School News and Head's Blog
105 Blog Posts found - Showing 1-9
Posted on: 18/09/2020
(Adjective. feeling or showing care and compassion)
The value which we are focussing on around school at the moment is ‘Caring’ and I am so proud of the whole school community as I observe such incredible examples of ‘care’ from the children, staff and parents. Over the past two weeks with our return to school there really has been an abundance of ‘care’, from the carefully planned and staggered gradual settling in of our very youngest new Helenians to the care shown by children welcoming new pupils joining existing classes, and the care shown by teachers as they lovingly and thoughtfully establish relationships and routines with their new classes.
As you know, part of our school motto, written by the children, is ‘Care for each other’ and I will repeat also the wise saying Mr. Crehan quoted in his blog last week: ‘it takes a village to raise a child’. I have actually been quite overwhelmed since the start of term at how our ‘village’ is coming together to support each other with such kindness and loving care.
We have 79 new children, from Ducklings through to Year 5, who have just started at St. Helen’s College, and I trust that all of our new families feel that they have received a warm welcome and feel cared for by everyone: staff, pupils and ‘older’ parents alike. If you are one of our new families, we look forward to many happy and fruitful years as a community, working together to care for your precious children and develop them into caring, responsible and loving members of our school and the wider community.
The fact that we all show care ourselves is so important. Children learn best by example and it is every parent and educator's responsibility to raise caring children. Research in human development shows that the seeds of empathy, caring and compassion are present from early childhood but our children need adults to help them throughout their childhood to nurture and develop these virtues. We can do so by leading, suggesting or ‘instructing’, but surely the most effective way is by modelling: showing our children that we care, and that caring is rewarding and generates happiness and security.
We need to cultivate children’s concern for others, partly because fundamentally it is the right thing to do, but also because when children can empathise with and take responsibility for others, they are likely to be happier and more successful. They will have better relationships their entire lives, and strong relationships are a key ingredient of happiness. In today’s workplace, success often depends on collaborating effectively with others, and children who are empathic and socially aware are also better collaborators - and likely to make better friends!
As your children move through St. Helen’s College and they develop these key virtues, our young learners apply them every day - in the playground, in the classroom and at home. It is heartwarming for me to take a virtual ‘learning walk’ around Google Classroom and pop into the classes - collaboration and care is evident in abundance as the pupils and staff question, support and challenge each other in their learning with the utmost respect and care for each other. Feedback is given, additional challenges are set (pupils and teachers) and the sense of belonging and pride in these virtual classrooms is phenomenal. As a Head, I never envisaged the day where I would be able to take a virtual tour of the school and I feel such a sense of pride in the progress and outcomes of our pupils.
I am, however, grateful for now that Google Classroom has returned to its usual place as our flipped learning platform for homework (or home learning as I like to call it - the adults go to ‘work’!). There is no doubt that it is wonderful that face to face teaching has returned for our pupils, and that it is easier and more natural to show in person the care that is such an important part of the teaching/learning relationship.
Our current Year 6 pupils are stepping up to their new positions of responsibility and showing real care for others as the oldest pupils in the school; they should feel very proud of themselves. They are also preparing to sit the 11+ examinations which were postponed from early in the term and I would like to thank all the parents and teachers for the care they are giving the children as they approach this milestone in their educational journey. Our Year 6 pupils are superb ambassadors for St. Helen’s College and it is the exceptional care that they have received over the years which has enabled them to blossom into such inspirational young people: they are budding lifelong learners who contribute greatly to our school community and beyond.
Finally, a word about self-care. Through our focus on Mindfulness, philosophy and positive psychology, as well as our wider PSHCE programme, we teach children that caring for themselves is one of the most important things they can do. As a school, we believe that when a child feels loved and valued, they are best able to learn and achieve their full potential. This is why school staff and parents show our children such exceptional care, but it is important to recognise that a significant part of feeling loved and valued is loving and valuing ourselves, too. So I encourage you to take care not only of your children but of yourselves and, in doing so, to set another excellent example for them. In this busy, busy world of full time jobs, parenting and caring for others, we can lose sight of how important it is to look after ourselves. You might like to re-visit the Self-Care September calendar from Action for Happiness, which has some great tips for self-care this month.
