School News and Head's Blog

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Posted on: 20/05/2022

Wellbeing

During our Wellbeing Day this week, we spoke with pupils about the five pillars of wellbeing, which are: To give To connect To take notice  To be active  To keep learning The children here at St. Helen’s College are encouraged daily (not just on Wellbeing Day!) to live their lives according to these five pillars. I have been reflecting today on how, as a school, we do this. There is great joy in giving. We teach the children about performing acts of selfless service, raising money for those less fortunate and the importance of giving time to friends or those who are struggling. Connecting with others is one of the most important things in life. Through our values programme, we explore friendship, co-operation, determination, love, kindness and more. In class, on the playing field and in music and drama productions, children learn to work collaboratively with others. But it is in our Mindfulness, Philosophy for Children and Positive Psychology programmes that connectedness really comes alive. We help the children to develop positive, enriching listening skills and to connect not just with others, but with their own thoughts and feelings. Taking notice can mean many things, from stopping to appreciate the beauty of the world around us, to thinking about how other people are feeling and the reasons for their behaviour, to concentrating on something new, to developing self-awareness by noticing our own emotions and thoughts. We encourage our pupils to take notice of themselves, their community and their world. So often, taking notice is the first step in taking responsibility. We all know that being active is important for both physical and mental health. You only have to look at the playgrounds here at school to see the joy that simply running and climbing can bring. Through active playtimes and a well-planned and expertly-delivered PE and Games programme and co-curricular programme, we ensure that the children have plenty of physical activity during their time at school. And so to the fifth pillar, learning. It is no surprise to hear from a Headteacher that this is one of the most important things in life. Every day here is a school day, and every day really should be a school day for all of us. Certainly the children at St. Helen’s College are learning daily, but so too are the adults. We are engaged in professional, creative and personal development through formal channels, of course, but we also take every opportunity to learn from your children who, so often, have something new to teach us. I hope that parents, too, will embrace the five pillars of wellbeing to support your own physical and mental health and to model healthy living to your children. It can be hard to prioritise yourself, but your own wellbeing is the most important thing, so please do! You might also like to take a look at the wellbeing homework that has been shared with your children - maybe you could have a go too. You can see it here. Have a wonderful weekend of wellbeing! Mrs. Drummond
Posted on: 6/05/2022

May Day Musings

  Having attended the most wonderful ‘May Day’ themed Kingfishers assembly on Thursday morning I find myself today musing about how fortunate we are here at St. Helen’s College. I was somewhat surprised at how moved I was yesterday by our Reception pupils in their performance. The joy and confidence that they exuded in their singing, dancing and narration brought a tear to my eye and it was definitely not from the ‘hayfever’ associated with their floral garlands! I did say to Ms Matthews that I thought she was very brave to include morris dancing and maypole dancing! However, St. Helen’s College is well known for challenging the children and setting the bar high and the Kingfishers certainly rose to the occasion. The children sang ‘You Are My Sunshine’ (the original is by Johnny Cash - you may listen here.) It was during the singing, as I looked at each child’s animated little face as they engaged us in this gorgeous song, that I felt such gratitude for being part of this incredible community. We really do have the best job in the world educating your children every day - they bring us joy and happiness in how they respond to the environment around them, their curiosity and their thirst for learning. As I sit here typing this blog I can hear incredible singing voices from the Evans Hall from Year 6 as they rehearse ‘Fit as a Fiddle’ from their summer production of Singing in the Rain. In the past few days I have been inspired by so much learning which I have observed around the school: Y6 screen printing in art Y5 drama outdoor working on Victorian melodrama scenes Y3 challenging themselves in so many ways on their residential trip Y1 independently ‘grappling’ with mathematical enquiry Y5 programming their games in computing - checking their coding, refining and adjusting    Pupils physically plotting linear equations on the playground eg y= 0.2x + 7 Reception class ‘Little Red Riding Hood’ creativity - stunning artwork! My list of observations from this week could be endless but every time I visit a class or walk around the school, the pride I feel is immeasurable.     Yesterday afternoon I attended our association (IAPS - Independent Association of Preparatory Schools) District meeting which was hosted in the Crypt of St Paul’s Cathedral - what a privilege it was to meet with fellow London Headteachers in such a prestigious setting to discuss current educational thinking. Yet again I felt such a sense of pride in what we do here at St. Helen’s College as we shared our views and school practices on issues such as Diversity, Equality and Inclusion.  Our school is truly unique and I look forward to embracing this summer term with our exciting programme of events showcasing your children. Happy weekend!  Mrs. Drummond
Posted on: 22/04/2022

