School News and Head's Blog

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Posted on: 15/01/2021

Supporting Ourselves

The last couple of weeks have been incredibly difficult for us all and this week I would like to share with you a ‘Coronavirus Anxiety Booklet’ which was shared with me by Mrs. Brooker, our school counsellor who works with some of our pupils in our ‘Time to Talk’ sessions. As a school we are so fortunate to have Mrs. Brooker on the staff as not many schools have their own in-house counsellor who is highly trained and experienced in supporting the children during difficult times. Children might not always recognise that they are feeling anxious, so it is important that we all listen to the children and appreciate how they might be feeling during this surreal time. However, as well as supporting the children, we also need to support ourselves and some of us may be feeling the effects of our current situation more than others. Therefore, I encourage to you to take a look at this wonderful resource which has been published by The Wellness Society. I regard myself as being very in touch with my mental and emotional wellbeing and my daily mindfulness practice has been such a support to me during this period. However, the indigestion which I had put down to too much good food and wine over the festive period could actually be my body telling me something different!  Regardless of how we all ‘think’ we are coping in this pandemic, I highly recommend you give yourself time to read through the workbook as the toolkit has something for everyone and does make you reflect on how we can make this time in our lives and that of our families that little bit better. Happy reading and I truly hope that you will find it interesting and useful. Stay safe everyone. Thank you for all that you are doing at home with the children and do look after yourselves.  Mrs. Drummond
Posted on: 8/01/2021

Kindness and Compassion

As we embrace 2021, it is more important than ever before that we bring our attention to the core values on which St. Helen’s College prides itself, and reflect on how we as a community live our lives. We know that the next few months may bring challenges and worries for many reasons but together we need to put the children at the centre of all of this to give them hope, joy, laughter and some form of routine each day. In doing so, we can enable them to continue flourishing as creative and inquisitive young learners. This week in Upper School assemblies the children have been introduced to one of my new favourite books, The Boy, The Mole, The Fox and The Horse, by Charlie Mackesy. The book charts the journey of four wonderful characters as they share philosophical questions on friendship, hope and love. The book can be enjoyed by anyone from a 3 year old to adults and I know that many of the staff in school and some children are already familiar with it. I regularly dip into the book and find myself pondering over the words.  I am often inspired by them; they can raise emotions I was not aware of but the book has also given me great strength over the period of this pandemic.   I highly recommend that every family has a copy of this book to share, love and discuss together.  There is also a lovely audible version of the book available here which you may enjoy too.  We have launched a challenge for the children (and parents) in today’s newsletter to create their own philosophical quotes and illustrations, in the style of Charlie Mackesy, based on our school values. I hope that many of you will have a go, and I very much look forward to sharing them with you in due course.  If you would like to meet Charlie, as the children have this week, then do watch this short video here and visit his website here. I leave you with some of the words from Charlie in his introduction to the book: “I hope this book encourages you, perhaps, to live courageously with more kindness for yourself and for others”. Over the following weeks we need to be kind to each other and to ourselves as we navigate our way through yet another period of uncertainty but with hope for the future. We need to celebrate all the good things present with us now - your wonderful children - who this week have given so much joy to their teachers and friends, albeit remotely for most.  Mrs. Drummond
Posted on: 11/12/2020

