School News and Head's Blog
Posted on: 19/06/2020
Pupil Perspective: Lockdown LearningThis week I invited our Head Boy, Anish, and Head Girl, Catherine, to co-write a blog to give us a pupil perspective of 'Lockdown'. I was so moved to read their blog, as I am sure you will be. We have the most wonderful ambassadors for what St.Helen's College stands for in our pupils - do enjoy!
Sometimes, life does change overnight. One day, the cities are hustling and bustling with myriad activities and children come back from school with dozens of stories to tell. The next day we wake up to empty streets and an untimely school holiday. We have been in Lockdown since 23rd March 2020. It seems a long time ago but that is when all of the children and teachers started homeschooling. This global pandemic has brought our country to a standstill. However, as we know, every grey cloud has a silver lining and understandably such difficult situations bring out novel challenges that we need to adapt to and overcome! It must have been extremely difficult for the teachers but they embraced the challenge and have been doing and are still doing an amazing job. All of the children have really enjoyed learning from home. The lessons are still bags of fun and everyone is co-operating to help each other do the best they can do. Year 6, with the help of their terrific teachers have even been doing their Year 6 projects at home!
This lockdown has brought in a wonderful opportunity for us to engage in activities we never had a chance to do before and we are able to spend quality time with our family. Also, this lockdown has allowed us to actually and properly direct our attention to nature. Everyday, everyone is waking up to the joyous sing song of the sparrow.
Another great thing that has happened during the lockdown is the reduction of pollution maintaining the tranquillity of nature. Not many of us are going out as often and therefore we are reducing the acceleration of climate change. This is positive news, meaning that we may still have time to save the planet and preserve nature for future generations to come.
Being at home gave us a new insight into school. It was a new step for all of the St. Helen's College community, but we overcame the technical difficulties and set up a hugely successful online learning programme. Google Meet, Google Classroom and Century Tech have allowed us to be able to adapt to these circumstances and still be able to thrive. As Ms Gilham has been teaching us, “The species that adapts will survive; those who don’t will perish”.
Having the opportunity to experience home learning is something that has not only added to our ever-growing list of experiences, it has shaped us into stronger people and given many the chance to develop new passions. It is so important to look for the good in things. As young people, we need to remember these events and reflect on them, for that is the only way we can improve and make a version of ourselves that contributes to society.
In this blog, we would like to show gratitude to all the teachers, staff and parents alike, for their support and hard work. The teachers have put so much effort into making sure we get the best out of our lessons, something which requires a lot of attention and time.
For us, home learning was very enjoyable, though vastly different. We have been keeping in contact with all our friends, via Skype, Zoom, Facetime and lots of other apps. Weekly, on the weekend, 6RD girls have been doing online quizzes using Zoom and Kahoot. This has been so vital, and has helped to bring joy into many people’s lives. This spirit is what will get us through this turbulent time; the sense of community.
As the number of cases have gradually begun to slow down, the Government has allowed schools to reopen partially by allowing Nursery, Reception, Year 1 and Year 6 back. Many of our friends have said that it is great to be in school and that they feel that they are protected with all the safety precautions that the St. Helen's College staff have put in place.
Since then, most of the children have been back in school learning with great gusto. The children definitely showed their love for learning and the teachers are going above and beyond to help us settle in new conditions and have as much fun as possible. The safety of others has always been the priority.
Some of the fun topics in lessons have been maths mysteries, drawing for the Hammersmith Hospital in art, Year 5 preparing for 11+ exams at home, creating board games with Year 6 and the school has been using a new website called Century Tech. Century Tech creates a learning path for you to follow, thereby nourishing your knowledge. In English, Year 6 have been working on their WW2 scrapbooks and Year 1 have been making their very own stories in computing! And the list doesn’t end there…everyone has been enthusiastically listening and participating in the bi-weekly assemblies and class meets. Everyone has loved every minute of this roller coaster experience. It shows how strong and determined our fantastic community is. If we work together and follow the rules, then we can be successful in defeating this virus. Google Meets are a great way of keeping in touch with friends and family, but if we persevere we will meet each other in person in the end.
Certainly there is a light shining proudly at the end of the tunnel, and if we work together, we shall get there very soon!
Catherine L and Anish A
Posted on: 17/06/2020
Weekly News - Friday 12th June 2020La-La-La Lockdown
We hope you enjoy this video to lift all of our community's lockdown spirits! Thanks go to Miss Walker and her son for teaching everyone the dance, and to Mrs. Crehan for the soundtrack. Well done all those who took part!
We enjoyed some wonderful music in the Upper School assemblies from our Year 2 children this week; well done to Ruby and Hana for their beautiful flute playing. It is such a delight for us to continue to celebrate the musicality of children.
Mrs. Nash will also be looking for some new violinists from next year - do contact Mrs. Allery if you have a child at either Lower School or Upper School who may be interested in learning the violin from September. You can reach Mrs. Allery at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Mrs. Nash herself has been very committed to improving her own skills and is on Day 87 of 100 consecutive days of violin practice - she started this about a week before lockdown! She has also just started an online course with an amazing violinist in the US which lasts for 3 months. He sets daily practice assignments which take about an hour a day. Mrs. Nash is a true advocate of our current value of 'self-discipline'.