21st Century Education

At the beginning of our summer term I felt that it was an ideal opportunity to remind us of the St. Helen’s College aims: Love of Learning We aim to inspire a lifelong thirst for creative, stimulating and rewarding learning, leading to the full development of every child’s academic potential. Personal Growth We aim to instil core moral values, inspiring virtue, responsibility, resilience, independence, mindful self-awareness and a desire for continuing self-development. Involvement and Challenge We aim to inspire an ongoing desire to develop talents, nurture the widest possible range of interests, and contribute to society as confident, compassionate and responsible citizens and leaders of the future. These aims also extend to our staff and many of you may be aware that as a staff we are also committed to be lifelong learners and it is by continuing on this path of professional learning that we can continue to inspire and challenge your children. On Tuesday we welcomed a guest speaker to St. Helen’s College - Professor Guy Claxton. Guy is a world-renowned cognitive scientist and emeritus Professor of the Learning Sciences at the University of Winchester. He has influenced educational theory and practice across the world and I was delighted that he was able to attend our staff training day to share his views on education for the 21st Century. I do not intend to reiterate what Guy shared with us but I highly recommend that you read one of his blogs here. Here is an extract from his blog: “A few days ago I had a very thought-provoking and productive lunch with my friends Becky Carlzon and Adrian Bethune. Becky is the guiding spirit behind Learning Pioneers and co-author, with me, of Powering Up Children: The Learning Power Approach to Primary Teaching. Adrian is founder of Teachappy (“Happier Teachers, Happier Children”), and a great ambassador for mindfulness in education. I came away fired up about how important it is to build education around a clear specification of the kinds of young people we are aiming to develop: what do they really need to know; be able to do; and be like in their attitudes and mindsets? And saddened, yet again, at the astonishing level of intellectual lethargy displayed by society at large. Where are the urgent debates about what an education fit for the 21st century should be like? Almost nowhere. (Even Radio 4 only dips a superficial toe into this shark-infested water every now and again.) So on the train back to Sussex I bashed out the following. What do you think? What we need is a shared vision of education as empowering young people with the knowledge, values, capabilities and character strengths to be a force for good in the world, and thus find the continuing fulfilment of a life well lived. This means: Giving young people opportunities to explore many different potential avenues of excellence (both within 'school' and beyond),and discover the interests and occupations that may give their lives purpose, meaning and the kind of quiet happiness with themselves that is so different from complacency. Giving them a diet of escalating challenges that will engage their energy and effort, the exercise of which will naturally lead them to develop a background 'mindset' of generalisable character strengths (aka 'positive learning dispositions' or 'qualities of mind') such as these "12 Pillars of Fulfilment": presence - being alive to all the features and complexities of significant situations discernment - having a reliable moral 'nose' for that which is fulfilling, nurturing and 'wholesome' self-care - creating their own social and physical ecology - habits of rest and recreation, sources of nurturance, support and advice  - so that they can bring their full energy and intelligence to the pursuit of their passions critical thinking and ‘fake news’  detection - discerning and calling out that which is sham, shallow, specious or seductive (a la Greta Thunberg) self-awareness - an honesty and vigilance about the habits, beliefs and insecurities that might be their Achilles Heels or lead them astray craftmanship - being dissatisfied with anything but their best; willing to practise, draft, revise and respond to feedback adaptability - having the awareness and resourcefulness to change tack and adjust as they go along collegiality - having a friendly and open attitude that makes it easy for them to find and join teams and communities that support their core purposes buoyance and resilience – being able to bounce back from frustration and setbacks and recommit to their goals self-discipline - prioritising and devoting energy and perseverance to that which is truly important to them curiosity - a judicious keenness to engage with and investigate novelties, challenges and uncertainties that bear on their values and projects imagination - the ingenuity to create fresh possibilities of thought and action that further their purposes I see these as constituting the trunk – the ‘common core’ of a viable character - out of which can grow all the varied branches – the interests, passions and idiosyncrasies that make everyone unique and special. Seeing mindfulness-like practices as on-going practical supports for developing all these qualities of mind – as the evidence indeed suggests it is. Organisations like the Mindfulness in Schools Project need to present mindfulness as much more deeply valuable than just helping to reduce stress. It is an all-purpose fertiliser for the growth of a strong and supple mind. Equipping youngsters with the starter kits of knowledge and skill that will enable them to make progress as both actors and learners. This is hard but vital. Why Trigonometry rather than Neuroscience? Why the Tudors rather than the critical analysis of Fake News? Enabling teachers to embrace their role as coaches and guides, and to develop their own resources and sensibilities, in the service of their students' journeys. An army of teachers who were keen to grow and extend their skill and insight day-by-day would transform children’s experience of school. Enabling teachers and school leaders to harness (and if necessary resist or subvert) external pressures and requirements on them and their students that threaten to derail this vision. Innovation will come from brave and ingenious school principals and their staff, not from Whitehall.” Don’t you think that the pillars of fulfilment sound very similar to what we here at St. Helen’s College aspire to achieve with your children? Much of what Guy discussed with us enabled us to reflect on our pedagogical practices and as a teaching team we will be continuing to review our curricula and practices in order to prepare our children for their futures.  Last night we held a meeting for parents of our current Year 3 and Year 4 pupils as they begin to think about the next step in their child’s educational journey.  The aim of the evening was to lay out what we do at school to prepare your children for senior school transition and assessments.  Pupil wellbeing is crucial to their ability to learn and flourish and we hope that the information shared has been food for thought for all who attended.  It is so important that we do not compare children with each other but allow them to develop their interests and talents and recognise that they all make progress at different rates but also may need different input to enable them to unlock understanding and hone their skills.  I will leave you with a wonderful analogy I heard in the staffroom this morning: For a plant to flourish to its magnificent best, it needs to be nurtured and grown in the right conditions. All need light, water and nutrients but some need shade and clay soil whilst others need sun and sandy soil. People, too, thrive in different conditions. We need to provide the conditions in which children will flourish. The type of school that best suits one child may be entirely wrong for another. The route to finding a place where a child will grow and excel is not to look for the most prestigious school and expect the child to adapt to that school but to find the school that best fits a child.  You may wish to watch this video here where Guy discusses the concept of ‘Learning being Learnable’.  I have been inspired by how the St. Helen’s College staff embrace every opportunity to connect with your children and how committed they are to the continuous learning process for not only your children but for themselves too! What an amazing community we have! Here’s to a wonderful summer term ahead! Mrs. Drummond
Posted on: 25/03/2022

