One of the aspects of our education at St. Helen's College is the growth of confidence in the children and their use of initiative. We were showing around some parents this morning and they mentioned that they recognise that, although the academic is important, if the child has no confidence it doesn't make it easy to translate that knowledge into the workplace when the time comes. These are the so called 'soft skills' which are said to give children from independent schools the advantage in the workplace.
They will need the confidence, initiative and emotional intelligence to deal with people, probably in a team, and often need the ability to speak in front of groups of people.
I have mentioned in previous blogs about our Year 6 pupils who recently took an assembly, on their own initiative, about how they would care for children in the playground - and they have now set up a little 'clinic' where children can take their problems if they want to speak to a child rather than an adult.
We have since had Chloe from Year 6 doing a fantastic assembly about dyslexia and how special she feels about it in a positive way rather than a negative. She showed us in her Powerpoint many famous people who were dyslexic, and the fact that the brain compensates by being more creative and by thinking 'out of the box.' Chloe told all the children how glad she was to be herself, and she said it with such confidence that it's almost turned dyslexia into a desirable condition! Chloe has had younger children coming up to her announcing proudly that they are also dyslexic.
Six Year 2 children have been so impressed by seeing the Year 6s speak confidently in assembly that they have decided that they would like to do an assembly too. Their first step was to show me a piece of paper which said 'Hello, I'm (name)' 6 times. I suggested that they might like to think of a theme and have something to say, so they visited me in my office first thing this morning and have decided that they want to do an assembly on ‘Good to be Me’, focusing on their talents and their wonderful families. It is all down to them so I gave them a couple of pointers and they have gone away to work on it in their Golden Time.
I am hoping that they will succeed, as it is actually a big challenge to stand in front of the whole of Upper School in two assemblies and speak your own material intelligently, audibly and with confidence to your peers and older children and teachers, especially when you're 7 or 8 years old. I think the children in the audience will be very supportive of them, as they were this morning when some more Year 2s played a piano duet of a very high standard (the first movement of a Mozart sonata) in both assemblies.
We have our Speech Competition/Recitation next week, and in this event the children’s confidence is also on display - from the 3 year olds who stand alone on the stage and belt out their poem to a hall full of adults, to certain Upper School children who haven't reached the finals before but who have spoken their poem in the semi-final with such intelligence and connection that they are in the final for the first time and will have to rise to the challenge.
We have our Singing Competition in June, just after half term next term, and again we have a record number of children queuing up to sing alone to the school. The winners will sing at our Singers' Concert and then at the fete.
It is amazingly heart-warming to see children, who may have begun their school life timidly, blossom into confident and eloquent children later on. We have just received a letter from a past parent who wanted to thank St. Helen's College for underpinning the success that her son has achieved in secondary school - he was too tearful to go onstage when he was younger and he ended up in Year 6 being a confident, empathic deputy head boy.
I think our large range of extra-curricular activities has a lot to do with the blossoming of confidence, as has the dedication of the teachers and their great pastoral interest in their classes.
Initiative is encouraged by showing the children that we do listen to them and that we are interested in their ideas. Our School Council has always come up with great ideas to enhance their environment - the gazebo, the Retreat, the Zen Garden, the bag shed, the Maxwell Garden - and many of the clubs have been their ideas, as well as supporting charities such as the visiting of Sweetcroft Residential home every fortnight.
There are many other responsibilities - Playground Pals, School Council, Eco-Team, Young Leaders, JRSO's, Charity Council (and we are going to create some Young First Aiders next term too) - and all of these posts of responsibility give the children the confidence to speak out their ideas and to see that they can make things happen.
P4C (Philosophy for Children) from Nursery has also made a difference to the children's ability to know that their opinion is valued and to listen to how others feel and think; it encourages initiative and creativity in the way that they create and pick a deep question which is then the topic of their lesson. In doing so they are creating their own subject matter, which is of interest to them and not chosen by the teacher.
There was an article in the Independent by Holly Baxter* last year from which I quote:
'That’s why the latest statistics on state versus private school achievement in the workplace don’t surprise me one bit. Even after they’ve graduated from good universities and entered into high-paying jobs, students from fee-paying schools continue to feel the benefit of their early education. They earn more, and their salaries rise more quickly, according to the Sutton Trust.
'One plausible explanation is the lasting benefit of “soft skills” drummed into private pupils from their first day. Those rousing assemblies about conquering the world; the extracurricular activities that eke the talent and enthusiasm out of even the most unresponsive child; that self-assurance that comes from having one’s youthful opinion seriously contemplated by an authority figure. They all leave impressions longer lasting than any of us had imagined.'
There are many reasons why the children at St. Helen's College are thriving in confidence and showing initiative (drama as a specialist subject from nursery, biannual class assemblies, annual productions done by most year groups) and I hope that every child will at some point while at St. Helen's College discover multiple reasons why they are 'pleased to be themselves.'
I look forward to our Year 2 assemblies on Monday!
“The moment you doubt whether you can fly, you cease for ever to be able to do it.” ― J.M. Barrie, Peter Pan