Hope, Peace, Joy, Love

As we have approached the end of this exceptional school term, I personally have drawn much strength from the four key themes of Advent, which we have been sharing in Upper School assemblies this week. Advent is a significant time in the Christian calendar, when Christians make themselves ready for the coming, or birth, of the Lord, Jesus Christ.    However, regardless of religion I feel that as a community we can all take some time over this holiday to reflect on these four key themes, to look back on the impact and outcomes of 2020 but also to look forward with optimism to the opportunities which lie ahead in 2021. HOPE We have all hoped that, as a school community, we would remain safe and healthy and it is due to the diligence and support of everyone that we have been remarkably successful in the children continuing with their education.  For those year groups who have been affected by Covid-19, the commitment of the staff enabled the children at home to stay connected with school life and the teamwork at Lower School enabled us to remain open some weeks ago, even with 10 staff members down! We now have renewed hope with the Covid vaccination programme that hopefully we may have less restrictions at school and we can resume school life as we once knew it! PEACE Life for everyone has been more intense than ever before and it has been somewhat difficult for adults to find ‘peace’ with the daily updates from the government, the news, media coverage and, in school, the constant updates from the Department for Education!  Finding time each day for some ‘peace’ is crucial for us all, whether that comes in the form of a mindfulness practice, a hot bath or a cup of tea.  The children may also have found  it difficult to find that ‘peace’ which is so important for our mental wellbeing - our school assemblies have hopefully given the children time to find calm and peace. Do allow yourselves and your family to enjoy some peaceful time over the holidays - that time where you can be free from disturbance and benefit from the effects of tranquillity.  JOY I thank the Lord that I work in such an amazing place - your children give us all JOY each and every day.  We have the privilege of working with your loved ones who bring such cheer and joy in their daily interactions. As I write this Blog I can hear the jovial interactions from the Upper School pupils as they react to the Jack and the Beanstalk pantomime traditions of ‘He’s behind you!’ and ‘Oh no it’s not!’  I have already played musical statues in 1C today and been thoroughly entertained by the pure voices of our youngest pupils in Ducklings singing ‘When Santa got stuck up the chimney’. Thank you, parents, for the JOY your children bring! LOVE There certainly is a lot of ‘love’ within our St. Helen’s College community - through this turbulent time we have supported each other in so many different ways. This morning I commented to a parent about the love that their child has of school;   every morning she skips up the path to greet the staff and her peers. Children demonstrate their love in such simple ways -  by the time we become adults we demonstrate our love in perhaps more subtle ways! Many of you are already familiar with the ‘Action for Happiness’ calendars which we use at school and I encourage you to share your love on a daily basis and attempt to follow the acts of kindness prompts in this month's calendar here.  I wish you all a wonderful festive holiday which I pray will bring you Hope, Peace, Joy and Love.  Merry Christmas and Best Wishes  Mrs. Drummond
Posted on: 4/12/2020

Motherhood by Mrs. McLaughlin

I have been privileged to have frequent updates and photos from Mr. McLaughlin on the joys of fatherhood and I commend him on how he has coped with stepping up to Deputy Headship, moving home, working through a pandemic and being able to enjoy those wonderful first few months that a new baby brings to a family.   I invited Mrs. McLaughlin to reflect on motherhood and am delighted that she has shared her journey with Remi so far with us. I am sure that her blog will resonate with us and serve as a reminder of what a privilege it is to be parents. Thank you Mrs. McLaughlin for sharing this with the community. Mrs. Drummond When I was asked by Mrs. Drummond to write a blog about being a new mum, I was in two minds. I have never written a blog before and I had no idea where to start. As I love new challenges and trying new things (something I have always tried to instil in the children in my class) - I’m going to give it a go.  Remi was born in June, in the midst of a pandemic. I think that the hypnobirthing course I took some months prior and a slice of good fortune combined to make the labour quite straightforward (thank goodness!). No one ever knows what to expect when you have your first child, or subsequent children for that matter, as they are all so different and unique. So Mr. McLaughlin and I were delighted to come home six hours after delivery with a healthy and happy baby boy.  We knew that having a baby would change our lives forever, but we didn’t quite know what effect having a baby during the pandemic would have. It wasn’t easy! Not being able to see family and friends is difficult at the best of times. After paternity leave, Mr. McLaughlin returned to work. Being a new mum with a newborn baby to look after, whilst looking after your own health and not being able to freely see family and friends, is tough. Luckily, my sister, brother in law and 3-year-old nephew are our next door neighbours and our parents live close by, so help was at hand if needed.  There are so many stories you hear about babies: some good, some not so much, and so Mr. McLaughlin and I just had to wait and see what joys Remi would bring.  After a few tough weeks of finding my feet as a new mum, understanding Remi and his little ways of communicating, I wholeheartedly embraced motherhood and I haven’t looked back since.  I was talking to my mum a few weeks ago, and she asked me what my one stand out moment as a mother was so far. I don’t have one moment in particular as Remi has passed so many little milestones, but the smile on his face when he wakes up and sees me in the morning, along with morning hugs and snuggles, is just priceless.  My ethos as a teacher of 15 years has always been: ‘Treat the children you teach with the same love and care as if they are your own.’ Having now had Remi, I can see more than ever, the importance of this ethos.  Being a mother has helped me to learn more about myself. Remi has taught me so much about unconditional love. He has taught me about strengths I didn’t know I had and fears I didn’t know existed.  Being a teacher gives me the bonus of being very organised. I always have my Christmas gifts bought and wrapped months in advance. I always love to see the look of surprise on my husband's face on Christmas day when he sees what we got everyone! Being ahead of the game gave me a bit of time during my maternity leave to think about the prospect of Remi going to nursery, and eventually to school.  The first day I stepped foot into St. Helen’s College, there was no doubt in my mind that if we had children they would attend the school and be part of the St. Helen’s College family. All parents look for different things in a school, but for Mr. McLaughlin and I, it was always for our child to be part of a school that showed love in abundance, let them feel like they were part of the family and nurtured their talents (whatever they may be). I feel that St. Helen’s College has all of these traits.  Keeping my organised hat on, we have already enrolled Remi into Ducklings and cannot wait for him to come along with us in his little green uniform.  As I think about Remi’s future and the aspirations I have for him, I try to remind myself of a quote a friend of mine once told me: “We often worry about what a child will become tomorrow, yet we forget that they are someone today.” The small day to day things that Remi does that make him the baby he is are etched in my mind and where possible, I try to capture them on camera to look back on in the future.  Have I been able to write my heart in words and tell you how much I love being a mum? Perhaps not, but if there is one thought I can leave you with, it is this: I used to think being a teacher was the best job in the world, but I was wrong. It’s the second best. The best job in the world is being a mum.  Mrs. McLaughlin
Posted on: 27/11/2020

