School News and Head's Blog

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Posted on: 26/03/2021

Start With Why

  I am sure that many of you have heard of Simon Sinek from his hugely popular TED Talk ‘Start with Why’ - it is the third most watched talk of all time.  Simon is an optimist, who believes in a brighter future for humanity and our ability to build it together. He has studied how the greatest leaders and organisations think, act and communicate.  I have followed Simon for many years on my leadership journey and have been inspired by his work, his TED talks and his numerous books: Start With Why, Leaders Eat Last, Together is Better, and The Infinite Game. Simon is often described as a visionary thinker. He has a vision of a world which may not even exist yet: a world in which the vast majority of people wake up every single morning inspired, where people feel safe wherever they are and where people end each day fulfilled by the work that they do. This is a world to which we would all like to belong, I imagine. Many people may feel that they are not there yet. However, I actually believe that here at St. Helen’s College we are so fortunate to have the most incredible work place, colleagues and, most important of all, we have our ‘why’ - your children! Educating your children is our purpose and it takes great expertise, skill and commitment to be the best we can be each and every day for the children. Our staff are so committed and they impress me daily with how they navigate each day, each lesson, each question and each query from the children’s curious minds.  In fact the staff at St. Helen’s are truly inspiring!  On this note I would like to take this opportunity to thank every member of our incredible community for what has been yet another turbulent term in this most unusual year.   As a school leader I have felt well out of my comfort zone in the past year on more occasions than I would ever have imagined. We have had to make difficult decisions, often with minimal or very hazy guidance! But it is the camaraderie and support from colleagues and parents that has made this journey inspiring and I am hugely proud of what we have achieved together.  I will leave you with one of Simon Sinek’s quotes from his popular book ‘Together is Better’....this resonated so strongly with me. “Working hard for something we don’t care about is called stress.  Working hard for something we love is called passion” Happy Easter everyone. Mrs. Drummond
Posted on: 19/03/2021

Laughter Is The Best Medicine

Today we celebrated Red Nose Day for Comic Relief and the school was an abundance of red as we all joined together to raise money for this super charity which supports people who are living incredibly tough lives. Celebrities all over the UK have joined together to encourage us all to turn laughs into lasting change. We thank you for all your donations and hope that the children enjoyed their day. It is certainly not just on Red Nose Day once a year that we embrace the power of fun and laughter at St. Helen’s College! The adults at school have the privilege of having the best medication available on tap every day and that is the power of your children’s laughter.   Through this incredibly difficult past year, your children have brought us all joy, whether that has been in school as part of our critical worker groups or face to face when we have been together as a community.   Laughter is on the curriculum, the co-curriculum, on the lunch menu, in the playground - it leaves a trail of happiness and a sense of wellbeing and can even lead to sore stomachs for those of us who have had a really hearty serving of it! I am even contemplating a new business model: bottling up the laughter of your children and selling it at a prime price - SHC & tonic! The most refreshing and invigorating way to boost your immune system! During the last lockdown period, on duty at Lower School in the mornings, I was treated to a daily joke from one of the children. Her ability in telling jokes is truly remarkable, but it reminded me of why I never try to tell jokes - I always forget the punchline! Please do not let me think that I am alone in this? But it is not just telling jokes which brings so much laughter to our school - it is the authenticity of the pleasure and fun that your children have in being part of our unique community. I certainly do not remember laughing so much with my teachers when I was a child, but as I visit the classrooms around the school there truly is a sense of fun, pride and incredible humility in the relationships between the children with each other, the children with the adults and the adults with each other. Don’t get me wrong - we do take learning very seriously - but we make learning enjoyable and that even leads to children laughing when they are learning! We have the recipe and ingredients just right to create happy, successful, confident and inquisitive children.   Some of the children have been writing recipes for ‘happiness’ and they used phrases such as a sprinkling of laughter, a dollop of laughter, a chuckle of laughter…..Your children are very astute and know that laughter is important to their wellbeing.  But now to you as parents - I hope that each day in your work and personal life that you are as privileged as the adults at St. Helen’s College are with your daily dose of laughter. How is your laughter gauge looking?   Even in the most difficult times in our lives, we must not lose sight of the power of laughter and the therapeutic value it brings. I will share with you a very personal moment - my father sadly passed away back in 2002 when he was only 62 after a long battle with cancer. He was incredibly proud and organised and had put everything in place for when he finally had to leave us. The day after he died we had to access certain documents and he had put everything together in a new filing cabinet which he had been meticulous in organising. However...he omitted to tell us where the key was! I shall say no more...but the laughter between my sister, mum and I that day was the tonic we all needed - he certainly had the last laugh! Some twenty years on I still smile and chuckle when I recall the scenario!  We must not lose the ability to laugh nor feel guilty about laughing when life has been really difficult, for it is a physical human reaction to an internal or external stimuli and can often be what is needed. Laughter decreases stress hormones and increases immune cells and infection-fighting antibodies, thus improving your resistance to disease. Laughter triggers the release of endorphins, the body's natural feel-good chemicals. Endorphins promote an overall sense of well-being and can even temporarily relieve pain. I will leave you with this simple poem: Laughter is infectious. It is a joyful sound that, Once it starts ringing, Passes all around. Laughter is infectious. Some folks have no clue As to what another’s laughter Could do unto you. Laughter is infectious. You can get it on a whim, But chances of it harming Are very, very slim. Walterrean Salley Mrs. Drummond
Posted on: 12/03/2021

