A compassionate approach to wellbeing: from the Principal

In recent weeks, I've had several discussions with staff, students and parents that have pushed me to ensure I was actively listening and developing a deep understanding of different issues or concerns that people may have been having. As a Principal, active listening doesn't come easily, having spent most of my career telling people what to do; an issue many school Principal's face. In each case, the art of active listening has produced a better outcome, developed my sense of empathy and also activated my desire to act compassionately.

At the start of this term, I showed all of our staff a video that has been produced by Miriam-Rose Ungunmerr-Baumann. Miriam-Rose is an elder from the Daly Waters community; an aboriginal activist, educator, school Principal and the 2021 Senior Australian of the Year. In the video Miriam-Rose speaks about dadirri, the act of inner deep listening and quiet, still awareness. Dadirri is an approach to wellbeing that has been embedded in aboriginal culture for over 60,000 years and promotes a sense of self awareness, awareness of others and awareness of the environment. Dadirri is the deep inner spring inside all of us. We call on it, and it calls on us. Miriam-Rose presents dadirri as a gift for our nation as a way to move forward; to develop understanding; to slow down and open ourselves for healing. When I first heard Miriam-Rose speak about dadirri, I was drawn to its simplicity yet also its depth and possible impact on people across our country.

As a school, we look to a compassionate systems approach to wellbeing. This approach is based on a sense of self awareness, insight, purpose and connection. Knowing and understanding ourselves, knowing what our purpose in life is and knowing and nurturing our connections with others, and with country.

"In aboriginal culture, when you meet someone for the first time they will often ask "who are you?", "where do you come from?" and "where are you going?""

Yet again, these are simple questions. However, when I asked these of our staff, they were complex and quite challenging to answer, particularly when you add 'what is your purpose in life?' If we can all answer these questions, have a strong sense of our innerspring, self-awareness, and great insight into why we often feel and act in a certain way, we can begin to thrive as human beings.

As mentioned in earlier Messenger articles, we will be launching our 2022-2030 strategic plan 'Learning to Thrive' later this term; first as a document sent to all Woodleigh families in the coming weeks, followed by informal launch events held on each of our three campuses later this month, and early September.

As part of this plan, we highlight that we wish to support all members of our community as they thrive; this includes our staff, our parents and the broader community. If they thrive, then we have a much greater chance of succeeding as we bring this way of thinking to our students. For our students to thrive, the adults surrounding them must also thrive. Otto Scharmer refers to this process as creating the optimal source conditions or soil conditions for our community to thrive.

The first day of this term we focused on our staff and how to create the perfect soil conditions on which they can thrive, and how we can move forward as a school. This approach is already having an impact on many parts of the school and we have many staff who have been and will be involved in retreats at the Woodleigh Institute. Through these retreats they are learning how to thrive, and how to bring the tools and practices of the Compassionate Systems Framework into the classroom so that our children can thrive at Woodleigh.

This is an exciting and incredibly purposeful journey upon which we are about to embark and I look forward to sharing our progress with you over the coming months and years.