Posted on: 11/09/2020
Back To SchoolIt is so good to see all of the children and staff back at school! There is a real buzz of enthusiasm in the classrooms, and the sound of children’s laughter in the playground is a delight.Last term the children showed great resilience and determination with their learning and engaged fully with the online lessons and activities, but they are clearly thrilled to be back at school with all of their friends and teachers.
I am not surprised. A good school is, if you will excuse a cliché, a ‘home from home’. And if I may employ another wise saying, ‘it takes a village to raise a child’. Children benefit enormously from the variety of interactions and mutual love that a small community can provide, whether it be an extended family, a close, local community or a school. Nowadays, with smaller families (my parents’ Irish country background was very different), and less cohesive neighbourhood communities, school, for most children, provides a daily multiplicity of human interaction which educates, enriches and enlivens.
Not so long ago, ‘BC’, some forward thinking educational pundits argued that schools would gradually become obsolete. A brave new world of online classrooms and remote teaching would replace the existing arrangements, eliminating wasteful practices such as the school run and playtimes. A recent review of over 1500 studies carried out by academics at the University of Dundee concluded that online and blended learning are often more effective than traditional instruction. Certainly, last term’s lockdown experience showed us the enormous value of communication technology, and proved that pupil learning and well-being could be promoted very effectively remotely by skilled teachers using advanced online methods. But I am sure that every parent, pupil and teacher will agree with me that, while online use of IT can be used to support learning really well as part of a blended learning experience, actually being at school makes all the difference.
We are social creatures, and learning is a social, interactive process which is built upon strong relationships. It is very difficult to build and sustain such relationships online, and with the best will in the world they can never match the quality of face to face interactions, which foster friendship, trust and love. A huge amount of learning takes place during playtimes, working together in sports teams, choirs and clubs, through taking on positions of responsibilities, and by observing respected role models such as staff and senior pupils.
Covid-19 continues to constrain us, but the most important step has been taken – everybody is back at school. I know that my colleagues on the staff are totally committed to promoting your children’s education in the broadest sense to the very best of their ability, and that your children will flourish under their loving guidance.
Posted on: 4/09/2020
(Definition: travelling from one place to another)
One of the groups which I am involved with outside of school supports and inspires each other in our jottings or blog posts and this month the theme to write about is ‘Journeys’. This has sparked many ideas for me in the last week as I have begun reflecting on what this means to me both personally and professionally and what it may mean to our St. Helen’s College community.
We all go on journeys of one form or another, be it physical, emotional, mental or, more recently, virtual!
Over the weekend do give yourself some time and space to reflect on the following:
Journeys we have been on
Journeys we are on
Journeys we will go on
Perhaps you could find a way of bringing the family together to discuss this theme or even inspiring older children to write reflectively or creatively about their journeys?
Journeys we have been on
Many of us look forward to physical journeys each holiday and this summer, although there were many restrictions on our travel, I still managed to travel north to visit my mother and friends in my home town of Oban on the west coast of Scotland. I then continued my journey eastwards to Aberdeenshire for a long overdue visit to my sister, brother-in-law and nieces. There were no visits to the airport this summer, packing sunscreen and beach towels, but my journey this summer was nourishing and grounding and took me back to my roots. For the first time in a long time I really appreciated the ‘journey’ and did not dwell on the destination and I soaked up the scenery, taking in the magnificent views as I drove from the south to the north. I am sure that many of you also appreciated our local environment and explored areas which we have perhaps neglected in the past when opting for overseas journeys for our summer holidays.
Journeys we are on
The journey we all find ourselves on at the moment during this global pandemic has been unique and one which we could never have ever imagined. However, it is so important to reflect on the positives on this journey. Families have found themselves spending so much time together, new routines have been established, and we have perhaps learned more about ourselves and others around us then ever before.
Journeys we will go on
I have not planned any physical journeys for the immediate future; however, I have promised myself some sea air as often as I can in the next few months. Visits to my daughter at university in Kent may be the driver of these journeys! The emotional and mental journeys ahead for us all are unknown at the moment and I will most certainly be using my mindful meditation, bringing attention to my breath and grounding myself to assist in coping with future journeys in a calm manner. Upper School pupils have taken part in some ‘grounding’ mindful exercises in our remote assemblies this week to help them through the journey of their busy day - please do ask your children how they ground themself and the effect that this can have for them.