Anastasia

We are hoping and praying that Anastasia will arrive with our family in the next week or so, over the Easter holidays. She is from Lviv, Ukraine and, aged 18, she is travelling by herself to seek refuge from the war. Her family (grandmother, father and 12 year old brother) are trapped in Kherson, the city where Anastasia grew up and was educated. Kherson has been under Russian occupation since 3rd March, one week after the Russian invasion of Ukraine began, and its citizens are unable to leave. The humanitarian crisis is deepening daily there; citizens are running out of basic supplies and this week, it was reported that Russian soldiers opened fire on peaceful protests in the city. Anastasia had left Kherson and was living and working in Lviv when the Russian invasion began. She was a lead generation manager for a marketing company and was renting a flat with friends. She hoped to work, save money and then travel, having left Ukraine only once during her childhood. But she did not plan to travel as she is now: alone, with no home to go back to and with constant fear over her family’s safety.  Exactly two weeks after the war began, Anastasia decided to leave her flat and job in Lviv. Lviv is in the west of Ukraine and, although it was not under attack when she left, it was already flooded with citizens from other parts of Ukraine who were taking refuge there or travelling through towards other European countries. As an 18 year old with no family in Lviv and no way to reconnect with her besieged family in Kherson, Anastasia would have been very vulnerable if/when the Russians reached Lviv. The friends with whom she was living met the requirements for the Ukraine army and so could not leave. She says, anyway, that they wanted to stay. But I am so glad that she was able to leave when she did. She travelled first to Poland. A kind Polish family helped her to find a place to stay in Barcelona. She made a bus journey alone all the way from Poland to Madrid and then got a train to Barcelona. That is where she was when we made contact with her. My husband and I knew, as soon as the UK government’s Homes for Ukraine scheme was launched, that we had to register as hosts. Our two sons (aged 20 and 19) live away at university, coming back to us now in the holidays and for the odd weekend. We talked to them about the scheme and they wholeheartedly support our family taking part. They both offered their bedrooms for Ukrainians fleeing the war but, as parents, we felt determined that their safe havens should still exist at home for them. Luckily we had a spare room that we could offer.  We registered with the scheme on Monday 14th March, the day it was launched. Registering was quick and easy - it just involved completing an online form with a few details. We had an acknowledgement email from the government immediately but then came the trickier part. It was up to us to name the Ukrainian(s) we would like to sponsor and then make a visa application with/for them. We did not know any Ukrainians. But as it turned out, it didn’t take long to get to know some. I registered with a charity group who aim to match UK sponsors with Ukrainian refugees and I joined a Facebook group on which UK sponsors were offering accommodation. For the first day or two, there were hundreds of offers of UK accommodation on the group but hardly any Ukrainians seeking refuge; this changed on perhaps Wednesday 16th March, and suddenly I was seeing a series of frankly heartbreaking posts from Ukrainians looking for UK sponsorship.  The Ukrainians looking for refuge through the Homes for Ukraine scheme are either still in Ukraine, hoping to get away from imminent danger, or already displaced. Men aged 18-60 are not allowed to leave Ukraine if they were there when the war began, so the vast majority looking for asylum are women, children and the elderly. I made contact with a Ukrainian family in Prague and it looked like we might be able to sponsor them, but then they told me that they were determined to travel and live with another Ukrainian family and we simply did not have room for them all. We agreed that we were not a match, wishing each other luck, and we are still in touch. On Thursday 17th, I had contact with a 59 year old Ukrainian lady who was then in Warsaw. She had been a lecturer at the university in Kiev and her husband had stayed behind in Ukraine. We talked online for an hour or two, sharing information about ourselves and photographs, but in the end she let me know that she had been contacted by a former colleague in the UK with an offer of sponsorship, and she was going to go to live there. It turns out that she will be living fairly close to us, so we hope to meet up once she is settled in the UK. On Saturday morning, 19th March, I saw a post from Anastasia. I contacted her, told her about us and our family and sent her photographs of our home, our family and our dog. She replied immediately with lots of details about herself; her English is pretty good which is helpful. We became friends on Facebook so that we could look back through profiles/timelines