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Sex, Drugs, Rock and Roll - How one CaSPA School prepared the staff to deal with complexities in its school community

Posted on 30 July 2017
Sex, Drugs, Rock and Roll - How one CaSPA School prepared the staff to deal with complexities in its school community

There is an enormous resource available to our schools - the expertise and wisdom of former CaSPA Principals.  Here is just one example of how a recently retired CaSPA Principal - Paul Tobias [pictured with students when Principal at St Joseph's Geelong - was employed to assist a former colleague by leading a workshop on some critical current issues:

Set out below is an abridged version of a full staff in-service provided to a Catholic secondary school at the conclusion of Term 1, 2017. I was asked to focus on the challenges facing families in modern society and how a Catholic school might best support those families. Initially I felt somewhat out of my depth and it took me some time to think through some of the things I had done as a principal to support families in need of help. It occurred to me that often staff feel like I did, lacking expertise and so I thought that I needed to address that concern. We are all family members and as such we have had to deal with various challenges. That was a good place to start.

I invited staff to relax, close their eyes and consider something in relation to their own families. I asked them to consider what has been the hardest thing they had ever had to deal with in their family? I assured them they would not be asked to share this so that they could think about it without any sense of embarrassment. I suggested that what they thought about might have to do with their own children, parents or siblings. Also that it might be relational or financial or medical or a mixture of all of those things and I gave them some quiet time to consider this. They were then asked to conclude, what had been helpful in dealing with their difficulty and what had been unhelpful. What emerged from our combined discussion was that understanding kindness and compassion from others, values of the gospel, were universally helpful and that judgement and exclusion were unhelpful and indeed hurtful. Staff were then asked to  put their personal thoughts aside for a moment and then  from their own observations of the families they served at school, to consider what was putting families under a lot of pressure or strain in their local community? What did they see as the really difficult issues facing the families of those they taught? Some time was then spent on discussion in small groups and then in the larger forum.

Some of the learnings of that discussion were around the fact that schools often provide normality even when things are going wrong at home. Schools can provide an emotional refuge for many children who, if they are treated with respect and kindness, can build resilience. Sometimes those children who are impacted by serious family issues, can really rise above the situation and can be extraordinarily resilient and successful. I provided at this point a magazine article about a former school captain at a school where I had been the principal. It was an uplifting account of the family circumstances this young person had overcome. We also acknowledged that sometimes staff and parents demand someone be excluded from our colleges but that we needed to consider, how that sits within the context of the gospels.

Some of the issues identified by the staff that they believed impacted on school families included:

  • physical or mental illness,
  • relational breakdowns,
  • unexpected trauma including the injury or death of an extended or close family member,
  • addictions to legal or illegal drugs,
  • alcohol,
  • gambling and
  • a variety of other issues,

all of which can and often do, have devastating financial and relational family consequences. It was also timely to remind staff that not only did they need to support the young people in their care but from time to time, they needed to support each other.  The crises that families face led onto consideration of the evidence before the current royal commission on child abuse and what the staff and school had put in place to address the issues raised. This included an integrity exercise which involved asking staff members how they would respond to a particular situation which involved a close friend and work colleague. This activity generated much positive discussion and consideration. I think what was highlighted was the absolute necessity of staff supervision of each other and the importance of that being part of our professional culture. The feedback from the day was very positive.

I was relieved because this was my first formal job as an educational consultant and I hoped that I had added some assistance and encouragement to the capacity of staff in the important work of supporting students and families in need of additional care.

A short bio of Paul Tobias:

Paul Tobias retired at the conclusion of the 2016 school year after a career spanning 40 years in Catholic education,

  • 14 as a Deputy Principal and
  • 17 as Principal.

Deakin University have honoured Paul's work at St Joseph's Geelong by conferring an honorary doctorate for his achievements in promoting tolerance and diversity in boys' education, tackling sexual abuse and violence and building an inclusive and supportive learning environment.

In 2017 Paul established Paul Tobias Consulting and he can be contacted on 0402119810 or via email on paulto53@hotmail or paultobiasconsulting@gmail.com

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