I know I have commented on this before, but I will reiterate that our St. Helen’s College community is incredibly committed to working together on this strange journey we are currently experiencing. The trust, mutual respect and relationships between us all are being forged ever stronger as we journey together through this most bizarre time of our lives.
If you would like to pen your thoughts on ‘Journeys’ - those you have been on, those you are on or those you will go on - please feel free to share them. Over the course of this new academic year it would be wonderful to have some more guest bloggers to share this spot with me!
Have a wonderful weekend and a safe ‘journey’ to all this year.
I will leave you with you a photo of one of my favourite creatures - to whom I managed to get up close! - and a scenic view from my journey this summer.
Posted on: 3/07/2020
A Governor's PerspectiveOver the past few weeks you have had the opportunity to read blogs from Mrs. Drummond, parents and children all giving their thoughts on the distance learning provided by St. Helen’s College during these unprecedented times. I am writing now as someone who has looked on from the outside and has, for the past half term, been right inside “at the chalk face” or at least today’s IT equivalent! Back in the autumn, when Mrs. Drummond asked me if I would be willing to take on the supply maternity cover for Mrs. McLaughlin for the second half of the summer term, I was only too pleased to accept, but neither of us could possibly have imagined at that time what the summer term would bring.
At the beginning of 2020 we were being made aware that a pandemic might be just around the corner, but few of us understood what an impact that it would have upon our lives. As the spring term progressed, it became increasingly obvious that, in all likelihood, St. Helen’s College and all other schools would be asked to close and that the children would have to be educated at home. Waiting for that to happen was a surreal time as plans were made for what was surely to come, while the daily life of school continued largely unaffected. As Governors, we were kept fully apprised of the developing situation and we were always on hand to give advice and support to Mrs. Drummond and the SLT as they made their plans. As a former Head of many years standing, I have many experiences to draw upon but, like the majority of serving and ex Head Teachers, none that fully prepared us for this previously unimaginable situation.
As remote learning got underway at St. Helen’s College, I saw how much time and effort the teaching and support staff were putting into making necessary amendments to their lessons, planning and timetables. This was not in order to produce a ‘watered down’ curriculum, but rather to ensure the delivery of the richest curriculum possible from a different platform. As always, their aim has been to maintain the provision of as many opportunities as possible for the children to extend their love of learning and to develop independence, resilience and mutual respect as they grow as young people ready to make their mark in our ever-changing world.
This aim has been achieved successfully despite the challenges for staff, for the children and for you as parents. Even the most “tech savvy” people have had to learn new skills and understand new aspects of technology. St. Helen’s staff and children are fortunate in that many of them were familiar with, and aware of the power of, Google Classroom, but still there has been so much for all of us to learn. So, having been observing closely from the outside, on 1st June I entered fully into the St. Helen’s College online teaching experience. I knew the Year 3 curriculum well, I had already met the children in 3M and had been fully briefed by Mrs. McLaughlin, but I also knew that I had much to learn about the technology, and my learning curve in that department has been steep!
I am really enjoying teaching 3M. I have always enjoyed working with children, seeing those ‘light bulb’ moments, helping pupils to understand something new and exciting about the world or about themselves. I love watching as they grow and develop, ask questions and form their own ideas and opinions. All of these and many others are the reasons why I have been involved in the education of young people for so long. Yet remote learning and teaching online is a real challenge; it is hard work! There is no other way to describe it and my current experiences have brought me to reconsider many aspects of classroom teaching that I had previously taken for granted.
All teachers plan their lessons carefully. There is a curriculum to follow and many would argue that, as educators, we have been too bound by that, but that is a discussion for another day. However, we are, by our very nature, spontaneous beings. With the children in the classroom, no teacher would want to stick blindly to the plan when a new, unexpected learning opportunity appears. We are working with people, not machines, and therefore we want to respond to their needs as they arise. We constantly encourage our pupils to be independent. This is so much easier physically in the classroom where the teacher is able to monitor progress more closely during the lesson and gently steer a child back on course if they have drifted, often by asking a relatively simple question at the right time. With remote learning, a child may complete a considerable amount of work before the realisation that they are not quite on the right track. Similarly, with resources it is much easier to provide an individual with appropriate support or extension exactly as and when it is needed in a more discreet manner. Last week one of the pupils in 3M remarked that there were so many attachments to the assignment that day, so I explained that these were necessary ‘just in case’ for some and not all of the activities would be used by everyone.
