How Far Will They Go? - 07/09/2017
It is such an exciting, albeit nerve racking, thought for any parent to think about their child’s future. What will they do when they leave school, what will they achieve, will they be happy? It is too much really for many of us to take in, but often we cannot stop thinking about it even from the day they are born.
This week in my first assemblies with all the children from Reception through to Year 6 I used the theme tune ‘How Far I’ll Go’ from the Disney film ‘Moana’ as my starting point. The children sang with gusto as the majority of them had all seen the movie and knew the song well. We then spoke about Moana’s character, about her strength and independence, and about wanting to do her best. We considered how she could be who she is even though sometimes finding things difficult and challenging.
I welcomed all the pupils to their very own island – ‘St. Helen’s College’, where they belong and where we all live as a community. Our motto created by our very own pupils was revisited:
S - Strive for Excellence
H – Help Others Achieve
C – Care for Each Other
The pupils know what our, your and their expectations are of them, so as we embark upon a new school year I have left the children with the question, ‘How far will you go this year?’ If they uphold all that St. Helen’s College stands for they will be proud, strong and independent young individuals who are capable of achieving great things, knowing that they have done their best in all aspects of school life.
All this would not be possible of course without your support and the high level of teaching and care from the St. Helen’s College staff. We have had two very busy training days this week on teaching and learning, all of which will impact upon the progress and experiences your children will have in school. In future blogs you will be hearing more about some of the new and exciting approaches that will empower your children to take their learning further then you might have thought possible!
The academic year 2017 – 2018 is off to a superb start!
Delivering Technology - 07/07/2017
I am often asked when touring prospective parents how we deliver technology in our curriculum and I delight in informing parents that we have not been one of the schools who jumped on the band wagon a few years ago and purchased a school set of iPads just because it was ‘the trend’. So many schools are now suffering for their knee jerk reaction to misinformed ideology.
Technology is changing at a rapid pace but it is crucial that what is delivered at school is based on research evidence and carefully planned to equip our pupils with the correct skills, knowledge and understanding that they may need in this fast paced technological world.
We are very fortunate to have Mr. Lewis on our staff, whose own previous business experience, prior to life as a teacher, is in web design and software development – a skill set quite unique to have on the staff!
It is up to us as educators to keep abreast of all the new evidence and research which is available to school leaders to inform us on how best to develop our curriculum for our pupils. Through events such as the ‘Festival of Education’ and ‘ResearchED’ we continue to review/reflect and may implement new ideas into our curriculum.
We need to start with our educational objectives and decide upon the best way of delivering those objectives rather than wondering how we can use the latest technology. We need to consider whether single user consumer devices help in collaboration or whether more screen time helps or hinders communication. There is a perception that this generation of ‘digital natives’ has an innate ability to make productive use of technology and understand how it functions. This is not the case, but children’s familiarity and comfort with technology provides great opportunities for education when children and teachers are trained in its use and it is used to achieve a specific goal.
I will share with you the recent article from The Guardian on this topic and will leave you to ponder! It is a very exciting time for children in how we prepare them for the future.
I await with great anticipation to view our Year 6 independent projects next week, where the pupils showcase how they are leaving St. Helen’s College with a unique skill set embedded in ‘technology’, which is a culmination of their learning through their time here.
#wellbeingdgmeet - 29/06/2017
A couple of weeks ago I was asked to participate in what is called as a ‘digi-meet’. The event was inspired by a Deputy Principal who is the lead for PHSE in a large academy trust. She contacted a group of us who have the well-being and pastoral care of pupils high on our agendas as school leaders and #wellbeingdgmeet was created. From 8 a.m. until 8 p.m. on Sunday 25th June, educators and professionals posted their blogs (with a 500 word count limit!) every half hour. The event was a huge success and the sharing of good practice and new ideas will enable us all to continue to develop our own settings.
Below is my blog to share with you all.
One of the reasons that I was drawn to applying for the Headship at St. Helen’s College was that well-being played such an important part of their curriculum and I felt that the school’s aim and values aligned so well with my own personal and professional values. I was very fortunate to be appointed as Head and in my first year I continue to develop well-being across the school, not only for the pupils but also the staff and parents.
The previous Heads (who are also the Proprietors/Principals and happen to be the parents of Cleverlands author Lucy Crehan) were very forward thinking and recognised the need for well-being and ‘personal development’ to be a significant part of what an outstanding school should be offering pupils.
I will outline briefly what is currently offered to the children from our little 2 year olds to Year 6. Our PHSE curriculum is bespoke and we were recently commended on what we offered by the ISI inspectorate team.
P4C is embedded into the school, from stand alone lessons to themes in assemblies. Morning Dash questions help to deepen pupils’ philosophical reasoning and language skills.
All staff have undergone ‘Growth Mindset’ training and the language of the school and type of questioning and high challenge/low threat in lessons all help to nurture this. In Year 2 the children participate in a 6 week course on Growth Mindset.
The principles of Mindfulness are embedded with staff and my recent training in .b and pawsb (Mindfulness in Schools Project) has allowed me to continue to teach Year 4 and Year 6 courses which have been on the curriculum for several years. We are also offering an evening class of Mindfulness For Parents this term which has been oversubscribed – parents are so aware that what we are offering the pupils is valuable in their lives too!
