Growing Stronger and Wiser as a Community

I would like to thank all members of our community for your support, understanding, and expressions of goodwill during IDAHOBIT week. It was a trying week for us all. While the external noise was raging, it was so pleasing to feel to support within the community; from students, parents, and members of staff.

I am pleased IDAHOBIT was celebrated across the three campuses in a manner that is age-appropriate and meaningful for all students. Days like IDAHOBIT are integral to our embedded and integrated approach to wellbeing. In recent Messenger issues, I have spoken about the work of Dr Helen Street and the idea of ‘contextual wellbeing.’ This approach focuses on creating a school culture and environment where everyone in the community feels valued, connected and that they belong. IDAHOBIT is one of several great teaching moments on the international calendar where we can highlight and demonstrate inclusion, creating a sense that no matter how different we are, all students can find a safe space at Woodleigh. These are not strategies that can be delivered by a program or through an external organisation; these ideas must be embedded in everything we do.

"At Woodleigh, we encourage students to be themselves, to express themselves and to find their tribe."

IDAHOBIT is a chance to raise awareness of difference, and also to normalise difference to help eliminate fear from society. All of our students are different. If they see difference as acceptable, they are more likely to be comfortable with who they are and who they are becoming.

For senior students, this occurs through guest speakers, events held at school and encouragement from external support groups to find their voice and be vocal about celebrating the day. For our junior students, this is more difficult, as concepts such as homophobia are hard to discuss and very difficult for our youngest students to understand. However, this is where our culture of inclusion and belonging develops its foundations. For younger children, visible and tangible examples are required, visible difference that they can engage with, be curious about and ask questions of. While for some, Drag Story Time could be seen as controversial and provocative. However, it does provide a safe environment for all students to engage with difference, be curious, and ask questions.

Last year’s Drag Story Time was a huge success, with our students asking enlightened and well-informed questions that reflect our school culture of respect for others. I would like to thank and acknowledge those members of our community who supported the school during this day and the subsequent issues raised externally. I would also like to thank those members of our community who had concerns about this day and spent time with myself, and members of our leadership team working through their concerns. This proved to be a great learning moment for us all, as we develop understanding of others’ perspectives in a respectful and curious manner.

I was reminded of how deep the culture of respect is at Woodleigh at a recent SIS Senior Boys’ Football match that Craig Azzopardi and I coached. Last week, when Nazareth College arrived for the match, we realised that they only had 14 players, most of whom were recruited from other sports and younger age groups. They had been hit hard by COVID and other school events. Craig raised this with our team of high-performing athletes and without hesitation they offered to play for the other team, ensuring everyone had a positive and respectful game of football. Not only did they play for the other team, they encouraged, supported, coached and brought the younger players into the game. A positive experience for both teams. The scoreboard was irrelevant on the day as both teams departed as friends and better for the game.

Speaking to the Nazareth Staff and students after the game, they said they were amazed by the welcoming nature of our school, our staff, and our students. They said that there was an automatic sense of our culture upon arrival as our students randomly offered to help and to guide them to the oval. Staff volunteered to assist them to prepare, and our players deliberately assisted with their game to support the younger players. While this was no AFL standard match, and most of our players will represent their local teams in more serious games on the weekend, this was a fantastic experience for all involved and a great example of how well-being can be enhanced by the environment in which we learn and live.

I would like to thank all members of our community for your support, interest, and collaboration for the first half of the term. As a community we may not always agree on everything; however, I know that we can work our way through any issue and come out the other side stronger and wiser.

David Baker