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The Value of Courage

Deputy Principal (Student Wellbeing) Ms Beth Oakley illuminated the Wenona value of Courage in Assembly this week, highlighting its role in a healthy school community.

Ms Oakley's speech led on from the screening of the Academy Award-winning short film For the Birds, about the arrival of an outsider (an unusual looking bird), who wants to break into the group.

“The birds on the wire have a lovely sense of protection, don’t they? They are all in a group, look the same, and know their code. In that cluster, they have their own protection … until someone else wants to join. The interesting thing to me here is that it is just one or two birds who start the gossip, set the tone and the rest follow – ‘Oh yes, let's just go along with that, let’s not include him, humiliate him, laugh at him’. No one breaks rank. Not one of them thinks, ‘Maybe this isn’t such a good idea’, until they see that the story is not going to end well for them.

There is a famous line from Lieutenant General David Morrison's speech to the military in 2021: "The standard that you walk past is the standard that you accept". This morning, we heard Cadet leader Tilly talk about courage, including the courage to speak and act outside your comfort zone.

Courage is one of our five beautiful School values – strong character attributes to live by, which we courageously embrace. It is one thing to talk about courage, but to enact it requires us to step into the uncertainty of discomfort, which isn’t easy. For some students, discomfort means coming to school; for others, it means abseiling down the side of a cliff when you can’t see the bottom. Discomfort looks different for all of us, but it is particularly tricky terrain when we decide to break rank and forgo the safety of the group to call out unacceptable behaviour, whether intentionally cruel or unkind, knowing we ourselves risk rejection.

I know there are those of you who have found the courage to challenge someone’s behaviour whether in person or online. Those of you who have taken that risk but sadly had no one to back you up, I champion you. That is great courage.

I would like to see a second version of For the Birds where one bird breaks rank and calls out the other birds’ behaviour because that bird would be the hero. You know the heroes in your group – you’ve seen them find the strength to stand up. So, let us all find the courage to back them. Otherwise, poor behaviour becomes the standard that we accept. As a community of young people and adults, we spend most of our waking lives in this School. We wouldn’t accept unkindness in our families, so let us not accept it here.”