We run courses in “Peer Support” and at the end of their training ‘Playground Pals’ are elected who give support in the playground at break times.
Assemblies are based on values and character traits. We have a ‘values spotters’ board and golden pillar box. Pupils post a note to me when they have spotted someone upholding the value of the week and both the spotter and the spotted are commended in a special assembly. The Character Education programme complements our assemblies and has super follow up resources.
Our co-curriulum is MASSIVE; this term over 60 clubs are on offer! These include yoga, gardening, taekwondo….too many to list!
For staff, each month I have tried to implement the ideas from healthy teacher toolkit in a practical form across all three staff rooms and lots of fun has been had! Yoga and ceramics classes for staff are being arranged for next term and sign up has been great.
On Friday I attended the Festival of Education and one of the discussion panels I attended was ‘How does student’s well-being impact attainment’…but that’s another blog!
Competitive Sport - 23/6/2017
I am still buzzing after the excitement of all our Sports Days. Following the Foundation and Pre-Prep Sports Day last week, on Thursday we had the most incredible event at Hillingdon Athletics track where pupils from Year 3 to Year 6 had us all on our feet cheering for them, congratulating them and in awe of the incredible skills (not only of the sporting sort) that were demonstrated.
Over the years there has been so much written about the place of competitive sport in schools and the debate will surely continue, but I for one certainly am an advocate of competition from a very young age. It nurtures the growth mindset that underpins how we teach the children and supports our pupils to deal with failure (FAIL; First Attempt in Learning). It further encourages the children to strive even harder to continue to practise and understand the concept of ‘mastery’ in their learning.
In the lead up to Sports Day the children were keeping an eye on the sports boards, looking at the previous records which had been set by ex-pupils and setting themselves goals to try to break those records. And boy, didn’t they smash some of those long standing records! Zoe even beating one record set by her sister, who was in attendance as a Sports Leader! Good, positive sibling rivalry!
Many of the pupils spoke to me directly about how they were intending to use their mindfulness practices before their events to overcome their wobbles, worries and nerves. It is so wonderful to hear from the pupils in Year 4 and 6 how they are engaging with using some of the tools they have been equipped with in their .b and paws b mindfulness learning.
The Year 6 Sports Captains and House Captains spoke so eloquently and with confidence. The pupils really did sum up why we feel so proud of your children for the values and character traits that they demonstrated not only on the day but in the preparation for the event. They were living embodiments of the Olympic and Paralympic values:
- Respect – fair play; knowing one’s own limits; and taking care of one’s health and the environment
- Excellence – how to give the best of oneself, on the field of play or in life; taking part; and progressing according to one’s own objectives
- Friendship – how, through sport, to understand each other despite any differences
- Determination – the drive and motivation to overcome both physical and mental barriers in order to achieve your goals.
- Courage – having the self-belief and confidence to overcome adversity and face difficulty.
- Equality – showing respect and humility towards all those around you in the spirit of fair play.
- Inspiration – being motivated by the achievements and actions of others and being a positive example to others.
It is no wonder that we have so many former students returning to us year after year to be part of our annual Sports Days as Sports Leaders. These Old Helenians hold onto the values which were so much part and parcel of their life when they were pupils themselves at St. Helen’s College. Their contributions on Sports Day are a testament to the school; they have grown into responsible, independent young men and women and are now actively giving back to their community, as well as consolidating and developing further skills and attributes in preparation for what lies ahead for them as members of our workforce in the near future.
I feel truly honoured to have experienced another of my firsts this year – one of the best Prep School Sports Days that I have ever witnessed! Congratulations TEAM St. Helen’s College!
Presentation and Communication - 16/6/2017
Education…..what is it all about?
Well, I always start with the ‘why’. Why do we educate children? One of the biggest reasons surely is to enable them to go forward in life to build relationships and communicate with fellow humans beings successfully on a personal and professional level; to be confident and independent in their social interactions. How we present ourselves and how we communicate to others is crucial and becoming ever more so in this digital world that is part and parcel of our future, and which is leading to some children experiencing much less face-to-face communication than ever before.
It is with this in mind that I have reflected on the events of the past few days. On Monday and Wednesday this week we had photographers with us from a company who are working with us to build a new school website and prospectus. Mrs. Smith spent the two days with the gentlemen and throughout those days the children were continuously being praised on how smart they looked and on how polite and co-operative they were. Children from our Ducklings right the way through to our Year 6 pupils were commended on their overall demeanour, on how they presented themselves, and on how well they assimilated and followed directions and communicated with others.
On Tuesday evening, we enjoyed a really wonderful Singers’ Concert at All Saints Church. Those parents who attended will know that I was flabbergasted by the confidence and presence of our children as they sang, whether in groups or individually. They took to the stage with grace and with ease; they coped with the odd technical difficulty with no panic or upset; they made eye contact and engaged their audience; they took their well-deserved applause with humility and the most charming of smiles, and they listened courteously and with genuine interest to each other.
