The ‘roadmap out of lockdown’ schools announcement made by the Prime Minister on 22 February came as no surprise. We have been anticipating, and planning for, the return of students to full time learning for a few weeks. Assuming that the data provided about our health and safety is accurate, I certainly support the full opening of schools from 8 March. No matter how hard teachers have worked at providing remote learning, nothing can replace the face to face interaction between teachers and students, and students with students. Certainly not in a highly dialogic school like ours. Returning to school is vital for children’s education, and their wellbeing. Time out of school is detrimental for children’s cognitive, social and academic development, particularly for those who are disadvantaged. Yesterday I circulated to you all the opening plan strategy documents and the updated generic risk assessment for Tavistock College. Please take some time to read these. There are significant changes to the September opening plan, and it is incumbent upon everyone to follow the risk assessments that are in place.
Young people will not, of course, just slot back into classrooms and learn en mass easily. The return in September showed us that. We know from evidence provided by the NHS and our health support services that the decline in mental health amongst 14-18 year olds has been more dramatic during this lockdown than in the previous ones. School closure will have contributed to that. The work in bringing our students back, therefore, must be thoughtful and empathetic. The ethos we promote together will matter because students are returning to a very different set of expectations than they have been used to in recent weeks. The opening plan asks you to consider how you will behave and what you will do to support this transition. We have to operate as one team.
From my perspective, the action of seeking to understand before we act is at the core of this. Listening matters, and students want us to take into account the struggles and successes they have had over lockdown with remote provision. That is what our student voice meetings were largely about last half term. In addition, we have responsibility to support parents with the transition back to school. We have developed some superb strategies to effect this during lockdown, and we will grow them going forward. I do not want to lose momentum in this important area.
Wellbeing, after all, is everyone’s responsibility. If we get what is written in the opening plan right, we will not simply be surviving a difficult and sudden return to full time face to face teaching, rather we will be thriving and improving in every area. I made my expectations very clear to Heads of Faculty yesterday, and I am sure you will be able to discuss these at your faculty development time next week. The determination to rebuild our cooperative approach is non-negotiable, but how you get here is in your gift.
Of course, as human beings, we cannot help but be subject to our preferences. We do, though, have control over the manner in which these manifest themselves in our professional behaviours. Every idea we hold dear is an expression of either support or opposition, and it is our perspective that determines whether we are for something or against it. Now, more than ever is a time to be positive. We can direct our energy and intentions into activities that promote wellbeing (and kindness) rather than using our resources to speak out in opposition to troublesome behaviours and attitudes. On the surface, these appear to be two interchangeable methods of expressing one virtue, yet being ‘for’ something is a vastly more potent means of inspiring change because it carries with it the power of constructive intent.
Recent examples of this include the work we have started (thanks to Chloe Carrubba) for International Womens Day and for the LGBTQ history month (thanks to Nick Read and Neil Hosking). Both have been celebrated in this school. When you support a cause, whether your support is active or passive, you contribute to the optimism that fuels all affirmative change. Optimistic thoughts energise people, giving them hope and inspiring them to work diligently on behalf of what they believe in. Being ‘for’ something creates a positive shift in attitude, which means that neither you nor those who share your vision will have any trouble believing that transformation on a grand scale is indeed possible. To be ‘against’ something is typically easy, as you need only speak out in opposition to it. Standing up for something is often more challenging, because you may be introducing an idea to people that may scare them profoundly.
Throughout our lives we are often told that the actions of one person will seldom have a measurable impact on the world. Yet your willingness to stand up for what you believe in instead of decrying what you oppose can turn the tides of fate. The thoughts you project when you choose to adopt a positive perspective will provide you with a means to actively promote your values and, eventually, foster lasting change. That is why I nurture, uphold and promote the values of the International Co-operative Alliance. We have the chance to transform our school over the next few weeks by being positive, constructive and malleable to the needs of others. Cooperation gives us the capacity to bend without breaking, as well as a continual willingness to change or be changed in order to accommodate new circumstances. This enables us to take advantage of opportunities that a more rigid and determined approach would miss out on.
Thank you all for your work so far this term. We are about to launch ourselves forward into a new, not old, phase of our work. Let’s do this together, and enjoy the experience.