Neurodiversity

  I am so delighted that St. Helen’s College will be taking part in our first Neurodiversity Celebration Week which will be celebrated from March 15th to March 21st in the UK. We will be joining over 1,100 other UK based schools (over 700,000 children) to celebrate the neurodiversity of our incredible brains.  For so many years there have been negative stereotypes and misconceptions about children and adults whose brains may just be wired slightly differently, meaning that they learn in a slightly different way. It is our responsibility that we educate the children to accept everyone in our society and for them to understand that we all have skills and talents which make us all amazing!    Neurodiversity is a viewpoint that brain differences are normal, rather than deficits. The idea of neurodiversity can have benefits for children with learning and thinking differences.  18 year old Siena Castellon, who is herself dyslexic, autistic and dyspraxic and has ADHD, has launched this celebration week to further educate pupils and adults to recognise the many strengths of neurodivergent students.  In the presentation we will be sharing with the children from Year 1 - Year 6 next week, we will discuss the brain and how all brains are different. ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder), dyslexia and ASC (Autistic Syndrome Condition) will be outlined, along with how they can affect someone, and we will be celebrating the wonderful achievements of prominent people in our society who the children will recognise. For example, Steve Jobs, the founder of Apple, Chris Packham, the presenter of Spring Watch and Anne Hegarty, quiz master from the Chase, are autisitic. Richard Branson and Will Smith both are dyslexic. Emma Watson (actress - Hermoine Granger in Harry Potter) and Robbie Williams both have ADHD. Considering these high profile people will help us to understand that having a neurodiverse brain does not limit people’s opportunities or achievements. I urge you to read the fascinating Harvard Business Review article here, which outlines how neurodiversity has been seen as a competitive advantage in many workforces and still remains a talent to be tapped into. Companies who have adapted their HR and recruitment processes and taken time to get to know individuals and how they best work are reaping the benefits of their strengths.  I am certainly not an expert on neurodiversity and would never claim to be. However, I am sure that you agree that the more we can educate the pupils at St. Helen’s College about neurodiversity, the more accepting and understanding of each other they will be - not only here at school, but also in developing relationships with people in the future who may have previously had to battle with the stigma which historically was associated with people who are differently abled.  If you would like to find out more about the Neurodiversity Celebration Week then please do watch some of the superb videos in the link here.  It really is our duty to our children and to ourselves that we are more knowledgeable and that we understand more about our amazing minds!  Mrs. Drummond
Posted on: 5/03/2021

