiate
I’ll fight it, I’ll fight it
I will transform”