School News and Head's Blog
Posted on: 17/09/2021
Community Matters by Mrs. Smith
I have been a part of the St. Helen’s College community for almost 12 years now. Throughout that time, I have found it to be a vibrant, happy, kind community of pupils, parents and staff and I feel very lucky to work in such an inspiring and friendly place.
It is interesting that the characteristics of our community remain constant, even though its members change annually, as new parents and children join the school and families who have been with the school many years move on. I am sure that the reason for this is that our community has such strong and enduring shared values: love, harmony, spirituality, self-awareness and growth.
Over the last year and a half, as we have negotiated our way through the pandemic, the word ‘community’ has taken on even greater, and perhaps wider, meaning. We have all become more aware that humanity is one global community, facing the same problems all over the world. We have, too, become more aware of our local communities: of the pressures and challenges on our healthcare system and its staff, on our education system and on parents and young people.
It is this increased awareness, perhaps, that has led us here at St. Helen’s College to reflect on how we can, as a school, contribute more to our local and global community. Our values are not only inward-looking, focussed on our own community; they are also outward-looking, and should enable us to make a difference to the lives of others outside of our school gates.
We have, for some time, been concerned at the lack of support networks available for new parents in the first few years of their children’s lives and we are taking steps to make a positive contribution in this area. Through our pre-school parenting programme, we are making advice and support available, free of charge, to parents in our local community and further afield, whether their child is to join St. Helen’s College or not. We are doing this through our programme of Teddy Talks and through offering free baby/toddler classes here at St. Helen’s College. The willingness of our staff to be involved in this project is a testament to their core values. We all feel the same desire to help and support those at the coalface of parenting, so that their babies and young children may have the very best experience possible. Seven new Teddy Talks have recently been filmed and added to the website. You can watch them by following these links:
SHC Teddy Talks - Early Years Music (Claire Fawbert)
SHC Teddy Talks - Emotional Regulation in Babies and Pre-Schoolers (Julia Brooker)
SHC Teddy Talks - Supporting Healthy Eating (Soula Kokkinoplitis)
SHC Teddy Talks - Making Time for Yourself (Steve Roche)
SHC Teddy Talks - Managing the Arrival of a Sibling (Leo Harrington)
SHC Teddy Talks - Digital Awareness (Shirley Drummond)
SHC Teddy Talks - Non-Digital Games (Shirley Drummond)
In addition, Mrs. McLaughlin’s Mother/Baby Mindfulness classes are now running at school on Wednesday mornings, with the aim of supporting mums to support their babies. These classes are suitable for babies from about six weeks old to crawling, so if you know anyone with a child of the right age, do encourage them to sign up for a set of six classes by contacting me at firstname.lastname@example.org. We are currently working on adding other classes to the programme.
The new St. Helen’s College Trust will be able to provide financial support to local organisations and/or families in order to enhance parents’ and children’s experiences, too. Mrs. Drummond, Mr. Sellu (an ex-St. Helen’s College parent) and I are the three founding Trustees of this Charitable Trust, which is a separate legal entity from the school itself. We have been working over the summer to establish and agree the Trust’s aims and principles, write our Governing Document, and establish our Charity bank account, as well as to identify potential income sources for the Trust. Our next steps will be to begin promoting the Trust to potential beneficiaries in the local area, as well as driving fundraising to add to its funds, so that we are able to make meaningful donations to support children and their parents/carers in our community. We are delighted that our school community will be able to contribute, through the Trust, to our wider local community, providing support for local families when they need it most. We hope to arrange a fundraising event during the current academic year and are currently considering hosting an Auction of Promises to which current St. Helen’s College families would be invited. We very much hope that you will consider attending such an event to help to raise funds for this cause.
The Trust exists to promote the advancement of children’s education and all-round development in the Hillingdon/Uxbridge local community. Its stated aims are to:
provide, enrich and extend educational and other opportunities for children from birth and throughout their primary education, and
provide support, advice and guidance for their parents and/or carers.
We are slowly building up funds for the Trust and we hope to invite applications from potential beneficiaries from January onwards. At first, the grants we will be able to make will be fairly small; in time, we hope that these will increase in size. Everything has to start somewhere!