On Wednesday evening I presented at a conference, TeachMeet Hertfordshire, to over 200 educators gathered together to discuss topical issues surrounding education. I was incredibly nervous as I took to the stage and I used my mindfulness breathing as I walked across the stage to reach the podium. It was good fortune for me that I could only see the faces of the front row of people as I stood before my audience. I am not a natural public speaker and usually avoid it all costs! I am comfortable speaking in school assemblies to the children, but beyond that I am stepping outside my comfort zone!
The following morning I was once again humbled as I sat back and watched 3T perform their class assembly about their recent residential visit to Shortenills. The children may perhaps have experienced nerves similar to mine the night before, but you would not have known it. They were superb – they exuded confidence and maturity and presented their assembly with such joy, every child articulating clearly and with genuine feeling. At the same time, across in the Lower School, Mrs. Hunt enjoyed watching R2 performing their assembly…again with confidence, maturity and articulation, even at their young age.
A great deal of what children achieve is down to the expectations that surround them. Here at school, we expect our pupils to wear a smart school uniform and this gives them pride to be part of St. Helen’s College. They stand tall, they do not slouch at their desks; we talk about checking our posture throughout the day and being mindful of how we present ourselves. We expect our pupils to be able to stand up in assemblies and to speak with articulation and confidence. We give them many, many opportunities to hone their presentation and communication skills. Class assemblies, the Speech and Singing Competitions and our big, dramatic performances are obvious examples; less obvious to parents will be the class discussions held daily, the planned and impromptu presentations given by children to their peers, the speeches children give when they are hoping to be elected as a captain or monitor and the tours children are asked to give to visiting speakers, dignities or prospective parents. Children also visit younger pupils to read to them; they are asked to ‘buddy’ with new children and explain the school’s systems and routines; they are offered debating clubs, drama clubs, quiz clubs, language competitions and lots more on top of their daily curriculum.
All of these things, planned and delivered thoughtfully at school, help to develop the St. Helen’s College children’s presentation and communication skills. But it takes more than this to instil that confidence, poise and articulation which is becoming ever more sought-after in adults in the workplace! These things are inspired by environment, by surroundings, by daily interactions and by high expectations everywhere children turn. Staff at St. Helen’s College model confidence and that ‘have a go’ attitude – as witnessed by the staff choir having a go at performing in the Singers’ Concert this week after very limited rehearsal time! Staff speak to children at every opportunity, taking an interest in them and their activities, whether it be as they arrive at school in the morning, in the queue for lunch, on the way to a games lesson, or in the minibus on the way to a match, competition or event. Our staff care, passionately, about the personal development of your children, and they go the extra mile, every single day, to ensure that pupils’ personal development is top class. We all know that acquiring knowledge and passing exams is an important part of education; the difference at this school is that we never lose sight of the fact that, most importantly of all, we want to help children develop into secure, confident, thoughtful, engaging and adaptable young adults, capable of communicating successfully with many different audiences and presenting themselves beautifully to the world around them.
This week, as so often, your children have proved that their education is equipping them well for their lives ahead. Indeed, many of your children have exceeded their goal to be ‘10% braver’! They show us, time and again, that they are capable of stepping out of their comfort zone to do what many adults find so difficult. As a staff we are so proud of what they do - the skills that they are being equipped with at school will stand them in great stead for their futures.
Presentation and communication skills – such a crucial part of education!
Routines...Creating Order From Chaos (by Mrs. Smith) - 09/06/2017
We have a guest blog this week, from Mrs. Smith, examining the importance of routines for children.
Our world can be unpredictable and chaotic at times. Nothing highlights this more strongly than the awful terror attacks in Manchester and London recently, and the school’s thoughts and prayers have of course been with the victims of these atrocities. Sometimes chaos reigns temporarily, but thankfully we live in a society of law and order, run with routines and systems. Our emergency services, our government, and the citizens of this wonderful country have been working tirelessly to re-establish order, to continue daily routines unbowed by terrorism and to find positivity and purpose amongst the heartbreaking and pointless loss of life. In turning to order and routine, we can re-establish the sense of security, safety and purpose that we all need in order to lead happy and productive lives.
Routines and order are, and should be, the cornerstones of all that we do. It has become rather trendy in our busy world for homes to be what one might call ‘chaotic by design’. Much ‘chaos’ is unavoidable: parents might have unpredictable working hours; children might have different after school activities on different days; friends, grandparents or other relatives might make impromptu visits or Facetime at less-than-ideal moments; cars, computers or other machines might break down; the family pet might fall sick and need an emergency trip to the vet…any number of things can cause temporary chaos on a daily basis, as any parent well knows! With a busy job, two teenagers, a shift-working husband and a naughty dog who has been known to eat our dinner raw before I’ve had a chance to cook it, I am certainly no stranger to the unpredictability of everyday life!
However, adults can and should combat the unpredictability of daily life by establishing consistent routines for their family. Research shows that one of the most important things that we can do to make our young children feel safe is to establish strong routine in their lives. Indeed, one study of 8500 children showed that each daily ‘ritual’ practised with their families was linked to a 47% increase in the odds that the children would have high social-emotional health.* Children feel the most secure when their lives are predictable; they feel safe when they know what will happen to them, and might feel anxious when they do not know what to expect from life. Although experiencing some anxiety and learning to cope with it can be a healthy part of development, a deep-seated sense of security is of great importance for children’s personal development. When grown-ups are able to provide environments that feel safe, children learn that they can trust others to take care of them and meet their needs. They are then free to relax, grow curious and explore their world.
