5 December 2017

Perfection Paralysis

This week Sarah Thomas considers why we shouldn't let a focus on perfection prevent us from doing our best.

I’ve been thinking recently about perfection. I think it’s true to say that I have, from my earliest years, known that whilst I would like everything to be neat and tidy and practically perfect in every respect (Mary Poppins being something of a role model of mine, closely followed by the wonderful Joan Hickson as Miss Marple), you can’t, in the immortal words of Mick Jagger, always get what you want. Indeed perfection can be paralysing.

It worries me that the notion of perfection is so prevalent in the media and elsewhere that it can be all too much for our children. Please don’t misinterpret me, I am absolutely clear that we should all aim to do our best. I’m rather thinking of the pursuit of perfect cleverness, perfect appearance, perfect lives. But it’s hard to do your best if you feel from the very start that there’s no way you can be as good as some seemingly perfect peer; or if you know that, despite your best efforts, you are unlikely to achieve as highly as your teachers or parents would like you to. And it’s hard too being the seemingly perfect one. That’s what I mean about perfection having a paralysing effect.

It’s why at Bryanston we focus so much upon how each pupil does according to their abilities and interests and efforts, as opposed to how they compare to others, either in or outside the school. In this age of league tables, where it seems everything, even the uncomparable, must be compared, ours is a radical approach. But the value we add by the sixth form in terms of both academic and other outcomes is something of which I am very proud, as I am of the achievements of Old Bryanstonians and the contributions they make to the wider world. I very much hope, for a multiplicity of reasons, no Bryanstonian thinks that the world owes them a living. And that they all go on to lead happy, fulfilled and contributive lives.

The way to deal with all this focus on perfection and the fear of helplessness in the face of it is, in my view, to remember your Voltaire (“le mieux est l’ennemi du bien”) and aim not for the perfect, but the good. This approach has a profound effect upon your sense of self-esteem: if you know what you are doing is your best, and that it is recognised as such rather than belittled, you are likely to feel much better about yourself. It allows you also to divest yourself of the feeling of desperation or helplessness that can creep in, often from consulting social media or the popular press about the world at large.

We live, perhaps sadly but certainly bracingly, in interesting times. I think our job as educators is to recognise and react to the changing world, ensuring pupils leave ready to embrace the new opportunities that will open up (so, for instance, we are strengthening our computer science provision with a new high-level appointment from September 2018), but also maintaining the framework which has proven its worth over generations, in terms of teaching pupils how to learn and, as it happens, how to be positive.

At Bryanston, I see this philosophy in action every day, through our remarkable tutorial system. I see it also in the approach of our Director of Sport and the exciting new developments he has introduced, so that all can enjoy sport both in and beyond school. I see it in the exceptional music and drama (and if you didn’t see My Fair Lady, I am very sorry for you, as you missed an enormous treat: I saw it twice!). I see it on every occasion that we place our trust in our pupils to rise to the challenges that face them. I am enormously proud, for instance, of our First XV Captain, Ellis B (P, A2), who has shaped a team which lost more than they would have wished before half term into one which was unbeaten this side of half term until, agonisingly, their very last game. Because of that experience, the boys now form a fully committed team with a sense of common purpose and individual drive. And Ellis is to be congratulated for his major part in that and also for his very recent selection to the U18 Wales squad. I am proud too of how the whole school rose this term to the challenge of raising our annual amount of £1,000 per house (which would mean a school total of £12,000), to support our long-standing school link with charities in Nepal. The total currently stands at £17,000 and rising. And I was beyond proud to hear of how our money raised for the fantastic David Nott Foundation (the charity chosen by last year’s A2 in spring 2017) has been helping fund training courses for surgeons around the world and has specifically helped in Bangladesh, supporting doctors treating the Rohingya Muslim refugees fleeing, often with cruel injuries, from ethnic violence in Myanmar.

This year’s Heads of School, Harry G and Lotte T, are now planning for the A2 Charity Weekend for next term. They’ll be in touch with pupils, staff and parents early next term and they are eager to make sure they lead another successful and contributive charity event in February. They also, incidentally, provide me with some of the best conversations of my week and are outstanding role models to the school.

It’s a privilege running a school like Bryanston. My main role is to ensure that all pupils can leave here ready for this world of ours, whatever shape it will take, and knowing that doing your best, in the classroom or outside it, is always good enough and can sometimes be absolutely brilliant. And that’s the way to stay sane, avoid perfection paralysis and enjoy life with all its ups and downs. Have a super Christmas and all best wishes for 2018.

22 November 2017

“I wanted to see what would happen!” part three

Following on from parts one and two of his blog, Simon Vincent continues to share his insights into teenage boys, gained over his 12 years as a junior boys’ housemaster.