We are planning to recruit more Trustees for the SHC Trust as time moves on, and are currently interested in hearing from anyone who has Charity or Fundraising experience and expertise. Please do get in touch if you have expertise in this area and are interested in becoming involved, either as a Trustee or adviser: email@example.com.
We believe that the pre-school parenting programme and the SHC Trust will enable the school community to make an increasingly meaningful contribution to the local community. We are open to any other ideas of ways in which we can support parents and children in the local community; please do let us know if you think of any!
Posted on: 10/09/2021
Why Art? By Mrs. Pruce“Every child is an artist”, said Pablo Picasso, and I know he’s right.
My second year at St. Helen's College is now underway and what a first year it was! Yet, throughout the turmoil of Covid, our art work has held the classes together, united us in our new joy for the subject and had us chuckling during online lessons (especially when dressed as royalty in crowns and tiaras with Year 2).
Art is all around us, not just in galleries but on TV, packaging, book covers, graphic design, the restaurant industry and stage and film to name a few. The career options are numerous and it is a subject to be taken seriously.
The subject of art dates back thousands of years, all around the world, and allows us to know what we now know about history. From cave paintings to Henry Moore’s chalk work on the shelters during the war and Banksy’s political graffiti. Without these we can only guess at what has really happened.
In itself, art can be a way of communication to express ourselves, healing our souls when troubled or telling a story. Art can be an experience to share our thoughts and feelings or just to while away time.
For me personally, art has been something that I have only had the courage to embrace in the last 15 years or so. I say courage as I was the child at school who was too tall, stuck out like a sore thumb and went easily red faced when the art teacher told me that it wasn’t my best subject; it crushed all creativity I had for many years.
I promised myself that no child in my class would ever be made to feel this way about their own talents. The introduction of new skills at St. Helen's College has proven that Picasso was right. The child that can draw superbly may not be the best painter; the painter may not be the best sculptor, who in turn may not be the best print maker; but they are all good at something and seeing that realisation dawn on their faces is what drives me on.
As teachers we have a role to play in encouraging our students, focussing on the good and inspiring in them the confidence to try. FAIL is the First Attempt In Learning and even as adults we are - and should be - still always learning.
As adults we have a lot to learn from our children, in school and at home. The artistic response to the pandemic blew my mind. The explanations given as to why the children drew what they drew were clear, simplistic and openly honest. Arya A with her “Rainbow Tree” and Riya C with “Breakout” were stunning examples that gave me goosebumps and brought tears to my eyes. Have you ever been reduced to tears by art in any form - perhaps poetry, music or a piece of writing? Seeing the Taj Mahal for the first time from far away actually made me cry, not an emotion I expected to feel at all over a building.
The use of sketchpads at St. Helen's College has been changing, and is changing further this school year. The desire to scribble out something not liked is natural but also pointless, since we need to see our failures to perfect our abilities. In the book 'The Dot', Peter H Reynolds shows us the power of one single adult's actions to change a child's life. “The book shows the importance of teacher-student relationships, and our connections as human beings. It shows how creative thinking on the part of a teacher can unlock a child's own creativity, confidence, and growth.”
So, however old you are, don’t forget that the child you were has now grown up. I encourage you all to go and enjoy whatever art form you would love to explore the most, and remember… in art you are never wrong.
Posted on: 3/09/2021
It has been wonderful to welcome so many new children to St. Helen’s College this week and I have been in awe of how well our new Ducklings and Nursery children are settling into their new environment. Our other new pupils across the school have started forging new friendships and across all three school sites there has been such genuine care and love shared by all.
It never ceases to move me at the beginning of a school year when I observe the staff with their new classes, the children with each other and every member of our community coming together to make sure that everyone is happy, settled and ready for the new year ahead.
There has been a lot written about, and much research conducted on ‘psychological safety’ and the relationship between psychological safety at school and pupil well-being. When the psychological safety of teachers is high, so too is students’ well-being - they demonstrate increased levels of self-confidence, which in turn leads to enhanced pupil development.
I am proud to be part of such a caring community where everyone (pupils and staff) feel safe, respected and comfortable to be themselves, they are not afraid to take risks, are not afraid of failure and are accepting of feedback.
