“Don’t Count the Days, Make the Days Count

Boarding is a unique experience that brings our students together from across Australia and around the world. Our Director of Boarding explains the ethos behind our Boarding House is to ensure all our boarders make their days count.

In my family, the late great boxing legend, Muhammad Ali has always been a hero. Our bookcase features many books written about him both as one of the most significant and celebrated sports figures of the 20th Century and as a significant voice for African Americans in the USA. As the Reverend Jesse Jackson (an American civil rights activist) stated at the time of Ali’s death “without Muhammad Ali there would have been no President Barack Obama.” My favourite Ali quote and the theme for Term 3 in St Catherine’s Boarding House, Illawarra is “Don’t count the days – make the days count.”

During my teaching and boarding career, and as the mother of four adult children I have had the opportunity to listen to a number of outstanding speakers who have influenced the way I think and act. Earlier this year I was fortunate to be a member of the audience in St Catherine’s Hall when Hugh van Cuylenburg, from The Resilience Project talked about his career and the steps to resilience. Hugh was inspirational in the way he outlined his simple steps towards resilience and as I took notes it became very clear how we could adopt many of his principles in Illawarra. During his presentation Hugh stressed how vital it is to build resilience in adolescents to assist them to develop better mental health. With statistics for the number of people suffering from mental health issues being high, and the fact that 65 % of adolescents with mental health issues do not seek help, it is essential we empower our young people. The three keys that The Resilience Project teaches to improve resilience are:

  • Gratitude – the readiness to show appreciation and return kindness
  • Mindfulness – focusing one’s awareness on the present moment
  • Empathy – the ability to understand and share the feelings of others

On his website Hugh explains that every time you do something kind for someone else your brain releases oxytocin. Benefits of this include increased levels of happiness and positivity and increased self-confidence. This fact led to the development of our inaugural Illawarra Random Act of Kindness Week in May, where each boarder was provided the name of a fellow boarder to treat with a random act of kindness. The boarders loved this week and decided on many ways to treat their special friend. Many chocolates, small posies of flowers and messages of support and friendship were left anonymously on girls’ beds and outside their doors. During dinner the following week everyone had the opportunity to share who their secret boarder was and we all decided this would become an annual event.

Illawarra Gratitude Tree

During one of our Sunday afternoon activity sessions the girls created a Gratitude Tree on the back windows of Illawarra. Post it notes and pens were left on the table and everyone was asked to write something that had gone well for them each day and attach it on the tree. Over a couple of weeks the tree blossomed with many messages of ‘what had gone well for them that day’. Two notes left on the Gratitude Tree by girls during Random Act of Kindness week were, “really appreciated receiving such a cute card and flowers” and “I got a lovely gift from my secret person.”

Other messages referred to understanding something at School, doing well in a test or sharing something with another boarder. Perhaps these three messages sum up Illawarra best “blessed to have 45 sisters,” and “I made the right choice” and “my friends are the best.” The Gratitude Tree is still there and the girls continue to add their messages!

There are many ways to practise mindfulness and perhaps the way that works best at Illawarra is what happens around the couches in the lobby when the girls are doing our jigsaw puzzles. Much like the affects you receive from colouring in, the puzzles provide the boarders time to put down their phones, relax and share creating a picture. We have also practised other types of mindfulness and will use the colouring books during Term3.

The empathy shown from the younger boarders to their older peers is evident each day through the respect and support they show each evening during homework time. The boarders are always encouraged to participate in the range of co-curricular activities offered by St Catherine’s and this afternoon as I sit at my desk writing I know the younger girls are at the Victorian Schools Band Competition, an Athletics Personal Best Carnival, a Netball competition, Music lessons or making a start on their homework.

The girls in Illawarra are focused on making every day count towards their future and the staff have embedded a culture of resilience which underpins everything we do. As the Year 12 boarders enter their final weeks of Senior School, never has the quote “Don’t count the days – make the days count” been more relevant.

 

Mrs Sue Collister

Director of Boarding Services

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