Children do not fully understand the concept of time until they grow older. Young children tend not to order their lives by hours and minutes, but rather by the events that happen. When events happen in the same order every day, children have a better understanding of their world, and therefore feel more secure. A regular schedule gives children a way to order and organise their lives. When young children know what to expect, they become more confident in themselves and the world around them. They know they will not be confronted with unfamiliar tasks for which they are unprepared.
A young child’s brain is still undergoing major development, including the part of the brain that is able to plan ahead and make predictions about the future. A routine helps children to practise making such simple predictions, as well as to understand concepts such as ’before’ and ‘after’. Routines also help children to develop self-control as they experience ‘delayed gratification’, having to wait until a certain time to do a particular activity. A consistent daily schedule can also foster responsibility and independence because children will be able to perform more activities on their own if they have done the same activities many times before in the same environment. They may also be more willing to be explorative and take risks in their discovery of the world around them if they feel they have a psychological safety net of routine beneath them.
At school, teachers and other staff work hard to plan and deliver exciting, new and often spontaneous learning opportunities within the framework of a set routine. The timetable is set and, although it is sometimes flexible to allow for valuable, spontaneous activities, there are some times of the school day which are more or less non-negotiable! Registration allows each class to come together to get organised for the day ahead. Assembly brings year groups together to reflect on important matters, celebrate success, discuss current affairs, and join in prayer and music to celebrate faith. Morning break presents an opportunity for children to take on fuel in the form of snacks, to ‘let off steam’, to indulge in physical play and to develop social skills. Lunch time re-fuels children and gives time for play with friends; it also allows social interaction at the dining table and helps pupils to develop their table manners and informal conversation skills with adults and peers. The end of day routine in each class encourages children to reflect on their day, to gather and take responsibility for their belongings and to prepare for their afternoon and evening time. So we set routines at school consciously and we review them regularly to ensure that they are useful in setting boundaries for children and assisting in children’s personal development.
There is also much that parents can do at home to establish helpful, ordered systems which allow children to grow. A routine is especially important during potentially difficult times of day, such as bedtime or getting dressed in the morning. When there is a routine in place, there can be little argument because the expectations for good behaviour are so clearly understood and that good behaviour is so regularly practised. So a lovely benefit for parents is that having routines in place can minimise stress for you and your children!
Keeping to a routine may sound a difficult job when you are balancing a constantly changing schedule for multiple members of your household, and of course all routines do have to be flexible – there is no point berating yourself if you miss a day or two here or there – but even establishing just the following two basic daily routines will enhance your child’s development. It is surprising how many children do not have these routines in their lives, so we would like to encourage all St. Helen’s College families to adopt them, if you have not already.
Firstly, plan at least one family meal a day. Coming together at dinner time for a shared dining experience around the table allows families to share precious social time and discuss their days and world events. However, this meal does not have to be dinner if that really isn’t possible; a short breakfast where everyone gets to share their plans for the day can be really valuable. Turn off any screens and do not answer the phone during your family time. A shared meal time is a great way to start a routine that allows children to take responsibility – perhaps for choosing their own food, for laying the table, for clearing away or, as they grow older, for preparing meals.
Secondly, have a bedtime ritual which will help children slowly calm down and prepare for a good night’s sleep. Set a consistent bedtime and review it as children grow older, perhaps as they enter a new academic year at school in September each year. Always do bedtime preparation tasks in the same order: bathing, getting into pyjamas, reading a bedtime story, going upstairs, tucking in toys, a good night kiss. Don’t be afraid to multi-task! It is lovely to include talking about your day in the bedtime ritual; you can do this while your child is in the bath, or while they choose their bedtime story. Let your child tell you what he or she did that day, and share what you have done. This can help children with memory, time orientation and language skills but, perhaps most importantly, it shows them that you care about what they did that day, and teaches them to care about what you did too! Reading together at bedtime introduces reading for fun and relaxation, rather than as homework. When children are old enough, you can read chapter books together, and they will then learn to hold a story in their heads overnight and wait for the next instalment – another useful way of developing memory, interest and imagination.
As children grow older, household routines can be developed according to their changing needs. Homework time could be set aside for after school, or after dinner. Instrument practice might be slotted in after breakfast, or before dinner, or before bath time. Outdoor play might take place after school on the way home, and on Saturday afternoons at the park. Time might be set aside on a Sunday for a visit to church or to visit grandparents. It is important that each family sets and adapts routines which work for them; there is no one-size-fits all solution and parents shouldn’t be afraid to try out routines and adapt them as necessary.
It is never too late to start a routine, and always possible to adapt routines as life moves on. We set a good example for children when we say, after consideration, ‘The way that we have been doing things has not been working. We are going to try something new. Here is our new routine’. Establishing or changing routines can be a little tricky; at first, your child might try to break the routine, but adults should be firm! Young children need both consistency and limits and it is up to parents and school staff to provide these. When you stick to a routine, you teach your child how to arrange her time in a manner that is efficient, productive, and cuts down on stress. This sense of order is not only important for making your young child feel secure at this moment, but it will also allow your child to develop an automatic sense of how to organise her own life as she grows up.