Patience by Mrs. Smith

I would have loved to have written a blog about our value of Patience this week, but I have been rather caught up in the crucial work of updating the school's comprehensive Covid risk assessment. I therefore invited Mrs. Smith to write on the theme of Patience for us this week. Enjoy! Mrs. Drummond Patience Our value of the week this week is ‘Patience’, and we discussed this in our assemblies today. At Lower School and Ducklings, Mrs. Hunt showed the children this very short video as a prompt to discuss what patience is and how to practise it. At Upper School, we watched a video of some children telling us, in their own words, what they thought patience meant. They came up with some very good ideas, like ‘waiting for something’ and ‘holding back your anger or frustration’. The dictionary definition of patience is actually this: ‘the capacity to accept or tolerate delay, problems, or suffering without becoming annoyed or anxious’. I find these words beautiful, because they neatly encapsulate what we all probably instinctively know: that being patient is a capacity, not a genetic quality. While it is true that some people naturally have more patience, for others (myself included) this quality does not come easily. The good news is that, like our capacity for love, for empathy, or for resilience, our capacity for patience can be increased through self-awareness, determination and practice. So, how do we cultivate patience and why is this quality – or value – so very important in our lives? The simple answer is that we cultivate our capacity for patience through practising being patient. To do this, we need to exercise our self-control and push away feelings of annoyance or anxiety that arise when we are experiencing a prolonged delay in waiting for something. We need to remind ourselves that the thing we are waiting for will eventually come – and sometimes, we need to remind ourselves that, even if it doesn’t eventually come, we will nevertheless be ok. We all practise patience on a daily basis: the parent who feels frustrated waiting for a child to get dressed; the child who longs for break time when they can get out into the playground with their friends; the adult who is thirsty during a meeting and has to wait until they can have a drink; the teacher who is ready for lunch at 11.00 o’clock and must wait until lunch time! These are small, manageable, daily examples. Exercising patience can be done in these situations partly because it has to be done, and partly because it has been done before. However, there are also times - this year in particular – when we can practise patience on a larger level. Since last March, we have lived with more uncertainty than ever before, and we have had to manage our anxiety and learn to accept and tolerate delay, problems and suffering in a whole new way. We have waited to find out what the latest government advice will be, waited to hear the latest data on the spread of the virus, waited to give our loved ones a hug, to go to the gym again, to go shopping, to get our hair cut and to go back to school. Many, many people across the world have waited anxiously and unhappily to find out whether a sick friend or relative will make a recovery. There has been a lot of talk about the resilience we have all developed during this pandemic, and patience is at the root of that resilience. I think that we all understand now, more than ever, that there are things outside of our control, and things inside of our control. If we can keep our focus on those things we can control – our capacity to keep ourselves positive and to be patient in the face of uncertainty and adversity – we can better support ourselves and those around us. At St. Helen’s College, children of every age have practised patience in waiting for school to re-open, waiting to be re-connected with friends and teachers and waiting for clubs and sports to resume. For such young pupils, this cannot have been easy. No doubt, as parents, you have found yourselves providing a lot of support and perspective for the younger generation during this time. You, and your children, should feel very proud of your newly expanded capacity for patience and controlling your anxieties and frustrations. Mrs. Drummond has asked me to mention, in particular, our Year 6 children who, this year, have had to cope with uncertainties over whether and when 11+ exams and entry procedures would go ahead. They (and their parents) have then also had to exercise great patience while waiting for results that, in many cases, decided their future paths. We are enormously proud, of course, of their amazing academic achievements and of their success in securing places at the senior schools of their choice. However, we are all equally proud of the patience they have shown, both in persisting in their endeavours in the face of uncertainties, and in managing the inevitable anxieties while waiting for their results. These are truly brave, resilient and patient young men and women, whose personal qualities, as well as their excellent knowledge and skills, make them very well placed for future success at their senior schools and beyond. We have always lived in an uncertain world, and we always will. Other illnesses, natural disasters, economic problems and accidents will no doubt beset us during our lifetimes. It is our inner qualities that are our biggest defence and protection against these unforeseen difficulties. The main one is no doubt our human capacity for love and kindness, and for building families and communities that support us in troubling times. But second, I think, even above resilience, is our astonishing and ever-developing capacity for patience. Parents do often know best, so I will give my wonderful mum the last word here. One of her favourite sayings as I was growing up was, ‘Patience is a virtue’.  Another was, ‘Virtue is its own reward’.  Added together, these proverbs are saying that, if we can cultivate patience, we will be better people and that, in becoming better people, we will improve our own lives as we reap the benefits of our own goodness. That seems to me to be a very good thing. Mrs. Smith  
Posted on: 26/02/2021