"Mistakes are the portals of discovery." - James Joyce

Most boys have an innate desire to find things out for themselves and, given the opportunity, will do so despite the best advice that they are given. Certainly, the consequences can seem terrifying, but I would contend that the consequences of not allowing them to do so are worse. The well-known observation “Why, when someone tells you that there are 100 million stars in the universe do you believe them, yet when you see a sign saying ‘Wet Paint’, do you have to touch it to check?” is one that applies particularly to teenage boys. What makes this worse is the extent to which they wind each other up and challenge an arms race of bravado. Among young teenage boys unused to each other’s company this forms an essential part of early interaction. Boys are not great at having meaningful conversations about themselves, as they are all terrified that others will find them boring and immature. They are so desperate to show their credentials to their peers that they exaggerate to an amusingly ridiculous degree. In an overblown social version of the card game Liar, the stakes of calling each other out are raised by the prospect of being called out in turn. What is left is an environment where boys think that others may not be telling the entire truth, but recognise that they, in turn, have perjured themselves so they all just go along with the illusion. I have overheard the most ridiculous (and often shocking) claims of boys earnestly telling others that their dad invented the SAS or that they have been to a pool party with Rihanna or other such nonsense! I remember clearly the horror when I saw a (not very gymnastically-talented) boy in the house garden standing on the fence, surrounded by a cheering crowd, and clearly about to do a back flip off it. Time seemed to slow down as I rushed for the back door to try and stop him, but flip he did, landing flat on his back on the hard ground. I had images of A&E flashing in my head. Thankfully he was unhurt, but what emerged was that he had told other boys so many times that he could do it, that he had actually begun to believe that he could. This is a fairly benign example, but it is at the root of many that are less so.

The world is changed and it is an inevitability that our risk-averse culture has arisen (especially with the paperwork at schools). This is all very sensible and helps to keep the lawyer from the door, but I am not the first to recognise that organised fun is often no fun at all! My best memories of boarding school are not the wonderful school trips or the coaching sessions we had but those where we went freestyle, took charge of our own leisure time and tried to do something different. Pupils still do this, thankfully, and in a much more controlled environment the thrill of doing something for themselves has added piquancy. The boys, when left to their own devices, are often much more sensible and risk-averse than we give them credit for, but our inability to give them enough leeway makes them all the more committed to challenging action. I completely understand the desire to keep children safe, but the teenage years are a time when the mantle of ‘child’ is starting to shrug from their shoulders and they are looking (albeit through rose-tinted, psychedelic spectacles) at the fact that they may be a viable individual in their own right. I see our role as giving them advice and a road map, whilst always being on standby to jump in with roadside breakdown cover if really needed in case of failure.

Failure is probably the most important learning process in a teenage boy’s development, so let’s not deny it to them. Some years ago I coached an U14 rugby team with a colleague. Our season statistics by December read Played 15 Won 15 and County Cup Champions. Amid all the celebrations at the end of that autumn term, my colleague and I both voiced our misgivings. Most teenage boys have pretty high opinions of themselves and, if not slightly tempered, can cross over from confidence into arrogance. Don't get me wrong, I love my teams to win but when they start to believe their own hype about themselves there are problems coming. In this instance, rather predictably, the rugby team refused to listen to the advice that they were given to change the way they played at U15 level or to work on core skills. As a result they only won five matches out of 12 at U15 level. A quote from a classic film best summarises this when Commander Stinger tells the well-nicknamed Maverick (Tom Cruise), “Son, your ego is writing cheques that your body can’t cash.” This is spot on. In order to become better young men, boys must experience failure and disappointment and test themselves against that, rather than success. I do not suggest that we should create losing situations for them, rather that we allow them to fail (gently) more than trying vicariously to exorcise our own past failings by attempting to solve all issues for our children. This is to deny them the very learning opportunity that makes us seek to help them. Again, this is totally understandable and I am sometimes unable to resist with my own children – but I try.

And so ...
I have been enormously privileged to welcome so many wonderful young men into Bryanston over the last 12 years and I have been truly proud of the way that they have progressed and moved on. The fact that my first intake of boys is now 26 years old is terrifying but such is the march of time. As I have said, my main motivation in writing this is to provide some kind of balance to the emotional turmoil of parenting that is all the more accurately felt if your current teenager is your first. There is no blueprint for success here, just some observations about how to make a really difficult job as a parent a little bit easier and to make interaction with the school more straightforward.

A former Headmaster of this school is reported to have told new parents that “A boarding school education is like cooking a casserole. Put all the parts in and as long as you don't lift the lid or stir it for five years it will turn out delicious.” This is probably apocryphal, but it does sum up a now-outdated attitude towards boarding. The reality these days is very different, but there is an essential point in the quotation. The whole point of these five years is a move towards adulthood – our children’s adulthood. Up until this point we have been their major guides through life, but this will probably not be the case in five years’ time and we need to learn to let them go a bit. This is a transitional period when teenagers are looking for other role models, other sources of advice, other sources of love and friendship. It is difficult for the boys, but far more difficult for the parents. Good luck!

20 November 2017

“I wanted to see what would happen!” part two

In part two of his blog, Simon Vincent looks at the pitfalls of Snowplough Parenting, the need for teenage boys to develop a sense of self-reliance as well as the importance of consistent boundaries. You can read part one here.

