There is no greater gift to a child

When most adults are asked to reflect back on their days as a school student and recall their greatest experiences or favourite memories, invariably many of these recollections relate to extracurricular activities rather than those that happen in a traditional classroom setting.

For many of us it is the excursions, the camps, the concerts, the gala days, tournaments and sports carnivals that readily spring to mind. I am no different, and when asked to do this activity myself I realised that my most enjoyable and enduring memories of school were lunchtime hangouts with friends, competing in sporting teams and participating in school debating. While I liked and respected all my teachers, it was those who led and supported me in my extracurricular endeavours that still shine most brightly in my mind’s eye. Likewise the students that I formed the strongest bonds with were those who shared these experiences alongside me.

One of the privileges of being part of a school community like Cedars, is knowing that the College Leadership recognises the importance of being intentional in providing opportunities for all members of our community to connect and build strong and positive relationships. This premise is supported by the research conducted by Relational Schools (2019) which states that; “there is no greater gift to a child than to nurture them within strong relationships and develop the skills and values for healthy relationships”[1].

This week many of our Middle School and Senior College students are involved in Camp Week activities. Whether it is the Year 9 hiking and canoeing expedition in the Royal National Park, the billy cart races and waterslide for Year 5 on the banks of the Shoalhaven River, or the Year 7 students abseiling down cliff faces and competing in dragon boat races, each one of them will have the opportunity to engage with their peers and teachers in new contexts allowing them to discover and appreciate qualities in each other they may otherwise not have known. These camps also provide a new common point of reference for all the participants enabling them to reflect on shared experiences and draw from the sense of trust, loyalty and belonging that was developed during this time long after the camps are over.

Broadly speaking it is through relationships that we all gain our  identity, meaning and wellbeing. Thus, it is no coincidence that students who have healthy relationships with their peers and teachers, are far more likely to be thriving as individuals. As the research from Relational Schools concludes “relationships are essential for the flourishing of students, whether in terms of their wellbeing, character development, health, academic attainment, or subsequent success in life”[2]. Surely we all agree that having healthy relationships is an important goal for each member of the Cedars community.

Along with other changes to our Leadership structure in 2020, I would like to introduce a new leadership role; that of Director of Student Wellbeing. This position represents an intentional investment on behalf of the College to promote positive messages around mental health and wellbeing within the College community through a structured approach.

Executive team member Tim Johnson has been appointed to this role and is excited about the potential within this capacity to introduce proactive whole school initiatives that foster a sense of community and belonging and strengthen peer to peer and teacher to peer relationships. When asked about his vision for this year he commented; “My passion is to help students find a sense of purpose and direction for their lives, so the concept of 20/20 vision seemed to make sense as a theme for the year. I am excited to help young people see the challenges they may face as opportunities for growth and to build resilience.”

One of the first initiatives Mr Johnson has introduced is a weekly program for students in Year 9 and Year 10 which focuses on the development of skills such as teamwork, communication, problem solving, cooperation and innovation all within the context of physical activity. So far the student engagement levels and responses to the program have been overwhelmingly positive. Mr Johnson also has plans to increase the amount of lunchtime groups available at Cedars providing a number organised opportunities for students to join with likeminded peers in a fun and constructive way with the support of a Cedars staff member.

In over 20 years of teaching I don’t think I have ever come across a student who has told me that they wished they had fewer, less-meaningful relationships. Similarly, as Christians our greatest joy is found firstly in our relationship with God and then in our relationship with others. In prioritising the development of personal skills that will enhance our students’ ability to relate positively with one another, we are placing them in the best position to enjoy success in life both now and in the future.

[1] Relational Schools Report (July 2019) Connecting Activities “The relational impact of a Year 11 outdoor education program at Emu Gully” p.2 available at https://relationalschools.org/resources/

[2] Ibid p.20