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June 2015


Parent Talk | Term 2 2015

Dear Parents & Friends,

In the busy-ness of everyday life, it can be hard to find the time to really reflect on what matters most for you and your family. That’s why in this issue of Parent Talk we share one dad’s guiding principles on how to live life well and be the best parent you can be.

We also showcase the inspiring work taking place in a small parish school in the Wilcannia-Forbes Diocese and we have some handy tips for being an ‘engaged’ parent.

Linda McNeil
Acting Executive Director


Bruce Sullivan is a man on a mission – a mission to help us all to be the best version of ourselves that we can be. He believes that after we wake up in the morning and realise that we don’t have a white chalk line around our body we should jump out of bed and yell “Rippa” with the energy of a four-year old.

Bruce Sullivan is a relationship expert who provides education to families, communities and corporations all over the world, sharing his practical advice on life and relationships. He balances this with being the director of six privately listed companies. More importantly, Bruce is the father of two teenage children, Hannah and Declan.

His daughter Hannah was born with Down Syndrome. She has battled through nine heart operations and there have been times when her parents thought she wouldn’t survive the surgery. But she did and has never been healthier. Like her father, Hannah’s zest for life is infectious and Bruce never misses an opportunity to tell her how loved and appreciated she and her brother Declan are. Last year when Bruce wanted to wish Hannah a happy 18th birthday, he posted a small request on Facebook.

“If you have a moment to help, I'd love it if you could send Hannah a birthday card congratulating her on her 18th and for being such a beautiful, caring, smart and courageous young lady,” he wrote.

In the weeks that followed the post was shared more than 20,000 times on social media. The cards that arrived in the post filled their garage. On the morning of her birthday, during a live cross to the Today Show, more 13,500 birthday cards were presented to Hannah. Her beautiful and touching response was simply, “this is sweet Dad”.

This little insight into Bruce’s world should give you some idea of his enthusiasm for life and his quest to challenge people to purposefully think about how to live their life well. He knows it is not easy being a parent but believes we owe it to ourselves, our partner, our children and friends to be the best version of ourselves in what we do every single day, at home, work and in the wider world. Bruce knows that it can be hard in the busy-ness of life to remember to look for the joy and be grateful for what parenting brings. Busy can be great, it provides purpose and identity. But are we busy with a purpose and are we doing what matters most in our life?

Bruce shares these simple guiding principles to help remind us all to live life well and be the best parent we can be:

Principle #1: Have fun

What is your default response in that moment when your children or life presents something that you are not expecting? Do you laugh or do you put on your “cranky pants”? If it isn’t fun, make it fun! You will be in a much better shape to solve the problems that your family presents if you choose to “put on your happy pants” and emit a little joy, rather than the alternative. As Bruce says, “having a positive attitude will not solve all your problems all the time but it will annoy enough people to make it worthwhile”.

Principle #2: Be grateful (versus being cynical)

As a nation Australians can be quite cynical. The typical talk of many adults is not grateful talk, Bruce says, but rather it is predicated in cynicism, and there’s no such thing as healthy cynicism. It’s all unhealthy. Think about how you can remind yourself to be “do gratefulness” versus cynicism. When you walk in the door after work do you engage in an “I had the worst day” competition with your partner or children or do you focus on the joys in the day and what you are grateful for?

Make an agreement with yourself to bring some joy and humour and gratefulness into your space.

Principle #3: Good intentions are not enough

Good intentions are either a great start or an ongoing excuse for what could have been. Our children, partner and family don’t judge our good intentions - they judge our behaviour and how it impacts on them. Everyday we are presented with opportunities to make our behaviour congruent with our intentions. Are our children being exposed to talk of hope, promise, curiosity, opportunity and problem solving or are they listening to cynicism, complaining and constant criticism?

So if we want the best outcome for our family we need to ask, am I doing whatever it takes? Ask yourself, how am I prepared to change what I do to get a different outcome in my family, instead of expecting the kids to do everything first? How can I change as a parent to ensure that intention equals behaviour equals outcomes? At the end of the day, we said “yes” to parenting so we need to be the person demonstrating humour, joy and gratefulness as opposed to the “cranky pants” alternative.

Want to know more about being the best you, you can be? Go to Bruce Sullivan’s website, sign up for his free e-newsletter and have a look at his range of resources and books, including “Hannah’s Christmas Gift – a story about your life and the choices you make”.


Five years ago when the new principal of St Michael’s Parish Primary School in Deniliquin turned up for her first day on the job she faced a number of challenges. The small parish school in the Riverina, some 750 kilometres from Sydney and hour or so from the Victorian Border, was dealing with diminishing enrolments, low Mass attendance and a decline in parish-based family activities.

However, it was the words inscribed on a small plaque on the front of the school that inspired Principal Bernadette Murphy to set out some goals for the school community.

“The heart of education is the education of the heart,” it reads.

Bernadette Murphy decided to make it a shared goal to make this motto true in both words and practice.

She then articulated to the school community her belief in the importance of students, parents and parish in the life of their Catholic school, and what she believed would be the important role that St Michaels’ would come to play in the Church’s life. Her plan was to create as many opportunities as possible to nourish, inform and engage the parents, teachers, parish and community in the education of the students as well as raise awareness of social justice issues in the local area and wider world.