Some years ago the Headmistress of St Paul’s Girls’ School wrote an article bemoaning the rise of what she called ‘Snowplough Parenting’. Many were familiar with the concept of Helicopter Parents, but I was struck that her use of the snowplough was more apposite. The model that this reflects is where parents ‘attach’ themselves to the front of their child’s life and act like a snowplough, clearing all obstacles out of their child’s way. These children are never allowed to be disappointed, or to fail to make a team, or to fail to win a prize of some sort, or cope with any kind of setback. I totally understand the deep-felt desire to see one’s child happy and successful, but have seen enough of this to conclude that this kind of action is not an effective preparation for life. The wonderful opportunity for boys at boarding school is the opportunity to take some control over aspects of their lives and to do this by developing dialogue with a number of adults and peers who are not their parents. This encourages honesty, negotiation, consistency and a focus on the importance of cause and consequence.

This is where mirror-gazing comes in. My Platoon Sergeant at Sandhurst (CSgt Broad Grenadier Guards) had a habit, when officer cadets came to him with problems or complaints, of making them stand in front of a bathroom mirror. “Whenever you think that you are having a bad time,” he would say, “whenever you think that the world is against you, that life is unfair, just look in the mirror and say ‘50% of my problems are looking back at me right now.’ Once you accept that the only person you can rely upon to sort your problems out is you, then you can move on.” Now obviously CSgt Broad was interacting with adults, but his belief was that you cannot control what other people do, only what you can do, and that time reflecting on the unfairness of life was wasted. This takes years, but I believe that a central part of growing up as a teenage boy is to at least have the impression that you are sorting things out for yourself. There are, of course, many people in an institution like a boarding school to support teenagers in this, but the confidence gained by teenagers when they start to take control of providing their own solutions is invaluable.

Possibly my most important words are about something that is the most difficult to demonstrate. In dealing with boys, and men, consistency is key. Boys don't really do ‘mercurial’, they get confused by mood swings and they often don’t read social situations appropriately as a result. Boys welcome boundaries. It doesn't really matter where they are and it doesn't mean they won't push them, but the knowledge of a boundary puts boys’ minds at rest. If you are consistently harsh then fine, consistently relaxed equally so, but flipping from one to the other puts boys on edge. Life is easy at school. There are clear rules, clear sanctions and we can enforce them unencumbered by the massive handicap of loving the children in our care. We like them, of course, but attempts to play the guilt card or tug at the emotions are easily rebuffed, because they are the children we look after, not the children that we brought into the world. The main thing from a school point of view is that, despite what the boys may say, we do not treat them unfairly, have favourites or ignore them in favour of other children – it is profoundly not in our interests to do so.

I hope that this insight gives parents the ability to take an objective view of telephone reports of ‘unfairness’.

In the third part of his blog, Simon will look at the important part experimentation and failure have to play in teenage boys’ development.

17 November 2017

“I wanted to see what would happen!” part one

This week Simon Vincent shares his insights into teenage boys after 12 years as housemaster of a junior boys’ house at Bryanston. The first in his three-part blog looks at communication, or the lack thereof.

I need to come clean at the start – I have never parented a teenage boy. I have three girls (which presents its own issues!), but I have stood in loco parentis for nearly 440 13- to 14-year-old boys over the last 12 years and I hope that this has put me in a position to offer some insight.

“I wanted to see what would happen” is a phrase that I heard many times over the last 12 years when questioning boys about something particularly stupid and thoughtless that they had done. This ranged from spraying deodorant at close range onto their nipples to see if they would freeze, to drinking the contents of a glow-stick and then standing in a loo with the lights off and waiting to see if their wee would glow in the dark! Indeed, these are some of the more explainable ‘experiments’ and when, during the course of an investigation into an incident, I would ask “What were you thinking?” the answer would often be “I don’t know.” This was an honest answer – they really didn’t know what they were thinking, but just did it anyway to “see what would happen.” This is part of both the frustration and charm of teenage boys; they live in the moment, sparing little thought for consequence or caution. They are natural risk-takers and, if harnessed, this can be a great route to success, but the path is a dangerous one also.

I find most teenage boys eager to please, loyal almost to a fault, and endlessly entertaining. To see this, however, one has to accept the inevitability of failure. Teenagers will let you down, they will make errors of judgement, they will do stupid things and once you have grasped this reality, you can get on with the business of building relationships with them.

Of course, my generic teenage boy does not apply to every child, but almost all that I have looked after display some of the traits I am about to describe. I have no qualifications other than experience for these thoughts and please feel free to ignore them as you wish.

Most boys are not great communicators – at least not with their parents. They tend only to see the point in communicating when there is something they want or need to offload. The key to this is that they do not see their parents as human beings in the strict sense of the word, more as simple conduits for their own desires. This is precisely what we as parents have been encouraging for the previous 13 years, delighting in the fact that these are ‘our’ children, who we take pride in caring for. Teenage boys coming to boarding school are starting to think of themselves less as ‘ours’ and more as ‘theirs’, but the apron strings still pertain when they cannot make something happen on their own. This needs to be borne in mind when having telephone conversations with teenage boys – there is usually a reason for the phone call, and it is rarely just to have a nice chat!