However, I think that the greatest challenge of not being in the classroom with the children is that we cannot really see and appreciate each other as people. Yes, if all of the cameras are working and switched on then we can see faces, but not all of them all the time, and particularly not when the teacher is in ‘presentation mode’ on their device. As humans we constantly send out and respond to non-verbal messages, so not being able to see most, if not all, of these signals is very hard. A teacher is able to respond naturally and immediately to a smile, a shrug, a frown, a raised eyebrow or a despondent droop of the shoulders in the real classroom. These signals are unseen in a remote learning classroom and I have found this a very strange and quite challenging situation to which to adapt. The very term ‘remote’ is exactly what we, as teachers, do not want to be. We are not, and should not be, remote and distant; the children are used to us being there for them and that is how we have been used to working. The majority of teachers are not used to speaking into a void, to an unseen audience either and certainly that is something that I found I had to become used to pretty quickly. Some children have found it challenging to speak online; they feel more shy than they would be in the real classroom, and this can also prove to be a barrier to learning. A quiet, discreet chat is possible when we are physically in the same room but there is no such thing as a quiet chat in a Google Meet lesson where everything is heard, or printed, for all to see.
Fundamentally, of course, I am the same teacher that I was before this experience. I still want to undertake all that I am used to being able to do in the classroom, and so it has been frustrating when this has not been possible. I have no doubt that moving forwards there are some aspects of remote learning that we will want to keep. There are always positives that emerge from any situation, however difficult it might be. Remote teaching and learning has certainly made me ponder on which aspects of my role as teacher are the most important to maintain and those that I really would prefer not to continue.
After five weeks of teaching remotely, I can honestly say that it is only now that I am immersed in the situation myself that I can fully appreciate the enormous amount of time and effort it has taken the staff every day to provide for their pupils during this pandemic. So many aspects are involved: planning, delivering, marking, giving feedback, ensuring that pastoral care is all that it should be so that no child feels that their worries are not being heard and acted upon, speaking to the children about everyday matters, contacting parents to give information and reply to concerns, liaising with other staff and a myriad of other unexpected matters to be attended to. All of these things take so much longer than in a ‘normal’ school day. There simply are not enough hours in the day, or days in the week, and that is without taking into account the family commitments that all staff also have.
All of the staff at St. Helen’s College always work hard and thoroughly deserve their summer break every year but this is particularly true this year, far more than any other. As a Governor, and I know that I speak for Mr. and Mrs. Crehan and the other Governors too, I sincerely congratulate the staff and thank them, not only for surviving and rising so well to all of the many challenges presented to them recently, but also for their dedication and determination that has meant that they have provided your sons and daughters with such a rich and varied experience over the past months.
During the past weeks you have been able to have increased insight into your child’s school experience at St. Helen’s College and I hope that you have found it to be an interesting and rewarding one. We do not know exactly what the future will hold, but your sons and daughters are growing up in a very special school in historic times.
I wish you, St. Helen’s College pupils and the rest of your families a safe, happy summer break as refreshing as possible in our current times.
Posted on: 26/06/2020
DiversityLast week in the Upper School assembly I spoke to the children about ‘Diversity’. This was prompted not only by my attendance the previous weekend at the DiverseEd annual conference but also by the media coverage surrounding the ‘Black Lives Matter’ protests which have occurred around the globe. My opening slide in assembly was this, which shows our current Year 6 pupils back in Year 5.
I asked the children to take a long look at the photograph - what did they notice? What stands out for me is that we have the most wonderful group of 41 individual children in our current Year 6 - but to extend this further we have the most incredible school of 375 unique and wonderfully different and diverse children.
What is diversity in simple words? It means understanding that each individual is unique, and recognising our individual differences. These can be along the dimensions of race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, socio-economic status, age, physical abilities, religious beliefs, political beliefs, or other ideologies.