One caveat is required: although routine is very important for young children, of course parents and teachers do not need to be too rigid. Children do need to learn how to be adaptable and they will be able to deal with minor changes. If there is a necessary change to the routine, we can explain to children, “I know we usually do x, but today we are going to do y. Tomorrow we will go back to our usual routine.” If most of their day is predictable, children will be able to deal with small changes, especially if they are introduced calmly and adults seem unperturbed by them!
We know that routines at school help to establish order, consistency, speed, independence and security. They are an essential part of class management and the same routines established across different classes have the ability to establish a teacher’s distinctive identity within a school, as well as the overall ethos of the school as a whole. But it is when school and home work together to establish routine and order in our children’s lives that we can really give them a comprehensive sense security and the associated confidence to take risks, be brave learners and become passionately involved in the world around them, safe in the knowledge that each day will begin and end with love, comfort and – more than likely – yummy, nourishing food!
If a child learns through early routines, at home and at school, that a safe framework exists around them, then they have more freedom to explore, to learn and to grow. They will be more confident in taking risks, in exploring freely and in learning to adapt to changing circumstances without fear. Since exploration, learning and growth are key ingredients for happiness, let’s all keep working hard to establish happy routines and so combat potential chaos and ensure the greatest chance of happiness and success for our children.
Learning Relationships At The Forum Of Education...What I Learnt... - 22/05/2017
On Saturday 20th May I attended the Forum of Education 2017 conference at St. Alban’s School. I was looking forward to reconnecting with other educational experts I had already connected with on Twitter and to meeting some of them for the first time in the flesh!
The theme of this year’s conference was ‘Learning Relationships’ and throughout the day we explored and discussed these relationships, which are fundamental to effective learning. I have linked some further reading at the end of this blog for those who would be interested to read more from some of our speakers.
It was Mike Grenier, the opening keynote speaker, who really touched a note with me. Mike has been a House Master at Eton College since 2004 and in 2012 he co-founded the Slow Education Movement in the UK. The ultimate aim of the ‘Slow Education’ movement is to slow down the frenetic pace of school life – giving time to build relationships with the pupils, parents, staff and the community in general. Our school community is rich in relationships and this has been an area of focus for me as the new Head to ensure that I am building my relationships with everyone.
Mike also highlighted such things as wellbeing amongst the staff, ensuring that staff wellbeing is a priority in schools to enable them to fulfil the crucial role that they have. This, too, has long been a priority at St. Helen’s College. Something fun we have been doing each month this year is the ‘Healthy Teacher’ initiative in all three staffrooms – this month is ‘Mindful/Minty May’, during which staff have been encouraged to be more mindful of how they are feeling, taking some time to reflect. To add a bit of fun we have had an array of minty treats available, including mint imperials, mint tea, fresh mint and mint chocolates, to name but a few!
The importance of meal times with children is also an aspect of the ‘Slow Education’. Social interaction at meal times, both at school and at home, can be such an important opportunity to build positive relationships. At St. Helen’s College, our little Ducklings start their meal times with a prayer and the interactions and routines being developed are key to their personal development. The Lower School children are surrounded by an incredibly devoted and caring lunch staff and in Upper School staff eat with the pupils every day, chatting as we would with our families at home and encouraging healthy eating and good table manners! We pride ourselves on building relationships with the children at the lunch table and I do hope that family meal times are also a highlight at home.
Mike highlighted, with caution, how schools can become martyrs to assessment systems. Sadly, many schools are using assessments, scores and grades as the driver in education, so that our centres of education become results driven, actually ignoring the point of schools. Interestingly, at the conference, we were all asked to list the point of schools….and nobody in the room even mentioned exams or results!
Our pupils from Year 1 to Year 6 have all recently taken a range of standardised assessments. All schools are required to do this in some form or other but it should not be the be-all-and-end-all and must be kept in perspective. These assessments are merely our tool for tracking the progress of our pupils; they are a snap shot of performance at a certain time, on one day and merely support all the other formative methods of assessment that teachers and pupils are carrying out on a daily basis to ensure that learning is taking place and to help the children make progress. It really upset me when I heard some pupils discussing their scores at the lunch table as though that number defines who they are as a person and reflects all that they have been learning throughout the school year. I hope that I explained to them successfully that it does not!
Parents often over-worry about the 11+ Grammar school entry assessments without realising the damage that this can cause children. Pupils can become disengaged at this young age if the message they are receiving at the tender age of 10 is that a score will determine their futures. I will not get into a political debate now, but I do hope that, as more parents engage in some of the research which has been done on how pupils learn, we may continue to keep our learners motivated and connected in their learning.
Over lunch at the conference, I was able to continue the conversation with Mike as we shared our views on how we can ensure that our schools embed that element of ‘Slow Learning’. We are in a very fortunate position at St. Helen’s College in that our curriculum is designed to give pupils opportunities to make connections between subjects, to ensure that the learning is useful and functional and to allow plenty of time to build relationships with our pupils.