My advice for dealing with the above is as follows:

If they want something, try to resist giving it to them straight away (be it something physical or your support to make something happen). They have come to boarding school to become more independent and there are channels within the school to sort out any issues they have. If they do not have something, or are not able to do something, there is usually a credible reason for it (bad organisation, rules etc). Most teenage boys have an over-developed sense of injustice and a complete inability to see things from any point of view other than their own. I lost count of the irate calls from parents claiming that a member of staff had ‘unfairly’ prevented a boy from going down to Blandford or that ‘everyone’ had a new pair of Beats headphones and it was ‘social suicide’ not to have them. These were the teenagers’ words being projected back to me. In these cases, the purpose of the call home was evident: they wanted their parents to put pressure on the school to allow the trip to Blandford or they wanted new headphones. Simple. All the surrounding hyperbole was aimed at tugging at the parental heartstrings. There is a danger here, for the moment the teenager senses that parents are ‘on their team’ against the school the slippery slope becomes precipitous.

When it comes to your son offloading negativity, please try not to worry too much. This tends to be something that lands on mothers and makes them feel wretched. If boys have worries they are not great at talking them through with their friends. They phone their mothers, offload all their negative thoughts, then get back to life as normal, happily relieved of the burden. This is a coping mechanism for them and they spare not a single thought for the worrying that is going on at home. In my experience, most boys do not phone up when things are going well, or if they are having a good time with their friends. In these cases their emotional needs are already being met so why bother to seek any added validation from their parents? This may sound harsh but, from what I have seen, it is truly the way that most of their minds work.

This treatment of parents by teenagers shocks some at first. We at boarding school are in the privileged position of seeing the very best of the teenagers that we look after. This is because they know that they have to work at gaining our trust and liking (or that of their friends) and pour all their efforts into this. A parent’s love is unconditional, and they know that, so often by the time they get home they have exhausted their reservoirs of pleasantness. I think that as long as we parents can be sure that our teenagers behave well with other adults, then we can celebrate that.

In part two of his blog Simon will look at Snowplough Parents, the importance for teenagers to learn self-reliance and the need for consistency from parents and other adults around them.

3 November 2017

Reflective learners

This week our Head of Teaching and Learning, Will Ings, looks at the importance of reflection in learning for both pupils and staff.

Over the past 12 months the school has been preparing for its first five-year review of the IB and, as such, we have been scrutinising and reflecting upon how the IB Diploma is delivered at Bryanston. One of the principal areas of discussion has been the IB Learner Profile and how it fits with the Bryanston method of teaching and learning. The 10 attributes of the IB Learner Profile underline the whole IB endeavour and define the type of pupil (if such a thing is not too derived) an IB graduate ought to be.

“As IB learners we strive to be: inquirers, knowledgeable, thinkers, communicators, principled, open-minded, caring, risk-takers, balanced and reflective.”

It is the last of these, the need for proper reflection, which I think is most apposite to Bryanston, as regular reflection is a part of what our pupils do. Weekly tutorials and Correction Periods (work
review sessions) rely upon it and thrive because of it. There is no ‘normal’ way in which it is done, that is part of its beauty, but it is an essential part of our weekly (even daily) routine. Plans for the forthcoming week are regularly updated by a pupil and tutor when discussing the successes (or not) of the previous week’s work. Similarly, in a subject Correction Period, an academic technique or exercise is analysed, reflected upon and refined, ready for the next activity and thus, progress is guaranteed. We are fortunate that such a system ensures that a pupil never just glances at the grade given for a piece of work before consigning the piece to a file forevermore. Instead, in-depth feedback is given there and then, in real time, allowing the pupil to benefit fully from their assignment tasks.

A truly world-class school will not stop there: it will encourage reflective practice not just in pupils, but also in teachers. Pedagogical forum will become an absolutely normal part of its teaching set-up.
At Bryanston, departments devote time in their staff meetings to such debate and sharing of good practice every week and there are various other opportunities in which reflection is both encouraged and celebrated. The now-regular Teaching and Learning discussions set out with this aim firmly in mind. Staff meet once every half of term and discuss, over a delicious meal kindly supplied by our wonderful catering team (I know that this is a fool-proof way to people’s hearts!), an issue of pedagogical significance to the school. The meeting starts with a brief digest of recent research into the given topic, before opening up for discussion. Sessions are voluntary and have been well attended since the very first meeting two years ago and now we find ourselves wondering if the venue is big enough to house the growing numbers of enthusiasts.

It is difficult to find an IB learner profile attribute that is not well-represented in the ways both pupils and teachers learn and develop at Bryanston, but reflection is arguably the first and foremost of our particular vernacular. It is the pivot of our shared philosophy, and that is for pupils and staff.

20 October 2017

The pursuit of excellence

In this week's blog Director of Sport, Alex Fermor-Dunman, reflects on the pursuit of excellence and how sport can drive cultural change.