Amy Edmonson, Professor of Leadership and Management at Harvard Business School, is well known for her work on teams and in one of her Ted Talks here she discusses 3 things we can do to build a psychologically safe workplace:
1. frame the work as a learning problem, not an execution problem
2. acknowledge your own fallibility
3. model curiosity
I would hope that every member of the staff at St. Helen’s College feels that they are ‘championed’ in the workplace for what they do. Mr. and Mrs. Crehan as our School Principals and myself as Headteacher are incredibly fortunate to have such a committed team who continuously give their best for the good of your children.
As a learning community the children learn best from their role models and these role models are the adults they are surrounded by both at home and at school.
Our staff are also continuous learners, taking risks, learning new skills and embracing the challenges which new learning brings. Our ongoing continuous professional learning at St. Helen’s College is quite outstanding. A snapshot of this is the commitment from staff such as Mrs. Reid, as she embarks upon her PGCE teacher training year, Mrs. Smith (Director of Communications/Admissions) as she commences an MFA in Creative Writing, our Reverend Smith who is training to be a School Chaplain, Mrs. Ross who has just been awarded her BA in Early Years Education and Mrs. Gilbey who has recently been awarded her L3 in Supporting Teaching and Learning. Mrs. Hunt and Mrs. Smith have just trained as our Wellbeing Champions to support staff Mental Health and I myself am embarking upon my second year of an MA in Educational Leadership and Management. Why we all do this additional learning is because we do feel psychologically safe in our workplaces, we want to be the best role models we can and continue to strive to be the best we can.
However, it is not only in taking certified courses that we as adults continue our learning journey. The staff embrace learning on a daily, weekly, termly basis - as they continue to hone their skills, taking on board new educational research and pedagogy, introducing new software to enhance pupil learning and of course learning from each other and your children.
It is evident that the ‘psychological safety’ of our staff is high and this in turn has a significant impact on the relationships which your children form at school and the love that they have for learning.
This week we have seen the youngest members of our community take their first steps in becoming members of St. Helen’s College - our new Ducklings and Nursery children - as they left their first settling in session. I was warmed by the feedback from parents as they collected their happy, curious and excited children.
To all our families, new and current, to all our staff, new and current, thank you for making our community such a caring and safe environment where we can all flourish and grow!
Here’s to a superb new academic year!
Posted on: 9/07/2021
Farewell to St. Helen's College by Miss WalkerI had been putting off writing my farewell blog; I knew it would be very difficult to write as I am truly sad to be leaving a place that has meant so very much to me and my family over the past 27 years. But as I settled myself down, with a glass of wine in hand, to go down memory lane, I received the devastating news that I would have to self isolate in the final week of term. It has been completely heartbreaking not to be able to be with my school family in my final week and to say the goodbyes and thank yous I wanted to say in person to so many colleagues, parents and pupils. However, working from home this last week has given me more time to reflect on my time at St. Helen’s College and to focus on the happy memories which will fill my heart forever.
My St. Helen’s College journey began in 1994 when I joined the school as a fresh faced graduate and new mum with a nine month old daughter to teach PE part time. Things were certainly different back then: I was the only female staff member permitted to wear trousers, in the form of a very fetching brightly coloured 1990’s shell tracksuit, and the only sports pupils played were football and cricket for boys and rounders and netball for girls. The Upper School playground was the size of one third of the existing netball court and a scaled down netball court was marked out and the rest of the outside area behind Cambria was a grassed old orchard. It took my best persuasive powers to convince Mr. and Mrs. Crehan to make the playground bigger in 2004 so that pupils could benefit from more play space and better sports facilities. When I started at the school, PE was led by Mrs. Bryant and Miss Cooper (1C teacher) and her older sister Sarah were in the Y5 and 6 netball team, so it seems fitting that I will be handing on the baton to Miss Cooper to run the Y5 and 6 netball team next year.
I became Head of PE in 1996 and working afternoons gave me the opportunity to balance family life whilst developing my teaching career and growing a tennis coaching business alongside Mr. Stidder. In fact, Mr. Stidder has been associated with St. Helen’s College for longer than me, providing tennis coaching at the school since 1992! I continued to work part time as my family grew with the arrival of my son in 1998. Subsequently both my children joined the school in Nursery, then called Rainbows and Sunshines, and they both went through the school, taught by Mrs. Hunt, Mrs. Allery, Mrs. Belvoir and Mrs. Stark amongst others. In recent years, since graduating, my daughter has come back to work at the school from time to time too. So I hope this gives you a sense of how my family has been so closely linked to the St. Helen’s College family over the years.