Gurpurb

This week I would like to share with you a wonderful message from one of our parents,  Mrs. Raikmo, who will be celebrating with her family this weekend. This year on the 30th November, Sikhs from around the world will celebrate the 551st birth of Guru Nanak Dev Ji, the founder of the Sikh faith.  Guru Nanak Dev Ji was a humanitarian who spread the message of living honestly, meditating and sharing. These values resonate with us all, perhaps more than ever in these uncertain times that we live in. This pandemic has allowed us, as a family, to reflect on what it means to be an honest and kind person, sharing and looking after others as well as paying special attention to our own body and mind through mindfulness. As we have adapted to a different way of living in these uncertain times we are reminded that we can all still care for one another. From checking in on an elderly neighbour to going for a socially distanced walk with a friend, or taking time out as a family to focus on mindfulness and to be thankful for what we have and to think of those who we can help. St. Helen’s College’s values resonate with those of the Sikh faith and can be seen in the charitable work the school undertakes every year.  Sikhs across the world have continued to keep Langar (free food for all) open during this pandemic so no one goes hungry and continue to perform Sewa (selfless service) by distributing food and other assistance to those in need.  As we celebrate this special occasion, let’s be reminded to help those less fortunate, enjoy the time and love we have with friends and families. For within us all is the same Divine light; we are all one. A very happy Gurpurb to you all. Mrs. Raikmo
Posted on: 20/11/2020