I also attended a workshop delivered by Drew Thompson, Head of Science at St. Alban’s High School for Girls, whose session made us examine and discuss the ways in which we can maximise the impact of those around us through building and maintaining effective learning relationships with our colleagues. Continuous professional development is key in teaching and at St. Helen’s College we have passionate staff who are constantly reflecting and sharing best practice.
Kevin Squibb, an expert linguist, focused on how we can make learning visible in the classroom and how to develop independent learners – many of the strategies and ideas he shared are already having an impact on your pupils at St. Helen’s College as they build their meta-cognitive skills using the structures they have been given in class to allow them to transfer what they have learnt from one situation to another.
#GrowingGrit by David Rogers was a superb session, during which we discussed and shared our ideas on how to develop academic resilience and develop the qualities needed for academic success. David is a Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society and sits on their Education Committee. It is no surprise that many of the characteristics of a Gritty Learner are associated with those outdoor learning experiences we already offer as part of your children’s educational journey. This year particularly we have embraced ‘Learning in the Outdoors’ as part of Miss Walker’s professional development study and will continue to embed this in our curriculum alongside our programme of day and residential trips.
Professor Sophie Scott, the Head of the Speech Communication Group at UCL’s Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience, delivered a very entertaining talk on the science of laughter. Sophie is also a comic and TED-talker and her talk emulated the focus of relationships as she explained to us that laughter is the only known positive sound that is recognised cross-culturally. There are many negative sounds which are cross culturally shared but we can share laughter and it draws people together. Next time you walk across the playground at St. Helen’s…take time to hear the laughter; it can be contagious – enjoy!
I was sad to have missed one speaker, Matt Pinkett, but thankfully Matt has published his session to share on his website (linked at the end of this blog). Matt uses anecdotal evidence, personal experience and research to argue that there is a masculinity crisis in schools that teachers are failing to address. I will be urging all teachers and parents to read this; it may have more relevance to secondary schools, but is an interesting concept which some schools may need to address.
The closing keynote of the day was Dr. Jill Berry, educational consultant with over 30 years experience in education and the ex-Head teacher of an independent school in Bedfordshire. Jill works with school leaders but highlighted to the audience that no matter who we are in education, whether a classroom teacher or the Head, we are all leading learning – the primacy of learning is embedded in relationships. Trust, honesty, fairness and integrity are all key to building trust and relationships. As Head of St. Helen’s College, my learning is also continuous, so I do not regard myself as the Head Teacher but rather the Head Learner just as the ‘Head’ of English, Geography, Computing, Art and so forth are all Head Learners of their subject areas…inspiring your children in their learning relationships with them.
Mike Grenier – Slow Education
To Play Or Not To Play (By Ms Matthews) - 19/05/2017
We have a guest blog this week from Ms Matthews, the Co-ordinator of our Early Years Foundation Stage programme which includes Ducklings, Nursery and Reception.
To play, or not to play…that really is the question when it comes to the Early Years Foundation Stage, especially here in the independent sector. For many, the early years classroom remains that mysterious and terrifying place in every school where the children magically learn to read, write and count even though they seem to play all day! Indeed ‘play’, and the value thereof, has long been a bone of contention for many - teachers, educational researchers and parents alike. It seems to me that the crux of the problem lies in how we define the ‘play’ that is afforded to our children.
The EYFS curriculum offers a framework to support practitioners in helping young children learn and develop through play. It was developed through extensive discussion with professionals, academics and practitioners and represents an amalgamation of their knowledge and experience. It begins with the premise that every child is unique and that learning and development occur at different rates and in different ways. Additionally, there is a strong focus on enabling the fulfilment of each of the three ‘Characteristics of Effective Learning’: Playing and Exploring, Active Learning and Creating and Thinking Critically - fundamentals which have far-reaching connotations for the way in which we all learn.* The EYFS framework has also been designed to be flexible in responding to every child’s individual needs and while it sets out a number of goals and milestones, these are not set in stone.
But what does that mean for your children?
Throughout Ducklings, Nursery and Reception ‘play’ at St. Helen’s College can be defined as cogent, purposeful and engaging exploration. Yes, your children will be presented with a huge range of child-initiated, open-ended games, activities and opportunities for learning during which adult practitioners take a step back and let the children lead the learning. However, these child-led learning opportunities are carefully planned to maximise potential and they are successfully coupled with inspiring teacher-led sessions to impart the vital academic knowledge of literacy, mathematics, communication and language that your child needs as they move through our school. We are extremely fortunate to have an expert EYFS staff who are astute in knowing how and when to guide the children, either with a carefully worded question here and there or a gentle nudge to try a different approach. The need for our children to develop motor skills, social skills, creativity, confidence and self-esteem (not to mention that all-encompassing sense of awe and wonder) is beyond doubt and play is vital in this. Whether it is seeing a group of children work together to write a recipe in the ‘Mud Kitchen’ or watching the joy on a child’s face on discovering that they are suddenly able to find a number bond to ten after ‘playing’ with the Numicon tiles in the sand tray, it is easy to see that purposeful, collaborative play is an essential part of learning. I think we would all agree that our children should not be subjected to endless rigorous academic teaching at such a tender age and the holistic approach to learning in the EYFS here at St. Helen’s College has proven consistent in enabling hugely successful outcomes for our children year on year.