Have a lovely weekend
Here’s a thought. We are currently, inadvertently, all part of a forced unofficial social experiment: the impact of online activity on the brain. Any role in school is hugely demanding at the moment and of course we all feel the pressure of being squashed between the responsibilities to the DfE and to colleagues, families and children. But one emerging issue we have not really spoken about openly is the ‘brain haze’ that occurs on an almost daily basis for those spending extended periods of time in online meetings and lessons. The human brain has high neuroplasticity, especially when we are pre-25, but for older (more mature?) people like me, ‘Zoom-fatigue’ is now a diagnosed condition. Our brains simply do not like extended online activity. It is much more mentally challenging. Research by Microsoft in National Geographic this week demonstrates that brainwave patterns associated with stress and over-work rise by up to 16 times when working in online meetings when compared to working with others in person. The same must apply to online teaching and learning. The limit to concentration in adults is believed to be 30-40 minutes, and it is recommended that we need a 30 minute break every 2 hours at least. That is quite challenging.
Think back to the old ways of working and appreciate them. Humans are normally communicating even when they are quiet, and use dozens of non verbal cues to maintain connections with others. These cues are much easier for our brains, and, due to the highly evolved social interaction skills we have, they are largely innate. We have become adapted to a mechanism known as continuous partial attention. This is when we use non-intense stimuli to ‘rest’ in cycles, naturally choosing alternative inputs to guide our understanding of ideas being communicated. Now online meetings, lessons and other activities require the brain to function from intense sustained attention to words and static images as stimuli . Multi person screens magnify this problem as the challenge to the brain’s central vision forces it to decode many people at once. It is somewhat of a relief to me to learn that the drop out of information that happens to me is not, in fact, something that I should get cross about, but my brain simply being overwhelmed by external stimuli it is unfamiliar with.
This knowledge is compelling. We will stick with the reduced remote lesson length I introduced a few weeks back and I now consider the decision to introduce the midweek break on Wednesday mornings to be essential. The rather flippant (I hope) remark made to me about Ofsted’s potential view on this, received one of my short, to the point answers. If we do not pay attention to the impact of extensive online communication on our brains, we will be accelerating the mental health crisis that is already lapping at our feet. And it starts with interrupted sleep patterns. So, if this chimes, do something about it now.
Supporting Mental Health must remain high on the agenda. Below Barbara Manning summarises her view on the work we have undertaken.
“This week is Children’s Mental Health Week. Never was such a week more necessary and never has it been so tricky to try and provide meaningful and authentic support with so many of our children and young people working remotely and being locked down. However, with my RS teacher hat on I am aware that pride is regarded as a sin, so forgive me colleagues for I shall sin….
When I started my career, or at least earlier on (in the last century), Every Child Mattered, we had SEAL. Every local authority championed Healthy Schools and we all strived to get the badges, plaques and logos. Then along came Thrive ……The strategies came and went, as did the funding, but I have seldom met a fellow professional who did not care about the children and young people in their daily charge. This is a school that cares from ground up and from top to toe. I see this every day. It is awe inspiring.
Tavistock College has made huge strides towards our goal and vision of being a mental health hub of excellence for our entire community. We have enlisted as a Pioneer School with the Anna Freud Centre and we are a member of the Anna Freud Schools in Mind network. We are fortunate to have well- being and mental health principles, policy and strategy in place. We regularly revisit the checklist for emotionally healthy schools. Work is currently ongoing to accredit what we already do by means of a formal Well Being Award and student voice will be critical to this endeavour. Our eye is very rarely off the proverbial ball. In addition, our website has a dedicated area packed with mental health information, resources and signposting for learners and parents.