The Power of Empathy by Miss Walker

As we come to the end of National Empathy Week, I thought it would be timely to reflect on the power of empathy and how practising empathy will be so important in supporting our children and each other as we navigate our way through and beyond the pandemic. Empathy is at the root of compassion, respect, kindness, friendship, consideration and acceptance. It’s different from having sympathy for someone, which means to look at their suffering from the outside and feel sorry or sad for them. Empathy is feeling someone else’s pain or seeing through their eyes. From infancy, human brains are hard-wired for relationships and connection. We crave interactions and authentic connections that give us a sense of belonging. The science of empathy is at the core of emotional intelligence and relationship mastery and it lies within the limbic brain (emotional brain) and prefrontal cortex (rational mind). By recognising feelings, thinking how and why someone is feeling this way and acting to be there for someone, we can have a huge impact for those who might be finding life challenging at this time. If we can develop our own empathy practice, it will help us connect with people we love and care about—and even handle those challenging situations or difficult people in our lives more gracefully.  Children who experience and receive empathy will feel connected, safer and more secure, easing the pain of life's hardships and struggles for them and they will be far more likely to be empathetic themselves.  Therefore it is vitally important that we develop our own empathetic practice so that we can model what empathy looks and feels like to our children and support them as they navigate the challenges and feelings they may be encountering. In assembly this week I shared with the children how stories can be ‘empathy engines’, helping them to see the world through the eyes of others and to walk in their shoes for a time. Connecting to other perspectives can bring greater empathetic understanding. I challenged the children to train their ‘empathy superpower’ by putting on imaginary empathy glasses when they read to really think about how characters might be feeling and why. Reading stories together with your children will help them to build this understanding, equipping them to recognise feelings in themselves and others.  I often see our pupils practising giving and receiving empathy in the playground, whether that be supporting an upset peer on the friendship bench  or comforting a friend who has fallen over. They often show empathy too after a sports match when the result has not gone their way and in lessons when someone shares something that has made them sad. We too need to take time to practise developing our empathy superpowers if we are to help support our children and each other.  How often as parents, partners or colleagues have we found ourselves responding to those around us by trying to convince them that their situation isn't so bad, telling them you have bigger problems of your own, telling them to ‘buck up’, trying to fix their problem, changing the subject or just not knowing what to say. This is not showing empathy: these responses won’t make someone feel heard or listened to and may result in emotional difficulties remaining unresolved.   So, where to begin? Here are some tips for developing your own empathy practice: Actively listen. Making eye contact and ensuring distractions such as mobile phones, laptops and TVs don’t prevent you from being present and the other person feeling unseen and unheard by you.  Empty your mind when listening to another person. Avoid letting your mind wander to what is for dinner or responding to a work email.  Don’t be a solution giver, solving someone's problem may seem helpful, but it is not empathetic. Simply accept and understand the feelings the person is experiencing without judging them.  Use supportive phrases such ‘That must have been really hard for you’, ‘You must be feeling very sad right now’, ‘I know what it’s like to feel this way’, ‘My goodness that must have been difficult’,  ‘Boy that sounds tough’ or simply ‘I understand’.  Empathetic phrases like these will help show that you recognise and understand their feelings and will help them to feel understood and supported.  Empathy for others won’t necessarily lead them to change their behaviour or fix their problem, but it does help you to be present for them and can help both parties, the giver and receiver, better navigate difficult emotions. You will start to recognise signs your empathy is having an impact with others as you start to feel more in sync with one another and an increased connection unfolds, emotions dissipate or recede, your interactions lead to a deeper closeness or understanding of each other, a real and honest conversation develops and people feel more capable because they know they're not alone. Cultivating empathy for others has certainly helped me manage challenges and support those I love and care for better.  I have no doubt we have all faced difficult times this past year, it has taken a huge mental and emotional toll on us all, but I know, instinctively, that we all thrive when we are well in every sense. So I encourage us all to take the time to really listen to each other, take a moment to think about what it would be like to be in another person's shoes and show you appreciate and understand the emotions they feel.  By adopting more empathetic approaches in our daily lives, I believe we have the best chance of coming through these most challenging times together and of keeping the genuine well-being and happiness of every member of our school community at our foundation, upon which everything else will be built in the future.   I’ll leave you with this link to a great video from Professor Brene Brown which amusingly explains the difference between sympathy and empathy. https://youtu.be/1Evwgu369Jw.   Enjoy the weekend everyone and may we all keep opening our hearts to let empathy in.  Miss Walker
Posted on: 12/02/2021