After School Restraint Collapse

Nearly every teacher, at one point or another, has had the experience of speaking to parents at the school gates, or at a parents’ evening, waxing lyrical about how fantastic and enthusiastic their child is in class, only to be met with a wry smile. Some cannot believe that the demanding infants or sulky pre-adolescents that return home on some days can be the same child receiving glowing praise for their consistent diligence and participation in lessons. They are bursting with pride, but also wondering why such model behaviour does not always occur at home. The school day undoubtedly takes a lot of effort for children. Hours spent having fun, learning new things, managing relationships, following instructions and remembering equipment can be mentally and physically draining. It is no surprise then that some children get home and allow their bubble to burst from time to time. This year in particular, children will be adjusting to several small differences in many of their usual routines at school and at home. For them, using a lot of energy to maintain self control for long periods of time can temporarily decrease their ability to self regulate. Canadian teacher and psychotherapist Andrea Loewen Nair coined the term ‘after school restraint collapse’ in response to hearing these stories so regularly from parents. We are living in an age where everything seems to come with a label and people may argue that this is simply a bit of good old-fashioned defiance or misbehaviour. I am certainly no expert in the field of psychotherapy but I have encountered some anecdotal evidence in my years as a teacher, enough to believe there is at least a modicum of truth in the idea. At the very least, some families out there are affected by this pattern of behaviour.  While it can happen with any child, those with additional needs will feel the strain more acutely. Imagine the will power necessary for a child with dyslexia to work with words for several hours a day? Or for a child with ADHD to sit still for large periods? Tiredness and hunger can lead any child to frustration (and, I have observed, any adult too, me included!). So, if you have noticed this occurring with your child, I have managed - whilst researching the ideas behind ‘after school restraint collapse’ - to compile a list of advice from parents across the world wide web on how to provide the sort of environment conducive to a peaceful transition from school to home.  No matter how your day has gone, or how your child’s day has gone, greet them with a hug and a smile. Avoid bombarding your child with questions about their day. They may need some time and space to settle, so save the conversations about school until later. Address basic needs, such as tiredness and hunger. While some children need a quiet, still space directly after school, others may benefit from physical activity. Try walking, scooting or cycling home or rhythmic activities like swinging or bouncing on a trampoline. If you travel by car, try playing some music or an audiobook on your journey to create a calm space and allow your child time to decompress. Leave homework until a little later if you can – after several hours at school, your child will likely need a brain break before starting on more work. Try to maintain a predictable routine around home time.  Make sure you are taking care of yourself. If post-school difficulties have been a feature in your home for some time, it is likely that you feel your own anxiety and tension levels rising as home time approaches, so make sure you are doing what it takes to look after yourself before you welcome your child home. Finally, if a meltdown does happen, understanding and support will help a child to feel secure. One tactic that has perhaps never succeeded in the history of trying to calm people down, is telling them to calm down! These tips are entirely stolen from others but I do endorse them. I am not yet six months into my own personal parenting journey and I am only just beginning to understand the very complex, difficult, but ultimately very rewarding job of being a parent. If this issue does resonate with you, I would love to hear your views and I hope that the ideas gathered will prove helpful in easing transitions on those difficult days.  Mr. McLaughlin https://www.andrealoewennair.com/articles/7-ways-to-help-your-child-handle-their-after-school-restraint-collapse
Posted on: 13/11/2020

