18 June 2018

Recently, I attended a professional development session on maximising communication in difficult situations. In essence, the session focused upon the art of listening and maximising listening as a strategic differentiator. Physiologically, most of us can claim that we are listening, but do we actually take on the message or give the speaker his or her due recognition? As part of the session we were asked to do an activity which I will share with you at the end of this newsletter as it is something parents could do with their boys or for that matter with each other.

As a young boy, I vividly remember hearing many pearls of wisdom and catch phrases emanating from adults in various social settings; gems such as 'Children should be seen and not heard' 'Have you thought about playing chasey on the railway line?' 'Take a long walk out and a short one back!' While all lacked philosophical and operational grounding, and no doubt mostly said tongue in cheek, the consequences of 'Children should be seen and not heard' has probably played out the most in our society.

At best it may mean that we miss out on some truly genuine insights into the hearts and minds of our youth; at worst we have now seen the outcome of years of not listening, where children who were the ongoing victims of abuse never truly had their voices heard. Listening and hearing are so important to making a great community better. In a couple of months, we will complete our once in five year whole of community survey. This is geared at listening and hearing from those who are involved with Scotch College in an attempt to ensure that we are on a journey of continual improvement.

So back to listening. In 2016, Jack Zenger and Joseph Folkman published an article in the Harvard Business Review on 'What Great Listeners Actually Do'. A read of this will surprise you in terms of what we think and assume represents good listening. For those who are interested in reading the article you can do so here. Over the last three weeks I have been holding lunches with our current Year 12s. The purpose is to hear from them as to how they are travelling with only two terms left in their schooling. Furthermore, these sessions have been designed to listen to their stories and to hear about their journey at Scotch College and what we do well and what may require improvement. Some of their feedback and insight has been enlightening and refreshing; this should not be surprising given these boys have spent a lot of their lives and waking days at Scotch College.

Back to where I started regarding an activity you could do with your son or with each other. This is a very simple activity. Ask your son, or your partner, an open-ended question, one that cannot simply be answered with a 'yes' or 'no'. By way of an example you could ask a question such as 'What really matters to you at school?' or 'What do you value most in your life?' Based on the initial response, you then need to continue to ask follow up questions to elicit more information. Set a time limit of 10 minutes. This may seem extreme but you will be amazed at the insights you will hear and the chance it gives your son or your partner to articulate their thoughts. It also requires the person asking the questions to truly listen and hear in order to maintain the activity's momentum. Remember if you are asking the questions, do not get caught up as if it is a conversation or get tempted to make judgmental responses about what you hear. Simply keep eliciting more in-depth responses until the 10 minutes is up. Good luck!

In closing I would like to congratulate the Performing Arts department for the recent Junior School music concert and wish them well for the upcoming Senior School production of the Wedding Singer. When I last checked there were some very limited seats left on sale. It is going to be a beauty so get your tickets as soon as possible to avoid disappointment. Also, well done to the Junior and Middle schools on outstanding Cross-Country carnivals. The attitude, commitment and effort from all boys is to be commended.

Have a great fortnight.

Dr A J O'Connell
Headmaster