13 February 2014

An antidote to tedium

Being a teacher for nearly 28 years means you think a fair bit about years, terms, months, weeks and lessons and occasionally even remember being on the receiving end of things. I will always be very grateful to Birkenhead High School GPDST, as it was then called, for offering me an entrée into Classics, my calling, and so on to teaching, my vocation. In between I had four mostly wonderful years at university and one pretty ghastly year as an articled clerk to a notary public in the City of London. I’m sure it wasn’t much fun for them either.

I think I know, therefore, not only the feeling of doing what is fulfilling and empowering, but also the reverse, dragging oneself through tedium. Neil Boulton, now retired, once observed in one of our weekly conversations when he was Director of Studies that I had clearly spent a good deal of my own time at school being bored. And his implication was that I was not very good at being bored. It was only then I put the various pieces of the jigsaw puzzle together to realise that, not only was he spot on, but that the last thing I would want for any pupil at a school in which I’m involved is for them to be bored.

A3 Festival: Blacklight exhibition
This weekend has seen the joyous ‘bonkersness’ of the A3 Festival, in which one year group entertains the rest of the school for a whole weekend. Some Gradgrinds might argue that these pupils should be slaving away at their books instead of preparing for and taking part in this weekend of huge creative activity. My view is that those who work hard in the classroom can afford to spend a weekend having creative, extra-mural fun. And those who don’t find it comes naturally to them to slave away in the groves of Academe can learn how to do so by getting stuck in with their peers in an active joint enterprise. This particular weekend helps most A3s to learn to be outside their comfort
A3 Festival: Art installation
zone, whether on stage, or directing; whether creating outstanding art installations or modelling for the fashion show; whether performing in the classical, acoustic, or rock concert. And this year it was Niamh Simpson (A3 Hn) who followed the impressive annual A3 Festival tradition of being the pupil brave and talented enough to write, direct and perform her own play, The Princess Initiative. Old Bryanstonians often tell me that they feel the Festival enriched their lives not just for one weekend, but in some cases for much longer as it showed them the way ahead for beyond Bryanston.

An abundant life, as former Bryanston headmaster Thorold Coade would have it, is about a range of opportunities and a depth to those in which you decide to specialise. It is the prescription for a happy and fulfilled life and an antidote to tedium. I think it’s an essential constituent part of education and I hope it lasts for life.

6 February 2014

Learning from our mistakes

We welcome Peter Hardy, Second Master at Bryanston, with his guest blog on the importance of learning from one’s mistakes.

Peter Hardy
In my 36 years at Bryanston, both as a teacher and then as Second Master, I have witnessed most mistakes that teenagers tend to make when it comes to breaking the rules. In some cases they are simply looking for ways to shock their elders, who, as each generation grows up, do become increasingly difficult to shock. Although the expression of it may change, the underlying reasons behind most acts of teenage bad behaviour and rebellion remain relatively consistent: the need to challenge societal norms and underlying expectations and also the need to assert identity and position within a world which they are only just beginning to understand.

Therefore, the rules and regulations, boundaries and guidelines we put in place remain essential handrails for young people, to guide and support them as they find their own way from childhood to adulthood. Along the way they are likely to make mistakes, as they encounter the nuances and grey areas that exist in any society, organisation, school or family.

It is our reaction, as parents and teachers, to those mistakes that can shape a young person’s future, not necessarily the mistake itself. Make consequences too severe and you risk obscuring any lessons learned with a feeling of injustice; too lenient and the lesson loses its impact. The important aspect is that the young person is given the chance to learn from any mistake and should change their behaviour or attitude accordingly.

As in other schools, there are clearly defined consequences at Bryanston when rules are broken or behavioural expectations are not met. We aim to offer strong support to pupils after mistakes have been made. The main focus of the weekly tutorial is academic progress, but there is also the opportunity to discuss any concerns which may have arisen outside the classroom. This, along with the close contact between a pupil’s tutor and housemaster or housemistress, is an additional tool to help pupils learn from their mistakes. It can often also help to highlight areas of concern before they become more serious issues, and can also be a sounding board and forum for discussion.

At the start of each academic year, the important thing that I say to staff is that pupils should have a fresh start and, in terms of perception, a line should be drawn under previous disciplinary misdemeanours. As such, it enables our pupils who have learned from their mistakes to start anew each year, without their former misdemeanours overshadowing their new approach. In this way, we hope to give pupils the best possible chance to learn from mistakes and to change their behaviour.