It might come as a surprise to learn that as a Director of Sport, I have been charged in the past with being ‘soft’ when it comes to results by colleagues who have suggested I don’t care enough about winning. This couldn’t be further from the truth; what they haven’t quite grasped is that, in the pursuit of excellence, the aim is to win ALL the time, by ensuring both the processes and the performances are excellent.

If our only measure of excellence is in the outcome, i.e. if we win or lose, or the number of A* grades we achieve, then we have missed the point. It is the journey we each personally take in trying to achieve excellence that counts. In sport if we are only concerned with winning the game, and that is our only goal, then over time we lose, a lot.

The pursuit of excellence is a frame of mind, a culture, an ethos and a way of life that requires character, effort and respect. It is an ongoing quest to ensure that mediocrity is never accepted. An individual’s energy and intentions need to be focussed every day towards achieving their specific goals. We each must feel in our hearts and souls that we want to excel and continuously improve, somewhat akin to the Japanese principle of kaizen (kai = change, zen = good). With this all-encompassing approach, there is a far greater possibility that we will get the outcome to which we aspire.

Implementing a culture that focusses on the pursuit of excellence requires one or more catalysts. For Bryanston sport, one such catalyst will undoubtedly be the rejuvenation of the sports centre, which is currently mid project. The building has been designed and built with all Bryanston pupils and staff in mind. The fundamental aims are to encourage physical activity, and for health and well-being to be the bedrock of the individual pursuit of excellence for every member of the Bryanston community. Not everyone is a lover of mainstream sport, but there is a general recognition of the importance of physical activity, whether it be for pupils’ general health or, most notably, its undisputed relationship with improving academic study and attainment. And so, the number of sport-related extra-curricular activities on offer will increase in the near future, as will the range of games on offer, thanks, in part, to greater flexibility of facilities provided by the redeveloped sports centre.

For those pupils who hold dear the thought of pursuing excellence in all sports, the new Performance Sport Programme (PSP) opens up a world of possibilities. Under the expert guidance of Alex Chapman, Head of Performance Sport, PSP is focussed upon character, effort and respect, all of which underpin the pursuit of excellence. It will be the making of many generations of Bryanstonians.

We are already seeing the effects of this approach with pupils showing a greater desire to pursue sporting excellence. During the past 18 months five pupils have been selected for international rugby teams, there has been an international selection for a female cross-country runner and we have produced a member of the full Hampshire ladies’ cricket team, who were promoted to the super league this summer.

Sport can be a catalyst for cultural change to help the entire pupil body strive for excellence across a multitude of interests and we want this to be the case for all Bryanston pupils in all their areas of endeavour throughout their lives. To echo the words of Wade Gilbert, coaching scientist and performance consultant, “The pursuit of excellence allows for those who are not satisfied with good enough.”

3 October 2017

Connecting effectively

At the start of the year Bryanston introduced a new mobile phone policy. Here Dr Preetpal Bachra, Head of Pastoral, explains the thinking behind the policy.

Amongst the great challenges for schools is the ability to guide and foster every aspect of a child’s development whilst coping with the dynamic world that we all live in. There are balances and counter-balances to any strategy or resource used as part of processes to meet those challenges. For example, if understanding the individual is at the heart of what Bryanston proposes, then that could be interpreted as having an educational environment designed specifically for each pupil – 680 different classrooms, teachers, etc. Rather we work with pupils as individuals to help them better utilise the structures on offer and to help children make decisions for themselves – as Nanny McPhee would say, “When you need me but do not want me, then I must stay. When you want me but no longer need me, then I have to go. It’s rather sad, really, but there it is.” The challenge for teachers and parents, therefore, is to work with pupils and, as a parent of two boys approaching their teens, I am well versed in the oft played record of, “Why won’t you listen/do/not do?*” (*delete as applicable) which after bed is replaced by, “What am I doing wrong/not doing/done to deserve?*” (*ibid) record. Perhaps M. Scott Peck’s opening assertion of The Road Less Travelled of “Life is difficult. This is a great truth. One of the greatest truths” is never more relevant than when dealing with children (though there will be many a work place manager that would say “adults ain’t so easy either”).

At the start of the academic year 2016/17 I was given a brief by Sarah Thomas of devising a strategy for mobile phone usage at Bryanston and I embarked on an eight-month exploration of investigating other schools, talking to pupils, examining the classroom usage and wading through the litany of literature from divergent philosophies. There were some surprising outcomes and I should share some of them here.

Some independent schools gained favourable media coverage by banning mobile phones altogether. However, at the chalk face, teachers still struggled with the distractions provided by other electronic equipment and the ability to use social media and distraction therein. Some pupils went underground with phone usage and this had to be detected. In short, a ban didn’t always mean they weren’t used. Phones can become the moonshine of the modern boarding school under those restrictions.

Some pupils here stated adults as having the ‘problem’ (and who is reading this on their phone or tablet right now?). The hypocrisy of banning phones to reduce negative impact on well being and increase social interaction was not lost on some of our pupils.