Throughout the early 2000s I ran a successful Ofsted registered morning pre-school in The Pavillion in Court Park and many children from here progressed to join St. Helen’s College where I continued to teach them. Perhaps this was the inspiration for our very own Ducklings Kindergarten? By 2008 I was teaching full time at the school and became subject leader for geography and took on a shared form tutor role with Ms Turner. In 2010 I was invited to join the Senior Leadership Team as Director of Co-curriculum, a role I have thoroughly enjoyed.
The school has changed immeasurably over the past 27 years, expanding to two form entry, relocating Lower School from All Saints Church to its present site, and adding a science block, art studio and refectory. The PE shed, which used to be my office too, has been moved three times! I am immensely proud of the many developments I have been responsible for introducing during my time at the school. These have included expanding the day and residential visit programme, the introduction of an overnight sleepover visit for Y3 and extending the Y5 visit from a weekend trip to a week. I have also led and encouraged outdoor learning to take place to spark pupils’ curiosity, deepen their understanding, and improve their sense of well-being. I introduced swimming to the curriculum and established more opportunities for pupils to compete with local state schools and independent schools. I am proud of developing a modern, future facing geography curriculum which encourages an awareness of the issues of climate change and develops tangible skills for pupils to build upon in the future, and of introducing an extensive co-curriculum clubs programme across a range of creative, aesthetic, sporting and academic fields. Yet it is the positive impact the progressive Heartstart first aid training programme for pupils and the School Travel Plan to make school travel safer and more active has had for pupils and their families of which I am particularly proud. Through it all, my passion and commitment has always been to make a difference and to provide the very best learning experiences and opportunities for personal development for St. Helen’s College pupils. It has given me great personal and professional satisfaction to see so many pupils grow and develop into confident young people, ready to face new challenges with integrity. It is lovely that so many of our alumni keep in touch and just last week in Court Park I bumped into no fewer than four St. Helen’s College old boys and girls and their families! Hearing about their achievements and sharing their memories about their time at St. Helen’s College makes my heart swell with a great sense of pride to know I have been part of their journey in life.
This place has been such a wonderful and inspiring place for pupils to learn and for me to work. It has been my enormous pleasure to lead a variety of initiatives which highlighted and communicated what a unique and special place it was and raised the profile of the school locally and nationally. Achieving the Gold TfL STARs Award, the School Games Platinum Award and reaching the finals of the 2020 TES Independent Schools Awards in not just one but two categories: ‘Student Initiative of the Year’ and ‘Sport, Health and Wellbeing’ were notable moments. Yet I think being runner up in 2013 for the Pearson Teacher of the Year Award stands out as something special. The initial nomination was made by the then Head Girl, Emily Hannis, and the subsequent kind and heartfelt supporting statements submitted for the award by many pupils, parents, alumni and principals is something that I will always cherish.
I have taught thousands of St. Helen’s College pupils, including three Crehan children, my own and other staff members' children and many families - brothers, sisters and cousins, over the years and I have befriended pupils and parents alike. I am grateful for the support and kindness parents have shown me and I feel very lucky to have had the opportunity to serve this wonderful community as a teacher and member of the Senior Leadership Team. I have met the most fantastic people here and I am forever changed by my inspiring and compassionate colleagues, with whom I have enjoyed close working relationships and friendships over the years. Thank you too to the incredible pupils I have had the pleasure of teaching. I hope I have made a difference in many of their lives, just as they have irrevocably changed mine.
I have been blessed to be part of a strong school community at St. Helen’s College and I look forward to becoming a member of, and contributing to, another school community in this way. I look forward to the opportunities that await me both professionally and personally at High March School. It is not a coincidence this is a school with a similar history and heritage to St. Helen’s College, with a family ethos and with the values of friendship and kindness at its core. I will truly miss the amazing colleagues, pupils and parents I have been fortunate to know. I am honoured to have received the opportunity to grow personally and develop my career amid such talent and brilliance.
So as the sun goes down on my time here and I say farewell, I hope in some small way I will be leaving my footprints at St. Helen’s College. I will always remember my life at St. Helen’s College fondly and, just as the school song says, this school is ‘my second family’ and it is ‘my heart’. I will be forever connected to this community for that reason.