Funny Face Friday
Next Friday (19th June) we invite children to 'Funny Face Friday'. All children, whether attending school in person or taking part in remote learning, are encouraged to make their face a 'funny face'. Hats, wigs, glasses of any description, face paint, stick on jewellery....anything is welcome! We hope that this will be a real spirit-lifter for us all!
House Art Competition - Final Week For Entries
We would like to remind pupils to submit their entries for our House Art Competition. Pupils may be as creative as they like in producing their pieces of artwork: drawing, painting, sculpting, modelling, sticking/collaging: all these are welcome, and more! Art must be on the theme of a school value, and each piece of work must be accompanied by a note (NOT WRITTEN ON THE PIECE OF WORK ITSELF) which should give the child's name and class and clearly state the value depicted.
The list of values to choose from are:
The deadline for submitting entries (to your class teacher or pod supervisor) is Friday 19th June.
Thank you to Vandan V (Year 5), assisted by Sulaiman M, who shared this super quiz with his classmates this week. You might like to have a go too!
In our fast-paced society, it is important that young people know how reliable sources of news are constructed, learning how to identify bias and unreliable or misleading information in its different forms. Regularly reading a reputable newspaper will help pupils to access reliable news and to understand the concept of sources, the purpose of reports and the role of journalism in society. In school, we subscribe to First News, which pupils can read while here. We would like to remind you that you could take out a personal subscription to this excellent children's newspaper if you would like to do so. At the moment, there is a special offer so that you pay just £1 for your first three issues. More information is available at https://www.firstnews.co.uk/.
Book Token Competition
Our school needs you! Help us win £5,000 of National Book Tokens for the school library - and get £100 for yourself! Just enter the competition online, it only takes a minute: https://www.nationalbooktokens.com/schools
Pupils might like to get creative and enter the National Book Tokens competition to design a book token gift card. They could win £10 book tokens for all of their classmates if their design is chosen as the winner!
Posted on: 12/06/2020
Joyful JuneThis week I would like to talk about emotions. We are living through an uncertain and difficult time and, understandably, emotions are running high in many of us. At St. Helen’s College, we do not shy away from discussing our emotions, either amongst the staff or with the children. We believe it is important that we all recognise and accept our emotions, allowing ourselves to feel and then channelling our feelings into positive action.
Each month I circulate a calendar to all of the staff to display in the classrooms; this month’s calendar is ‘Joyful June’ and you can see a copy of it here. Every morning I look at the calendar and remember the motto from Action for Happiness - I read the advice for each day and I find that this makes me smile and realigns my thoughts. The Action for Happiness mantra for the moment is this: “The world is in crisis. Keep calm, stay wise & be kind”.
It is not always easy to follow this mantra. Over recent months, I have felt angry, upset and emotionally and physically drained. Should I feel bad for recognising this in myself? No - I do not feel bad for recognising these feelings. We are in a crisis and we are dealing with a situation which is so far removed from what any of us have ever experienced in our lives, it is only natural that we will feel unlike our usual selves. Nobody prepared us as human beings for so much uncertainty and so much change.
The anger I felt some months ago was real. Without getting on a political soapbox, I was enraged at the lack of clarity, communication and consideration given to schools at the beginning of lockdown, since it left us in a very difficult position without any clear guidance. As time has moved on and our situation has evolved, this anger has now dissipated; however, I used this emotion to motivate myself and our Senior Leadership Team to make a difference and to respond with initiative and resourcefulness to the situation we found ourselves in.
I have been upset that we are not able to look after all of our children in the way we would like to as educators, and I know that my colleagues have shared this disappointment and sadness. This has spurred us on to put into place the very best educational and pastoral provision for those children who are not able to be with us on our school site. Although my colleagues and I have at times felt these ‘negative’ emotions, they have been balanced by ‘positive’ feelings too. I am so proud of the resilience of our pupils and the incredible support from parents and staff. We can all take joy and a sense of satisfaction from knowing that we are doing our utmost to look after the needs of the children: not just their academic needs, but their personal wellbeing too.
I have felt emotionally wrung out as the impact of the past 15 weeks has taken its toll, and I know that this feeling has been shared at times by colleagues, parents and pupils as well as family members and friends. Back in February I attended the first webinar on how to deal with the Covid-19 pandemic; we had not been affected at that point but I listened to the experiences of an overseas school and way back then I did not think that, in June, we would still be in such a surreal situation. It is certainly a marathon rather than a sprint, and it is only natural that we will all feel worn out by the emotional roller coaster of hope, disappointment and grief we have been riding, as well as by the extraordinarily heavy workload that the pandemic has brought.