However, my first big fat sin; absolute unfettered pride in abundance at the work Neil Hosking has been doing historically and in lockdown to keep Living Life To The Full (LLTTF) at the forefront of the provision for our students. For those of you who are unfamiliar with LLTTF it is a cognitive behaviour therapy-based approach to promoting resilience and self-help responses in those who are struggling with anxiety. Ideally, LLTTF is a peer led programme and Neil spent significant time pre-lockdown training his mental health ambassadors. If you have looked at the website recently, you may have seen the brand-new Tavistock College mental health logo designed by the Year 7 students who were about to embark on the LLTTF journey with Neil? Alas, lockdown did strike and in a magnificent response Neil has developed an online offer with a suite of podcasts now available through the aforementioned mental health area of the college website. These are just as relevant to adults as they are to our learners so do please visit the website and contact Neil if you would like more information. I now commit the sin of envy because there was nothing of this nature, let alone quality, available when I was at school with Einstein and Cleopatra a very, very long time ago.
It should not have escaped anyone’s attention that we are currently hosting our third psycho social role emerging placement for two Plymouth University trainee Occupational Therapists (OTs). Kayla and Kristel are with us for a total of twelve weeks on what is currently a unique placement locally. Their remit is to leave us a legacy of well being for both staff and students. Currently amongst other things they are working independently and with Neil to make a live and recorded mindfulness offer to all members of the community. The student offer is under development for release imminently, the live staff offer is now available. If you work at Tavistock College, you can engage in some mindfulness with Kayla from 9:45am to 10:15am on Tuesday and/or Thursday during the period 02 Feb to 25 Feb 2021. The link, should you be able to attend and want to find out more about mindfulness and self-care is; meet.google.com/mbk-wvbk-ggs
You are all doing a brilliant job of safeguarding our learners during this strange and challenging time. THANK YOU. Please keep doing what you are doing because this also fills me with great pride and gratitude. Our Well Being Practitioner on site from Monday to Thursday is Clair Thomas, and she is able to take referrals in respect of any young person whose social emotional and/or mental health is foundering. https://drive.google.com/drive/folders/163a_LLn8wmYKNjqcgtuH2lipgix4KOr-). Finally we have Mental Health First Aid (inclusive of bespoke bereavement support for the young people) in place for children, young people and adults. The posters around the college identify these colleagues and all contact is confidential as is any approach you make to APL Health or Talk Works https://www.talkworks.dpt.nhs.uk/
At the risk of appearing greedy or gluttonous, I cannot write about our mental health provision without mentioning the raft of quality solution focused mentoring that goes on both formally and informally. Despite lockdown, Trudi Massey and her team at Catalyst are still able to support our students as is Vicki Lloyd another of our partners, from the Youth Café. Similarly, Young Devon, Kooth, Chat Health (School Nurse led text message-based support), Young Minds, NSPCC, CAMHS and many other partner agencies are still there and adapting their offers to be COVID compliant. We also have Sarah Hallett and Kieran Williams onsite doing exceptional behaviour support work alongside Jill Hodge who offers Attachment Based Mentoring to some of our must vulnerable learners. I have seen every day from CPOMS how much informal well being mentoring tutors are offering through their lockdown contact with students. I am truly humbled. You are amazing!
I referred earlier to emotionally healthy schools. No school can be truly emotionally and mentally healthy unless appropriate relationships prevail. Are we a trauma informed school? No! Not yet. Will we be? Yes! We have a duty to the children and the community we serve to ensure that social capital is being created and reinvested at every opportunity and this comes through relationships. I would go as far as to suggest that relationships are everything! (Challenges on postcards please, it might be the nearest some of us get to a holiday this decade). Research shows clearly and compellingly that proactive intervention is more efficient and cost effective than reactive approaches. “Learning to be and learning to live together is as critical as academic learning to know and to do”. (Sue Roffey).
Well-being begins with WE, not me. With this in mind the senior team will be starting to plan for the roll out of our relational policy and practice with trauma informed approaches at the core. This will integrate Boxall profiling, attachment-based mentoring, HumanUtopia Heroes, the graduated response and a host of other things that we currently do engage with but in a more strategic and holistic manner. It will be a challenge but, bring it on!”
In the chaotic times we operate in, it is amazing to me that anyone has time to go the extra mile. However, to end on a positive note, I was delighted to learn that two students have managed via online lessons and a couple of in school session to take a LAMDA qualification. Tom Gourd in Y12 has received Grade 7 in Acting (Merit) and Talisker Pearson (Y8) has gained a Grade 4 (Distinction) in Reading for Performance.
Please try to rest this weekend. It is essential.