It is staggering to think that much of what we now take for granted about early education dates back to Friedrich Froebel’s revolutionary work as long ago as the early 19th century. It was Froebel who believed that young children should learn through play and through first-hand experiences with natural materials like sand and water and that physical education was of huge importance at school. Froebel put the relationship between educator and child at the heart of learning and saw each child as in individual whose wishes and choices should be respected. These were revolutionary ideas in his time – so revolutionary that both his school and his kindergarten were banned at different times by the Prussian authorities for such radical thoughts! However, Froebelian theory continues to be at the heart of most current early years teaching and many other principles founded almost two hundred years ago continue to ring true with the St. Helen’s College ethos - not least in our school motto: Excellentiam e Concordia - Excellence through Working Together in Harmony.
Over the past three weeks, we have undertaken our wonderfully successful EYFS Family Discovery Days across Nursery and Reception, opening our classrooms (both indoors and out) to offer parents a glimpse of the vast learning opportunities available to our younger learners - play included. As a staff, we were thrilled to see every parent stepping into their children’s shoes for a few hours, taking a full and active part in all the learning, play and fun! Each time you joined your children playing with blocks, with sand, water or clay, or became immersed in a scintillating bug hunt, or planted and tended plants in the ‘Garden Centre’, you were seeing planned, purposeful play in action. I do hope that it proved to be an enlightening and rewarding experience for those of you who were able to attend (as well as a lovely excuse to join in with a bit of play yourselves!) and the many positive comments we have already received from parents have been truly heartwarming to hear.
So I urge you never to underestimate the benefits of play, no matter the age of your child, and perhaps consider playing a game or two with your family this weekend. Play really can shape learning for life from the very start; a true building block to the future, limited only by our imagination.
I realise that I might be somewhat biased in this, but I am proud to admit to a deeply held belief that we can all look to the EYFS for inspiration in shaping the path for our future learners - there’s a reason we are named the ‘Foundation’ stage after all…
*Should the Characteristics of Effective of Learning only be prioritised in the Early Years?
With Hard Work, Anything Is Possible (By Mrs. Crehan) - 03/05/2017
We have a guest blog this week, from Mrs. Crehan.
Recently I was lucky enough to travel with my daughter Lucy to the conference at which she was speaking in Norway. The conference was run by ResearchED which exists to make sure that educational initiatives are based on research and not folklore. It was a packed programme with three talks to choose from at each session. It was aimed at teachers but I will give a précis of two that were very relevant for parents.
David Didau gave the key-note talk on 'What teachers need to know about memory, knowledge and thought' although this is also of great interest to parents.
He said that everything you are is what you know - the more knowledge you have, the more creative you are because you can connect up the stored knowledge. He divided 'intelligence' into 'crystallised' and 'fluid'. The fluid part is the ability to reason and the crystallised is the stored knowledge.
He suggests that we all need to become knowledgeable on many things and this knowledge is then stored in the long-term memory. He said that our brains are like bottles - some students may take longer for the knowledge to go through the bottle-neck but once it is through it is stored and always there to be accessed.
We have a long-term memory, where the knowledge is stored, and a working memory which is what we use to process the information we are receiving on a daily basis.
The knowledge in the long-term memory makes connections with other knowledge and forms 'schemas' or chunks of knowledge which connect together and this can then be retrieved. In our long-term memory we store 'declarative' knowledge - knowledge that can be expressed, and 'non-declarative' knowledge which are skills. There is also 'procedural' knowledge, which is how you do things. eg. riding a bike or learning to read and all of these are stored in the long-term memory. We don't have to think about how we do these things once they are learnt as they become automated and this means that there is then more space in the working memory because the knowledge is stored in the long-term memory.
A build-up of relevant knowledge leads to expertise. The more you know about something, the better you can think and make connections. We learn new ideas by referencing it on the framework of what we already know. The biggest difference between students is the quality and quantity of what they know, and if they already have a framework of knowledge on which to base the new facts, they assimilate the new knowledge that much more easily.
This thesis does also knock the popular idea of today that children don't need to acquire knowledge because they can look everything up on the internet. It is by truly understanding something and having digested the knowledge that we can start to make those creative connexions between the different areas of knowledge that lead to discoveries and inventions and great ideas.
This theory does also tie up with the theory of Growth Mindset which we teach the children at St. Helen's College. We are all born with different actual 'fluid' intelligence or working memory capacity, but the more we work at something and gain knowledge i.e. put in the effort, the more is stored in our long-term memory and students who have more knowledge stored in their long-term memory are more successful than those with a better fluid memory. (David Didau did say this but Lucy thinks he is going too far!) So this is saying that however much 'IQ' or natural talent we are born with, we can alter its effects by hard work and acquisition of knowledge, skills and hours of practice. He referenced his talk with the book 'Educating the Evolved Mind' by Geary.
Our daughter, Lucy, also gave an interesting talk which continues this theme. Her talk was called 'The Role of Culture in Education Systems' Success.' Lucy is getting a reputation around the world as someone who can speak about global education from her travels around the best performing countries.