Since February, the Senior Leadership Team at St. Helen’s College has had to focus on planning and implementing strategies and protocols to allow children and adults to be as safe as possible whilst also maintaining a good level of educational provision and protecting our organisation’s future. We should have been moving forward with the objectives of our school strategic plan, developing our provision for the children at St. Helen’s College with exciting initiatives and developments. However, as for almost everyone, ‘normal’ life and business have been put on hold for us, and our - more frequent and lengthy - SLT meetings have had a different type of agenda. COVID-19 features as agenda item 1 and will, necessarily, continue to do so for the immediate future.
I have tried to follow the Action For Happiness mantra and I hope that I have remained calm, wise and kind. However, I have welcomed all the other emotions into my life, being fully aware of how important it is to acknowledge these emotions and respond to them in a mindful manner. In doing so, I am grateful for the work of Jon Kabat-Zinn and other mindful practitioners whose books and research help me to improve my ‘practice’ and enable me to find a level of peace in a frantic world. I highly recommend this book or the app.
To all of our community - staff, parents and pupils - I say this: it is ok not to feel fine all the time! It is the ability to observe negativity without criticism which is key. We need to catch negative thought patterns before they take us on a deeper spiral. We need to develop greater self-compassion, observing unhappiness or stress but allowing the associated thoughts and feelings to come and go. I teach the children about ‘thought buses’ - they need to observe thoughts but should not allow themselves to jump onto one of the negative thought buses as it may not be such a pleasant journey. Many parents have approached me, keen to find out more about what we do at school in regard to mindfulness. I recommend that those of you who wish to find out more sign up for this course, which is for teachers and parents, or watch some of these videos.
For those of you who are finding this pandemic difficult, you are not alone. At times, we all struggle, and at times we all need support. There may be greater hurdles ahead as we begin to rebuild some sense of ‘normality’, with the world beginning to open up once more to trading, tourism and hospitality. We need to allow all of our thoughts and emotions a place, but also keep ourselves optimistic about the future. There have been so many positives for us to celebrate as a school, as we have seen children, parents and staff respond to this crisis so magnificently - and when some among us have found it difficult, the school community has worked together and provided the strong pastoral support needed. I am sure we will continue to find more positives as the summer months unfold.
It has been a joy over the last two weeks to see the children from Ducklings, Nursery, Reception, Year 1 and Year 6 back in school, along with the children of our key workers. As they arrive, they are lining up in the new ‘normal’ manner to enter school, the majority of them not even giving a backwards glance as they skip into school after sanitising their hands. I only wish we could bottle up their enthusiasm and happiness to send to you all - it would be a very lucrative ‘happy’ business!
What lies ahead next for schools is still unknown, but what I do know is that our planning has always had, and will continue to have, the wellbeing of the children at its core. As our country’s leaders advise us further, we will continue to respond with integrity and care, planning for the best outcome for our children and our school.
I feel nourished writing this blog and even more joyful as we end our second week of June - today’s note in the Action for Happiness calendar is 'Make a plan with friends to do something fun together!’ I have not seen any of my friends from outside our St. Helen’s College community since February half term. Like many of you, I have not seen my family for much longer. My mother (in her 80s) is alone in Scotland; my Easter trip there was cancelled and, as she does not use technology, weekly phone calls are her lifeline. Thankfully I have a cousin who shops for her and checks in on her. I shall, of course, plan to do something fun with my friends and family when I can - we all need to plan for the future ahead and be proud of what we have all achieved in this crisis together.
So, I have felt anger, frustration, disappointment, joy, pride and hope...but my overriding emotion today is gratitude. I am grateful for our community and the strength we are demonstrating together. I am grateful for the determination and support shown by parents, the resilience, adaptability and happiness shown by pupils, and the perseverance, love and sheer stamina shown by staff. You are all superstars!
Have a wonderful weekend.
Posted on: 5/06/2020
Weekly News - Friday 5th June 2020Singing Competition
What a wonderful afternoon we had today, hearing the children's entries for the final of our Singing Competition. The standard was, as always, astonishingly high and the children showed a high level of confidence, technical ability and performance skills. Mrs. Crehan had the very difficult job of judging this year and our gratitude goes to her for her adaptability in taking part in an online competition this time! The results were as follows.
Year 3 Winner - Advik
Runners up - Minaya and Xavier
Overall Middle School Winner - Advik
Year 4 Winner - Shruthi
Runners up - Anjika and Charlotte
Year 5 Joint Winners - Jessica and Maya
Runner up - Riya
Year 6 Winner - Jasmine
Runners up - Aarna and Laura
Overall Upper School Winner - Jasmine
Very many congratulations to all those involved and to our winners!
Hillingdon Road Safety Dream Bike Competition
Out of 470 entries, Arjun C (2B) has just been awarded second place for the Hillingdon Road Safety Dream Bike competition which we shared on this news blog recently. Arjun really took a keen interest and took his time to think about his dream bike and was very proud of his design. Using alliteration, he named his design the 'Weird and Wacky Bike'. Very, very well done, Arjun!
School This Week
We thought that you would all like to see some photographs of life around school this week, to give you a flavour of what it has been like getting ready for re-opening and being here with part of the community back with us. You can see these on the Galleries page. See if you can spot anyone you know!
