Principal Update – The power and importance of silence

This week, the School was delighted to learn of the news that our Head of Science Faculty, Ms Vanessa Jackson-McRae was the recipient of the highly prestigious Royal Australian Chemistry Institute (RACI) Victorian Teacher of The Year.

Jenni Sharwood OAM, Chair, RACI (Vic) Chemical Education Committee commented on Vanessa’s recent achievement:

Vanessa (has) made an excellent contribution to all the discussions held by that panel, showing an intimate knowledge of and an ability to analyse and evaluate the Study Design under review, and propose worthwhile improvements. It was clear her sound judgement and wise advice sprang from her long experience as a Head of Science and as a consultant, advisor, reviewer and assessor for the VCAA over many years.

In addition, she has served as a VCE Chemistry Exam assessor from 1998 onwards, and because of her professionalism, integrity, knowledge and experience and meticulous attention to detail, is consulted when markers have queries or cannot agree over the marking of a particular student’s response to a question. 

Little wonder that Vanessa was also appointed to the next VCE Chemistry Review Panel, which started to meet in 2019! 

I believe Vanessa is very worthy of being awarded the RACI Victorian Teacher of the Year for 2020. She is an outstanding, passionate, dedicated chemistry teacher who makes a wonderful, invaluable contribution to chemistry education. She encourages and enables both her students and other teachers. A visionary, imaginative, resourceful and thorough teacher, she taps into every opportunity for her students, inspiring a love of chemistry and inspiring them to give of their best. Our Chemical Education Committee, the Science Manager of the VCAA and many chemistry teachers hold her in the highest esteem!

Please join me in congratulating Ms Jackson McRae for this fine achievement.

This year, and in particular across Term 3 with the lengthy lockdown period, a very genuine respect and appreciation for teachers has emerged. As such, I offer my heartfelt congratulations to all teachers for their enduring care of our students. In particular, teachers of our Prep to Year 9 students who have not attended the campus for this whole duration of time. If I had been told of this in January, I would have laughed and replied “don’t be ridiculous”.

I think we have also discovered much about our capacity to deal with change, and we have also learned about the capacity of our students as they become significantly more independent, resilient and motivated than we have ever given them recognition for in the past.

As we draw to the close of Term 3, I have been thinking about the power of silence as I am continually bombarded by the beeps, pings, chimes and rings emanating from all the devices I have dotted around my home and office, as well as those belonging to my family, colleagues, friends and people lining up for a coffee each morning at my local café. Interestingly, adults often long for silence, adolescents shy away from it.

As we come to the end of a very busy term and embrace some free time, I would like to reflect on the importance of silence and its benefits. All too often we have the TV blaring in the background, our children reach for the radio/iPad/mobile phone the minute they climb into the car and, of course, the incessant variety of sounds of our phones and computers reminding us that we are on call 24/7. Is it any wonder that we, can be frazzled at the end of the day?

There is considerable research regarding the benefits of silence to one’s health. Noise and especially noise over 30 decibels, is associated with high blood pressure, anxiety, and stress. Dr Paul Haider (2012) in his article, The Health Benefits of Silence – Simple Yet Profound, lists some of the benefits of silence:

  • Silence lowers blood pressure and allows you to deal with life’s challenges in a better way.
  • Silence is like plugging in your phone… your mind needs to recharge too… and it does more recharging in silence than it does during sleep.
  • Silence boosts your immune system… making it easier for your body to fight off invading bacteria and other pathogens.
  • Silence makes you happy, spending time in silence boosts your brain chemistry… and as a great side effect you’re able to focus better too!
  • Silence reduces stress (lowers blood cortisol levels and adrenaline levels) which is the biggest killer in the world… adding 30 minutes of silence a day can change your life.
  • Silence allows for good hormone regulation and interaction of all the hormone related systems in your body.
  • Silence helps your brain to become more interactive, thus you work with more of your brain… leading to higher cognitive abilities.

It would be wonderful if during the break, we can take a few minutes (or more) every day to immerse ourselves in silence – no music, no phone, no computer. I know for me this takes a certain amount of willpower; I often rise from my chair looking at a computer screen to simply switch device to looking at the screen on my phone.

Susan Leigh, of Lifestyle Therapy, understands that this can be difficult; she says ‘Silence requires us to become more confident, confident in our ability to be quiet and still, to find an inner peace that can enable us to sit and enjoy the silence… It is enough to just be there, in a relaxed, comfortable state of mind’. For those who cannot bear the thought of doing nothing for a few minutes they could fill this time with learning to meditate or reading a passage that requires some contemplation or spend time reflecting.

Being comfortable with one’s own company can be a wonderful way to reduce stress at the same time as being very therapeutic. In the words of Lao Tzu: “silence is a source of great strength.”

Please note the Term 4 dates as planned with the understanding that COVID-19 case numbers will fall within predetermined ranges across metropolitan Melbourne.

Term 4

Week 1, Monday 5 October

  • Early Learning Centre children return to campus for face-to-face learning;
  • Learn@Home program resumes for all Prep – Year 12 students;
  • On campus supervision to continue under DHHS Regulations;
  • Illawarra Boarding House re-opens for return of boarders.

 Wednesday 7 October

  • General Achievement Test (GAT) on campus for all Year 11 and 12 students studying Units 3 and 4 subjects;
  • Years 7-9 Wellbeing Afternoon Online Activities.

 Thursday 8 – Saturday 10 October

  • Trial VCE Exams and pre-scheduled SACs on Campus for all VCE Unit 3 and 4 Subjects.

 Week 2, Monday 12 October

  • Barbreck: Prep to Year 2 students return to campus and Years 3-6 continue with Learn@Home Program;
  • Years 10-12 students return to campus for face-to-face learning and Years 7-9 continue in Learn@Home program.

Week 3, Friday 23 October

  • Victorian Public Holiday for the AFL Grand Final

 Week 4, Monday 26 October

  • Return to campus Years 3-9

Week 5, Monday 2 November and Tuesday 3 November

  • Melbourne Cup Holidays

I wish all our St Catherine’s families a safe, enjoyable and relaxing holiday break.


Mrs Michelle Carroll, Principal