Pandemic Parenting

As we enter this half term break, I want to congratulate every parent in our community and every member of staff who has supported the children through what has been the most unforgettable period of our lives, and one which we most certainly would never have imagined this time last year. For Heads, the winter months of school always bring that element of wondering if we might need to prepare for a snow day! Do staff need to be alerted that we may need to be sending work home for a day or two if school needs to close? Well, this pandemic has seen the school reach new heights as we have adapted and responded to provide what we feel to be the best education possible for your children under these circumstances.   St. Helen's College parents have been phenomenal in the support you have given the school and your children. This week I read a blog from Elaine at the Parent Practice which really resonated with me. Her words neatly encompass what I would like to say to you all today, so instead of re-inventing the wheel I will share her words below. You may remember that I had asked parents for feedback after attending any of Elaine's webinars, and I am delighted to be able to share the reflections of one of our Year 5 parents below too. I wish you all a restful half term - and I have hope that it may not be too long before we are able to welcome the children back to school. Mrs. Drummond Extract from Elaine’s blog: Are you practising being a ‘good enough’ parent just now? It's unrealistic to think you can do an eight hour working day whilst looking after kids and do home schooling. Something has to give. It's unrealistic to think you can be head chef, entertainment director, laundress, school teacher, employee, counsellor and coach and say “I’m ok” and don’t take time for yourself.   We all need to give up the perils of perfectionism, as  perfectionism is unachievable. It’s a myth  - it’s about us being obsessed with what others will think of us. We need to give ourselves a break. Your biggest priority just now as a parent is to keep stress levels down, so if home schooling is causing untold angst and stress for everyone, you have permission to ditch it or differentiate the curriculum. The reality is that children’s brains cannot absorb academic work if they are stressed, as cortisol interferes with the brain’s higher function, so please parents lower your expectations and practise being a good enough parent. My other big concern is with this determination that our children ‘keep up’ and return to school not being too far behind in their studies. The reality is, this pandemic is rewriting history. What your children will have learnt over the past 12 months way exceeds traditional measures of educational success. They may have had to deal with grief, with the death of a loved one; with loneliness and being separated from their friends, and they have almost certainly had to deal with boredom having had their freedom taken away from them. We simply have to adjust our expectations and most importantly, we need to know how to listen to our children, validate their feelings, and let them tell their story. My final message is you can't pour from an empty cup, so think of yourselves as an emotional bank account  - if you don’t make deposits, you can’t make withdrawals. You need to replenish the resource that you are, for your family. From a Year 5 parent: 2020 was a year that changed so many things for everyone worldwide. We all made sacrifices that most of us took for granted. We couldn’t see our family and friends, we couldn’t hug our elderly parents and grandparents, most of us cancelled our holidays abroad, we couldn’t just pop to the shops as most of us had to queue outside for long periods and our children had to learn how to ‘work from home’.   I had heard about The Parent Practice website through our school, and although I had signed up for their newsletters, I had never attended a course. I decided to sign up to a webinar and give this a go. After all, I had more time on my hands during lockdown! Within five minutes, Elaine seemed to describe both my children in one sentence and I was totally engaged for the rest of the webinar. She gave simple and good advice and shared her own parenting experience.  