School News and Head's Blog
Posted on: 3/11/2017
Our Inner Story And Other Interesting Reads - Head's BlogEvery holiday I manage to indulge in reading and this half term holiday gave me the opportunity to delve into two books which I had been waiting to explore.
The first book, Teaching Creative Thinking: Developing Learners Who Generate Ideas And Can Think Critically (Pedagogy for a Changing World), was an energising read which served to affirm all that we are doing at St. Helen’s College in our approach to learning and the way in which your children are being taught. There has been much debate in the educational world about what are the most important qualities or learning dispositions for education to cultivate in young learners. Research suggests that one of the key capabilities for learners, both at school and in later life, is the ability to think creatively and critically. The book provides a very user-friendly practical guide for educators with easy to use pedagogical strategies including problem-based learning, growth mindset, playful experimentation and the classroom as a learning community. Does any of this sound familiar?!
The second book, which I am still reading, is by the award winning psychologist Dr. Tim O’Brien. His book ‘Inner Story’ is for people who wish to understand their mind – it refers to the two stories inside your head; one about your life, the other ‘the inner story’ which controls you life. Not only am I finding this a fascinating read personally, but I can also appreciate, professionally, how this awareness may help to develop skills when working with other people.
I am grateful that Mindfulness is already a part of who I am and I already use practices to enable me to maintain balance and perspective in my life. However, I cannot recommend this book enough to all parents, to further assist not only in your own life but to help support your children in understanding how they have a choice about their ‘inner voice’.
The book assists in understanding our self-esteems (not a singular self-esteem) and helps us to understand behaviour as our main way of communicating what is going on inside our mind. If you are interested in becoming more successful, happier, confident, being a better leader and making your team a high performing team then this is a read for you. After all, don’t we all strive for this both in our professional lives and in our personal lives? What parent does not want their child to be successful, confident and happy!
I will leave you not with a book recommendation but a TEDx talk about neuroplasticity, which our Year 6 pupils learn about as part of their .b mindfulness course. Thank you to Mrs. Patel for sharing this link following our morning chat at the gate on Wednesday, as I had not seen this talk before by Dr. Lara Boyd – enjoy!
Our brains are fascinating!
If you are interested in the books:
Posted on: 13/10/2017
Self-Discipline: What Is It All About? - Head's BlogI have used this phrase several times this half term with the students as we reflect on some of the standard etiquettes and behaviour expectations that we have at school. These include many simple things: lining up without talking, walking between classes calmly and with a sense of purpose, coming down the stairs in Upper School sensibly and quietly, entering the assembly hall without chatting and with a sense of occasion, crossing the road between Lower and Upper School with a sense of awareness, controlling the impulse to shout out in class, avoiding interrupting others’ conversations and taking turns in the playground when playing games. These are basic expectations, which I am sure you also hope that your children can fulfil consistently, but it is these simple requirements which, on occasion, can pose some children the greatest challenge.
So perhaps we should all ask ourselves: what is self-discipline? How can we help our pupils and how can parents help their children to develop self-discipline? To me, self-discipline is not a character trait, but more of a learned practice. I believe it is crucial that we all help young children to keep learning and that we give them ample opportunity to develop their self-discipline. We should model self-discipline, provide scaffolding and support and give children ample opportunities for practice, just as we do in any other area of learning.
Many recent studies by psychologists have shown that there is a correlation between self-discipline and academic success. In a study carried out by Duckwork and Seligman it was found that self-discipline was more important than IQ in predicting every outcome.
As parents and teachers, there are a few basics that can help us to help the children:
provide structure (have good routines)
be clear about what it is you want the children to achieve
if they are not displaying the behaviours you desire, describe the changes which may be required
implement appropriate consequences
praise good behaviour
be a good role model and model your own self-discipline!
We understand that it may take some children longer than others to learn how to be more self-disciplined and at St. Helen’s College we pride ourselves on focussing on the soft skills such as resilience, perseverance and self-discipline. Our pupils, in general, show wonderful self-awareness and a willingness to develop themselves personally for the benefit of themselves and their whole community. For any of our pupils to be successful in this, of course, it is crucial that home and school are working together to the same end. I also ask those pupils who do display super self-discipline to help those who are finding it more difficult to support the process for their peers to develop their behaviour.