Many thanks to Mr. McGee who has created outdoor cleaning stations for our Ducklings children so that they can continue to wash their hands thoroughly and regularly when playing outdoors!
Well done to Anjika G (4T) who wrote a fantastic Scratch program this week with a bilingual, colour-changing hexagon! You can try out her program here.
New Additions to the SHC Family
Many congratulations to Mr. and Mrs. McLaughlin, who welcomed their first baby, son Remi, this week! Remi weighed 6 lbs and 13 oz and the family are all back at home and enjoying their time together. We are sure that you would all like to join with us in wishing them well.
We are also delighted to announce the birth of Maeve, daughter to Miss Hill and granddaughter to Mrs. Hill!
Maeve was born on 24th May, weighing 6lb and 2oz. Miss Hill and Maeve's dad George have been having a wonderful time together as a new family and send all their love to the St. Helen's College community and especially to the Ducklings children - Miss Hill is enjoying her maternity leave but is missing you all very much.
House Art Competition
This year we will be holding our inaugural House Art Competition. Pupils may be as creative as they like in producing their pieces of artwork: drawing, painting, sculpting, modelling, sticking/collaging: all these are welcome, and more! Art must be on the theme of a school value, and each piece of work must be accompanied by a note (NOT WRITTEN ON THE PIECE OF WORK ITSELF) which should give your child's name, class and clearly state the value depicted.
The list of values to choose from are:
The deadline for submitting entries (to your class teacher or pod supervisor) is Friday 19th June.
World Environment Day
Whilst many pupils and teachers continue to work remotely, Freshwater Theatre Company wanted to find a way to celebrate World Environment Day with you online. We bring you a timely message from our Earth Explorer about the actions we can take to protect our environment for future generations: https://youtu.be/jLow_8SdNPg
Please do share this link with your colleagues, pupils and their parents, as well as your family and friends. The World Environment Day website [https://www.worldenvironmentday.global] has lots of information including a practical guide with more resources.
Lockdown Survival Guide
Although this guide is branded as a 'teen guide' for surviving lockdown, there is a lot in it which we feel would be useful to our current pupils - as well as to some of the Old Helenians out there who might be approaching, or in, their teenage years and might need some extra support through this difficult time. We hope that you will find it useful - you can access it here.
Rainbow Room Thanks
Our Year 6 pupils were delighted this week to receive letters of thanks from the team at Imperial College Healthcare Trust, acknowledging the colourful and creative pictures they produced and sent in to decorate the Rainbow Room at Hammersmith Hospital.
Posted on: 5/06/2020
Home Learning - A Parent's PerspectiveWhile many pupils returned to school this week, much of our pupil community continues to be educated via our remote learning platform, supported by their parents.
As all parents will know from the parent surveys you have completed, we have sought feedback formally from parents as we have established and developed our comprehensive remote educational provision. As we have gone along, we have also surveyed pupils and staff, to ensure that we have developed, and continually improved, a system that works for all of those involved. We believe that we have got an effective, user-friendly system in place and we know from recent parent feedback that parents are very happy with all that we have done, and very appreciative of the extra steps St. Helen's College has taken, which have really set our offering apart from that of other schools. Parents appreciate that things have not been easy for any of us but that, under unforeseen and difficult circumstances, the school has worked hard to offer something very valuable and to ease the burden on parents as far as possible.
This week, we have a blog from a parent, Mrs. Jamani, about her experiences of home learning with her daughter, who is in Year 5. Of course, the challenges have been different for those of you with younger children, but I thought you would all be interested to hear about learning in lockdown from a parent's perspective.
What you have all been doing, as parents, to support your children's learning during these tricky times is incredible. We know that you also have full time jobs, elderly relatives to care for, and the relentless 'busyness' that comes with daily family life. The school is very grateful to you all for your input with your children and for your continued support of the school and of each other. You should feel very, very proud of yourselves!
Home Learning - A Parent's Perspective
Like many parents I dreaded the thought of ‘home schooling’. For me, having a full time job that didn’t seem to slow down during lockdown, I wasn’t sure how this would work for us all. How would we all cope? Did we have enough supplies? Could I help with those interesting maths questions?
Looking back on those fears/questions now, I realise that I really had nothing to worry about.
Reviewing the past few weeks since term began after the Easter break, what has struck me as having really made a difference to us is how St. Helen's College has been able to adapt so quickly and the amount of resources we have in comparison to other schools. This has put a tremendous amount of structure back into my daughter's day. Having actual lessons within a structured timetable and live teacher interaction too has meant that my involvement hasn’t been at the levels I feared when first faced with the prospect of ‘home schooling’. I am so grateful for this, as I have no idea how I would have coped otherwise.
I now get to enjoy listening to my daughter’s class calls and the conversations and interactions she has with her classmates in her new study room and can see how much they are learning outside of the classroom setting! Remote learning has also given me a great insight into what her days may have been like when she was actually going into school, which I would never otherwise really have had a chance to experience.