Nurturing A Love Of Science

  It seems very fitting that Wednesday 10th November was ‘World Science Day for Peace and Development’.  This day is celebrated to highlight the important role that science has in society and to promote the need to engage the wider public in debates on emerging scientific issues. Since the beginning of the Covid 19 pandemic, more than 170 teams of researchers have been racing to develop a safe and effective vaccine.  Reports this week have been encouraging with Pfizer and the German company BioNTech announcing that they had encouraging results from a phase 3 clinical trial for their vaccine. While we all await further results from the world’s top class researchers working on the Covid vaccine, I have been inspired closer to home by what is actually happening with your children at St. Helen’s College and the passion that they have as our future scientists, who will in time take responsibility for the world’s emerging scientific issues. There are key skills that young scientists need to develop: Observing - by far one of the most important skills and one which children need to learn and develop. Inferring/predicting/taking an educated guess  Measuring - maths is the language of science and is a key skill, underpinning scientific inquiry and investigation Communication - demonstrating their understanding and using scientific vocabulary. These skills are being developed in your children each and every day, from the Early Years through to Year 6,  as our staff encourage your children to ‘notice’ what is around them. Staff utilise their questioning skills to encourage children’s awe and wonder from an early age, and to help move children towards using more advanced critical thinking skills  to help predict the outcomes of investigations as they grow older. This week alone I have been so impressed at the learning I have observed. In Reception, children have been investigating their bodies using the stimulus of the wonderful book ‘Funny Bones’. They have also enjoyed outdoor maths where shape, space and number come to life and experienced intrigue as they grow their own cress.   Year 1 pupils have enjoyed a Noticing Nature walk with Mrs. Hunt as they explored our school grounds, discovering evergreen and deciduous trees and discussing the differences in our natural environment in the autumn term.  Questions, questions galore! In Year 5 I was proud to observe the children working together throughout the week to investigate thermal insulators and independently set up their experiments, then later in the week they utilised a range of skills in IT, maths and English to explain the results of their findings using high level scientific vocabulary. Year 6 have been researching other known viruses, building models and  information leaflets using well-established skills they have gained throughout their time at St. Helen’s College. Our great outdoors is such a wonderful vehicle for you as parents to engage your children with the building blocks for scientific enquiry. Not only is being in the outdoors good for mental wellbeing but it opens up so many opportunities for learning.  It is no surprise that the recent results from the Children and Nature Survey to understand how the Covid-19 Pandemic impacted on children’s experience with nature has highlighted the following: “The positive role of nature in supporting well-being has also been revealed, with eight in ten children agreeing that being in nature made them very happy, while 70% said that they want to spend more time outdoors with friends post-pandemic. These findings build on Natural England’s latest People and Nature Survey, which reveals that the nation’s gardens, parks, woodlands and rivers have played a huge part in helping with mental health during the coronavirus pandemic, with almost nine in ten adults in England reporting that being in nature makes them very happy.” A happy child is a child who will learn.  So please embrace those outdoor activities and those ‘Why?’ questions, get your children to make predictions, test things out  and allow them to try out simple investigations (see this wonderful website here for 40+ backyard experiments).  Enrich their vocabulary with appropriate but challenging scientific vocabulary - (you may find some of the lists here which are recommended for 5- 7, 7-9 and 9- 11 year olds useful). Science is so exciting. It surrounds us and it is fundamental for our next generation to be well equipped and skilled for what lies ahead. As I engage with the children every day at St. Helen’s College, I see future scientists and researchers who will influence the way forward. I am sure you are excited as I am to be a part of their journey!  Mrs, Drummond
Posted on: 6/11/2020

Children Learn What They Live

This week’s blog is from Mrs. Smith and I am sure that this poignant and thoughtful poem will resonate with us all. Children Learn What They Live I grew up in Rochester, in Kent, where my twin brother was a member of the Rochester Cathedral Choir. I have fond memories of afternoons spent in the great, draughty crypt of Rochester Cathedral with my mum, where we would prepare ‘choir teas’ for the choristers, to be consumed between rehearsals and evensongs, or between services.  The crypt also included the cathedral book shop, where not just books but other items of merchandise were sold. It was there, in the mid-1980s, that I first came across a poem that has stuck with me all my life. The poem was printed on a ‘card of inspiration’, of which the shop sold several. I used 50p of my pocket money to buy the card, and stuck it on my bedroom wall by my bed, because I loved the words so much. I instinctively felt the poem to be true as a young teenager, I believed it to be true when I first became a mother in my mid-twenties, and I absolutely know it to be true now as a mother of older teenagers and a senior leader of a prep school. The poem was written in 1954 by a lady named Dorothy Law Nolte, an American writer and family counsellor. In 1972, she copyrighted the poem and it became more widely published and finally, in 1998, the poem’s themes were expanded into a book, which Dorothy Law Nolte co-authored. To me, it sums up everything that is true about child-rearing and it is also very much in tune with the St. Helen’s College values of love, harmony and growth.  There are several shortened versions of the poem available but I think the original, longest version is the most powerful. I am sharing it with you in the hope that you will agree that my 50p was well spent! I hope that you will find these words as meaningful as I did then, and still do now.  Mrs. Smith Children Learn What They Live by Dorothy Law Nolte, Ph.D. If children live with criticism, they learn to condemn. If children live with hostility, they learn to fight. If children live with fear, they learn to be apprehensive. If children live with pity, they learn to feel sorry for themselves. If children live with ridicule, they learn to feel shy. If children live with jealousy, they learn to feel envy. If children live with shame, they learn to feel guilty. If children live with encouragement, they learn confidence. If children live with tolerance, they learn patience. If children live with praise, they learn appreciation. If children live with approval, they learn to like themselves. If children live with recognition, they learn it is good to have a goal. If children live with sharing, they learn generosity. If children live with honesty, they learn truthfulness. If children live with fairness, they learn justice. If children live with security, they learn to have faith. If children live with kindness and consideration, they learn respect. If children live with acceptance and friendship, they learn to find love in the world.
Posted on: 16/10/2020

What's All The Fuss About?