Over the half term break I encourage you to observe your child. Are they demonstrating that they are developing their ‘self-discipline? Do they understand what it means? Are they becoming self-aware? Please do take time to talk about ‘self-discipline’ with your children. It is very different from having ‘discipline’ at home or at school – we want our children to develop appropriate behaviour because they understand why, because it makes sense to them and because they can see the advantages of having good self-discipline.
I wish you all a lovely half term and I will endeavour to practise my self-discipline as I will be reminding all the staff to be self-disciplined too; to make sure that we all do switch off from work, rest, have family time to enable us to recharge for the next very busy half term, leading up to one of my favourite times of the year!
Posted on: 6/10/2017
Follow Your Dreams - Head's BlogFor those who were not able to attend last night's Prizegiving ceremony, I would like to share the inspirational speech from our Guest of Honour, Mr Kevin Carson, Head of The Royal Masonic School for Girls. His own journey of following his dreams led him to become the successful, well rounded person he is now. Enjoy!
"It is a genuine pleasure to be invited to St. Helen's College this evening to join you for your Prizegiving, and to join in the celebration of the achievements and progress of so many fabulous students.
St. Helen's College is a school that shares so much with my own school, RMS for Girls. Some of our similarities occur through the distinctive curriculum that we each offer, such as a focus on .b and mindfulness, or our commitment to learning beyond the classroom, both of which we too view as important aspects of educating the whole child. Other links are in respect of staff, because Mrs. Drummond, as I am sure many of you here tonight are aware, was a key teacher for many years in the Prep School at RMS before she joined St. Helen's College. Most importantly, our schools are similar in respect of a strong ethos that we live by, and also through a commitment to a holistic education for our pupils, which is very much central to my own sense of what is important in the development of each individual child. And at RMS we too believe in responding to the talents and the contexts of each pupil before us, of allowing the children to develop and to pursue each of their talents and dreams. And it is that theme of encouraging the pupils here tonight to pursue and to follow what is distinctive, special and important to each of you that I will return to throughout my speech.
The boys and girls who will come on stage this evening to receive prizes have of course all now moved on to secondary school, have made that move from the family atmosphere of their prep school here at St.Helen's College to big school, to senior school. I know both from my own experiences when I was your age and through my years as a teacher that the move to senior school is not always straightforward to make at first, but to all of the Year 7 pupils here tonight I ask you to trust us that it gets easier with every week in your new school. If you have not done so already, you will very soon settle in and feel secure and happy in your new school.
And yet even when you have fully settled in and feel truly at home, in the larger environment of a senior school it is not always easy for you to be yourself, and to remain true to yourself, as I remember from my own school days as I tried to pursue my own dreams in secondary school.
I have, as you may have noticed, a slight accent. I grew up in a city called Liverpool. It is a city that to this day many people associate with two things other than having a funny accent: those two things most commonly are the pop music of The Beatles and football. More specifically, at least in my family, Liverpool Football Club. I was taken to my first football match on my 3rd birthday, to Anfield, the home of Liverpool FC. I was only a toddler, dressed in full kit yet barely aware of what football was, and so young that despite the noise and shouts of 40,000 fanatical supporters I fell asleep during that first match watching Liverpool. But from that game onwards I was taken regularly to watch Liverpool by my father, grandfather, uncles and aunties. And soon enough I also played football regularly as a boy, every day in fact, with my two brothers and our friends, with anybody at all who wished to join in and play. So by the time that I was your age, I knew in my heart that all I wanted to do, the one dream that I knew I had to try to follow, was to be a professional footballer and to play for Liverpool Football Club.
