Spotlight On: Rituals

6 August 2021

This article first appeared in Queenwood News Weekly 6 August 2021. 

Every school has rituals, ceremonies and stories that reflect underlying values and contribute to culture. Rituals are habits that provide clarity and structure while ceremonies tend to be singular events that provide points of celebration, recognition, or symbolise important change.

Both rituals and ceremonies help bind communities together around shared understandings and remind us of our mutual social ties. They create a positive environment for learning by creating a sense of belonging through shared values and milestones. They strengthen connection, build community spirit and promote stability. In schools, as in families, rituals help organise behaviour, clarify rules, set boundaries and define roles. The shared daily rhythm helps make sense of our busy lives and minimises chaos by allowing many members to coordinate (relatively) smoothly.

We might be tempted to take these rituals for granted, at least until they are disrupted. Throughout lockdown, teachers are working hard to sustain many of our daily rituals – roll call, Just Read and assemblies, alongside lessons and co-curricular activities wherever possible – because we recognise the order, stability and security they bring to the girls. There are many other ways in which we continue the ordinary activities of school life through seminars and webinars, information evenings, interviews, daily recorded messages, year meetings and so on. Even the unappealing task of getting on with scheduled HSC assessment this week has helped to give a sense of momentum for senior girls.

Many families have even found that the rituals of home life have strengthened during lockdown. With fewer evening activities, meal times are less rushed. Family lunches can be scheduled into the working day. We know that parents are juggling many commitments during remote learning but the girls are telling us how much they appreciate a daily walk with Mum or sharing their Just Read session with Dad.

Family rituals, however simple, can have significant benefits for children, including reduced anxiety and increased emotional wellbeing, greater academic success, and a clearer sense of identity. They are even more important when so many things are uncertain and we know that under conditions of stress, people’s behaviour will tend to become more rigid and repetitive, ie. more ritualised, as we strive to create order and predict what the future will look like. Dr Ann Masten, Professor at the Institute for Child Development at the University of Minnesota suggests this is when resilience is most needed and there is much we can do to help our girls develop it. When you look at her list of what is required for children to develop resilience, you will see that every feature is possible to maintain during lockdown:

  1. Caring family

  2. Close relationships and belonging

  3. Skilled family management

  4. Active coping

  5. Problem-solving skills, planning

  6. Self-regulation skills, emotion regulation

  7. Positive view of the self and family

  8. Hope, faith, optimism

  9. Belief life has meaning, family purpose

  10. Family routines and rituals

  11. Engagement in a well-functioning school

  12. Connections with well-functioning communities

The good news is resilience and emotional agility can be learned; resilience is not an immutable trait but an adaptive capacity that can be acquired and strengthened. We have seen impressive resilience from the girls, which is a tribute to the support and stability they enjoy at home and something we do all we can to increase. That resilience has been particularly evident in our Year 12s this week and we are grateful to our Year 12 parents for guiding their daughters through some stressful days.

As we all reimagine our rituals, it is good to know that there is a shared focus at home and at school on what is best for our girls. It is made possible by the adaptive capacity of our staff, students and families, by courage and our shared determination to persevere through adversity.

Per Aspera ad Astra!

Mrs Belinda Moore
Deputy Principal (Operations)