  On 9 October, the Queen’s Birthday Honours List 2020 was announced, recognising the outstanding achievements of people from across the United Kingdom. On this year’s list were 133 individuals who have been recognised for their services to education during the Coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak. These include teachers, head teachers and principals who have gone above and beyond to provide education to young people. One Head who has very deservedly been recognised is Katharine Birbalsingh.  Katharine is the Head and founder of the Michaela Community School, an 11–18 mixed, free secondary school and sixth form in Wembley, established in September 2014. I have followed the work of the school and Katherine’s social media presence over the years and sadly Katharine has, on several occasions, had to defend what she and her staff do at Michaela to inspire the pupils to be their best.  I have always stood back and refrained from judgement; I feel that much of what her school stands for reflects what any good school should be doing. For example, her school has a stringent behaviour policy which the pupils are expected to fulfil, the school has “family lunches” where staff sit with the pupils and the children are expected to make conversation, use their cutlery correctly,  pour drinks, and clear their guests’ plates. The school asks children to walk on a particular side of the corridor when passing each other; the school asks children not to ‘loiter’ between lessons, arriving promptly for their next lesson, and the pupils are asked to memorise poetry by heart and recite it back. Over the years of reading about Michaela and watching Katherine being interviewed I have reflected on life at St. Helen’s College. Many of the Michaela Community School routines and expected behaviours resonate so closely to what we expect of our children here at St. Helen’s College! So what is all the fuss about it being branded  ‘Britain’s Strictest School’? Our Ducklings may only be 2 years old but, with encouragement, they tidy up their toys, they sit beautifully at snack and lunch around their tables, they say please and thank you and they recite a little prayer and song of thanks for the food they receive. Our Nursery pupils learn poems off by heart and recite these to their peers and parents in a special poetry assembly - the beginnings of our annual speech recitation event which, as you know, continues throughout the school. Pupils at Lower School and Upper School walk calmly along corridors, with the Upper School children knowing that they stick to the left hand side on the stairs. At both Lower and Upper School the children understand the behaviour expected of them and the children sign a classroom pledge together to state that they will uphold the standards expected from them. Those who find it difficult to uphold these behaviours are supported appropriately and there may be the occasion for further actions if required. Ultimately, the children know that behaviour routines are based on our mantra of ‘Ready, Respectful, Safe’ and, as a school, we have taken the best aspects from UK behaviour specialist Paul Dix and embedded them into our daily routines with the children. I truly believe that children enjoy structure and routines and they need consistency, but most importantly they need to feel safe and loved. I take my hat off to how the staff at Michaela Community School have weathered the social media storm over their routines and how the school is run - but I say keep up the great work! I feel so blessed to have the most amazing staff here at St. Helen’s College and this half term has been a testament to their stamina and professionalism as they are back doing what comes naturally to them all - bringing out the best in your children. I also feel blessed to have the parent body we have! You are truly invested in St. Helen’s College and what we do TOGETHER  brings out the best in your children! Have a wonderful half term break with your children and do speak with them about the activities and lessons they have engaged with this half term but also discuss some of the routines which we have at school - I am sure that you will agree that your children - ‘our’ children - are not in the ‘strictest’ school, but that they feel loved, safe and are thriving in a school environment which has good solid routines and boundaries. And that is a good thing!  I leave you with an interesting article written back in 2016 by ResearchED’s Tom Bennett and his impressions of Michaela Community School some years ago in the early days - I would love to hear your impressions! Mrs. Drummond

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