And because I played so much, because I practised all of the time, and was lucky to have some great coaches and the support of my family, I got better at playing football. In everything in life we improve through practice, through learning from our mistakes. So by the time I was your age I had got good enough at football to play in a boys’ team that played at Wembley, a team that had won national football tournaments, and even better than all of that, a team that had played at Anfield, Liverpool’s stadium. Working together we became good enough as a team to get the chance to meet the England manager at the time, Bobby Robson, and one day a scout came to watch us from a professional football team, a team called Bolton Wanderers, and asked some of us if we would like to have a trial at their professional football club. I was one of those boys asked to go along, and they liked me enough at Bolton to invite me to train with them every week. So from the age of 11 I travelled every Wednesday night with my father to Bolton and trained with their coaches. I practised really hard, got better at passing and tackling, heading and shooting. All I wished was to be offered what was called a schoolboy contract, because I was still convinced that if I could be offered a schoolboy football contract at Bolton then one day I might become a professional footballer for Liverpool. That was my first dream, hope, passion.
But even though I practised every day, and played in three or four matches every weekend, I was not offered a schoolboy contract by Bolton. Some of my team mates were offered a contract, and one even became a professional footballer, but Bolton decided after two years with them that I would no longer be invited to train there each week. So, at age 13, I began to realise that my dream of becoming a professional footballer for Liverpool was becoming less likely because no matter how hard I tried there were some extremely talented players who were simply better at football than I was. I can still remember quite strongly how very disappointed I was at the time. Team mates and friends of mine were still at Bolton, some had even moved on from Bolton to train with Liverpool, and it felt at the time like the end of the world that I was not going to be able to pursue my first childhood dream.
But now, looking back on my years playing football as a boy, I do not view them with the sharp sadness that I felt then. In fact, I am very happy that I pursued that dream. I have realised since then that the skills I learnt following my passion have served me really well in my life. Not the passing and tackling, or the heading and shooting - there is not so much use for those skills as a Headteacher. But the other skills that I learnt such as teamwork and of communicating really well with the other members of your team, or of working hard and of all working together with one shared aim. Developing each of those key skills, which I developed first and foremost from my years playing sport, make me thankful and appreciative that my family supported me in pursuing what was special and most important to me when I was 11 years old. It matters not that my dream did not come true.
In truth I soon enough got over my disappointment aged 13. One of the reasons I got over it and moved on was because by the age of 13 I had developed a new interest, a new passion: acting and performing. I had performed parts in school plays in my primary school, small parts when I was younger, larger parts by Year 6, and I had loved being involved in school productions, being part of a team again, all working together with one aim of putting on a great show. And then in Senior School, in Year 7, I was taught by the most wonderful Drama teacher, Mr. Robinson, who asked me to play a lead role in a play that he was entering for a Play Festival at a theatre in Liverpool. We rehearsed for weeks and performed our play at the festival, but we didn’t win first prize – you can’t always win in life. However afterwards an agent for actors approached me and my family and asked if he could send me along to an audition for a television commercial for Heinz Tomato Ketchup.
So I travelled down to London with my mother, auditioning against talented children who attended drama school and who had already acted on stage and screen. And on this occasion I was fortunate enough to be chosen for the part. Heinz decided that they wanted a squeaky voiced boy with a Liverpudlian accent to sell Heinz sauce in a new squeezy bottle. I had to say lines such as “This new Heinz squeezy ketchup is really neat because now I can put it right where I want”. So that was fun, an enjoyable and different experience. And in acting, as a child, once you have shown that you can perform one part reliably and behave yourself on set, it becomes easier to be cast in other roles. So, soon after the sauce advertisement, I was involved in a BBC drama, working with some fabulous actors. And then, at age 13, not too long after my disappointment as a budding footballer, I was cast in a role as a family member on a soap opera on television at the time that was called Brookside. Your parents will remember it even though you will not know it as Brookside is no longer shown on television today.
I played the part of a character called Geoff Rogers, who was also known by the unflattering nickname of Growler, for over four years. Working on a weekly television show was a wonderful experience for me as a child. I didn’t always have to go to school, which at the time felt very nice and special. Once again I was working with wonderful actors, and also getting to know wonderful directors and writers such as Jimmy McGovern and Frank Cottrell Boyce, who you might have read as the author of novels such as Millions or The Astounding Broccoli Boy. Through acting on Brookside, I enjoyed lots of other opportunities such as travelling around the country, meeting Ronald Dahl because my character suffered dyslexia, and appearing on other television and radio shows such as Children in Need and BBC Radio 1. All lots of fun, but importantly following this new passion of mine allowed me to develop more skills that have served me well to this day: the importance of rehearsal and preparation, improving my presentation and communication skills, and once again, learning to work well as part of a team alongside lots of very different types of people.