The advice she gives works for primary school children and teenagers and gives parents ideas on how to ‘connect’ with their children. Do we connect with them how they want us to? My older son has always been described as the calm and quiet one, who was happy to work from home and be in his own company, whereas his brother missed his friends tremendously and couldn’t wait to get back to school and be in a classroom with his teachers and friends. Total opposites, but both totally normal. Elaine gives simple advice on how to handle parenting in a more positive way, to help parents work with their children and bring out the best in them. As adults we are all different and this applies to children too. If something works for one child, it won’t necessarily work for another. Elaine provides advice on how we can do this by making simple changes. She talks about descriptive praise. Don’t say well done for getting 10/10 in a maths test, praise the effort they made to try to achieve the goal. If they didn’t hit the mark, it’s ok. They have still learnt something along the way. I remember saying this very often to my son, while he was preparing for his 11+. I could see the hard work and effort that he was making to try his best, and that was good enough. She teaches parents not to generalise praise, be specific with it. She talks about a golden book for each child, which you write things down that you have noticed that is done well, as we often point out when something has not gone well, and forget to praise what has. This gives children a belief that they are loved and accepted for who they are and not for who they are expected to be. She recommends that we use this for teenagers too. Even if the teenager is not openly thanking us for the recognition, they have read what we notice and what we think and that’s the most important thing. She suggests we play video games with our children or talk to them about a subject that interests them and help us connect to them. If we connect with our children, they will share their worries and anxieties with us. All these things seem quite obvious, but sometimes get forgotten as we all become set in our ways and busy trying to get through our day, and ready for the next. Elaine explains that we can be firm but fair and by becoming a fairer parent, it helps us to work with our children in a constructive way.  I have attended two webinars and they have both been useful.  There is an opportunity to post comments in the chat box during the webinar and there is time at the end for Q&A.  Parents can access the webinar for a certain period of time afterwards to watch the webinar back.     So would I recommend The Parent Practice website? Yes I would and I plan to attend more courses again in the future too. I think of parenting as a wonderful gift and if we can take one positive from our experience with this awful pandemic, is that time is very precious, so we should make the most of it with the little people that matter the most to us.   
Posted on: 5/02/2021

It's Good To Talk by Mrs. Hunt

Many of you who know me well will know that I am a great talker! On reading an email my instinct is always to pick up the phone or arrange a meeting. Often, when writing, I find it hard to express myself or I will be anxious that my words might be taken in an unintended way.  It is a well known fact that early years children need to talk, talk and talk some more! This is how they make sense of the world around them. We, as their adults, listen and respond appropriately and, in doing so, we play an amazing part in their development. We are living through times when the importance of talking and sharing our feelings is even more crucial. From the very young to the very old, speaking and being truly listened to makes us feel valued and worthwhile. Recently, being rather wrapped up in my school work, I seemed to have forgotten my need to talk. This was made very evident to me when my daughter, who is currently living at home unable to return to university, asked me to take my eyes off the computer and tell her if I was OK! What followed was a wonderful few minutes of us reconnecting. It was therapeutic, calming and very worthwhile. I have taught for many years and I have never tired of listening to children; they are honest, thoughtful, wise and often very amusing. When showing visitors around the school I often get asked about Philosophy For Children (P4C) and how it can possibly work in children so young. The facts are, that if you genuinely show an interest in what children have to say, they are always ready to tell you! I have no desire to preach or indeed state the obvious but, as we continue through Children's Mental Health Week, I feel it is timely to remind us all to stop and take time for each other: to listen and to be heard. Take care.  Mrs. Hunt
Posted on: 29/01/2021

