From Mr McMullen

The past week has been a strange mix of the continuation of the rhythms of the first half of the term combined with the need for the school to respond rapidly to the shifts in directives given to the education sector.

The challenges created by the new characteristics of the Delta strain of COVID-19 have resulted in a variety of restrictions across different areas of Sydney and NSW. It has also been a perpetually evolving process. What was understood in the previous week about how schools can operate, changes in the following week. This has made this term particularly hard for our Year 12 students and their families. Over the past week our HSC students have had to respond to the opportunity to access the prioritised vaccines and have also learned they will need to complete their Trial HSC examinations from home.

The school has decided to remove the assessment weighting of Trial HSC exams. This will achieve two goals: limiting excessive anxiety for students for tasks which, in a normal year, are already very stressful; and providing the best opportunity for a ‘dress rehearsal’ task so students can prepare well for final HSC exams. Students will receive their exams online and will be expected to sit the exam in a manner as close to what they would experience at school. The exams will be marked, and students receive feedback which will assist in their final preparations. This ‘dress rehearsal’ will be the best preparation for the examinations which will contribute to half of every student’s final HSC result.

It is also true that households for all school year groups are experiencing the challenges of balancing working from home and supervision of children as they learn from home. We are all carrying the burdens of the current times, they just differ from household to household. For this reason, I would like to thank all members of our school community for the positive steps you are taking that help us stay safe and healthy and support continuity in learning.

As we enter the middle of this term, there is a high likelihood that the lockdown will continue through to the end of the term. So, to take an Olympic image, this is turning into more of a marathon than a 400m running event. Therefore, it is important to ensure we are pacing ourselves and maintaining good rhythms in our days to help us keep moving forward. Helpful rhythms include maintaining daily routines, having conversations and activities that connect you with family and others (using online technologies), making regular times for exercise and keeping consistent patterns of sleep.

A key battle that marathon runners must fight is the mental one. At some point in their race, the marathon runner will ‘hit the wall’. This is a mental barrier with which they must contend. In this period of lockdown students (and us) will hit ‘walls’ of uncertainty and anxiety. It is important we adopt helpful thinking patterns to respond to these times. This week, I listened to an interview with John Munro, an Educational Psychologist form ACU. He spoke about stress and its causes. He identified that stress arises when we detect a threat. During times of uncertainty, we tend to tell ourselves negative stories and focus on both real and imagined threats. John Munro’s advice was to shift our focus away from what we can’t control (which generates stress and anxiety).

In its place, focus on what we can control and what has already been achieved. He was speaking particularly about parents’ and students’ fears about loss of learning progress. Munro advises that we look at what has been achieved in small blocks of time, providing coaching and support to our sons and daughters, by asking questions like ‘what do you know (or can do) now that you couldn’t earlier today?’ or ‘what is the next thing you could learn/do next?’. These questions focus on small chunks that help students focus on what they can control and acknowledge what they have achieved.

This advice is very much along the lines of ‘stop listening to yourself and start talking yourself’. This is common and helpful advice which redirects our thinking from dwelling on what we can’t control, to what we can and the things we know which are real and true.  It just boils down to telling yourself the truth rather than always listening to uncertain thoughts or lies. Psalm 42 in the Bible points out this very same concept.

The writer starts by saying:

My tears have been my food
day and night,
while they say to me all day long
“Where is your God?’

The writer starts off focusing on how things are going wrong and on fears. However, they quickly shift to focusing on what they know to be true:

Why are you downcast, O my soul,
and why are you in turmoil within me?
Hope in God; for I shall again praise hm,
My salvation and my God.

The writer’s soul has been doing the talking, and it had been wearing him down and crushing his hope. But the writer does not stay in this negative thought loop, rather he starts talking to himself instead, reminding himself of who God is.

This psalm was written thousands of years ago, and yet it speaks to the same struggles that we experience today.

If you would like to think more on this passage from the Bible, I can recommend this short talk by Tim Keller (8 minutes). He prepared this from his home last year during the time that New York was being ravaged by COVID. I have listed to this a number of times over the past 12 months and have found it a great encouragement and reminder to stop listening to my worries and to start talking about what I know to be true and certain.

Yours in Christ,

Keith McMullen