In many ways, it is true to say that working as an actor on Brookside changed my life. But not in ways that you might expect. I certainly didn’t enjoy being recognised wherever I went around Liverpool, and I realised over time that unlike all the other actors on the show I didn’t burn with a passion inside me to wish to be an actor and to do whatever was required to be an actor for the rest of my life. I enjoyed every day there, but over time I learnt through pursuing this passion that it wasn’t a new childhood dream. Instead of any of this, working on Brookside changed my life because it opened my eyes to a world beyond that which I had known growing up in Liverpool. I realised just how many exciting and interesting jobs there were out there, creative and inspirational jobs that I might want to do, now that I had learned I did not wish to be an actor. So, once again, I do not regret being allowed to pursue my interest in acting from the age of 11 to 17; in fact I am really appreciative of everything I learnt from those years and that I make use of in my life each day.
One other benefit that came from being on Brookside that I was paid, which was certainly a novelty as a small teenage boy. My parents allowed me to spend a small allowance each month and the best thing about having a little financial independence was that it allowed me to pursue other interests, new passions that were developing throughout my time in secondary school. My love of music developed and I learnt to play the guitar, playing in bands with friends at school and university, which I enjoyed very much. As I got older, I was able to travel more, learn more about the world beyond Liverpool and England, which I still to this day value greatly. And I was allowed throughout my time at Senior School to develop my love of reading, of reading and studying English Literature. This only happened seriously from the age of 14 onwards, due to another inspirational teacher, Mrs. Woodhouse, but soon I was buying as many books as I could read each week, devouring the ideas and stories of the best writers throughout history.
By the age of 16 I knew without any doubt that studying literature was very much the thing I wished to do; I wasn’t at all sure where it would lead yet, but I knew it was the passion burning inside me that I had to pursue. And so I asked to leave Brookside because I wanted to study A Levels and go to university. And I should thank my parents at this point – it is always good and right to thank your parents - because my parents were hugely supportive of a decision that to others did not make the best sense or at least not the best financial sense. Their response to such questions was that you should always celebrate and love the child before you, which is no bad message for parents and teachers alike.
And as with my earlier dreams, my passion for reading and thinking about literature was both fun in itself and also developed skills that I try to apply each day of my life. With reading literature these lessons were mostly about trying to gain a better understanding people who had led very different lives to my own, and also about trying to be a good, kind and caring human being.
So I did go on to study English Literature at university, and I was fortunate enough to study at Cambridge University, where in time I finally realised that the one constant throughout my whole life, the one thing that I had benefitted most from when pursuing each of my different passions, was great teachers. Truly great teachers. And so I set out on a path to try to be one of them too. This particular passion is one I have not stopped pursuing yet. And, over many years it is this passion which has brought me here to you all this evening, celebrating a school full of great students with a wonderful attitude to learning, and also their fabulous, dedicated teachers.
So I said at the start of this speech that my main theme would be encouraging the pupils here tonight to pursue and to follow what is distinctive, special and important to each of you. That is not a bad message, but it is a common message, one I am sure you have heard before. And so, as with many great books, there is a slight twist at the end of my talk this evening. That is because I believe that passion can be a double-edged sword in learning. When we’re told to develop our passion and to follow our dream, often that means to develop what we’re already good at. And the truth is that some things take longer to get really good at than others.
So the most important message that I would wish to make to you as you each go through the next stage of your education is: don’t just follow your passions, but also broaden your passions. Broaden your passions because then you can be certain that you will be doing a lot of really great learning - and lots of really great learning means you will go on to lead really great lives."
