Running for good health

This weekend I am running the Hitchin Hard Marathon, raising funds for the Child and Adolescent Mental Health Service (CAMHS) charity based in Bedford. CAHMS is a local mental health charity that is linked to the GLG charitable focus on respecting your mental health and wellbeing.

I have, on many busy evenings, questioned why I am taking this on! But it was one of those staff room conversations where a teacher relays a discussion she had had with her Sixth Form about the importance of keeping fit during the examination break. I agreed with her wholeheartedly. Running is a great stress de-buster. The release of endorphins is well documented, as is the value of getting outside, breathing in oxygen and energising the brain. This member of staff was extolling the virtues to her Biology class of exercise and a plan was hatched. Before I knew it, I had volunteered to run 13.1 miles with the Sixth Formers along with three other colleagues.

I always believe that as a Head you are a role model. If I was asking the girls to get out of their study to keep fit then I should as well. It has not been easy. It is over ten years since I ran my last marathon. The muscles have atrophied, the heart beats a lot faster, the legs move a lot slower but the discipline of following a training schedule and ticking off the miles is invigorating. As the day gets closer, the imagined injuries become more real, I may have to walk part of it but I am looking forward to be running as a community, raising money for an important cause and in the process focusing on respecting my own well-being.

Your donations will certainly help motivate us going over those last few miles, donate here.

 

Practise what you Preach

As a Head we often give words of advice to our pupils but to me it is equally important that we heed these words. I stress to the girls the importance of hard work; practise, practise, practise; not give up; step outside your comfort zone, take a risk. Some things I advise come naturally to me, with other advice I question how often I heed it.

Like many people I took up the piano at an early age. I found practising tedious, dull and found every excuse not to do it. I jumped at the opportunity when asked if I wanted to give it up. I found piano examinations threatening; I was always a bundle of nerves with my fingers slipping off the keys, I really struggled with I guess what is now called performance anxiety. My father was the instigator of me taking up the piano and with his recent death, I began to question my teenage decision in giving up this skill.

In my reflections I felt that later in life I would revisit playing the piano, but did not have the time now. A wise colleague highlighted that 15 minutes a day, is all that was needed. Finding 15 minutes playing a stunning Steinway at school was possible. So I began to live by my words, not give up and practice. But my real struggle was performing in front of people.

So it was at the Years 7 and 8 assembly that I shared my anxiety about performing in front of people, that I needed to step out of my comfort zone and do something that did not come naturally to me. I ask them to perform in front of an audience, appreciating their nerves and therefore I needed to do the same thing. So at my next assembly with Years 7 and 8, I will perform the first movement of The Moonlight Sonata, a piece my father encouraged me to play and in preparation for it I am practising every day.

As adults we are role models to the younger generations, we need to practise what we preach. I am already nervous about the performance in June but as I explained to the girls, it is not the outcome, in this case the performance, that matters, but rather the focus on the process, the skills and learner attributes to get there. The performance may go horribly wrong, it may be a risk that fails. It does not matter, I will have learned in the process, I will have stepped out of my comfort zone and at very least found a new love of playing the piano, which I now look forward to every morning. It is a lesson to me, well learned.

Campaign Challenge

This last half term our Lower Sixth have been engaged in Campaign Challenge. It is an opportunity for the girls to work together in small teams to promote a social cause they feel strongly about. The causes vary widely, from sustainability, period poverty, loneliness in elder generations, male abuse, child neglect, mental health and challenging stereotypes.

Before they embarked on their campaign they researched people’s views, by carrying out a survey, to understand the school’s awareness of particular social issues. They need to consider what would be relevant to their target audience, and how to develop messages that would stand out from the crowd. Based on their findings they put together a campaign and then launched it in a school assembly. Throughout the following weeks, they undertook initiatives around the school to promote their cause, further raising awareness in and beyond the school community.

I have been extremely impressed. The campaigning has been powerful, clever and thought provoking. They have used the space of the school creatively to stop people in their tracks to make them think. Installations have been put up around the school, one in the shape of a whale made up of plastics found lying around the school. Another was a living exhibit, sitting alone, ignored, in the iCreate space, to highlight the plight of the loneliness of elderly people. Silhouettes of small children stuck on the wall, featureless, to stress the damage of neglect in our community, other messages and petitions on walls drawing attention to the damage of prescription drugs or the presence of male abuse.

The students have supported their campaigns using social media and email to staff and students to extend awareness, some are so inspired by their issues that they are planning events to support awareness, beyond the official campaign framework.

The value of these campaigns is immense. The lesson learnt invaluable. The voices of many of the girls have been heard. Their Sixth Form education does not exist in a bubble. Education to me is not just about the final examinations, it is about how the girls can use their many skills to make a difference to world in which they are living.

This world is uncertain, complicated and volatile and the more we equip them with a toolkit the more adept and comfortable they will be in dealing with it. Campaign Challenge is a powerful way of honing the skills whilst at the same time raising the school’s awareness of complex social issues.

The joys of living in a community

It is with a sense of relief that January has passed. Like most of the British population I do find it the flattest month in the year. The joys of Christmas have passed, the days still seem incredibly short, the weather at best erratic and the promise of Spring too far away. It is not surprising that psychologists have labelled certain days in January, such as Blue Monday, as the bleakest in the year.

For the girls it can also be a trying month, particularly those taking part in summer public examinations. The Christmas plans of revision have not been as well executed as they had hoped, the mock exams are rightly challenging and therefore the grades received for some are not as high as they anticipated. Summer seems a long way away.

