ON PASTORAL CARE IN SCHOOLS
15 February 2016
(originally published in the Queenwood newsletter)
As this is my first Newsletter Welcome in 2016, I would like to wish you all a very Happy New Year – even though it already feels like a rather old year. Schools are fast-paced places, and after all the excitement only two weeks ago when we inducted our new girls from Kindergarten to Year 11 and then dealt with plenty of lost girls across our campuses on Days 1 and 2, things have settled remarkably quickly and everybody now seems to know where to go – even our new colleagues!
It was lovely catching up with so many of the Year 10 and 11 parents at the Information Evening last week, and I look forward to seeing the parents of our Year 9 and 12 girls tomorrow night. The highlight of the week will, of course, be the QPA’s Cocktail Party on Friday, and then we conclude the round of introductory events in the Senior School next week with our Information Evenings for Years 7 and 8. I usually refer to some aspects of our pastoral care on those evenings but wanted to share with you some further reflections on the topic and remind you of the systems we have in place to support your daughters.
“Most people do not listen with the intent to understand. They listen with the intent to reply.” I often use this quote when trying to illustrate what good pastoral care means. When I started my pastoral career at a boarding school in Scotland (or rather: when I was thrown into it, being entrusted with the role of Assistant Housemistress in a boarding house with 65 teenage girls, at the tender age of 25), this would probably have been a fair description of my listening skills.
Despite my lack of pastoral experience back in 1991, the girls in my care readily sought advice on a wide range of matters. I recall that I always gave them my time and that I listened to their concerns, but in my mind I was already formulating what I thought to be a good and helpful response. The school did not have a counsellor in those days, and I tried to have all the answers.
Twenty-five years on, I have learned not only to listen with the intent to understand properly what is troubling others, but also to acknowledge my own limitations at times. There are issues we cannot easily resolve. Sometimes we simply need to acknowledge the sadness of others and support them through it by listening to their worries. And sometimes we need to point them to experts who are better trained and equipped to give professional advice.
Our tutor system is now in its second year and well embedded at Queenwood. It has been great to see how generously tutors have given of their time to get to know their tutees, enable them to bond as a group but also to get to know the girls as individuals. I have lost count of the number of occasions when a tutor picked up a problem with a girl and addressed it very pro-actively. It is equally important, of course, to pick up on girls’ successes and congratulate them on their achievements, and often the tutors are the first to hear of cerebral, creative or sporting highlights, which enables them to celebrate these in the intimacy of their tutor group and pass the excellent news on to others.
We genuinely care about the girls and are keen that nobody falls through the cracks. The tutor system, in conjunction with a robust wellbeing program that is being developed by our Wellbeing Program Coordinator and delivered by the tutors, has achieved just that and has strengthened us as a community. The year coordinators are working closely with their tutor teams and are very alert to and aware of the needs of individual girls. In my own role of overseeing pastoral care at Queenwood, I am working closely with them and we keep each other well informed. Our school counsellor has a very important role to play, too, not only dealing with the bigger issues, but also giving sound and practical advice to girls who may simply need short-term strategies with friendship problems or confidence.
Pastoral care has made great strides since the days of my first job in 1991. There is now an openness surrounding mental health that has removed much of its stigma. Staff are inducted as tutors and trained in listening skills. Older students are trained in looking after younger students, and our peer support program has successfully strengthened the vertical cooperation of year groups and aided the smooth induction of our new girls. Through teaching resilience, advocating kindness and emphasising friendship skills in tutorials, talks and assemblies we proactively try to prevent problems from arising in the first place.
I would like to encourage you to let us know of any events in your lives that may have an impact, good or bad, on your daughter’s happiness. It is helpful for us to work closely with you on your daughter’s wellbeing, and any information we get from you will give us the contextual data necessary to tailor our support for the girls to their needs and circumstances.
I would also like to take this opportunity to thank the key pastoral staff for looking after this crucial side of education so warmly, so thoroughly and so thoughtfully: the teachers and tutors, the year coordinators, those who develop and deliver the wellbeing and peer support programs with such gusto and energy, the school counsellor, who works tirelessly with girls and parents across both Junior and Senior School campuses and, last but not least, the office staff at Reception, who are often the first to pick up on patterns of problems or signs of unhappiness and who assist the girls when they have to escape to sick bay for some rest.
If you ever wish to know more about our pastoral care ethos, please do not hesitate to contact us.
Yes, pastoral care has come a long way, and as a consequence the job descriptions and expectations of teachers have expanded. In most schools nowadays, teachers are not just experts in their academic fields any longer; they have become tutors, pastoral carers, counsellors, advisers and protectors of children. We should never be complacent, but as long as all the cogs mesh together and students, teachers, pastoral staff, senior staff and parents work in close collaboration, schools can and should be safe places to be.
Our world has become more complicated and confusing for young people, and schools have had to adapt to this. Pastoral care, good listening skills and the heightened awareness of mental health issues go a long way to keep our children from harm. Let us all continue to listen to each other with the intent to understand.