Posted on: 29/09/2017
Annual Heads' Conference - Head's BlogThis week's blog will be a rather short one, as I need time to reflect in greater depth on the range of seminars I have attended and keynote speakers I have listened to this week at the annual Independent Association of Preparatory Schools Heads’ Conference. Along with 600 other delegates from UK and overseas prep schools, I have heard from a diverse and fascinating range of speakers.
In his keynote speech, 'Rethinking Education: Essential Skills for People Working in the Machine Age’, Dr. Harvey Lewis posed several questions. Why do we educate our children? Do we think there will be jobs for our current 4 year olds when they are ready to join the workforce? Are robots really coming for our jobs?
Dr. Barry Hymer, educational psychologist and researcher, then reaffirmed everything that we are currently doing at St. Helen’s College in his talk discussing learning theory in the areas of motivation, mindset, talent development and independent learning. He has written a super book, 'The Growth Mindset Pocketbook'. It is a must for every teacher and is also recommended reading for parents to understand how schools are now approaching education. If you are interested in buying your own copy, the link is below.
These are only a snippet of the many sessions attended and I look forward to reflecting on what I have learnt this week and to discussing it with the staff, so that together we may keep enriching the experiences your children have at school. I will, of course, continue to share my thoughts with you in next week's blog!
Posted on: 22/09/2017
Back to School - A Parent's PerspectiveI am delighted to have received this blog from a Year 4 parent who has reflected on the past couple of weeks of school life and how we are working with parents to support your child's learning. Many thanks to all parents who have attended the recent Meet the Teacher evenings and other information sessions. We hope to roll out other events for our parents to keep building home-school support structures for the children and to enhance your understanding of how your children are learning.
I confess that I find the end of the summer holidays quite hard. Despite the fact that it’s lovely to get back to the happy St. Helen's College environment, it’s sometimes a challenge to settle into the new routine that each school year brings.
It was wonderful therefore to be invited to the Year 4 and 5 Meet The Teacher evening in the first week of term, perfect timing to get my head back into the ‘school mind-set’ again. This year the structure of the session was slightly different with both year groups being covered together, and personally I found it so beneficial.
After a warm and enthusiastic welcome from Mrs. Drummond, the teaching team gave parents a tremendous insight into what to expect from the coming academic year. I felt the meeting gave a really useful overview of how the curriculum will be covered and the approach taken to learning and development at St. Helen's. The passion and energy of the team shone through and I came away from the meeting feeling so positive and much better equipped to support my son through this year.
Week two brought another invitation to parents, this time to attend a workshop hosted by St. Helen's aiming to help parents and carers understand our children’s online world.
When I was a child hardly anyone had a personal mobile phone, and smart phones were unheard of! The world that my son is growing up in however is very different, and today in the UK smartphone ownership has become so commonplace that it’s remarkable if someone doesn’t own or have access to such a device. My boy has an iPad and, like most children I know, he simply loves to watch videos on YouTube, create elaborate worlds in Minecraft and play games via one of the countless apps we have downloaded.
Technology plays an increasingly large part in our children’s everyday lives, indeed research carried out by Ofcom* in 2015 indicated that 90% of children aged 5-15 are online. Whilst it can be a wonderful and exciting enabler, it brings with it a whole series of new worries for me as a mother, and I often find myself questioning how I can ensure that my child is safe online?
I was therefore encouraged to read in the school news about the collaboration between O2 and the NSPCC, and was very pleased to be able to attend the workshop on Monday run by the NSPCC. It was really excellent – informative, fun and most of all reassuring. Whilst the session really highlighted to me that this is one parenting challenge that I have to face head on, it also confirmed that there is help, guidance and support out there. The key message that I took away from the session was to talk to my son often about this and get involved in his online world, just as I do in other areas of his life, so that I can support and guide him, and address any issues should they arise.
I very much recommend attending the workshop should you get the chance, or getting hold of the leaflet they have produced entitled Your Child’s Online World – A Guide For Parents.
There is a lot of information about how O2 and the NSPCC can help in this area on their website www.o2.co.uk/nspcc and there is also an Online Safety Helpline available on 0808 800 5002 which is free of charge and open to anyone.