My daughter also has positive things to say. She says that “remote learning has been really positive. If we need something the teachers are always at hand via Google Classroom or they might keep the Meet open so that we can go in and the teachers can help to explain things further. Also, when we mark our work we can go into the Meet and if we get a question wrong our teachers can help straight away. The added bonus is that we get help from our peers too. Our peers might be marking or have already marked the work so they can help by explaining it to us via Google Classroom or we can set up a Zoom call so people on the same thing can communicate/discuss and collaborate.”
Both my children have shown great resilience. They have embraced this new way of learning and living and actually all of us have seen the positives in what we do every day. Learning new things to cook, relaxing more, growing together, playing games, getting on with the ‘to do’ list and actually winning! Having a robust remote learning plan that has been executed well has meant that I, as a parent, have managed to juggle work and parental duties without the added pressure of being a teacher too! It has meant I can stress less and concentrate on making this time we have together as memorable as possible.
So a big thank you must go to all the staff at St. Helen's College for all their hard work, time, support and patience.
Posted on: 22/05/2020
Weekly News - Friday 22nd May 2020Speech Competition
Today we held our first ever online speech competition finals. Congratulations to all of our finalists; they left us all thoroughly entertained in the junior and senior competitions, performing their poems and speeches with confidence and conviction. Here is a list of all the winners and highly commended entries.
Highly Commended: Samuel 1HC, Evie 1C, Sienna 2H
Year 1 Winner: Aaryav
Year 2 Winner: Hana
Year 3 WInner: Oliver
Junior Champion: Oliver (3M)
Highly Commended: Vidhit 5G, Harrison 6RD
Year 4 Winner: Diyan
Year 5 Winner: Samir
Year 6 Winner: Catherine
Senior Champion: Catherine 6RD
A huge thank you also to our judge and school governor, Miss Beckett, who gave her time throughout the week to watch the entries and provide excellent feedback to the children. To all those who did not make the final this year: well done for taking part in the competition. Keep practising and next year it could be you!
Big Dreamers Writing Competition
Throughout the week, children across the school have been writing short stories for a national competition run by National Book Tokens and Puffin. There is a 300-word limit and the theme is 'dreams.' There are many fantastic prizes to be won, including £200 in book vouchers. If your child has not yet participated, you may wish to help them complete a story and submit their entry over the half-term holidays as a fun creative writing activity. Full details can be found here.
Singing Competition Finals - Middle School and Upper School
Thank you for the many video entries we received for our online singing competition. Although it was a very difficult decision as usual, the following students have been selected for the finals.
The finals will take place during the afternoon of Friday 5th June. Further information will follow shortly. Students do not need to resubmit videos, unless they are asked to, and they will not need to sing live. Please note that the submitted video entries will be shown to all spectators during the afternoon of 5th June. Our judge for the final round of the competition, Mrs. Crehan, will choose her winners.
We wish all of the finalists the very best of luck!
Today was Mrs. McLaughlin's last day with us for the time being and we all wish her well as she begins her maternity leave and she and Mr. McLaughlin await the arrival of their first child! It was so lovely to hear the children of 3M give her a send off this morning just before the Junior Speech Competition. The children had created a beautiful video montage, Yousra read a lovely poem about 'Why God Created Teachers' and Eshanvi read an acrostic poem that she had written herself. After school today, staff joined together in a virtual baby shower to celebrate, and we enjoyed taking part in games and quizzes. We thought you might enjoy this quiz - see if you can guess the staff member from their baby photos! We will share the answers after half term.
Well done to Grace O'H (Y2), who has been baking for the team of managers and call handlers who staff the COVID-19 hub at the Civic Centre, to lift their spirits. Grace has baked gluten free cakes and birthday cakes and even used a genuine WWII recipe to bake a cake for VE Day!
Grace and her family have also been making cloth face masks and homemade filters to slip in the back. As an act of kindness, they have sent these off to vulnerable people around the country and have provided masks to people working in the private sector front line who may have to use public transport to get to work.
Esha T (Y6) celebrated her birthday this week and her family had the super idea of giving the day a French theme, to make up for Esha not being able to go on the Year 6 trip to France this year because of the pandemic. We hope that Esha enjoyed her day - Bon Anniversaire, Esha!
Phased Re-opening and Packed Lunches
Parents of children returning to school in Phase 1 of our reopening are reminded that absolutely NO NUT PRODUCTS may be sent into school in snacks or packed lunches. Please do be vigilant. There are currently children at school with severe/multiple allergies and some products, such as cereal bars, may contain nuts less obviously.
In the hot weather, it will be a good idea to send an ice pack in the packed lunch bag.
Class teachers will be sending out year group specific information ahead of the return to outline daily procedures, which we hope will answer any questions you may have.
Keeping Well At Home
Until 1st June, most of the country are still being asked to stay at home. We are aware that some of you will have to continue staying at home past this date, too, especially if you live with a clinically vulnerable person. This advice about keeping well at home might be useful....let's all keep looking after ourselves!
National Thank A Teacher Day
The staff have been very touched this week at the numerous messages received for Thank A Teacher Day. Some children even made videos. It is really very nice to be appreciated, so huge thanks to everyone who took the time to send messages, photos and videos.