In this way, Bernadette believed they could all then take responsibility for the future of the Church in their lives and the lives of the children.

Much has happened since Bernadette Murphy first outlined her vision for this small parish school in country NSW. Enrolments for kindergarten have more than doubled, more parents are attending mass than ever before; children are volunteering for altar service; pastoral care for local families has increased; the ‘Mini Vinnie’s’ group has 40 members; faith formation activities have increased along with opportunities for all to support those in need within their community and on the other side of the world.

And while Bernadette Murphy may have been the catalyst for change, the efforts of the past five years have been a truly collaborative effort from many within the St Michaels’ community. Fittingly, those efforts were recognised in November last year, when St Michaels Parish Primary School became the first-ever recipient of the Roger O’Sullivan Family, School & Community Partnership Award. The criteria for the award are based on the seven dimensions of the National Family School and Community Partnerships Framework (a resource for school communities designed to encourage and guide schools, education systems, parent groups and families to support family-school partnerships). 

St Michaels’ is an outstanding example of what happens when these types of partnerships are created and the benefits that can flow from them - for the school, home, and community. Something that Bernadette Murphy has seen first hand. And while the Roger O’Sullivan Award has pride of place in the school’s reception and the $4000 cash prize is being well utilised, Bernadette believes there is plenty more work to be done.

“We were thrilled to be the recipients of the inaugural Roger O’Sullivan Award and it certainly provided us with an opportunity to celebrate all that has been achieved in this period of time,” she said.

“This award acknowledged the outstanding partnership that parents, staff and the wider community have, which ensures the best educational outcomes for our students and strengthens relationships amongst all stakeholders.

“In partnership with the P&F we have spent part of the money on a canteen refurbishment and purchased resources for our school. We are extremely grateful to the NSW Council of Catholic Parents for awarding us this prestigious prize.”

Find out more about how family, school and community partnerships are working at St Michaels’ Parish Primary or check out the Partners4Learning portal for parents, teachers and school administrators.


Long before the Building the Education Revolution program, it would be fair to say that the humble lamington drive was responsible for building more Australian school buildings than any single government scheme ever hoped to. Many of us who attended a Catholic primary school in the seventies and early eighties would have fond memories of our mums gathered around trestle tables in the tuck shop, rolling generous squares of sponge cake in chocolate sauce and desiccated coconut. And while the Catholic church has long recognised that parents are the first and primary educators of the child, back then lamington drives, school fetes and working bees were probably the extent of most parents’ involvement in their child’s education.

Fast forward to 2015 and our Catholic diocesan and independent schools are now supported by networks of committed parent volunteers working in classrooms, the canteen, on P&Fs, school boards and fundraising committees. But there’s another significant change that has taken place in recent years. We now speak about parent ''involvement'' in schools as distinct from parent ''engagement'' in learning.

As a recent ACT Report on Progressing Parental Engagement states, “Parent engagement is more than being involved and informed about school activities. It is actively engaging with your child’s learning, both in the home and at school.

“Although involvement in school activities is beneficial in many ways, especially in facilitating relationships between parents and teachers, how parents support children’s learning at home has a bigger impact on academic outcomes than participation in school-based activities”.

Put simply, when parents are engaged in learning, when schools and families work together, children do better and stay in school longer. While this all sounds great in theory, how do we actually take that one small step from being an “involved” parent to an “engaged and supportive” parent?

We’ve resourced these five simple ways* you can engage in your child’s learning and be part of their educational journey:


Read to and count with your children from birth - even five minutes a day can make a difference. Children who were read to when very young are much better readers at 15, in fact their reading scores are equivalent of up to a year's additional schooling compared to children who weren't read to.


Maintain a keen interest in what happens at school. This includes listening to your child's experiences at school and supporting them to have the confidence when they experience setbacks. It also involves building good relationships with your child's teachers and asking what you can do to help in their learning.


Talk with your teenager regularly about social issues. Talk about the issues of today and explore the “why” questions - if you don't know the answers, work together to figure out where you might find the answer. Teenagers who have regular discussion on contemporary issues are more proficient readers - in fact, their reading scores are equivalent to around half a year's additional schooling.


Understand that your role is important and believe that your child can do their best. Supporting children's aspirations and showing faith in their ability to achieve their goals has a very positive impact on their educational outcomes. Even if you didn't enjoy school yourself, there is strong evidence that kids do better when their parents have high aspirations for them, when they talk about the importance of education and encourage them to think big about the future - to develop a lifelong love for learning.


Help your children work through things that impact their overall wellbeing. Sometimes there are apparently small things happening at school or at home which can be the biggest issue for your child. Help resolve this issue.

(*Source: Australian Research Alliance for Children and Youth)


Recognising and celebrating outstanding family, school & community partnerships. Applications are now open for the 2015 Roger O’Sullivan Award.

Want to keep your kids safe in cyber world? Check out the parent resources on Internet Safe Families.

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Schoolzine has transformed the humble school newsletter into a multi-functional, interactive platform that can be accessed wherever you have Internet... at home on your PC, via your mobile or perhaps on an iPad - at your convenience. This is not simply emailing home a PDF copy of your old print newsletter. This is truly revolutionising the flow of information and communication between home, school and the broader community, resulting in the best possible outcomes for the youngest members of the community - our children!