to learn a little more about each other. I asked her to send me proof of her identity and she sent me her passport photo page; we then had a video call in which we chatted for 20 minutes or more about her situation and how we could help. I told her that I thought she was very brave for travelling alone and she became tearful when we spoke about her family still in Kherson. She told me about her love for music and singing and that she was very proud of the Beatles vinyl that she had had to leave behind in Ukraine. I let her know that our house is filled with Beatles and other vinyl and that we have The Beatles’ Abbey Road artwork framed in our kitchen. She told me that she loved the musical Hamilton and had watched it three times already that week. My family and I love it too. We both said that we would like to watch it together if things worked out. I asked Anastasia what she had with her. She said she had a backpack and a bag with a few clothes, some cosmetics, a phone and a laptop. She did not have enough money left for a plane ticket to the UK but hoped that the kind people who were hosting her in Barcelona would be able to lend her the money for it or that she would be able to take advantage of the free flights being offered by WizzAir to displaced Ukrainians. She loved it in Barcelona but felt it would be difficult to find work there as she cannot speak Spanish. She told me that she wanted to come to the UK so that she could find a job and send money to support her family in Kherson. We agreed that we would apply together for her UK visa with me as her sponsor. I was nervous about sharing all of our family’s personal details, but swallowed the nerves and went for it. We did the visa application together, with Anastasia inputting the details and sharing screenshots of each screen with me over Facebook Messenger so that I could double check that she was doing it right. I was so proud of her - to be 18, in a foreign country, completing a government visa application in your second language in the hopes of going to live with strangers because it’s your only hope of safety and opportunity - she had such courage, such resilience and determination.  We do not know how long it will be before we will have a decision on the visa application: there is, of course, a backlog. But we have heard just today that others who applied just before us have begun receiving visas and permits to travel, so we are hopeful. We are using the days of waiting to continue our conversations, exchanging messages about our daily lives, our values, our friends and family, our hobbies and interests. Every day, I reassure Anastasia that we are here, that we remain committed to her, that we are preparing her room. I asked her at one point what foods she liked. She said, apologetically, that she loves junk food and doesn’t know how to make herself like healthy food. I told her how much I love to cook. I couldn’t help it: I began planning the dinners I would make for her when she arrives with us. It is hard, waiting. I hope that Anastasia will soon get her visa decision, that her journey to the UK will be safe and that she will settle well with us. I hope that we can support her with the emotional and practical aspects of adjusting to life in the UK and of coping with the awful realities of the ongoing war in her home country. I hope so much that her family will remain safe; the humanitarian crisis in Kherson is bleak with no medicines and very little food now available for the citizens there. We will be hosting Anastasia at our house for a minimum of six months and as long as necessary. Our hope is that during this time she will find a job, make friends, become a part of our family. I think there will be plenty of time to help her expand her food repertoire, but I’m also planning to take her out for junk food just as soon as she is ready!  I would not have felt able to sponsor while my children were living full time at home so I know that there may not be many sponsors in the SHC community, for good reason. But if you, or anyone you know, is hoping to take part in the Homes for Ukraine scheme please contact me if you would like more information about how it has worked for us so far: susmith@sthelenscollege.com. You can find out more and register for the scheme here: https://homesforukraine.campaign.gov.uk/ Over the coming weeks, the UK government hopes to match UK sponsors with Ukrainians so that you will no longer need to find guests to sponsor yourself. In the meantime, we registered with this charity to find a match: https://www.eu4ua.org/ but in the end we matched with Anastasia through a Facebook group called: Accommodation, Help & Shelter for Ukraine.  If you do take part in the scheme, please be mindful. The UK press are reporting that, sadly and unbelievably, there are ‘scammers’ out there posing as Ukrainian refugees. If you make contact with a possible match, please do what we did: see their photo ID first, check their social media profiles/content, and have a video call with them before sharing any of your personal information. Mrs. Smith
Posted on: 18/03/2022