Posted on: 22/05/2020
Community Spirit and WellbeingOn Wednesday evening, we held our first virtual PA Forum meeting. Mrs. Hunt, Mr. McLaughlin, Mrs. Smith and I had no idea how many parents would show up online – especially on such a beautiful, sunny evening – and we were absolutely delighted when we were joined by almost every class rep from across the school!
Having already sought and received feedback from parents, pupils and staff about our current online educational provision, the focus of Wednesday’s meeting was to look at the wellbeing of our community, what we have done so far to promote wellbeing during lockdown, and what more we can do to continue to support you and your children.
We began by looking at what we have been doing so far – you can see the slides I used here – and it was heartening to hear that parents agree that the school has been going ‘above and beyond’ to care for our pupils pastorally as well as academically over the last two months of virtual education. It has been a challenge for us to make sure that pupils have face-to-face contact with their teachers and other staff, but we have tried to make sure they feel supported by school as well as home as they have negotiated a strange, changing and quite frightening world. We have held class and small group Google Meets and have set challenges and activities specifically designed to boost their spirits, as well as making school videos just to say hello! It is so important that our pupils remain happy and positive (and that we all do too), even when there is sadness and negativity around us.
We have kept a focus on parent and staff wellbeing, too. As I wrote last week, the world is a challenging place at the moment for most of us: we are being pulled in many different directions, and the rug is constantly being pulled out from under our feet. I am reminded of one of my favourite quotes:
‘Life isn’t about waiting for the storm to pass…
It’s about learning to dance in the rain.’
I think we have all, thus far, been doing a wonderful job of dancing together! But there is always more that we can do, and so we asked the PA class representatives at last night’s meeting to brainstorm and let us know how else we can raise the spirits of pupils and parents, and care for their wellbeing. They had some great ideas: among other things, they suggested that pupils dress in rainbow colours or fancy dress for Friday assemblies and that we could encourage SHC pupils to take part in the Mount Everest Challenge or go for a Guinness World Record. While the virtual Sports Day leaderboard (which is ever-changing!) has been a hit, they agreed that it would be good to find more ways for the school houses to compete against each other, and they thought of fun challenges to set the children each week, like timing how quickly they could put on and take off ten pairs of socks!
They also said that it would be great to incorporate some form of brain gym or ’wake up, shake up’ at the start of each online lesson, to counteract the potential negative effects of time spent in front of the screen, and they noted that individual encouragement and reward from school staff is a real motivator for children. We will look further at ways to manage this remotely for those children who will remain at home after half term. The parents also asked if we could manage remote School Council meetings, to allow the pupil voice another channel, and we will be putting this into place for Middle and Upper School children.
The PA are keen to support the community, too, and are looking at ways of hosting a virtual social event. I am sure that many parents are keeping in contact in small groups by arranging online meets too, and I have no doubt that you are providing very valuable support to each other during the strange shared parenting experience you are all going through.
We were very touched when the PA reps asked us how the staff are doing, and told us how very grateful they, and the parent body at large, are for all that we have been doing. There was even an impromptu clap for the school staff, which brought tears to our eyes. I was so proud to be able to describe this at a staff meeting yesterday, and became quite overwhelmed as I relived the moment for my colleagues. It is lovely to be part of a community which recognises that we are all human, and that staff have their own challenges too. I was able to say, with conviction, that our staff are very committed to making the phased return to school work. While there is of course some apprehension about returning to school during a pandemic, there is a great camaraderie amongst the staff body. There is also a real sense of trust in the systems that the school’s Governors and Senior Leadership Team are putting into place, and a desire to return to some recognisable structure and routine. Most of all, staff are looking forward very much to spending time with the children again.
As you can see, the PA class rep’s came up with some fantastic ideas, and we hope to put many of these into action soon. If you have any ideas of your own that you feel might lift our community’s spirits or promote the wellbeing of our children, please, please, share them. Our (email) door is always open and we would really love to hear your ideas, or your children’s ideas, and put them into practice if we can. Please send ideas to Mrs. Smith at email@example.com
Let’s keep on dancing through the storm…together.
Posted on: 15/05/2020
Weekly News - Friday 15th May 2020International Day of Families
It is lovely to know that the children have spent the week engaging in activities to celebrate International Day of Families today. You can see some photos of what they have been up to on our Photo Galleries page.
Well done to our Year 6 children, who have been creating and sharing artwork to decorate a room at Hammersmith Hospital which is being transformed into a 'Rainbow Room'. The room is being used by NHS staff to allow them some quiet, contemplative time in the midst of their often harrowing days and nights.
Speech Competition Finals
Next Friday, 22nd May, the school will be hosting its first-ever online Speech Competition finals! The competitions will take place at the following times via Google Meet, in the same way as an assembly:
8.45 - 10.00 a.m. Junior School Final (Years 1 - 3)
1.50 - 3.00 p.m. Senior School Final (Years 4 - 6)
All finalists have been emailed detailed instructions on how to take part. It will be a fantastic way to bring the community together and end the half term by showcasing the children's public speaking skills!