Her thesis in her talk was that the Eastern countries such as Singapore and China do well educationally because theirs is a culture where the over-riding idea is that every child can achieve and it is just about the amount of effort the child puts in, and that goes into the teaching of each child to raise them to a high standard. She showed a funny clip of Bart Simpson who had failed a test and he said 'Now let me get this straight. I need to work faster to pass a test so I'm put into a group where we do easier work? Duh?'
In Singapore and China they have qualified teachers who are used to put in the extra hours and support the children who need it, and it is not acceptable to decide at an early age who can achieve and who can't because they have the belief that all can achieve but some need more support than others. So this is similar to the bottle analogy in the David Didau talk - for some children it just takes longer for the knowledge to pass through the neck of the bottle but it will get there if enough effort is put in.
Lucy said that educationalists say that this wouldn't work here because our culture is different from the Far East. She said that the 'Tiger Mothers' - those typically Chinese or Singaporean mothers who make their children work hard from an early age - may actually have a positive benefit. It isn't in our culture to force children to work at many different areas of knowledge from an early age but Lucy was saying that just allowing a child to follow their interest does mean that there may be something that a child could be really good at in the future once they get over the hump of not knowing how to do something.
As soon as we have a small amount of knowledge or practice in an area we do start to enjoy it e.g. in learning an instrument. I have to admit to bribing all my children to practise their musical instruments by paying them a small amount per minute, and then they reached a stage where they played because they enjoyed it and no longer needed the bribe. Lucy showed another funny cartoon of an adult who was an ice-cream taster and the caption was 'Herbert was beginning to regret following his early childhood passion.'
Obviously everything should be done in moderation and we all want our children to enjoy life and work hard, but not to the extent that they become stressed and miserable. It is more the mindset that the children need to take on - that everything is possible if we try hard enough.
Plato suggests that we put representative symbols of the different professions around a child at an early age and see to which one they lean and then put energies into pursuing this interest but maybe they didn't have the idea of Growth Mindset back then! We do have areas in which we excel naturally and others where we don't feel so confident but what was becoming clear from both David and Lucy's talk at the conference was that with hard work put into whatever you do, you have an equal or better chance of becoming a knowledgeable or highly proficient person at whatever you turn your hand to - which is a great message to give to the children from an early age, and hopefully one that all the children of St. Helen's College are receiving loud and clear!
The Importance of Residential Trips - 02/05/2017
Residential trips are thankfully well embedded here at St. Helen’s College and I am sure that parents whose children have already benefitted from such trips will agree with me that the experiences that the children have would be very difficult to recreate on a family holiday.
Last week I attended the Year 5 residential trip at the Kingswood Centre on the Isle of Wight. On day one, as we toured the Mary Rose museum in Southampton, I was approached by two members of the public who commented on how well behaved and engaged the pupils were. The workshop leaders were also in awe at the children’s knowledge and interest in the sessions in which they participated. I knew then that it was going to be a great week ahead!
Many residential trips run by schools focus only on extending the curriculum and all of the activities relate to the ‘academic’ subjects the pupils study in school. However, the range of activities at Kingswood give our pupils a good balance of extending their curriculum knowledge but also the opportunity to challenge and push themselves to the limit of their endurance, perseverance and determination, in a safe environment, and for many of them to conquer their fears.
I have to admit that on arrival at the centre, when I saw the timetable of activities for the week, I felt somewhat overwhelmed not only at how busy the children were going to be but also how physically and perhaps emotionally demanding it was going to be for them (let alone the staff)!
I am happy to report that I have so much admiration for all the Year 5 pupils who set themselves personal goals throughout the week, and through the support and encouragement from their instructors, peers and staff they achieved so much in five days. I must also add that this is true for staff too! The older one gets the more fearful one is… I decided to set my own personal goals and push myself out of my comfort zone; if the children can do it, so can we!
Mrs. Gilham, Miss Walker and I embraced the dizzy heights as we took on the same challenges as the children and I have to thank Mr. Lewis for being by my side on the 3G swing, distracting me as we took in the stunning sea views as we were hoisted higher and higher by the children and instructors.
Our pupils have a residential trip each year from Year 3 upwards. The one night residential in Year 3 is the first building block leading up to an overseas trip in Year 6 to France. Having been on school residential trips for many years both in UK locations and overseas, the benefits of these trip is numerous.
I draw your attention to an article from the Guardian, which is quite dated now but which sums up the benefits of residential trips.
Sadly many schools are not offering such a range of experiences to their pupils. I believe that it is crucial for us to give our children these opportunities. Not only do they build ‘curriculum’ knowledge in the outdoors but more importantly the ‘personal development’ of the children on such trips is overwhelmingly important.
I am currently reading ‘Option B’ by Sheryl Sandberg and Adam Grant (which I highly recommend) and although the book is a personal account of how Sheryl coped with adversity in her personal life, it also gives a strong message about resilience. We need to build resilience in our children for them to become strong individuals to face the challenges of life.
We are not born with a fixed amount of resilience. It is a muscle that everyone can build.
Through our programme of residential trips that muscle is strengthened; just another way in which St. Helen’s College is developing your children to strive for excellence and to fulfill their potential through guidance, encouragement and challenge.