From the Principal – Boys and self-expression

Dear members of the Whitefriars College Family,

Boys and self-expression. Some people would suggest that these two terms are mutually exclusive ideas. Many think that young men lack the ability to express their thoughts and feeling in comparison to girls, who are more naturally inclined toward this action. I disagree with this assumption. Boys are equally adept at, and desiring of opportunities to express who they are, what they are thinking and how they are feeling. They just require particular conditions and the environment in which to do so.

In a piece of research conducted by Adam J. Cox Ph.D for the International Boys School Coalition, of which Whitefriars College is a member, Adam suggests that “boys are eager for dialogue that helps them explore and understand their personal experiences”. Dr Cox goes onto state that, “We cannot expect dialogue with boys to be fruitful and transformational unless we allocate the time and space for these discussions to take place. Simply put, we should seize the opportunity to talk with boys about what gives their life and education meaning and relevance.”

There is no greater example of this theory in action than the Whitefriars Kairos Retreat program. At the end of last term I was privileged to spend four days with a group of 51 Year 11 students and some dedicated staff at Camp Wyuna Queenscliff. A place which provided our young men with the time and space they needed to reflect on their relationship with themselves, others and God in an atmosphere of trust and mutual respect. I was in awe of the vulnerability and generosity displayed by this fine group of young men and staff who accompanied them throughout this voluntary experience as they navigated a number of topics and ideas in this reflective space.

It is interesting to note that even though this retreat opportunity is voluntary, over 96% of the Year 11 class decided to opt into the program. I wondered why it is that the vast majority of our boys chose to attend Kairos? Is it purely because it provides them with a couple of days out of school? I think there is something more to it than that. I believe it is because over the proceeding four years at Whitefriars our young men have grown to feel comfortable about expressing themselves and being who they are in an environment of trust and mutually respectful relationships. Basically, I believe it is because our boys develop a strong sense of belonging to this place.

A sense of belonging is significant because it establishes boys’ place within the College. Adam Cox suggests that, “this social standing becomes the platform many boys need to feel socially and emotionally safe. With belonging established, boys confidence increases, and they generally feel more courageous about expressing their individuality.”

I believe that Whitefriars College’s environment promotes individuality and a sense of belonging. Dr. Cox suggests that boys who attend a boys school acknowledge that they might intentionally alter their social identity if they were to attend a different school. Whereas in a boys education environment most will feel less self-conscious of how they are being seen by others. That said, not everyone will have the same experience and for some this sense of comfort and safety may take longer to evolve than for others.

At Whitefriars we create many opportunities for our young men to express themselves in an environment of support, acceptance and compassion both in and outside the classroom. As parents, we too need to provide our sons with these opportunities. In my experience the best time to engage in deeper conversations with our sons involves some sort of action. It could be working on a project around the home or preparing a meal together. I have found that the greatest gift to conversation between parents and their sons has been the 120 hours of learner driving practice. Each of these activities provides a non-threatening, non-confrontational space where boys are more likely to open up and speak their mind.

I can’t guarantee that these strategies will always work. The key is gentle, persistent perseverance. If we persevere in this space the rewards can be great for both us and our boys.


Mr Mark Murphy