Posted on: 25/06/2021
Staying ConnectedAt St. Helen’s College we strive to stay connected with our alumni and encourage ex-pupils to become part of our alumni database so that we can keep them connected with the school, invite them to events and celebrate their achievements. It is also a great testament to the school that we currently have four ex-pupils on our staff: Mrs. McGee, the Ducklings Manager, Mrs. Rumney in the Upper School Office, Miss Cooper, one of our Year 1 teachers and Miss Stidder, one of our lunchtime supervisors. I love to hear them recount memories of their days as a pupil and share their photos from their past school days!
A few weeks ago I took time out to visit a local resident who lives on Sweetcroft Lane. She is 90 years old this summer and is one of our alumni - I was saddened that she has been so lonely throughout lockdown with no family around but reminded her that she is part of a very special big family - our St. Helen’s College community. Mr. Smith and Mr. Rizzo have since visited her to assist with some minor chores and her connection with the school remains strong.
We have also benefited from our alumni giving back to us to inspire the children with their successes and experiences. This week, we welcomed Kai Plummer-Walrond back to school to run a very special day of acting masterclasses with our Year 6 pupils who are in rehearsal for their end of year production ‘The Lion King’. Kai is currently studying at Arts Ed Drama School in Chiswick and spent almost two years playing the part of Young Simba in the West End whilst he was a pupil at St. Helen’s College. Kai inspired the Year 6 pupils throughout the day, leading them in warm up exercises which were used by cast members in The Lion King and refining many scenes with our cast members under the watchful eye of Mr. McLaughlin. I observed a 15 minute scene and was amazed at how Kai brought out more energy and dynamics in young Nala and Simba! The Year 6 pupils had an opportunity to have a Q & A session with Kai and were tickled when they found out that yes, he had been paid to be in The Lion King and that, in a recent McDonald’s advert he had appeared in, part of his payment was a year's free supply of chicken nuggets!! We are in for a treat next week when we finally get to see our Year 6 performance and Kai will be attending one of the evenings to encourage his fellow students.
Earlier this year yet another alumni, Miles Barrow, judged our remote Speech Competition. Miles is another successful actor who left St. Helen’s College to go on to perform in the West End in Aladdin and more recently in last year’s Christmas movie ‘Jingle Jangle’. It was wonderful to be able to have him give feedback to our Speech Competition finalists and encourage all of the children to continue performing in public and develop their poetry.
We also have members of our Governing Body who are alumni of the school who give back to us in so many ways - giving not only their professional but also their personal expertise, having known the school for so long. They also happen to be part of the Crehan family, so the family bond remains strong.
We always say to our leaving families, once a Helenian, always a Helenian! So if you know of any alumni, our ‘Old Helenians’, please do encourage them to contact us on firstname.lastname@example.org and if you are one of this year’s leavers make sure you also drop us an email to let us know how you are getting on. You will automatically be added to our alumni database and we will keep in touch with you all.
We are already starting to make plans for our grand centenary in 2024 - only a few years away and it would be wonderful to have many generations of Helenians present at some of our centennial events in what I am sure will be a momentous year for us all!
Posted on: 11/06/2021
GratitudeLast night I had the pleasure of meeting many of our new Nursery parents as they visited Lower School to have their individual meetings with either Miss Carmichael or Mrs. Mann.
Throughout the evening I had wonderful conversations discussing the events of the past 16 months and listened to how different families have experienced the journey of the pandemic so far. What really struck me was the joy that so many parents expressed in being able to spend time with their children - despite mums and dads working from home and juggling work commitments, there really has been genuine joy in what these turbulent times have brought about. We often get lost in the sadness and fear that has been reported, but for so many families there has been new found family time and experiences which will never be able to be replicated under ‘normal’ working patterns for parents.
There was so much gratitude expressed from our Ducklings parents for the love and care that their children have had since joining us in September 2020. Parents are genuinely in awe of the all round development of their children, and in particular their oracy skills and levels of independence and confidence. I listened with great pride and shared all the parents' excitement as we prepare to welcome so many new families to our school. We have our new Ducklings intake, new Nursery children and many other families joining us throughout the school in September.
However, before the new academic school year I know that so many of you will be taking time this summer to reap the benefits of living on this incredible island! Our British coastline will be the busiest it has ever been as overseas travel is so restricted.