I have also challenged the children to write their own 'Feel Good Friday' poem this week, all about what makes them feel good. Children in Years 1-6 who would like to write a poem should submit their finished poem to their class teachers next week.
Parent Feedback and 6RD Video
Thank you so much to all of the parents who sent feedback about our remote educational provision via the survey sent out last week. We were very pleased that the feedback was so positive; parents clearly feel that the quality and amount of online teaching is good and that pupils are engaging well and making good progress. We were really touched to read the many individual comments that you took the time to write, thanking your teachers and other staff for all that they are doing. Some parents questioned whether there would be an opportunity for formal feedback from staff to parents this term. The answer is that, while we are unable to hold parents' evenings, teachers will certainly be preparing written end of year reports for each child. The format of these reports will reflect the altered circumstances of the term and they will focus on progress in the core subjects.
Led by Tanishka, the children of 6RD have created a beautiful and very touching video of thanks for their teachers and all of the staff who have supported them during their time at St. Helen's College. Thank you, 6RD - this means so much to us!
Mr. Smith and Mr. Rizzo have been very busy working on the school grounds over the last few weeks.
At Upper School, new fencing has been installed outside the back of Cambria, the Zen Garden has been enhanced with a beautiful new pergola and the Art Studio has been re-furbished.
The gardens and lawns are looking beautiful and we are continuing to maintain our indoor and outdoor spaces to our usual high standards. We can't wait until we can welcome pupils back to enjoy these areas.
At Lower School, where the key worker children are being cared for daily, everything is tidy and well cared for, and we are working on the planted area at the foot of the playground which should soon be looking really good.
Posted on: 15/05/2020
Remote TeachingIt seems timely to stop, draw breath and begin some serious reflection on what we have been able to achieve so far with our remote learning provision this half term. We have now received - overwhelmingly positive – feedback from parents, pupils and staff about this via the surveys we sent out earlier this week, and it is important that, amongst our day to day work, we take time to look back at what we have achieved and look forward to what more we can do.
So much has changed in recent months and as we reflect upon our children’s learning, a few things are most readily apparent. We are now living with the daily reality of technology enabled education and, at St. Helen’s College, we certainly now have in place a robust and really productive teaching/learning platform, with which all staff and pupils are familiar. I am sad that so many schools across the country do not, even now, have a satisfactory online offering in place for their children. It is heartening to hear that the independent sector is able to assist schools less fortunate in their provision and schools such as Eton are facilitating remote learning with their A level students holding tutorials for younger children in the maintained sector.
There has been a great effect on staff, too. With remote teaching, staff are being more self critical; individually and as a whole school, we are surveying parents and children much more frequently than ever before, taking feedback on board, tweaking our practice and so, hopefully, providing even more effective learning opportunities. Staff have enhanced their skills and proved themselves adaptable and resourceful; with this has come a renewal of energy and excitement about our vocation and about what we as individuals have been able to achieve.
For most pupils at our school, there is more independent learning, more enquiry based learning and more project based learning. This has led to some wonderful creativity from your children and some really sophisticated and interesting work being produced. What we have also noticed is that, through remote learning, the children are developing ever-greater self-discipline. The timetable is looser, and there are fewer sanctions for children, who have come to realise that ‘virtue is its own reward’. They understand now, if they did not before, that the benefits of engaging fully, willingly and creatively in their learning are a sense of pride, achievement and happiness in themselves. Parents have played, and continue to play, a huge part in motivating the children to work from home successfully, often while facing the challenge of also working from home in shared spaces. We know that parents will have coped with many difficulties along the way and your support is very greatly appreciated.
I am tempted to say here that we could not have imagined all of this two months ago...however, it is precisely because, here at St. Helen’s College, we did imagine it - and worked quickly to build upon and enhance our existing systems, supporting each other and being willing to upskill ourselves - that it has become such a successful reality!
It is really astonishing to think back to what was asked of school leadership teams and teaching staff at the end of March. With virtually no notice, schools across the country were required to move our entire educational provision online for an unspecified length of time. Nationwide, a flurry began to research and select the best online programmes via which to deliver education, and teachers were required to re-plan almost entirely every lesson that they were due to deliver. We were very lucky that, as a school, we were already using Google Classroom and a flipped learning model in many year groups. This meant that many of our staff were already familiar with planning and delivering lessons using online platforms, and many of our pupils were already familiar with submitting work, communicating online and receiving feedback using these systems.
The last week of term is always a time of ‘finishing off’. While teaching continues, units of work are likely to be drawing to a close, art projects are being finished off and children are refining work, writing out work for Exhibition Day displays, and engaging in Easter-themed activities or creating Mother’s Day cards and gifts. In that final week, following the government’s announcement of school closure, these activities had to suddenly (over one weekend) be replaced with online activities, while teachers also struggled with worries over their own health, the health of their families, and childcare for their own children whose schools were suddenly closed. It was a tough time for staff across the school and I believe, honestly, that we muddled through it as best we could.