Home Schooling Pressures Through the Eyes of Our Children

  This week I am delighted to share the voice of one of our parents who has very kindly shared him and his wife’s reflections on homeschooling.    Home Schooling Pressures Through the Eyes of Our Children   I spoke to Mrs Drummond recently about seeing homeschooling through a very different lens in this lockdown period.  Mrs Drummond asked if I’d be willing to share my perspectives, which she felt may resonate across the broader parent cohort.   This lockdown has been very different for me, with both my wife and I working on front line C19 initiatives.  Therefore, despite being at home, I have had much less time to devote to home schooling this time round.  Requiring both the children to just “figure it out” until Mum or Dad can check in with them at “some point” before or at lunch time.     As parents, I think we all saw our children rush to school in September 2020 - we witnessed them come back from school full of anecdotes, happiness, a renewed passion to learn, hear about the friends they played with, games they made up or something completely random that could not possibly have happened at home.    In the last couple of weeks I have seen the challenges of leaving children to try and cope with online schooling themselves through a new lens.  Internet dropping, computer’s freezing, having nose bleeds midway through a test, not hearing an instruction, the printer jamming, running up stairs or downstairs to dial in on time, timing a restroom break… can all take an incredible toll on adults, let alone our children.  At school the instructions are verbal, they are direct and there is ample opportunity to ask questions.  At home it becomes lonely for them very quickly, together with the shorter winter days, there doesn’t seem to be adequate time to get out in the fresh air before it gets dark.    We need to appreciate how difficult this time is for our children.  We must remind ourselves to praise them for coping with the multiple challenges of trying to learn online; reassure them its ok if the internet drops, or if they have a nose bleed, or the printer jams half way through assessments or time critical tasks – simply put there are just some things in life that neither they nor us as parents can control. It has definitely allowed the children to gain a different level of independence and organisational skills which they may have not experienced otherwise. These will be life long skills they have gained.    As parents I am sure we are also very grateful to the school and teachers for all the meticulous planning and efforts to ensure the children are learning, keeping busy and that each day goes as smoothly as possible for everyone involved.    By Year 3&5 Dad      
Posted on: 22/01/2021