Many of us will be taking to the coast and I for one need my frequent intake of coastal sea air! The West Coast of Scotland, Oban and the Isle of Mull are my go to places and I am looking forward to catching up with family and friends. The beauty of the area and coastal scenery brings me great peace and pleasure.
Over half term I managed yet another visit to the Kent coastline, as my daughter is currently in university in Canterbury. This time I found a beautiful Airbnb apartment near to Deal. Since she moved there, we have discovered an area of the UK which we absolutely love with the most stunning beaches: Whitstable, Broadstairs, Deal, Herne Bay, Ramsgate, Margate...each area has their own identity and the area is becoming very popular with ‘those from London’. Who knew that Margate was home to the Turner Contemporary art gallery!
The attraction of the seaside here in the UK, regardless of what part of the UK, is special. The traditional piers, rugged coastline, undeveloped beaches, natural defences, the sea life, flowers and fauna really are unique to the UK - let alone the fish and chips and Mr Whippy!!!
The UK coast brings me great spiritual support too and I find being by the coast refreshing, reinvigorating and relaxing. Our seas are mysterious and powerful and we must all respect this and be grateful for our proximity here in the UK to such incredible coasts.
Wherever you are planning to visit this summer within the UK - I hope that some time near the sea is on your agenda.
Deal beach last Saturday!
Posted on: 21/05/2021
Residential TripsAs many of you know, the annual residential trips which are part of our enrichment programme from Year 3 to Year 6 have not gone ahead during the pandemic as we would normally have desired. Usually, in the summer term, Year 3 would have visited Shortenills Environmental Centre for 2 days and 1 night, Year 4 would have travelled to Flatford Mill in Suffolk for 3 days (2 nights), Year 5 would have taken the ferry to the Isle of Wight for 5 days (4 nights) and Year 6 would have crossed the channel to Normandy to stay at the Chateaux de la Baudonniere for 6 days (5 nights).
Despite us not travelling this year, I am delighted that the staff have been able to arrange alternative days for our pupils, some on site and some at off site venues closer to home, to replicate the activities in which the children would have participated on their residential trips. These days offer the children experiences that enhance the pupils’ classroom learning, adding opportunities pupils may not otherwise have. Research has proven that by participating in such a range of activities can lead to improved relationships, development of important skills, improved achievement and progress and a greater sense of belonging.
Many schools only offer one residential trip to their children throughout their primary school years, but here at St. Helen’s College we recognise the enormous value of these trips, which is why, from Year 3, our children experience these on an annual basis.
This week we have had the first two of our residential days for the Year 3 and Year 6 children.
Year 3 packed their backpacks and ventured on foot to Court Park on what was a blessed day of good weather on Wednesday! I witnessed each activity and was so impressed by the teamwork and determination which some groups of children demonstrated as they pulled together to erect a tent with minimal adult assistance. For some children this task really challenged them but, crucially, they were able to reflect on what they found difficult and why. I would not be surprised if many of the Year 3 children are now badgering their parents to purchase them tents to put up in the garden - please note that they were only pop up tents! The ‘green’ group in session 2 worked speedily and with a sense of pride as they basked under their green canopy as the first group finished and discussed our green planet and climate change! The children had no idea that I could overhear their conversation through their tent canopy but it was a delight to hear!
Each Year 3 group also took part in orienteering, story stones and mud masks. The trees in the woodland area of Court Park are now a gallery of the most exquisite mud masks and I highly recommend taking the time after school to take a stroll through this beautiful part of the park which is right on our doorstep. Seemingly one child has made a portrait of me! I wonder if you can spot it.
On arrival at school on Thursday I greeted the children at the gate at Upper School with my very best French (a tad rusty but hopefully grammatically correct!! The French flag was flying and the bunting was out! We became ‘L’Ecole de St. Helen’s College’ for the day!
Our Year 6 children were immersed in a cultural day of language, cuisine, outdoor games and drama! A breakfast of croissants et chocolat chaud set them up for their morning bread-making activity, during which they raised the roof of the Evans Hall with their ‘chant de Francais’ as they kneaded their bread and tried to out-sing the other class. French boules was very competitive indeed and the traditional playground games challenged their listening skills! Lunch was a culinary delight as the children visited a crepe/galette van and enjoyed dining alfresco in a French cafe style, ordering and enjoying this traditional French treat. In the afternoon the pupils enjoyed a performance of ‘The Three Musketeers’ and again were immersed in the French culture and language!