Some pupils evidenced their positive usage of phones – sending messages of support to friends, organising lessons or work or checking the portal. Some share data, ask questions, offer or receive peer support, collaborate. In some ways they ‘connect’ with each other too and Johann Hari provides a thought-provoking plea for the importance of socially connecting, albeit not virtually.

We know there are now issues of cyber bullying, self-criticism, media persuasion, peer abuse, and every school will, at some stage, deal with at least one of these. The easy solution to these issues is to ban phones if they are proved to be the most impactful medium for these behaviours, although authors such as Arik Sigman suggest that some of the effects of screen time have already had an impact on pupils well before they are of secondary school age.

The more challenging model is to work with pupils, to integrate, regulate and teach. In effect, to take a Bryanstonian view of the problem. This has meant a policy that focusses on courtesy, i.e. when phones can and can’t be used and robust responses for being discourteous. It will lead to an understanding of when phones should and shouldn’t be used. It has meant having ‘staged’ access to phones, as the younger the pupil the less likely they will be to have developed good social skills.

The D year group have just experienced an excellent day led by HumanUtopia, which focussed on building hope, resilience, confidence and happiness. The PSRE programme is being developed to nurture those skills. We are looking now at the wholesale use of technology too.

If we are brave we should consider teaching pupils to use technology positively – appropriate social media profiles, how to use virtual working, how to connect effectively, but never at the expense of human contact. The old adage goes that qualifications will get you the job interview but qualities will get you the job. Our goal is to develop both in the child, so that ultimately they won’t need us. If we achieve that, then that really would be nurturing the individual.

15 September 2017

Keep talking

As the new school year gets well under way, Bryanston Head Sarah Thomas reflects on the importance of a good relationship between school and home, including her own experiences of this as a parent. 

Each year when I welcome new parents to the school at the beginning of September I talk about the importance of communication. It matters a lot that we, who look after pupils for the majority of time during term time, know what we need to know. It matters too that we as a school are in touch with parents to keep them in the picture. So I tell a series of silly stories to the new and slightly anxious parents sitting in front of me, leaving their 13-year-old in our tender care for the first time, in order to underline the fact that we are listening and will keep communicating and that we rely upon our parents to do the same.

I learned this lesson at Uppingham when I worked with the legendary Headmaster, Stephen Winkley. He told me of the time he was standing at the Leavers’ Ball watching the fireworks with particular parents whose child had been not entirely straightforward for the two sixth-form years. The parents turned to him and told him that their child was adopted and Stephen said to me, “In that moment, all of the previous two years made sudden, blinding sense.” Since then, even though I cannot nowadays imagine such an example happening, I learned his mantra: tell us what we need to know.

Some schools tell new parents to go away and leave them alone. That they are the experts and parents should leave it all to them. I have limited sympathies with this approach, but think it’s quite wrong. It can, of course, be very galling indeed to have a parent tell you how to run a school based entirely upon their knowledge (sometimes biased; often partial) of their own child and upon the fact that they once went to a school themselves. And we honestly do believe at Bryanston that we are pretty expert in the ways of adolescence. But, we also know that parents know quite a lot about their own child, that we will find this information extremely useful in terms of helping us do our job of looking after them as well as we possibly can, and that the relationship between parents and school is, at its best, a collaborative one. I’m pretty certain that the tutorial system at Bryanston allows for this collaboration to be done at a very individual level.

When my two girls were at school here they had two exceptional (now retired) housemistresses and two very different, exceptional tutors. What it’s worth making clear at this point is that as the Head of their school as well as their mother, I easily won the prize of the most embarrassing mother in the world. The elder daughter, who is and always has been the most gripped up of the four of us (which is another way of saying she is a force of nature), was tutored by Neil Boulton who did not allow her just to sail through academically but ensured, which neither my husband or I could have, that she represented the school at sport. He also got her out of various moments of hot water and I will always be deeply grateful to him for the way in which he did not allow me to be part of the problem. My younger daughter, who not once was in hot water, was tutored by the remarkable Hannah Fearnley, aka Doccy F, now housemistress of Greenleaves, and when my daughter was unsure or wobbly (I brought them up the same, I promise, and their parental genetic make-up was identical), Hannah kept her (and me) sane. She further ensured that this quiet and clever, uncertain and ambitious little girl more than fulfilled her potential. She is now a confident and happy young woman and I will always bless Hannah for her (ongoing) part in that. I know how lucky I have been. But it is this sort of support, direction, kindness, toughness, and honesty which I firmly believe is the basis of a grown-up relationship between school and both child and home, and I know how very highly I valued the support I had from these wonderful professionals.

