15 April 2024

The Monday Briefing: Easy Ride

The Monday Briefing: Easy Ride

Over the Easter holidays, in my case,  the hunter became the hunted.

Having only a rudimentary approach to skiing - the main activity on our family break in the French Alps - I decided it would be best to follow my daughter and her cousins into group lessons. My wife, brother and sister-in-law are all tremendous skiers, with years of experience. This was to be my third time on the slopes.

So the imparter of knowledge would go to school. 

The whole process made me reflect a great deal on what makes an effective teacher.

When I arrived at the meeting place, I was introduced to Sophie, a highly experienced French lady who, from the start, made clear her extremely high expectations of the group.

She rattled through the basics: holding one’s skis properly so no one else gets injured; how tight one’s boots should be so that balance can be maintained; the right way to put one’s hands through the pole strap so you’d never lose it. Any slip up in these areas would cause huge consternation for Sophie, a puzzled look at the culprit and a sharp telling off.

On the first day, a few of these comments came my way. 

Although I was relatively stable on my skis, I’d forgotten much of the technical areas I thought I had fully embedded last year - but then it is hard to pick something up again from exactly where you left off a year after you left it. The vitality of the ‘little and often’ approach I implore students to adopt in learning became even more justified.

I had it drummed into me that I must keep my head up and look forward at all times, with my eyes fixed on the skier in front. Any of the group who looked down was berated with the comment ‘there is no TV on your skis! Why do you look down?!’

A few times on that first night, when I was drifting off to sleep, I’m sure I heard ‘Allez Allan!’, or ‘Where is your weight?!’

Each day, the difficulty and level of challenge became greater, with harder runs, steeper slopes and difficult skills interspersed through the lessons. It wasn’t just a case of ‘follow me down’ - Sophie introduced skiing backwards, hockey stops, side slipping, jumps and schussing just when it felt that we were starting to get comfortable. Every time she demonstrated one of these new challenges, she cheekily slipped in a ‘good luck!’

She threw in engaging techniques like skiing in turns with a partner, joined together, or with both poles in one hand. Whatever she did, she made us think throughout - and although it was tough physically and mentally, she would always emphasise the beauty of the environment, the weather and the quality of the air. It certainly wasn’t an easy ride - and learning never should be.

Throughout the week, I became better, and that is what lessons are all about. My confidence grew and there was a clear improvement in my technique as the six days progressed. But most importantly, I didn’t really think about school.

This state of affairs was vital given the whirlwind nature of the end of last term. It brought the end of the mock exams, staffing considerations and several meetings with parents of our current Year 11s as they consider their future plans. It is utterly critical that one finds time to take a complete break.

And because of this, I now feel invigorated for the new term - and there is so much to build towards.

I spoke to students, following their mock results, about seeking that extra 15%, emphasising not the grade they received in their mock exam, but the percentage of marks they attained. 

Each and every one of them has the opportunity in their hands to improve, and having completed such a tough challenge so close to the actual exams, they are now battle hardened with the necessary tools to show improvement.

Much like my skiing lessons, there are principles to bear in mind:


How best can they improve?

Through avoiding the simple mistakes?

Through changes to their approach in order to maximise performance?

Through more effective use of their time in the lessons they have, and not wasting a moment?


They should be under no illusions - the next two months will not be an easy ride, and they should embrace the challenge. It is only by doing so that they will truly realise their peak potential, not falling by the wayside or going off piste. It is all downhill from here - students need to remain in control, and not get caught cold.

The College staff will be ensuring that every measure is taken to encourage laser focus on maximising improvement.

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