Baby Mindfulness

This week we have a guest blog from a St. Helen's College parent. "A class for babies where mums get to practise mindfulness and yoga, baby yoga, they meet other mums and then get biscuits baked by the school chef at the end of class? Don’t tell me the biscuits are vegan!”   “Actually, they are!” This is a snippet of a conversation that I had with a mum in the community about the baby mindfulness classes that Mrs. McLaughlin began at St. Helen's College in September 2021. I had my baby, Kaira, at the end of April 2021. We were emerging into a post-lockdown society where Children’s Centres still remained closed. The baby yoga class that I knew and loved had decided not to reopen after coronavirus and there were long waiting lists for music and sensory classes. My son, Karter, was in Mrs. Hussein’s Year 2 class when Kaira was born, and she told me about the plan for the new baby mindfulness classes from September.  I went along not knowing what to expect, but I am so glad that I did. In class, we were always warmly greeted by Mrs. McLaughlin and then asked to pick two cards that we were drawn to and talk about them to the group. Some of the mums had children or nieces and nephews in the school, but others were from the community and not connected with the school. It was a nice mix. We were given essential oil to help with our mindful focus, and then moved to practise a sequence that helped not only to stretch our tired muscles, but also to boost our confidence as new or new-again mummies. The babies seemed to love the baby yoga section of class. There were always giggles and gurgles all around the room as we practised. I learnt a move that calms a distressed baby which I have regularly used since! The divine drop. It’s magic! We were reminded of nursery rhymes that we had forgotten the words to and towards the end of each class, were given an opportunity to listen to a song that Mrs. McLaughlin had chosen to help with our mindful focus on our little babies. We were asked to notice things about them - how their little feet had changed, or their hair, the journey that we had been on with them so far - and to take a glimpse into our futures with them. It was so lovely to stop each week, pause, and take in the precious moments. The class always ended with discussions about anything that was on our minds, and the conversations were guided sensitively by Mrs. McLaughlin. We discussed weaning, nurseries and going back to work, amongst many, many other things.  And then of course the sweet (vegan) treats baked by Soula. Always so delicious! I have now ‘graduated’ from class as Kaira is now a crawler and so doesn’t sit still for more than 5 seconds.  But I am in touch with the other mums and the growing baby mindfulness alumni. I have made some lovely new mummy friends who I keep in touch with and see regularly outside of the class. It has been truly wonderful to have this network to share the things that only mummies of new babies are going through and thinking about. We all agree that the baby mindfulness class is a great class because it is the only one that focusses on both baby and mum.  Thanks to Mrs. McLaughlin and St. Helen's College, I will look back at my early months with Kaira with wonderfully positive memories. And I won’t be the only mummy that feels grateful for the support and mindful time with baby. It is so lovely that St. Helen's College offers this class to new mums both in the community and those already connected to the school.  If you see a group of mums with buggies near the school on a Wednesday morning, you will know where they have been. I hope you will feel happy knowing that they have spent precious mindful time with their small babies, especially as you know so well how quickly the newborn baby time passes by. Pervinder P Mum to Karter (Y3) and Kaira-Lily, 10 month old future St. Helen's College student
Posted on: 25/02/2022