Bryanston and Bryanstonians, present and past, make me more and more often sentimental. It must be my advancing age. It’s to do, I reckon, with the fact that the job of teacher, tutor, housemaster/housemistress, Head is a hugely privileged one. Certainly I know that my role allows me to spend time with such vibrant pupil talent and energy; and that sense of connection is never-ending, year on year, and goes on way beyond 18 and for a lifetime. What will our children end up doing in their lives? It may not be clear at 11,12,13 (at least I rather hope it’s not!), but with the sort of relationship between home and school that we’re aiming for here, you can know that these things will begin to become clear over the course of five years and that as your child (and yourself vicariously) pass through the occasional turbulence of adolescence, there will always be both a strong line in to your child and an ocean of professional support and love along the way.

27 July 2017

Playing like a girl

This week we share a post written by one of our departing A2 pupils, Tilly C, on her experiences of playing cricket through the years. Tilly is currently playing for Hampshire Women's 1st XI squad.

The day I distinctly remember falling in love with cricket was on a family and friends camping holiday in Cornwall at the age of about nine. It was a holiday tradition to have a huge cricket game on the first night between the fathers and sons, but for once I was allowed to join in. I remember being passed the ball to bowl against the campsite superstar, who was the renowned cricketer in the school year above me. I felt it was a huge honour (at the time) to be able to bowl at him. It was like bowling against Kevin Peterson or AB de Villiers in my eyes, but my first ball I clean bowled him. Nobody could believe it, and I loved it! From that moment, I knew cricket was going to be my passion and the sport that I love to play.

At St Katherine’s Primary School, playing from year 4 to 6 in both boys’ and girls’, softball and hardball teams, I was fortunate enough to have an extremely supportive Deputy Headteacher and cricket fanatic, Mr. Booth. He, alongside my father and grandfather, taught me the fundamentals of the game, which gave me a great starting point. The support they collectively gave me was massive; giving me belief that being the only girl on the team was a normality, my acceptance was never questioned. As a result, I was predominately friends with the boys in my team, who accepted me as an equal and still do today. With hindsight, I realise how important it is for all players to accept their team mates, irrelevant of gender, and that these barriers have to be broken. It is very clear to me now who the boys are that grew up playing cricket with me, or other girls, as they are far more accepting and supportive than those who have never experienced a girl in their own team before.  Unfortunately, I realised the hard way that being accepted like I had once been wouldn't always be the case. I was unaware that for me to be able to get to where I am today I would have to shed so many tears, bear frustrations and break barriers that certain people willingly and unwillingly put in my way.

My dad is one of the main reasons I am still doing what I love today. Throughout the years of secondary school, I struggled to play the amount of cricket that I would have wanted to. I was repeatedly told, by both pupils and teachers, that cricket was only for boys and that I simply wasn't ‘tough enough’. But, thanks to my dad, I became heavily involved with Dorset Cricket, and was lucky enough to be given a lot of support from coaches who really pushed me in my early years, making my county women’s debut at the age of 12, and being the youngest female to score both a 50 and a century. In addition, they allowed me to train and be part of the boys’ teams, as it was more developed than the women’s, which again meant that I was able to push myself physically and mentally by training alongside the boys.

I will forever be grateful for that Dorset experience, as I wouldn’t be where I am today without them. However, excelling at county level didn't stop the offensive comments that I would receive. I would often turn up to training where the boys would find it hilarious to have a competition between themselves to see who could hit me whilst bowling and make me cry first (or the most), which, as you can imagine, significantly knocked my confidence and I still suffer in some elements of my game today as a result of this ‘banter’.

I understood fully that my passion was for a predominately male dominated game, so there would be challenges on the way, yet I never believed that these challenges would be planted by grown adults or, in certain cases, my own coaches. It was bad enough coming from your own peer group, but coming from adults, who should have been role models to me and been nothing but supportive towards my cricket and achievement, was at times almost too much of a psychological burden to bear. Having a grown man yell at you because you were a girl, or having a coach exclude you from a team on the basis of gender is something that I will not and will always refuse to grasp or accept. Yet what really upsets me is that even today some attitudes toward female sport have remained unchanged; even those of teachers and coaches, who we assume would be positively influencing the next generation. This worries me greatly as to how the attitudes of my generation and even my team mates may change because of these coaches’ personal problems and poor attitudes. I never want another girl to experience the barriers and issues I have had to face, playing like a girl is nothing but 100% positive and sport should be the ultimate level playing field. In my experience of being coached by many male coaches this simply isn’t always the case.

Having carried several injuries and a nasty illness, which really set me back in my early teens, I remained determined to reach my dream of playing for England and this became a reality when I played for the England U16s in 2015. It reinforced that my hard work and dedication was worthwhile and only gave me more ammunition to prove the doubters wrong. With renewed vigour, I have missed out on parties and outings with friends, and have never been seen as the ‘girly girl’ due to the hours spent in the gym, doing rehab and prehab as well as building my strength, but also committing to extra training sessions to ensure that I was making the progress I wanted.

I have felt, at times, that I have missed out on a lot in terms of my social life and I have worried that I would lose my friends over it. However, I realise that this was just merely a test for who my real friends are. Who will make plans around my training, and who will stick up for me against the horrible comments I receive. I am extremely lucky to have surrounded myself with some very true and encouraging friends who I have relied upon and who have really picked me up after an upset, or even stood up for me when I really needed it. This just illustrates how important your peer group must be, crucial especially when at school. 