I would like to end with a thank you. Thank you Mrs. Drummond and St. Helen's College, not only for the way that you support our children, but for the way that you support parents too!
* Ofcom (2015) Children and Parents : Media Use and Attitudes
Posted on: 15/09/2017
Meta-Learning by Mr. TovellLast year, I was given the opportunity to blog about my Master’s journey, which I was half way through at the time. It covered the beginnings of my research for my dissertation and how meta-learning had not only transformed my teaching methods in school but also my skills as a parent. The aim of my research was to uncover children’s perceptions of meta-learning: did they enjoy it; did they see value in it and did they believe it made them better learners? I have now submitted my dissertation and am delighted to have found that the children in my class not only enjoyed being meta-learners, but also felt it really helped them as learners. My research also complements the largest study ever in education - with a sample size of two hundred and fifty million students - which found that meta-learning is the second biggest contributor to child progression behind effective feedback (a link to an article in The Economist which analyses these findings can be found at the bottom of this page). As a result, St. Helen’s College is now to become a school of meta-learners.
In essence, meta-learning is about understanding yourself as a learner so you can become the best learner you can be. For this to be achieved, learners must be exposed to different ways of learning (what we are referring to as learning strategies) before being given an opportunity to reflect on how effective they were and in which other situations they can be used. Therefore, the focus is on how they learn (the process) as opposed to what they have learnt (the output); an approach which is proven to drive student attainment.
Chris Watkins states that for meta-learning to be effective, we must make learning an object of attention, conversation and reflection, and then apply what has been learnt.
Consequently, we will be focussing on providing children with opportunities to talk about, understand and then use strategies needed to be outstanding learners. These include:
Once children have learnt in a certain way, they will be asked to reflect on their learning and it is this ability to reflect on and then improve their future learning which really drives progress.
At home, please discuss with your children what they have learnt and what they did to learn it as it is the development of these learning strategies that will allow them to become independent, lifelong learners.
In academic writing, I always like to conclude with a quote as it is so often the case that the sentiment I wish to convey has been expressed more eloquently by someone before. In my last blog, I followed this same process and included a quote from a ten year old boy from a piece of research I had read where he stated meta-learning was a ‘good thing’. Now, I am in the fortunate position to be able to quote directly from a Helenian who was explaining why he would recommend meta-learning to other children.
‘I describe myself as an outstanding learner now, because I really pick up things
and meta-learning really helped. Otherwise, I would still be a good learner and not a great learner’.
My thoughts exactly!
Posted on: 8/09/2017
How Far Will They Go? - Head's BlogIt is such an exciting, albeit nerve racking, thought for any parent to think about their child’s future. What will they do when they leave school, what will they achieve, will they be happy? It is too much really for many of us to take in, but often we cannot stop thinking about it even from the day they are born.
This week in my first assemblies with all the children from Reception through to Year 6 I used the theme tune ‘How Far I’ll Go’ from the Disney film ‘Moana’ as my starting point. The children sang with gusto as the majority of them had all seen the movie and knew the song well. We then spoke about Moana’s character, about her strength and independence, and about wanting to do her best. We considered how she could be who she is even though sometimes finding things difficult and challenging.
I welcomed all the pupils to their very own island – ‘St. Helen’s College’, where they belong and where we all live as a community. Our motto created by our very own pupils was revisited:
S - Strive for Excellence
H – Help Others Achieve
C – Care for Each Other
The pupils know what our, your and their expectations are of them, so as we embark upon a new school year I have left the children with the question, ‘How far will you go this year?’ If they uphold all that St. Helen’s College stands for they will be proud, strong and independent young individuals who are capable of achieving great things, knowing that they have done their best in all aspects of school life.
All this would not be possible of course without your support and the high level of teaching and care from the St. Helen’s College staff. We have had two very busy training days this week on teaching and learning, all of which will impact upon the progress and experiences your children will have in school. In future blogs you will be hearing more about some of the new and exciting approaches that will empower your children to take their learning further then you might have thought possible!
The academic year 2017 – 2018 is off to a superb start!