I am sure that many of the older children were aware of the anti-racism demonstrations surrounding ‘Black Lives Matter’ and it is important that as a school we continue to educate your children to be aware of what is going on in the world around them. The children had the opportunity to listen to a very simple video message from one of the Cbeebies presenters which I also urge you as parents to view:
‘A message from our house to yours’
I do not wish to dwell on just one aspect of Diversity but over the past few weeks I have reflected on my role as a leader and at the end of the DiverseEd conference we were all asked to make a pledge to ourselves as to how we will continue our journey to ensure that we are preparing children for the future ahead. I will share my pledge with you all - ‘To keep raising awareness as a leader; to continue to educate myself more to enable greater good in my community and be proactive for change.’
During the online conference, which was attended by over 400 other educators from the UK and overseas, we heard from a diverse range of leaders and educators who continue to make a difference to their communities with the work that they do educating young people on diversity. I realised that, prior to leaving Scotland back in 1989, I had led an incredibly sheltered life. I was brought up in a small coastal town where there really was not much diversity at all in terms of race, religion, sexual orientation or even physical abilities. I do not think that this has adversely affected me as I believe that it is the core values which we adopt and are immersed in that allow us to be accepting of everyone in our society. However, looking back there are possibly some very uncomfortable truths in the lack of education surrounding diversity in my school days.
Thankfully over the years I have met and connected with such diverse groups of people that I have become the person I am now and the values of St. Helen’s College - respect, love, harmony, kindness, friendship, truth, honesty, integrity - are why this school, our ‘second family’, is so important to us all. I am proud that at St. Helen’s College we have good practice and an understanding around diversity; however, we must continue to educate ourselves and each other to ensure that we are correctly informed and this involves parents, of course, as you are a crucial part of our community too. Schools need to be safe places for everyone to have discussions regarding diversity.
I am sure that there are many of us who have faced discrimination at some point in our lives and it is our responsibility to ensure that any low level discrimination that takes place is challenged - whether at school or in the work place. We can no longer accept comments which in the past may have been passed off as ‘banter’. We should be vigilant and spot stereotypes in images or sadly the unconscious bias that people may show. Such discrimination needs to be called out and this is not always easy but it is necessary. We know that the bystander is often as powerful as the perpetrator when discrimination takes place – what we don’t do if we don’t challenge is as much a part of the problem as blatant discrimination.
I expect that, throughout your own lives and careers, there have been diversity issues which you have faced? I hope that, if so, you can use those to inspire you to help be a part of the solution. As adults it is our role to ensure that children do not face the same challenges which we may have encountered. It is by continuing to uphold good core principles, listening and discussing that we will further educate ourselves and help the youngsters of today to become aware, responsible adults of the future - a future which we would want for our children.
Posted on: 19/06/2020
Pupil Perspective: Lockdown LearningThis week I invited our Head Boy, Anish, and Head Girl, Catherine, to co-write a blog to give us a pupil perspective of 'Lockdown'. I was so moved to read their blog, as I am sure you will be. We have the most wonderful ambassadors for what St.Helen's College stands for in our pupils - do enjoy!
Sometimes, life does change overnight. One day, the cities are hustling and bustling with myriad activities and children come back from school with dozens of stories to tell. The next day we wake up to empty streets and an untimely school holiday. We have been in Lockdown since 23rd March 2020. It seems a long time ago but that is when all of the children and teachers started homeschooling. This global pandemic has brought our country to a standstill. However, as we know, every grey cloud has a silver lining and understandably such difficult situations bring out novel challenges that we need to adapt to and overcome! It must have been extremely difficult for the teachers but they embraced the challenge and have been doing and are still doing an amazing job. All of the children have really enjoyed learning from home. The lessons are still bags of fun and everyone is co-operating to help each other do the best they can do. Year 6, with the help of their terrific teachers have even been doing their Year 6 projects at home!
This lockdown has brought in a wonderful opportunity for us to engage in activities we never had a chance to do before and we are able to spend quality time with our family. Also, this lockdown has allowed us to actually and properly direct our attention to nature. Everyday, everyone is waking up to the joyous sing song of the sparrow.
Another great thing that has happened during the lockdown is the reduction of pollution maintaining the tranquillity of nature. Not many of us are going out as often and therefore we are reducing the acceleration of climate change. This is positive news, meaning that we may still have time to save the planet and preserve nature for future generations to come.
