In 2019 we had a problem, and it was drawing on all our resources and it wouldn’t go away. It interrupted our scheduled programs of teaching; detention and exclusion weren’t a solution. A group of senior girls didn’t get along and their mutual dislike of each other manifested in all manner of disagreements and grievances that extended beyond the school gates. It wasn’t unusual that the parents and carers of these young women were brought into their child’s conflicts which added another layer of complexity to ‘the problem.’
Our reasonable and enlightened teaching collective took a deep breath and had a rethink about what was happening. Of course, the girls and their struggles with each other was a problem, but it was also an opportunity for innovative thinking and action to address a need that we were yet to understand fully. And yes, it was drawing on our resources but that’s what we were there for, and wellbeing was our core business.
‘New or different thinking was employed to look at a recurring problem.’
A solution needed to be found sooner rather than later and so there was little time to analyse what each student was thinking, how they felt and why they behaved as they did. The underlying reasons would reveal themselves as time unfolded. We had over the years introduced and applied basic REBT (Rational Emotive Behaviour Therapy) principles in daily teaching practice that provided a shared conceptual understanding and a common language which we could use to explore emotional and behavioural upset.
‘The future of psychology is in the school system.’ Albert Ellis
So, what did we do? We invited the girls to meet and have a chat. The chat wasn’t about them or their trials and tribulations (though really it was) but about others and what could be done for them. This gave them a shared focus on something other than on each other; they would have a collective goal that would require a semblance of cohesion and collaboration. They felt a little non plussed, uncomfortable to be working together for a common purpose; they started working with each other and not against each other.
‘This is a bit weird. One minute we’re in trouble and the next minute we’re school student leaders!’ GWA 100% group member (2019)
We spoke about a number of students who would need mentoring and support across the school with issues they were dealing with like friendships or with their reading and other things. We established what the group would do and why, when it would meet and allowed things to unfold over the weeks, the months and as it turns out, the years.
If you consider the word ‘attitude’ and give each letter a value according to its position in the alphabet e.g., a=1, and then you add all the numbers together you get 100. Hence, the name of the group, Girls with Attitude 100 % or GWA 100%. Its aim is to promote gender equality, fairness and respect in our school community because we know sexism and misogyny causes harm and the GWA 100% group would like everyone to think about their thinking and behaviour towards each other so that the world will be a better one in the years ahead.
A+T+T+I+T+U+D+E = 100
There’s a lot more to our story but for now suffice it to say the program has changed and continues to evolve from its humble beginnings in 2019 to the present moment and here are some of the significant developments and highlights to date.
We have connected with the Parafield Flying Centre at Parafield Airport, Adelaide, and Sian Zimmerman and Beverley Roediger, chief flight instructors come to our school and talk to the girls about the aviation industry and flying. They share their experiences working towards their goals, maintaining a positive mindset and their determination to succeed. Sian and Bev also host the GWA 100% group at the airport once a year and put on lunch for them. The students get to see the workings of an airport, how its managed, and they sit in the aircraft which is always a highlight. Thanks Sian and Beverley.
The Hon Susan Close, Deputy Premier of South Australia has from the outset invested her time, energy and interest in the group. She visits yearly and talks to the girls about gender equality, how she has achieved her goals and how she has met big challenges in her life. Thank you Ms Close.
Ms Katrine Hildyard, MP, Minister for Child Protection, Minister for Women and the Prevention of Domestic and Family Violence, Minister for Recreation, Sport and Racing, Member for Reynell, has supported the program also for the past two years, fielding GWA 100% questions and telling her story of optimism and persistence, often in the face of significant challenges. Thank you, Ms Hildyard.
Ms Karen Grogan, Labor Senator for South Australia, has become an enthusiastic supporter, visiting us for the first time in 2021 and again earlier this year. She is a strong advocate for gender equality and is a keen supporter of our program. Recently the Kate Jenkins Independent Enquiry found that one in three people working in federal parliament have experienced some kind of sexual harassment there. This review of workplace culture was conducted because of rape allegations made by Brittany Higgins. Unbeknown to us Ms. Grogan had taken her impressions of her school visit to Canberra and had this to say to her senate colleagues here on her Face Book page https://fb.watch/bHNkRR5lBE/ Thank you, Ms Grogan.
Ms Jane Caro, feminist, social commentator, writer and lecturer came to visit us earlier this year and spoke to the GWA 100% group. She also spoke to all students at a special assembly, fielding questions from the students about issues that they were concerned about. Her visit has inspired the GWA 100% group members and also given perspective to the issue of gender equality as a challenge for girls and boys, reinforcing the need for everyone to work towards a fairer and just society for all. Thanks Ms Caro.
‘Achieving gender equality requires the engagement of women and men, of girls and boys. It is everyone’s responsibility.’ Ban-Ki Moon
Community groups like Soroptimist International, a worldwide service group for women, supports our endeavours. President, Melanie Humphrys and group member Anne Berry have visited the GWA 100% girls over the past few years, supporting them and sharing their wisdom and knowledge. The Zonta Club president Pam Fletcher also supports our program and has visited us now on a few occasions and we are working on a project together to help the GWA 100% group promote gender equality in the community. So, it’s all happening. Thanks Pam, Anne and Melanie.
Though unable to visit us, but nonetheless supportive of our aims and objectives is Ms Clementine Ford, Australian feminist writer, broadcaster and public speaker. She was particularly helpful to one of our GWA 100% group members in 2020 when she reached out to her to support her through a family trauma. Thanks Ms Clementine.
And finally, the GWA 100% leadership group decided that they wanted to do something for the greater community and so reached out to the Northern Adelaide Domestic Violence Service. The school has dedicated a special Casual Clothes Day each year to support women and their children who fall victim to domestic violence. All proceeds of the day go to the NADVS.
I leave you with a quote from one year 6 member of this year’s GWA 100% leadership group who wrote:
‘You just have to remember that makeup is in the beauty section not in the girl’s section!’
Giulio Bortolozzo is an ED.D. candidate at the University of South Australia. He is a student counsellor in the public school system and specialises in Rational Emotive Behaviour Education. He is also a consultant to schools in counselling-based behaviour education systems in school. He is the author of two self-published teacher/counsellor resources; People and Emotions and Have a Go Spaghettio! both endorsed by Dr Albert Ellis, creator of Rational Emotive Behaviour Therapy. He is a member of the International Committee for The Advancement of Rational Emotive Education.