A Uniting Church coeducational independent day and boarding school on Kaurna Country, Adelaide, South Australia

Early Learning to Year 12

From the Principal - Edition 7 - 2021

As many of you will know, on Thursday 6 May I ‘braved’ the night and elements in the Principals’ Sleep Out organised by Vinnies. It turned out to be quite a mild night, and we were in the safety of the grounds of Adelaide High School so the full adversity of sleeping rough wasn’t really felt. Perhaps the hardest part of the night was sleeping under the very effective floodlights in the area. As you can see in the photo, they were so light that I could read my book at 2.30 am without a torch!


Regardless of the experience, sleeping out for the night like that was done by a group of principals trying to lead by example for their communities; being of service and trying to live with purpose, and educate themselves and their communities for humanity. Perhaps, most importantly, they were trying to show and develop empathy.

In writing about empathy, please do not assume that I believe in any way that I have the capacity to always show it. Rather, like we all should be, I am always learning about empathy in a lifelong journey. So what is it? Is empathy a skill, an ability, a trait or an emotion? According to Daniel Goleman, author of Emotional Intelligence, it is basically the ability to understand others’ emotions.

Some people have the inborn trait of reflexive empathy. However, this does not necessarily lead to cognitive empathy, which is vital in developing and sustaining meaningful relationships. Carl Rogers, in the Helpful Helper, described empathy as the ability to see someone else’s problems, without making them your own. In order to be empathetic, you need to see beyond yourself. You may need to put aside your own personal views, listen mindfully, encourage and promote discussion, eliciting from others what they would do in the situation.

If you can develop the capacity to walk in the shoes of others, without making their problems your own, while reflecting on your personal biases, you will continually increase your empathy. Unfortunately, we live in a society that is often too quick to blame and, at times, empathy is completely forgotten. We can all too quickly develop a one-way empathy valve, where we want and expect empathy but show very little capacity to exercise it for others.

As I slept out, I tried very hard to imagine the circumstances that would lead to someone being homeless and what it may really feel like to be sleeping rough on the streets of Adelaide. I also challenged myself to avoid bias and try to show empathy when I next see someone sleeping rough.

The next day, it was a pleasure to return to the welcoming community of Westminster and experience a different form of service by briefly attending the Parents’ Club Mother’s Day Luncheon. It was a great occasion and in the spirit of the day being celebrated, we congratulate mothers everywhere and appreciate the enormous contribution they make every day in every way.

Thank you to all who were able to attend the Mother’s Day Luncheon. For those unable to, we will also be looking at alternatives next year outside of the traditional workday hours to complement this successful day event. This was the first time the Parents’ Club had run this event, following the Foundation’s handover. It was a remarkable effort and we know these sorts of events are not possible without the amazing support of volunteers. The Parents’ Club is one of our Friends of Westminster community groups and this post-COVID luncheon was a fantastic example of how a team of volunteers can work so effectively together to create and manage an event of such quality.

The Luncheon provided an ideal opportunity for members of our community – current parents, past parents, staff and Old Scholars - to gather and get to know each other better. As a School, we are very grateful for the role our community groups play in bringing us together and we want to ensure that we take every opportunity to show our appreciation and gratitude for the valued service they provide.

Simon Shepherd