Being at home gave us a new insight into school. It was a new step for all of the St. Helen's College community, but we overcame the technical difficulties and set up a hugely successful online learning programme. Google Meet, Google Classroom and Century Tech have allowed us to be able to adapt to these circumstances and still be able to thrive. As Ms Gilham has been teaching us, “The species that adapts will survive; those who don’t will perish”.
Having the opportunity to experience home learning is something that has not only added to our ever-growing list of experiences, it has shaped us into stronger people and given many the chance to develop new passions. It is so important to look for the good in things. As young people, we need to remember these events and reflect on them, for that is the only way we can improve and make a version of ourselves that contributes to society.
In this blog, we would like to show gratitude to all the teachers, staff and parents alike, for their support and hard work. The teachers have put so much effort into making sure we get the best out of our lessons, something which requires a lot of attention and time.
For us, home learning was very enjoyable, though vastly different. We have been keeping in contact with all our friends, via Skype, Zoom, Facetime and lots of other apps. Weekly, on the weekend, 6RD girls have been doing online quizzes using Zoom and Kahoot. This has been so vital, and has helped to bring joy into many people’s lives. This spirit is what will get us through this turbulent time; the sense of community.
As the number of cases have gradually begun to slow down, the Government has allowed schools to reopen partially by allowing Nursery, Reception, Year 1 and Year 6 back. Many of our friends have said that it is great to be in school and that they feel that they are protected with all the safety precautions that the St. Helen's College staff have put in place.
Since then, most of the children have been back in school learning with great gusto. The children definitely showed their love for learning and the teachers are going above and beyond to help us settle in new conditions and have as much fun as possible. The safety of others has always been the priority.
Some of the fun topics in lessons have been maths mysteries, drawing for the Hammersmith Hospital in art, Year 5 preparing for 11+ exams at home, creating board games with Year 6 and the school has been using a new website called Century Tech. Century Tech creates a learning path for you to follow, thereby nourishing your knowledge. In English, Year 6 have been working on their WW2 scrapbooks and Year 1 have been making their very own stories in computing! And the list doesn’t end there…everyone has been enthusiastically listening and participating in the bi-weekly assemblies and class meets. Everyone has loved every minute of this roller coaster experience. It shows how strong and determined our fantastic community is. If we work together and follow the rules, then we can be successful in defeating this virus. Google Meets are a great way of keeping in touch with friends and family, but if we persevere we will meet each other in person in the end.
Certainly there is a light shining proudly at the end of the tunnel, and if we work together, we shall get there very soon!
Catherine L and Anish A
Posted on: 12/06/2020
Joyful JuneThis week I would like to talk about emotions. We are living through an uncertain and difficult time and, understandably, emotions are running high in many of us. At St. Helen’s College, we do not shy away from discussing our emotions, either amongst the staff or with the children. We believe it is important that we all recognise and accept our emotions, allowing ourselves to feel and then channelling our feelings into positive action.
Each month I circulate a calendar to all of the staff to display in the classrooms; this month’s calendar is ‘Joyful June’ and you can see a copy of it here. Every morning I look at the calendar and remember the motto from Action for Happiness - I read the advice for each day and I find that this makes me smile and realigns my thoughts. The Action for Happiness mantra for the moment is this: “The world is in crisis. Keep calm, stay wise & be kind”.
It is not always easy to follow this mantra. Over recent months, I have felt angry, upset and emotionally and physically drained. Should I feel bad for recognising this in myself? No - I do not feel bad for recognising these feelings. We are in a crisis and we are dealing with a situation which is so far removed from what any of us have ever experienced in our lives, it is only natural that we will feel unlike our usual selves. Nobody prepared us as human beings for so much uncertainty and so much change.
The anger I felt some months ago was real. Without getting on a political soapbox, I was enraged at the lack of clarity, communication and consideration given to schools at the beginning of lockdown, since it left us in a very difficult position without any clear guidance. As time has moved on and our situation has evolved, this anger has now dissipated; however, I used this emotion to motivate myself and our Senior Leadership Team to make a difference and to respond with initiative and resourcefulness to the situation we found ourselves in.