So I was touched and lifted this week when I walked down the Sixth Form corridor to see on every girls’ locker a hand written note of something of good cheer. Small individualised notes to bring a smile, a message of positivity, a sense of wellness to their community. They are running a campaign of random acts of kindness, which has spread across the school, with messages and quotes pinned on notice boards lifting the spirits in the joyless month of January.

It began with their very fine assembly at the start of the month, encouraging the girls not to make resolutions which they are likely to fail, or “to have another year of new year, new me, make this the year where you think to yourself, new year, more me”. Too often we forget to be proud of who we are, we forget to look to the positives about what we have achieved and instead focus on what we are not or what we have yet to achieve.

As I walked down that corridor, after a very long day, my heart skipped, my face broke into a smile as I read the touching messages. As a Head it made me so proud. One should never underestimate the collective power of a positive community, where kindness really does matter and is valued. The girls certainly made a difference to me on that day.

Coping with the mocks

At this time of year, many of our girls are sitting their mock examinations. Time was spent over the Christmas period revising, reviewing and practising. Soon they will receive a result that reflects their performance in a particular paper on that particular day. For some, the result will be pleasing, for others less so. However, what is more significant to me is how the girls respond to their results.

I am always reminding the girls that the path to success is not smooth. It is certainly not linear and no one achieves success without meeting obstacles along the way.  If they do badly in their mocks it is not a disaster and, indeed, in them catastrophizing the failure is unhelpful. In the grand scheme of things, it is a performance in a paper on a particular day. Reflecting calmly on what needs to be done next, being self-regulated in their learning, is more productive than spiralling down into a vortex of despondency.

I liken it to the analogy of learning to drive. Some will show a ready aptitude and others will take longer to master the skill and pass the test – but that does not indicated how good their driving will be in the long term. Learning is about a process not a single outcome. Mock exam results are simply a signifier of their current performance. It is not a measure of their future performance and after the mocks we ask the girls to think about the skill of strategy planning. We stress the importance of reflecting upon their performance, reflecting on their revision strategy and if needed spend time reviewing the strategy. Developing the skill of strategy planning and developing the attitude of self-regulation, are attributes we are trying to develop in our girls. To us these are the hallmarks of an effective learner.

Christmas Pride

Last week I went to the Year 3 Christmas production. It told the story of how we celebrate Christmas through time, from the Romans through to the Victorians, to modern day England. It was humorous, entertaining and informative. But what always strikes me with our Year 3 productions is the maturity in which our 7 year olds approach this event. Many share the lead roles. Many have long speeches to remember. Many play different roles, wearing different costumes and remembering their cues.

But all of them engage with the production with gusto and sheer glee as they sing merrily the songs whilst reflecting still seriously on the message of Christmas. I have to remind myself that they are only seven, yet the manner in which they hold the stage with grace and joy is not dissimilar to professional actors.

It also serves to remind me if we ask much, the girls always deliver and do so with pride. They have come a long way since they joined our community in September. They have formed new friendships, enjoyed the challenges, responded positively to their learning and maintained their energy right to the very end of a long term. It is with pride that I, their teachers and their parents watched this magical event. As parents mouthed the words, their daughters had learned so carefully and others wiped a tear from their eye, we were all captivated by the Year 3s and impressed by the distance the girls had travelled.

As the end of a very busy term draws near the Year 3 production always stands out as a testament that schools are wonderful places of learning, celebration and joy. A Merry Christmas to you all!

Changing World of University

At the recent GSA Heads’ Conference, we were asked to consider whether the best students need to specialise at Russell Group universities. A provocative statement indeed, especially for schools, such as BGS, where large number of our students attend Russell Group universities. But the evidence is growing, an increasing number of employers are becoming degree blind. Deloitte, and Ernst and Young are developing their own tests to find the students they need. Penguin, Unilever, Google and IBM are all beginning to look beyond the degree and setting up a selection process that gives scant regard to the quality of university qualification.

Why? Because they are finding that degrees are specialised in silos of knowledge. Students are not able to connect knowledge. Societal problems are not subject specific they cut across silos. If graduates cannot problem solve, think laterally, collaborate and work in different dimensions they are not useful to their employers.

More and more I am hearing from our parents, who are the future employers that the skills they need in their businesses are sorely lacking in young graduates. They cite a lack of initiative, a lack of creativity or the need to be micro-managed. If this is the case it is not surprising that large businesses are beginning to disregard the degree and instead test the graduates directly in these skills.

Our students are also becoming more savvy. Whilst there is the intrinsic joy of learning, the reality of a £50k debt and insecure employment prospects forces many to question the need for a degree. Apprenticeships are becoming game changers. Why stack up a debt when you can have direct access to the profession without paying the costs.

Universities, like schools, are having to review what they are teaching. Sir Anthony Seldon at the GSA Conference reminded us that we are facing the biggest revolution in tertiary education in 60 years. If universities continue to deliver what they are currently teaching they will not survive. It is not enough to teach History, French, or Spanish; they need as part of their degrees to be teaching data and technological literacy, holistic and systems thinking, entrepreneurship and perhaps increasingly important in today’s world, critical thinking and the discernment of what is truth.

A new market in universities will appear, two year degrees, bilateral degrees, nano degrees, alternatives to universities, diversification within universities and increasingly students applying to individual institutions rather than through UCAS. Unconditional offers are just a taste of things to come and we need to be ready.

At BGS with our emphasis on building learning skills, providing a forward thinking careers education, which encourages the girls to consider alternatives and offering the IB Diploma Programme, an internationally recognised qualification, are all ways in which we are working hard to  make sure our girls have an education and mind-set which is future focused.