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05 February 2024

Monday Briefing - Time Stood Still

Monday Briefing: Time Stood Still

This week saw the passing of a significant milestone.

Earlier in the week, the UCAS deadline passed - but that’s not what I’m referring to.

I’m not talking about the census deadline either, also this week.

On Friday, we hit the 100 day warning. 100 days to go until the commencement of the Summer Exams Series. Three figures, in days, still seem like a long time - but it isn’t when you really think about it…

Take out 30 days for weekends.

Then 17 more for school holidays.

Another for a staff inset day.

And 9 more for mock exams, and the results day which follows.

Then that actually takes us to less than 50 school days remaining.

My message to the students during assembly on Wednesday was direct: It’s now or never!

“The best time to plant a tree was 25 years ago. The second-best time to plant a tree is today.” Eliud Kipchoge

In an ideal world, students would be ahead of the game. They’d have embedded a system which is producing consistently good results. They wouldn’t need to shift up the gears, because they’d already have this all in hand.

Unfortunately, this is not the case for most students - and so, they needed to hear, loud and clear, that time was of the essence, and that the need for action was urgent.

I extolled the virtues of ‘Grit’, taking my cues straight from the wonderful book by Angela Duckworth, and outlined the importance of two key guiding principles for students:

- The importance of having a high-level goal (the end ambition); supported by medium goals (how you get there - qualifications and experience required); built on the foundations of habits which form low level goals (and these I still see as an important part of my approach - hard work, punctuality, making strong connections and looking after myself).

- The recognition that ‘effort counts double’ - effort + talent = skill; effort + skill = achievement.

I talked students through the goals and aspirations which have inspired my purpose to drive myself on: how in my teens, it was all about making my family proud; how in my twenties, it was about becoming the best version of myself I could be; how in my thirties, and after meeting my wife, my purpose, once I was content with myself, was to make the best marriage I could. In my forties, and since becoming a father, it’s come full circle - to make my family as proud of me as I could.

Once this purpose is found, then new levels can be reached in the pursuit of it.

But, students still need a great deal of guidance in the way of making the right moves to get themselves in the position of being able to realise these goals.

Hence the 100 day plan - enough time to get the right habits in place.

Firstly, sleep, and how the regularity of 8 hours per night can eliminate waking interference and improve working memory.

Secondly, breakfast, and how school performance improves by eating it every day.

Then, exercise, and its role in maximising concentration whilst reducing anxiety and increasing self-esteem.

I then raised the issue of phones, and explained what many of them know but choose not to accept - that they raise stress and distract you from your true purpose.

Following that, I explained the detrimental effects of music within study and how getting used to an environment which is not a dry run for the exams themselves is counterproductive.

It was important to then explain how to revise in order to get the best from oneself:

Little and often, giving breathing space to your brain to compute the amount of learning one has to. I likened cramming to knowing that you have a dentist appointment in four months, and leaving your preparation for it until a final 8 hours of constant brushing. A more prudent approach is to build steadily towards the exam period with regular preparation.

Finally, I pointed out the difference between passive and active revision.

Passive revision encompasses a work-ethic which resembles the appearance of working rather than working itself - rereading notes and highlighting them, as opposed to completing activities based around studies.

Active revision, with its six stages, is far more engaging, and far more likely to make everything stick:

- Pre-Reading

- Bringing it all to lessons, and ensuring that you are in classes, engaged and making the best of them

- Consolidation, through RAG rating, and identifying the areas which need most attention

- Trigger sheets, or alternative ways to get notes down like flashcards

- Short tests to check knowledge and further identify areas of weakness

- Past papers - and only introducing them when a student is truly ready

- Ensuring that the conditions are exactly the same as those that will be faced in the real thing

- Maintaining a direct line, and regular contacts with those who can help you most - the teachers

I’m certain that the message was understood by the students - in fact, many came to tell me just how inspired they were by it.

I always think that assemblies work best when one gives a little of yourself to it, with your own personal story providing something relatable and tangible for students to grasp and follow.

It also helps if you enjoy giving them, and I always do at the College.

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