Next week our Year 4 and Year 5 children will be off site at two other local venues. Year 4 will be participating in a range of outdoor pursuits at Iver Environmental Centre, including pond dipping, shelter building, bushcraft skills, exploring animal homes and investigating minibeasts. Their day will conclude with a campfire activity. Year 5 will spend their day at Pacar Scout Camp where they will be enjoying the Gladiator challenge, pedal karts, zip wire and archery.
It is a huge testament to our staff that they are so committed to organising these days for the children to ensure that our pupils are able to benefit from participating together in such a vast range of activities away from their normal classroom setting. I am sure that those of you with children in Years 3-6 have heard so much already about their experiences - the memories created on such days are long lasting and the learning which happens outside of the normal school day is irreplaceable.
As the restrictions posed by Covid continue to lift, we look forward to being able to offer our full range of co-curricular activities from September and plans are already in place for next year’s residential trips!
Posted on: 14/05/2021
Teddy Talks by Mrs. SmithAs you will know, I spend a lot of time meeting prospective parents and helping you to navigate the admissions process. I was involved in each one of your pre-joining experiences, since I have been with the school over 11 years now.
This aspect of my work is one that I particularly enjoy. I remember well being a parent of very young children, and my husband and I making our own decisions about childcare and schooling for them. I remember, too, how tough it can be to parent a baby or toddler and how many variables there are in parents’ lives during that period. There are questions over maternity and paternity leave, finances, whether to move house for more space, whether a second or third child is a consideration and so much more. It can also be an emotional and exhausting time, as you navigate the early months and years of life as a parent, possibly feeling that you are losing your sense of self along the way.
Here at St. Helen’s College, we believe that a positive, mutually supportive partnership between school and home is crucial to ensure a happy experience for your child. Starting a family is a miraculous time, but we know that parents of pre-school children have busy, demanding lives and we want to help.
Another aspect of my role is overseeing the school’s marketing activity. I have been mulling over, for some time, how to dovetail the need for pre-school parenting support with one of our marketing aims, which is to reach parents of young children right from birth (since in the past some parents were leaving it too late to apply to St. Helen’s College, and then missing out on the chance of a place here). So, early this year, I came up with a proposal for a ‘Pre-School Parenting’ initiative. The initiative has two strands: one is to provide in-person baby/toddler classes here at St. Helen’s College for parents of pre-schoolers in the local community. The other is to make short videos with advice on various topics from our expert staff for parents of pre-schoolers. We decided to call these ‘Teddy Talks’, to include our school teddy, which is given out to prospective parents in goody bags when they visit.
Next, I undertook some market research, sending a survey out to all of our current Ducklings, Nursery and Reception parents. I asked what they would have liked more support with when their children were 0-2 years old, and in what format they would most have appreciated that support. I am very grateful to all those of you who responded: the results were fascinating. It is clear that there is a significant need for more support for new parents on many topics: sleep, feeding, how to retain your own identity, how to manage behaviour and set boundaries, how to encourage reading and develop speech, how to bond effectively and calmly with your baby and how to manage the arrival of a sibling. The survey results made me even more determined to put something in place to support new parents.
I am delighted to say that we have recently filmed our first six ‘Teddy Talks’, which I can now share with you. Each person who wrote and delivered a talk did so from the heart, working independently, and I am so proud of my colleagues for their bravery and willingness to be a part of this project on top of their extremely busy day to day lives. I hope that you will agree that these Teddy Talks are useful, and represent our ethos and values at St. Helen’s College effectively. Please do share them with family and friends, and encourage them to share them with any new parents they know, no matter how far afield! You might pick up some useful tips from them to use in your parenting, too.
Please follow the links below to watch our first six talks.
Choosing The Right Setting For Your Child - Su Smith, Director of Admissions
Growing A Love Of Reading With Your Baby/Toddler - Shirley Drummond, Head
Early Speech, Language And Communication - Lucy Hunt, Head of Lower School
Positive Behaviour Management - Aidan McLaughlin, Deputy Head
The Value of Nursery Rhymes - Jill Crehan, Principal
Baby Mindfulness - Poonam McLaughlin, Year 3 & Baby Mindfulness Teacher
We are looking forward very much to adding more videos to the Teddy Talk bank in future – we hope that this will, in time, become a comprehensive resource for parents in the local and wider community. So if you have ideas for relevant topics, please email me at email@example.com to let me know.