Ukraine - Perspective

I am sure that all of us have been affected by the outbreak of the war against Ukraine in some way. The images which we have seen in the media over the past couple of days are distressing and shocking as we see the lives of the Ukrainian people being turned upside down. Their lives bear no resemblance to how they were just a few days ago. I have been heartened but also moved and inspired to read an Edu colleague’s Twitter feed over the past couple of days. I have met Dr. Emma Kell on many occasions at various educational conferences and events. Emma’s Twitter name is @thosethatcan and she describes herself on Twitter with these words:  ‘My mission is to help people be as brilliant as I know they can be, in teaching and beyond. Coach, wellbeing trainer, governor, writer, teacher’.   Emma is a wife and a mum to two wonderful daughters. Her husband is currently working alongside a team of journalists in Kiev. This is from Emma's Twitter feed yesterday, 24th February (I have her permission to share this with you all). Ukraine, my husband and perspective: a thread. Firstly, thank you to all who have reached out. *** is in Kiev and it's a big worry, but they're safe at the moment (see previous tweet). I'm trying to be philosophical and gracious about it (it's his job, it's important, and 1/ he wants to be there). I'm not always successful! The worry and the domestic load are making me grumpy, not helped because I've been hooked to the news for most of the night. BUT... 2/ it probably won't be more than a few days before they're home, in safe warm houses, worrying about petrol prices with the rest of us. Families in Ukraine are not so fortunate. 3/ Before we are in danger of letting compassion fatigue set in, let's save our emotional energies to think of those who live there, with no escape, who are worried for their lives and their futures and take a moment or three 4/ To count all of the things we have to be so very, very grateful for. Let's take a moment to think of those who are likely to be literally putting their own lives on the line and do what we can to challenge misinformation and enact our values. 5/ Today, the kids are very upset because Daddy won't be home tomorrow, as they'd hoped, and airspace is closed so we don't know when he will, but he and the other brave journalists doing essential work will be home and safe soon. Let's focus our energies on those who 6/ aren't so lucky. I will rant and rail at times, and I've had to be flaky and cancel some meetings today, but there's so much to be optimistic about and grateful for. As @AdrianBethune and I often say, perspective is SO important. 7/7 Emma also posted this poem: Chatting to Emma online this morning she wanted to emphasise to me that her daughter’s school has been UTTERLY brilliant. She had a response from her children’s form tutors within 12 minutes of emailing them and they have been sensitive and proactive in supporting her children. This moved Emma. It is so important that any family dealing with difficulty is supported by their school and I hope and trust that here at St. Helen’s College, we are there for families in times of need.  In today’s news blog we share a BBC Newsround link which might help if you would like to talk to your children about the events in Ukraine. We also share a link to the Red Cross Ukraine Crisis Appeal which will enable them to assist in providing food, medicines, shelter and water for refugees and casualties of the war. Please follow the link if you would like to make a personal donation.  Writing this today and watching the news feeds has certainly put many things into perspective for me.   I wish you all a peaceful weekend and special thoughts go to those who are dealing with difficult times, particularly those affected by the events in Ukraine.  Mrs. Drummond P.S. Since writing this blog this morning I have heard that the team of journalists and Emma's husband are leaving Kiev, heading south to start their journey back to the UK. They have been there for several weeks but have decided that it is now too unstable for them to remain. Wishing them a safe return.
Posted on: 11/02/2022