Dear Y11 and parents,
As you may already be aware Tavistock College employs a CSW Group careers adviser, Jenny Wall. She offers independent careers advice and guidance to many of our students. Some of you will already have had your interview, but we are aware that there are other students where this has not been possible due to current restrictions.
If you have any careers related queries re future direction for your son/daughter either for next September or further ahead, Jenny is offering an email service on Monday 18th January. Please send in your question to Jenny at email@example.com any time from now until the 18th January, with ‘Tavistock – Name of Student’ in the subject line of your email and Jenny will spend the day answering emails. If you are available by phone on that day and would prefer a conversation please include a relevant number and she will do her best to respond (if there is a specific time you would like to be called please indicate this and she will accommodate this where possible).
When I started writing this it was Wednesday. Seems a lifetime ago. I had to give up a couple of times and start all over again, such is the rapidity of the changing expectation on schools. It is anticipated that we will adapt and change to the Government’s instructions because they seem to be incapable of not only making their mind up and sticking to a course of action, but lack the ability to pre-publish back up plans that would help us understand what is expected of us. Nevertheless, you, as ever, have risen to the challenge, stumbled a bit, got your heads round things as the true professionals you are and stepped up. We do this because we care deeply about our communities, parents and, of course, our students. Their success is our motivation. Just reflecting on the last five days, we have
- Returned to school expecting to be teaching year groups that never materialised
- Implemented a new lockdown RA
- Moved learning online
- Re-devised remote learning when we found our plans were not working
- Increased the expectations to 5 hours of remote teaching a day.
- Hosted exams
- Cancelled said exams
- Delivered food parcels to disadvantaged families (it takes about 4 hours)
- Set up and trained colleagues to run the lateral flow testing station
- Taken part in testing
- Been teaching over 100 students in school
- Absorbed the frustration of justifiably anxious parents and students
- Read 5 different DfE updates, some published late at night for implementation the next day.
- Listened to a SOS who thought it was appropriate to threaten an over stretched profession with ofsted.
That was this week. Who knows what will happen next?!
There are reasons that we do not break under this pressure. One of them is the sense of solidarity that is created when, faced with a challenge, your colleagues can offer. This is one of the advantages of working in school, side by side. Another is an ability to not take criticism personally and to be prepared to change direction. Finally, developing an understanding of what it means to be resilient during periods of change.
I will use one example. Sadly, a colleague had a conversation with me earlier, when after producing an excellent resource, was the victim of intense criticism from a parent. Her words were ‘I am made to feel like a failure’. Of course, I know that she is far from a failure and the comments were simply a reflection of the parent’s extreme anxiety and frustration with the national lockdown.
The word failure puts forward a very simplistic way of thinking that allows for only two possibilities: failure or success. Few things in the universe are black and white, yet much of our language reads as if they are. The word failure signifies a paradigm in which all subtlety is lost. When we regard something we have done, or ourselves, as a failure, we lose our ability to see the truth, which is no doubt considerably more complex. In addition, we hurt ourselves. All you have to do is speak or read the word failure and see how it makes you feel.
At some point, the word may not have been so loaded with the weight of negativity, and it simply referred to something that did not go according to plan. Unfortunately, in our culture it is often used very negatively, such as when a person is labelled a failure, even though it is impossible for something as vast and subtle as a human being to be reduced in such a way. It also acts as a deterrent, scaring us from taking risks for fear of failure. It has somehow come to represent the worst possible outcome. Failure is a word so burdened with fearful and unconscious energy that we can all benefit from consciously examining our use of it, because the language we use influences the way we think and feel.
Next time you feel like a failure or fear failure, know that you are under the influence of an outmoded way of perceiving the world. When the word failure comes up, it’s a call for us to apply a more enlightened consciousness to the matter at hand. When you are consciously aware of the word and its baggage you will not fall victim to its darkness. In your own use of language, you may choose to stop using the word failure altogether. This might encourage you to articulate more clearly the truth of the situation, opening your mind to subtleties and possibilities the word failure would never have allowed.
I will end with just one word. Thank you. For everything you have adapted to, cried over, and stood up for. I am humbled by your resilience and power. We have a school, and a profession, to be proud of.