During that final week of the spring term and as soon as term ended, our School Governors, the Senior Leadership Team and I began planning in earnest for the summer term. It is hard to remember now, but at that time we had no certainty at all over what the summer term would hold. We had to assume that we would be continuing with remote educational provision, but we had no idea for how long. We had to assume that there was a strong possibility of some of our staff falling ill or being required to self-isolate. We were worried for the health and economic stability of our pupils and their families. We were concerned about how to ensure the long-term viability of the school as an organisation.
Our priorities were threefold at that time:
1. To make our first priority, always, the safety and wellbeing of our whole community: pupils, parents and staff.
2. To ensure that we could continue to provide an excellent education to our pupils, which would include both delivering high quality teaching and maintaining the strong and crucial pastoral relationships between pupils and staff.
3. To consider how best to support parents during the pandemic, by providing supervision for key worker children, by considering the economic, emotional and practical difficulties potentially faced by parents, and by communicating effectively with parents over the necessary changes and decisions faced by the school.
Teachers and senior leaders spent what should have been their Easter holidays re-planning lessons, mastering technologies that were new to them, creating videos in order to boost children’s spirits, and analysing, in depth, the school’s economic challenges. We knew that we needed to work out, quickly but with integrity, how to navigate through the uncertainty with fairness, generosity and good business sense in order to safeguard the school’s future for our pupils, parents and staff, and protect the enormous goodwill and mutual trust on which our community thrives.
Many staff were furloughed; we took advantage of the available Government schemes to help organisations such as ours and we worked out fee adjustments for parents for the summer term in the fairest and most transparent way possible – all the while not knowing if or when a return to school might be allowed. Our teaching staff worked hard, many upskilling themselves and stepping out of their comfort zones, to prepare lessons, make videos, research and curate suitable resources for use online, and alter the curriculum provision and timetables as necessary. We ran training sessions for staff who needed extra support in order to use the online platforms; we developed our own systems for online registration; we considered carefully how pupils could submit work and how work could be assessed and feedback given. Staff recognised that they would need to step outside of their comfort zones, work collaboratively and adapt to new timetables and ways of working. They rose to the challenge with courage and grace, welcoming parents into their classrooms and assemblies as regular visitors.
As the summer term began, with a depleted staff body and continued uncertainty over the pandemic situation, teachers communicated daily with pupils, parents and each other to tweak their practice and ensure that children were engaged in the online learning. As well as preparing and delivering lessons, and being available online for large chunks of the day to assist children in their learning, they monitored pupil attendance and engagement and answered parent queries. All the while, throughout the Easter holidays and during term time, volunteers from amongst the school’s teaching and administrative staff have also come into school daily to care for the children of our key workers, supporting them in their learning, looking after their emotional and physical wellbeing, and ensuring that they could have lots of fun and develop positive relationships with those around them. The family spirit of St. Helen’s College has really shone through, here. Miss Walker’s daughter (Madeline), Mrs. Smith’s son (Charley) and my own daughter (Kiera) quickly volunteered to come onto staff and join the team providing exceptional care and attention for the key worker children and ensuring that they are well-supported in accessing their online learning.
I hope that you will agree that, over these last many weeks, the staff here have never lost sight of how hard a time this must be for parents and children. We share many of your challenges: like you, our workplace has changed beyond recognition; many of our colleagues have been furloughed and we have had to spread ourselves thin in order to get everything done; we miss your children and our colleagues greatly; we have our own children and elderly relatives at home who need us; we are concerned for our own health; like you, we are tired, and worried about what the future will hold. We do not underestimate how great these challenges are for parents, and we have tried to be mindful that our communications are clear and honest, that our systems are user-friendly and that the inevitable demands being placed upon parents should be as manageable as we can make them.
It has not been easy, for any of us. And yet, as I wrote recently, there is so much to be proud of and grateful for. We are particularly grateful for the overwhelmingly positive and supportive feedback that pupils and parents gave through the recent online learning surveys. Many of you took the time to send messages of thanks to teachers and the school for all that we have been doing – and this week, entirely independently, the children of 6RD also made a ‘thank you’ video for staff, collaborating virtually in order to do so. These words and gestures mean so much to us. We do our jobs because we believe passionately in the power of education and because we love your children; we do not do them for recognition, but we are human and to hear your appreciation cannot help but boost our spirits and make everything seem that little bit more worthwhile. So thank you, from the bottom of our hearts.
With the news that schools are being asked to begin a phased re-opening after half term, we are once again doing a lot of planning in order to put rigorous processes in place. As with the news of closure, three things remain our priority: to safeguard the wellbeing of our whole community, to continue to provide an excellent education and first class pastoral care for our pupils, and to maintain an open, honest, mutually supportive relationship with parents so that we may continue to work together for the good of all. Next week, I will share more details with parents of exactly what our phased school re-opening will involve and how we are preparing for it. In the meantime, you might be interested to read this TES article which details how a school in Denmark have found their re-opening, and how they, like us, have come to realise that there are benefits to remote learning as well as to traditional teaching.