I received sport scholarships for sixth form to Bryanston, Millfield and Canford and decided to take up the offer to come to Bryanston. I stand by my decision and can honestly say it is one of the best that I have ever made. The school facilities are out of this world and the extra help and support that you receive, in terms of pastoral care, has been phenomenal. My housemistress, Mrs Scott, has always been there to help with any problems that may arise, including enabling me to leave school for my training and matches but maintain my academic studies too. The coaching that I have received from both Mr. Morrises has been amazing. They've made every one of my sessions fun and enjoyable as well being very technical, so that I can improve as well as overcome many of my fears within my game. Mr. Chapman, the Head of Strength and Conditioning, has worked tremendously close with Clara (one of the school physiotherapists) to make sure that I am still able to play and train this year to the best that I can through the several reoccurring injuries that I have come up against.

Following all of the setbacks I have faced, through negative and nasty comments about being a girl, and not being included in teams or training with the old-fashioned opinion that girls can’t do what boys can do, even within the school system, all those mentioned have reminded me of my love for the game and the reasons why I am playing. But all credit has to go to Mr F-D, the Director of Sport at Bryanston, for everything he has done these past two years as my tutor. Any small problem that may have arisen, any upset, through all the ups and downs, he has always found a way to fix it or, more importantly, helped me to find a way to fix it. He has been unbelievably supportive, never ignoring the smallest or largest achievements that I have made in the past year or so. I can truly say that he has made my time at Bryanston imperative for my cricketing career as well as for my personal development. I believe this sort of care could not be offered anywhere other than at Bryanston. Without the extra help from all the above, and others, I truly believe that the barriers, frustrations and negative comments would have beaten me and I wouldn’t be where I am now; playing for Hampshire alongside some of the greatest female cricketers in the world in Charlotte Edwards and Suzie Bates, going to Loughborough next year and still aspiring to become an England cricketer.

I would encourage any aspiring female athletes to come to Bryanston. It was, and always will be one of the best decisions I have ever made. I would like to thank everyone who has been a part of my journey, for all that they have done for me in my past two years at school as they have reinforced my love for cricket and reminded me of my goals and targets for when I leave. Playing like a girl will never be a bad thing and the way to break the barriers for all other aspiring female sportswomen is just to keep smashing through them till nothing stands in your way.

14 July 2017

Balancing act

This week Sarah Thomas reflects on the importance of balance - a topic she covered on Speech Day last weekend.

At Speech Day this year I spoke of balance and how to keep it in this turbulent and unpredictable world. I even made reference to Weebles. For those of you who were not children of the 1970s, Weebles were egg-shaped toys, weighted so that, if you pushed them over, they always bounced back upright. “Weebles wobble,” the advert ran, “but they don’t fall down.” I think Weebles could be the icon for these turbulent times. 

A year and a half ago would we have believed we would be coming out of Europe? Seeing scenes of terrorism and heroism again on the streets of Manchester and London? Enduring another inconclusive General Election? And let’s try not to mention President Trump. So how are we to deal with all this, in our own families and in school? How do we aim for our pupils to stay balanced?

At Bryanston we offer the widest range of opportunities we can. We teach creatively and we offer the right level of encouragement and guidance, both inside and outside the classroom. We don’t expect anyone, child or adult, to be perfect. Indeed, to expect that creates a toxic effect for any child, however talented. We talk about our own wellbeing and are honest about our need for support, whether from exercise or music, or meditation, or God. Which reminds me of a Boris Johnson story I heard recently. In an interview about his Christian faith, he described it as “like tuning in to Virgin Radio
whilst driving through the Chilterns. Sometimes the signal is strong; sometimes you lose it.” A really lovely metaphor. We encourage our pupils to keep tuning in to a support system which works for them, and we let them know that’s what we, in our imperfect way, do for ourselves.

A key way we stay balanced at Bryanston is through positivity and this comes, in part, through engagement in good times. It is important to celebrate achievement and good times, as we did at Speech Day last weekend, and indeed do throughout the year. 

But finding balance isn’t easy. And it’s different for everyone. You can’t necessarily teach it in classrooms. You can’t measure it in exams. So it’s not something that many schools are prepared to shout about. Certainly not those which boast exclusively about their academic achievements. Or those which fail to recognise the connection between unreasonable academic pressure and mental health issues. Or those which shy away from the truth that so much of our educational landscape was designed to meet 20th- century challenges. In the future, our young people will need balance as
much as they will need imagination; creativity; perspective; the ability to take a step back, to take a wider view, to make links and connections; to have good ideas; to make difficult and brave decisions. Show me how each A level can test those skills. Yet a school which is not passionate about these things is not, in my view, doing its job.

As we wish our departing pupils farewell and look forward to welcoming a new intake in September, I hope that each Bryanstonian gets what they want from life and, above all, that they channel their own Weeble and find their individual balance.

You can see more photos from Speech Day here.