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11 March 2024

Monday Briefing 11 March 2024: Sooner or Later

Monday Briefing 11 March 2024 - Sooner or Later

I had the wonderful privilege on Friday of listening to an excellently engaging presentation by Laura Knight at the ISA London North AGM. Laura’s vital work on the future of AI in education gave some tremendous insight into tools that schools should be using, the correct mindset when approaching the inevitable change which AI will bring, and the potential pitfalls of a poor AI strategy.

The aspect of her speech which stuck with me, and that I then ruminated on all weekend, was not the detail on Artificial Intelligence itself, but more on the skills which we need to be teaching our students in order to cope with the change.

‘Resilience’ has been somewhat of a buzzword in education of late.

Schools often make clear in their aims that they are focused on helping their students to become resilient, and that such a skill will serve them well moving forward to university and beyond. 

This is true, but Laura made an excellent point around ‘resilience’.

To be in a perpetual state where one must dip into their well of resilience is to incur a huge amount of regular strain, trauma which is neither good for growth, nor for mental wellbeing. Resilience is certainly important, but it’s part of the journey, and its growth should never be the end goal. 

Rather, as Laura so excellently pointed out, the end goal should be equanimity - the ability to display calmness and composure in a difficult situation in order to succeed.

Of course, one requires substantial amounts of resilience to get there, and to sharpen their skills in this is critical to success - but to teach our students, and, ourselves, to get to a state where we can find comfort in challenge, where we can relish difficulty, when we thrive on pressure, that is the aim.

As we continue our drive on student revision, with the mock exams coming next week, that is indeed the ambition we seek to fulfil. The key to doing this is to empower students to be able to make decisions on their own two feet, on their own terms - with the necessary skills to make the right decisions at the right time and with appropriate action.

An essential part of this strategy is that they ‘walk the walk’ - the mock exams they will be facing, beginning next week, are the same length as the real thing - with similar questions deployed by the staff in a similar way to how they will be tested come the summer exam series. There is no better way to find out whether they are ready for the challenges to come - they can display equanimity - or they have work still to do, and with it, some resilience to utilise in helping them get there.

I was in a similar situation myself over the weekend, when I made my way up to Inverness in order to compete in the 39th running of the half marathon there whilst visiting one of my closest friends from university.

If I’m being brutally honest, I had conducted nowhere near enough training for the race, and certainly not to get to a state of equanimity for running the 21.1 kilometres. I’d only trained comfortably at 10k, and my performance in the race indicated that.

I ran two half marathons last autumn and faced the same problem in both - when I got to around the two-thirds stage, my lack of conditioning for such distances became prominent and I endured the last 7 kilometres or so, rather than gliding through it. Sadly, the same was true of my race on Sunday.

However, I finished only 1 minute outside my target of 1 hour 45 minutes, came 743rd out of around 2,300 competitors, and, pleasingly, did not feel the need to stop and stretch out my leg muscles - something I had to do at both the Ealing Half and the Royal Parks Half last year, albeit briefly. My legs were giving me some grief at the weekend, but I pushed through it - I showed resilience, and I got the job done.

Adopting the right mindset, and taking the lessons from what happened at the weekend is important:

- Whilst it’s disappointing that I had some of the same issues as my attempts last year, training is a big commitment, and sometimes life simply gets in the way - one should not be too hard on oneself for working hard, or putting in family time. And training through the winter is particularly tough.

- I finished the race, and was close to my target - which should be congratulated rather than criticised.

- I know what my problem area is, and I know what I need to do to overcome it - I’ve just got to put more work in, building capacity in my legs at that pace. All that requires is time and effort, and that’s never been an issue for me before.

- I was able to manage a fast parkrun while in Inverness, coming 18th, which is the best I’ve done for a while - and felt a degree of equanimity over that distance.

- Perhaps most importantly, I have the right mindset about all of this: this is the start of my training and drive for improvement, not the end of it - and so, as the mornings get brighter and the light lasts longer in the evenings, I have the perfect opportunity for growth to come.

I’m hopeful that students can take the positives from their upcoming performances, whilst maintaining a sense of purpose with regards to the bigger picture to come. They all know that the staff are here to guide, support and advise them as best they can as the going gets tougher. Sooner or later, this is the approach they will have to adopt if they want to be a success. Some of them already have it, whilst some of them are working on it. They know that there is not much time left, and so the sooner it comes, the better.

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