I have been upset that we are not able to look after all of our children in the way we would like to as educators, and I know that my colleagues have shared this disappointment and sadness. This has spurred us on to put into place the very best educational and pastoral provision for those children who are not able to be with us on our school site. Although my colleagues and I have at times felt these ‘negative’ emotions, they have been balanced by ‘positive’ feelings too. I am so proud of the resilience of our pupils and the incredible support from parents and staff. We can all take joy and a sense of satisfaction from knowing that we are doing our utmost to look after the needs of the children: not just their academic needs, but their personal wellbeing too.
I have felt emotionally wrung out as the impact of the past 15 weeks has taken its toll, and I know that this feeling has been shared at times by colleagues, parents and pupils as well as family members and friends. Back in February I attended the first webinar on how to deal with the Covid-19 pandemic; we had not been affected at that point but I listened to the experiences of an overseas school and way back then I did not think that, in June, we would still be in such a surreal situation. It is certainly a marathon rather than a sprint, and it is only natural that we will all feel worn out by the emotional roller coaster of hope, disappointment and grief we have been riding, as well as by the extraordinarily heavy workload that the pandemic has brought.
Since February, the Senior Leadership Team at St. Helen’s College has had to focus on planning and implementing strategies and protocols to allow children and adults to be as safe as possible whilst also maintaining a good level of educational provision and protecting our organisation’s future. We should have been moving forward with the objectives of our school strategic plan, developing our provision for the children at St. Helen’s College with exciting initiatives and developments. However, as for almost everyone, ‘normal’ life and business have been put on hold for us, and our - more frequent and lengthy - SLT meetings have had a different type of agenda. COVID-19 features as agenda item 1 and will, necessarily, continue to do so for the immediate future.
I have tried to follow the Action For Happiness mantra and I hope that I have remained calm, wise and kind. However, I have welcomed all the other emotions into my life, being fully aware of how important it is to acknowledge these emotions and respond to them in a mindful manner. In doing so, I am grateful for the work of Jon Kabat-Zinn and other mindful practitioners whose books and research help me to improve my ‘practice’ and enable me to find a level of peace in a frantic world. I highly recommend this book or the app.
To all of our community - staff, parents and pupils - I say this: it is ok not to feel fine all the time! It is the ability to observe negativity without criticism which is key. We need to catch negative thought patterns before they take us on a deeper spiral. We need to develop greater self-compassion, observing unhappiness or stress but allowing the associated thoughts and feelings to come and go. I teach the children about ‘thought buses’ - they need to observe thoughts but should not allow themselves to jump onto one of the negative thought buses as it may not be such a pleasant journey. Many parents have approached me, keen to find out more about what we do at school in regard to mindfulness. I recommend that those of you who wish to find out more sign up for this course, which is for teachers and parents, or watch some of these videos.
For those of you who are finding this pandemic difficult, you are not alone. At times, we all struggle, and at times we all need support. There may be greater hurdles ahead as we begin to rebuild some sense of ‘normality’, with the world beginning to open up once more to trading, tourism and hospitality. We need to allow all of our thoughts and emotions a place, but also keep ourselves optimistic about the future. There have been so many positives for us to celebrate as a school, as we have seen children, parents and staff respond to this crisis so magnificently - and when some among us have found it difficult, the school community has worked together and provided the strong pastoral support needed. I am sure we will continue to find more positives as the summer months unfold.
It has been a joy over the last two weeks to see the children from Ducklings, Nursery, Reception, Year 1 and Year 6 back in school, along with the children of our key workers. As they arrive, they are lining up in the new ‘normal’ manner to enter school, the majority of them not even giving a backwards glance as they skip into school after sanitising their hands. I only wish we could bottle up their enthusiasm and happiness to send to you all - it would be a very lucrative ‘happy’ business!
What lies ahead next for schools is still unknown, but what I do know is that our planning has always had, and will continue to have, the wellbeing of the children at its core. As our country’s leaders advise us further, we will continue to respond with integrity and care, planning for the best outcome for our children and our school.