Behaviour

This week we have a guest blog from our Deputy Head, Mr. McLaughlin. Back in January 2017, we did a whole-school review of our behaviour policies, rewards and sanctions. It is always healthy for schools to review and tweak their practice to get the very best out of their pupils, so we set out with an open mind to any suggestions or feedback from the school community. The general consensus was that behaviour across the school was excellent, but we also wanted a really clear set of simple guidelines for all of our children to follow and an even stronger set of reward systems in place so that we always give our first attention to positive behaviour.  We were visited by Pivotal Education, a company specialising in school behaviour systems and founded by Paul Dix, author of ‘When the Adults Change, Everything Changes.’  We chose Pivotal as we shared the same philosophy that consistent, calm adult behaviour is a pillar on which we can build a nurturing environment for children to flourish. This was already very well established within our school, so we cherry-picked the best parts of their approach and made some small changes to our procedures:  ‘Ready, Respectful, Safe’ became a memorable and all-encompassing behaviour motto in our school. All examples of disruptive or negative behaviour seemed to fall into one of the three categories. Are you ready to learn? Are you being respectful to others? Is what you are doing safe? At the Upper School, we switched from yellow and red cards to the reflective breaks system. In this system, children attend a reflective break with an adult when their behaviour has not met our expectations to have a restorative conversation and reflective time. It is an opportunity for the child to reconnect with the adult, discuss why the behaviour was unacceptable, think about who it has affected and consider how it can be avoided or improved in future. At Lower School, we continued with Jenny Mosely's sun and cloud behaviour model. This gives the children instant feedback and opens up discussions about the impact of their behaviour on their learning. We initiated value spotters cards to run alongside our already existing reward systems such as house points, stickers and certificates. The value spotter cards and yellow notes from the golden pillar box are there to bring attention to all the fantastic examples of when the children are living out our school values such as friendliness, self-discipline, forgiveness and gratitude to name just a few. We take many opportunities to celebrate the achievements of the children through regular assemblies, being ‘on star’, class or table of the week and discussing special achievements in assemblies. One of the most powerful messages we can give the children is simply by noticing and reinforcing positive behaviour first and foremost in the classroom and around the school. It takes the whole staff, working together, to achieve the consistency necessary for effective systems. We are so lucky to have such a caring and committed team here, dedicated to this positive approach to behaviour management. Thinking back to my school days, the idea of detention seems rather odd now. Sitting in silence for a set amount of time might be viewed as a serious deterrent, an inconvenience, or a welcome break, depending on the individual, but there is essentially no teaching taking place. The same goes for a current trend in some British secondary schools of having isolation rooms for those exhibiting poor behaviour. The idea is that children may fear the consequences, their parents, their teachers (or all of the above) sufficiently that this will mould them into upstanding members of society… eventually! This stance is of course outdated and we understand so much more now about behaviour, motivation and the key role of relationships in supporting happy, positive young people. We have learned so much in the last twenty or thirty years about how childrens’ brains work. We know how the amygdala operates, how much it regulates our emotions and influences our reactions. We know about the effects of cortisol and adrenaline on emotional responses and we know how adverse childhood experiences can damage childrens’ limbic systems. We know how neural pathways are hardwired in the early stages of childhood, and how we have to work hard to overwrite the harm done by particular types of experiences at that age. ‘Don’t smile until Christmas,’ was an old adage in the world of teaching. The idea was that the class does not have to like you, they just need to do what you say! I have never found this saying to be anything other than complete nonsense. A smile can be so powerful, and anyone who has worked in schools or who has children can see that they absolutely thrive off connection. Pupil-centred approaches are not about being popular or ‘soft.’ We can be strict without being cruel; we can insist on high standards without being aggressive; we can set boundaries without being punitive. It demands professionalism and perseverance, but it is very achievable and our school is a testament to that. We need to remember as educators and parents that all behaviour is a form of communication. If a child’s negative behaviour makes you feel frustrated or upset, it is likely just a mirror of how they are feeling. Restorative conversations, coupled with our general pastoral care, help us to try to get to the bottom of any root causes of poor behaviour and find long-term solutions. These may be emotional or developmental but they will require some intervention and attention. As teachers, we would not allow a child who is struggling with a mathematical concept to flounder in silence or force them to sit staring at the textbook by themselves until they suddenly grasp it. We would sit with them, tackle the problem together and use all of our professional knowledge to find the best way forward. It doesn’t always stick, but the message is clear: we are here to help and to listen and we value your success. The same principle applies to behaviour. By having these conversations, we are telling the child that we care and that we are committed to making things better.  Five years on and the children at St. Helen’s College continue to excel. Feedback from the pupils is that their peers are very friendly, the adults in the school are fair and supportive and that behaviour in the school is still excellent. Moving forward, we will continue to evaluate and review our processes on a regular basis to ensure that all children at St. Helen’s College get the environment and opportunities that they deserve.  I have recently welcomed feedback from our staff and pupils on our school behaviour systems and we have a constant dialogue with our parents. Should you have any questions or comments, please feel free to share them with me: amclaughlin@sthelenscollege.com. We must be reflective of what we do to achieve and maintain the highest standards.  Finally, it is important to remember that we are caring for and working with young children who, by and large, have not perfected the ways of behaviour and social etiquette just yet! We all make mistakes from time to time and that is how we learn - be kind to yourself and be kind to them!  Mr. McLaughlin  
Posted on: 4/02/2022