I am now also working on the proposed programme of baby/toddler classes to be held at St. Helen’s College, when Covid restrictions allow. Mrs. McLaughlin is currently undertaking Pause Baby Mindfulness training, and will be offering Mother/Baby Mindfulness classes on site soon. We will let you know when these are going to begin, and will also let you know as other classes are added in due course.
Thank you for supporting us by viewing and sharing the Teddy Talks and please do contact me with feedback or ideas on this theme. Parents and your needs are really, really important to us and we are here to support you in every way we can, from birth all the way through.
Posted on: 7/05/2021
Mindfulness v. MindlessnessOver the past few weeks I have been so proud of all of your children as I have observed them navigate their learning inside and outside of the classroom.
Schools are busy places for our pupils and we expect your children’s brains to ‘ache’ each day as they are challenged in lessons by the curriculum and the questions being posed to them, and asked to demonstrate their understanding of what they have learnt. It is therefore so important that we help children in coping with such a busy school day and busy lives in general.
As many of you know, we are a school which promotes mindfulness and we give your children time to be in the present moment, noticing, feeling, sensing and bringing attention to their breathing. We allow the children to be in mindful silence in assemblies, and there is a magical moment when, as adults and children, we feel that connectedness through our ‘strong’ silence as we bring attention to our breath and the present moment.
Children in Years 4, 5 and 6 are currently being taught more structured mindfulness courses too. Year 4, as part of their Paws b course, are being taught about the main parts of the brain. This week in 4T they learnt about the role of the insula and how it works with the prefrontal cortex in assisting us to recognise emotions. I do tell the children that without mindfulness in my life I would find my job more challenging and I am always so pleased to hear that many parents also engage with mindfulness either in their workplaces or as part of your family routine. It is so important that we recognise how we may be feeling and give ourselves the opportunity to acknowledge emotions, talk about them if appropriate, and develop techniques to deal with these emotions.
In the last week I have had two very sad bereavements within my own family and, with the Covid regulations in Scotland, my sister and I have not been able to travel or attend the funerals of these close family members (for now, only 20 people may attend funerals in Scotland). I have managed to support my elderly mother from afar with her emotions and also allowed myself to be in the present moment to acknowledge and deal with my own feelings.
Your children are in a fortunate position, in that by the time they leave St. Helen’s College they will have a toolkit of mindfulness practices which will support them for years to come. It is a testament to our staff that so many of them are now either qualified mindfulness teachers or are currently undergoing training. Mrs. McLaughlin is currently training to be a baby mindfulness teacher for 0-2 year olds. Mrs. Hunt embarks upon a new course, dots, in June, which has been especially written with 3-6 year olds in mind. Mr. Roche is leading the Year 5 children in the .breath programme and Year 4 and Year 6 are working with me on the Paws b and .b courses.
Our staff are interested in what the children are learning and this week I overheard a lovely conversation in the playground when one of our pupils explained to one of the lunchtime supervisors how she is training her mind to train her brain and then explained what different parts of the brain do! Mind blowing from an 8 year old!
We all can make wrong choices or decisions and the children begin to realise that some of their choices may be ‘mindless’ choices - done on autopilot without much thought - like running down the path to get the front of the lunch queue! They also learn that there may be consequences for mindless decisions - like having to go to the end of the queue! (The prefrontal cortex made the wrong decision!) But our pupils learn to respond mindfully and not react mindlessly. It truly is a joy when the children are able to take more responsibility for their actions, with an understanding that they are in control of their actions and decisions. For those children who do find themselves feeling strong emotions of anger or maybe sadness, then the simple mindfulness practices we teach them can alleviate some of their tensions and increase their happiness levels. We talk about ‘growing happiness’ and we all have that ability!
I will be attending the annual Mindfulness in Schools Conference on Saturday 19th June with other staff members including Mrs. Crehan. Over the past five years, I have come away from the annual conference feeling nourished and so proud of the role we are playing in educating your children to enable them to live full, meaningful lives with the knowledge, skills and understanding they need to flourish in today’s busy world.
You can find out more about why we teach mindfulness here.