I feel nourished writing this blog and even more joyful as we end our second week of June - today’s note in the Action for Happiness calendar is 'Make a plan with friends to do something fun together!’ I have not seen any of my friends from outside our St. Helen’s College community since February half term. Like many of you, I have not seen my family for much longer. My mother (in her 80s) is alone in Scotland; my Easter trip there was cancelled and, as she does not use technology, weekly phone calls are her lifeline. Thankfully I have a cousin who shops for her and checks in on her. I shall, of course, plan to do something fun with my friends and family when I can - we all need to plan for the future ahead and be proud of what we have all achieved in this crisis together.
So, I have felt anger, frustration, disappointment, joy, pride and hope...but my overriding emotion today is gratitude. I am grateful for our community and the strength we are demonstrating together. I am grateful for the determination and support shown by parents, the resilience, adaptability and happiness shown by pupils, and the perseverance, love and sheer stamina shown by staff. You are all superstars!
Have a wonderful weekend.
Posted on: 5/06/2020
Home Learning - A Parent's PerspectiveWhile many pupils returned to school this week, much of our pupil community continues to be educated via our remote learning platform, supported by their parents.
As all parents will know from the parent surveys you have completed, we have sought feedback formally from parents as we have established and developed our comprehensive remote educational provision. As we have gone along, we have also surveyed pupils and staff, to ensure that we have developed, and continually improved, a system that works for all of those involved. We believe that we have got an effective, user-friendly system in place and we know from recent parent feedback that parents are very happy with all that we have done, and very appreciative of the extra steps St. Helen's College has taken, which have really set our offering apart from that of other schools. Parents appreciate that things have not been easy for any of us but that, under unforeseen and difficult circumstances, the school has worked hard to offer something very valuable and to ease the burden on parents as far as possible.
This week, we have a blog from a parent, Mrs. Jamani, about her experiences of home learning with her daughter, who is in Year 5. Of course, the challenges have been different for those of you with younger children, but I thought you would all be interested to hear about learning in lockdown from a parent's perspective.
What you have all been doing, as parents, to support your children's learning during these tricky times is incredible. We know that you also have full time jobs, elderly relatives to care for, and the relentless 'busyness' that comes with daily family life. The school is very grateful to you all for your input with your children and for your continued support of the school and of each other. You should feel very, very proud of yourselves!
Home Learning - A Parent's Perspective
Like many parents I dreaded the thought of ‘home schooling’. For me, having a full time job that didn’t seem to slow down during lockdown, I wasn’t sure how this would work for us all. How would we all cope? Did we have enough supplies? Could I help with those interesting maths questions?
Looking back on those fears/questions now, I realise that I really had nothing to worry about.
Reviewing the past few weeks since term began after the Easter break, what has struck me as having really made a difference to us is how St. Helen's College has been able to adapt so quickly and the amount of resources we have in comparison to other schools. This has put a tremendous amount of structure back into my daughter's day. Having actual lessons within a structured timetable and live teacher interaction too has meant that my involvement hasn’t been at the levels I feared when first faced with the prospect of ‘home schooling’. I am so grateful for this, as I have no idea how I would have coped otherwise.
I now get to enjoy listening to my daughter’s class calls and the conversations and interactions she has with her classmates in her new study room and can see how much they are learning outside of the classroom setting! Remote learning has also given me a great insight into what her days may have been like when she was actually going into school, which I would never otherwise really have had a chance to experience.
My daughter also has positive things to say. She says that “remote learning has been really positive. If we need something the teachers are always at hand via Google Classroom or they might keep the Meet open so that we can go in and the teachers can help to explain things further. Also, when we mark our work we can go into the Meet and if we get a question wrong our teachers can help straight away. The added bonus is that we get help from our peers too. Our peers might be marking or have already marked the work so they can help by explaining it to us via Google Classroom or we can set up a Zoom call so people on the same thing can communicate/discuss and collaborate.”
Both my children have shown great resilience. They have embraced this new way of learning and living and actually all of us have seen the positives in what we do every day. Learning new things to cook, relaxing more, growing together, playing games, getting on with the ‘to do’ list and actually winning! Having a robust remote learning plan that has been executed well has meant that I, as a parent, have managed to juggle work and parental duties without the added pressure of being a teacher too! It has meant I can stress less and concentrate on making this time we have together as memorable as possible.
So a big thank you must go to all the staff at St. Helen's College for all their hard work, time, support and patience.
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