Cheerfulness by Mr. McLaughlin

I have always felt that cheerfulness is an underrated quality. We have all been at awards ceremonies where the prizes for effort, enthusiasm and cheerfulness are somewhat scorned in favour of the more tangible titles. Optimism can sometimes be derided as empty cheer or mistaken for naivety. However, it can play a vital role in enabling people to achieve happiness and contentment, perhaps the most prized feelings of all. In the current situation, this intrinsic fulfilment is more important than ever. Children seem to be born with an abundance of cheerfulness, and it is important to model, encourage, maintain and applaud it as they grow up. Most people think of cheerfulness as a feeling or temperament, which means that cheerful people are those who got lucky genetically and are blessed with an ‘upbeat personality’.  Instead of viewing cheerfulness as a trait or feeling, what if we thought of it as a behaviour or a set of actions? A verb rather than a noun? What if we thought of cheerfulness as a habit of thinking and behaving? We all know the frustrations of waiting in long, slow queues at the post office, of losing connection at the key moment of an important presentation or business meeting, or of turning up at the supermarket and realising that you have left your face mask at home! When these things happen, the cheerfulness with which a person may have entered the day can vanish quickly. But why? Did these events suck up all the cheerfulness? Of course not. It vanished because the person started thinking and behaving differently: S/he started looking at the time and worrying about being late. Then s/he began castigating himself or herself for not picking another checkout line, or for being forgetful. Perhaps s/he started to direct anger towards the postal workers, or the internet provider, or anybody else to whom blame could be allocated. In these situations, whatever cheerfulness existed at the start of the day diminishes because of the way a person chooses to think, directly influencing their feelings. In psychology, there is a set of principles called Cognitive Mediation Theory, which says that our thoughts always mediate the relationship between external events and our emotional reactions. A little old lady taking a long time in the checkout line doesn’t cause frustration, but the interpretation of her being too slow does. An implication of this theory is that we cannot directly control how we feel. We cannot simply dial up our joy levels any more than we can turn down our levels of sadness. We can only change the way we feel indirectly by changing how we think and behave, two things we actually have direct control over. This leads to a bit of a paradox: if we think of cheerfulness as a feeling or trait - something we just have or happen to feel sometimes - we’re giving up responsibility for and control over it. This means we’re only allowing ourselves to feel cheerful when things in our life are going well. On the other hand, if we think of cheerfulness as an action - something we do or think - it becomes something we have control over, regardless of our circumstances. So how might we practise cheerfulness? 1. Gratitude. You have to truly appreciate everything you have in life in order to be satisfied with it. If you don't feel grateful, you're always going to be looking for more, no matter how much you already have. Forget what you could have; try to focus on what you do have. 2. Present Focus. Cheerful people tend to live in the moment. They aren't preoccupied with things they've done in the past, and they aren't constantly thinking about the future. It's important to remember the past, but it's harmful to dwell in it, just like it's important to plan for the future, but it's harmful to obsess over it. Focus on being happy right now. 3. Humour. Cheerful people are typically able to find humour in almost anything. Laughing is shown to be beneficial not only for your emotional health, but also your physical health. It releases endorphins and helps you to relax. Even the simple act of smiling can carry some of these effects, so if you want to be happier in your own life, start laughing and smiling whenever you can, and surround yourself with others who appreciate humour. 4. Self-Confidence. Having faith in your own abilities can make you less stressed - you spend less time worrying about whether or not you're good enough to accomplish something and more time actively trying to do it. When you feel confident, your doubts and apprehensions don't weigh you down, and you can focus on what's in front of you. Building confidence can be difficult, especially in adulthood, but it is possible to train yourself to be more confident by practising positive thinking and remembering your skills instead of your faults. 5. Adaptability. Life changes frequently and it is more unpredictable than many of us would like. The most cheerful people in life aren't the ones who focus on the interference or the obstacle, but the ones who focus on finding the best way around it.  6. Optimism. Optimists find the best in everything and aren't ever consumed with the need to search for faults. Fostering optimism can be tough, especially if you're used to a cynical line of thinking, but, with practice, it is possible to change your outlook. 7. Intangible Values. Most happy people are not obsessed with tangible rewards or destinations. They aren't as concerned about getting to a certain position, making a certain amount of money, or having certain material things. They're more concerned with the intangible parts of life: friendship, fun, and family.  Cheerfulness allows for progress when things are going well, and for mistakes and forgiveness when they are not. If you or your child are finding cheerfulness hard to come by during this lockdown, know that there are people out there ready and willing to help you in and out of our school community, and please do not hesitate to contact us for support.  So, if your child ever receives the ‘always smiling’ medal, the ‘looking on the bright side’ shield or the ‘glass half full’ cup, do not feel disappointed - feel thankful instead. Simply take a leaf out of their book, cherish the fact that they hold a vital and sometimes elusive quality which will set them on their way to future success and happiness, and share in the joy of cultivating it.  Mr. McLaughlin

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