Habits Of Learning

Children in Years 1-6 will soon be receiving their first interim report of this academic year.  Reporting to parents in this manner is only one of the ways in which we communicate your child’s progress to you.  Regular communication between teachers and parents is important thus there should be no surprises in your child’s February report. Several years ago we made changes to our reporting process to capture what we felt as educators was important to report to parents to enable them to support the children’s progress. Ultimately all parents have joined St. Helen’s College to give their child/children the best start in life, investing in their futures, and during your child’s journey with us we aspire to fulfil our school aims, which are: Love of Learning We aim to inspire a lifelong thirst for creative, stimulating and rewarding learning, leading to the full development of every child’s academic potential. Personal Growth We aim to instil core moral values, inspiring virtue, responsibility, resilience, independence, mindful self-awareness and a desire for continuing self-development. Involvement and Challenge We aim to inspire an ongoing desire to develop talents, nurture the widest possible range of interests, and contribute to society as confident, compassionate and responsible citizens and leaders of the future. Fostering good habits of learning is essential to the children’s success. Cultivating these habits has a profound impact on their achievement and their ability to thrive both in and out of the classroom. The Habits of Learning we focus on are: Organisation and readiness Collaboration Initiative and resourcefulness Self-discipline (Years 1, 2 and 3) / Focus on Learning (Years 4, 5 and 6) Independent work  (added from Year 2) All children will develop these habits of learning at different rates. In the reports, we give parents an indicator of where we perceive their development of these habits on a continuum from ‘cause for concern’ to ‘excellent’. What is important is that we understand how to support each child in developing good habits to become a good learner.  Mrs. Hunt’s blog on ‘Sleep’ is critical to your child developing these habits and having good routines both at home and school will help to foster your child’s learning habits.  There is a super article in Nursery World magazine which discusses the value of routines - you can read it here.   Over the past few years as a whole school we have been explicitly engaging the pupils in our ‘meta-learning strategies’ in order to assist in nurturing good habits of learning. We are confident that when our pupils leave us at the end of Year 6 they have a superb understanding of ‘how’ to be a good learner and it is always so rewarding when we have feedback from our senior schools on how well our pupils settle and what they achieve in their new schools. We urge parents to discuss the habits of learning with your children and to help them to develop these habits even when they are at home. This could be as simple as packing their own bags (organisation), attempting their homework without adult support/input (but please do take an interest without doing it for them) or encouraging them to ask questions about their learning and the world around them.  Learning is a lifelong activity and if the children can see that adults are lifelong learners too, then this will motivate them to become curious and independent and to aspire to greater things.  So maybe as adults too we should review our own habits of learning. Give yourself time to reflect on you as a learner, what habits do you still need to cultivate and improve upon?   Do not worry though - we will not be asking you to give yourself an interim report!  We hope that you will find your child's report useful and informative and a springboard for conversations with your child about how they learn. Mrs. Drummond
Posted on: 28/01/2022

The Power Of Sleep

Are you a lark or an owl? Chronotype is the natural inclination of your body to sleep at a certain time. I’m definitely a lark; I wake up at 5.15 a.m. and visit my horse before getting ready for school, and I am happily at my desk by about 7 a.m. However, come 9.30 p.m. I am basically done and I’m ready for my bed! Now, I know that my advancing years may impact my early evening bedtime but I do strongly believe that having a good night's sleep is absolutely paramount. I am not alone in this belief. Research tells us that good sleep is essential for the whole family, which is why we spend a third of our lives doing it! Sleep is the foundation for good health. It affects every single part of our body, it affects our eating habits, exercise, hormones, immunity, learning, memory, creativity, decision making, mood and behaviour. While we sleep our brain is creating links and making memories. Put simply, sleep is replenishing and repairing.  We have been discussing our value of fairness this week and it has been fascinating to hear the children’s perceptions on what they feel is fair. Numerous children with older siblings have spoken about how they feel it is unfair that their sibling gets to go to bed later than them. I urge you not to succumb to your child bemoaning that their bedtime is too early and give sleep the kudos it deserves. By teaching your child/children to have a bedtime routine that precedes a good night's sleep, you are giving them a wonderful skill for life. I refer back to my sleep routine. Yes, I get up early but I go to bed early too, meaning that I am getting the recommended 7-9 hours for an adult. The recommended amount differs for children according to their age. For example, 5 year olds need 11 hours a night, while 9 year olds need 10 hours. You can see the NHS guidelines for recommended sleep times here: https://www.nhs.uk/live-well/sleep-and-tiredness/how-much-sleep-do-kids-need/  Routine is key and doing the same relaxing things in the same order will greatly support your sleep pattern. For example, a warm bath, dimmed lights and a shared story.  I am an advocate of mindfulness and will often practice the ‘body scan’ meditation  just before I go to sleep. I have to be honest and admit that I often don’t get past my knees before I nod off! Avoid screen time before bed. This wouldn’t be my blog if I didn’t mention the perils of screen time at some point! But once again I am backed by research, so please do try to keep your bedrooms a screen free zone - ye,s I mean you too, mums and dads! So, referring back to our current value - be fair to your family and yourself and never underestimate the power of sleep! Mrs. Hunt

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