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17 January 2022

The Monday Briefing: Get it

The Monday Briefing: Get it

If teachers were asked in a survey why they considered a career in the profession, or what maintains their motivation to return to work every day, I’m sure a popular answer would be the ongoing pursuit for the ‘magic moment’ when a student makes a learning breakthrough.

This, of course, should not be confined to working out, for the first time, how to successfully solve a mathematical problem, understanding a scientific concept or being able to eloquently phrase an argument in an essay. At points, the best learning breakthroughs have nothing to do with the national curriculum: perhaps this could be seeing that an altruistic approach towards others can be fulfilling; possibly appreciating that hard work before an important assessment paid off; or maybe noticing that the development of a new skill like public speaking could be important in their future careers.

Nonetheless, however it occurs, it truly is magical - the almost drug-like quality of the moment in time bringing delight to those involved, emboldening the relationship between teacher and student, and bestowing confidence on a learner that they can succeed.

An amplified version of this scenario is in the delivery of an assembly to students.

Prior to becoming Principal, the approach to assemblies needed tweaking. Once a week on a Wednesday, the whole College used to descend upon the study room, with many having to stand, rather uncomfortably, listening to staff present on a range of topics. Often these assemblies fell into the trap of issuing irrelevant material to particular year groups, and so students came to see them as a time to ‘switch off’.

Covid put paid to the continuation of the system, with the introduction of bubbles keeping assembly numbers manageable. The change which was introduced, however, where assemblies were split by year group, and focused on particular issues intended to spark the interest of each, was something which I had been planning to introduce for some time. I have since found that maximum exposure is now given to UCAS for Year 13, or the importance of GCSEs to our younger groups, and students are grateful for the focus being placed upon them.

There are occasions, of course, where it is pertinent for all year groups to be presented with the same assembly, be that Remembrance Day, as a lead in to Mock Exam weeks or when disseminating valuable information on online safety or safeguarding as a whole.

Wednesday was an example of this. 

My assembly, entitled ‘Pressure is a Privilege’ was relevant for all students. At the College we have a number of pupils who have struggled in the past with anxiety or difficulties around managing stress. Using the initial message of Billie Jean King, and stressing particularly her acceptance of additional pressure through the ‘Battle of the Sexes’ match with Bobby Riggs, I introduced some guidance for students on dealing with challenges and strengthening resolve in the face of difficulties.

Giving them pointers in the importance of recognising the issue, reframing it, filtering the challenge into areas which can and can’t be controlled, ensuring a supportive network is in place and then seeking situations where they can build experience in finding comfort in dealing with stressful situations, I dwelled on the point, during my presentation, that I had previously not been much of a public speaker. It wasn’t that I didn’t have the ability to do it, rather I simply did not have the opportunities to expose myself to the challenge.

With the limitations of my own educational opportunities in mind, it’s pleasing to offer as much as we do at the College. I was delighted to send ten Year 12 students to Bellevue Education HQ to take part in a day of debate training hosted by Debbie Newman of The Noisy Classroom. Their feedback from the event was universally positive, and they are excited about expanding their expertise in this area. I’m also excited to have registered three students from the College for our inaugural participation in the Model UN offered by MIT in Boston. Though it is taking place virtually this year due to the pandemic, it still offers a wonderful opportunity for students to experience debating, problem solving and relationship building out of their comfort zones.

As for my assembly, it went down rather well. Later that day, I received two messages from students who were inspired by my presentation, and, I hope, who will utilise it to become better at managing pressure:

Hey Allan,

Wow - your presentation today was incredible - and really helpful. Is there a chance you could send the powerpoint? I would love to read through it again - especially during times of anxiety.

-

Hi sir . I know  you’re probably busy so I’m not sure if you’ll get this. But I just wanted to say I really appreciated your assembly today. I really want to take onboard what you said because it felt really encouraging. And I’ve not had many teachers before this that I’ve felt genuinely cared about the students but I think you really do. so this was just sort of a thankyou . 

-

Messages like these, where it is clearly apparent that one makes a real and lasting difference, are exactly the sort that typify the reasons why I put as much effort into my day job as I do, and why I’m very happy that I chose the teaching profession as a career path. They also make me incredibly appreciative of the fact that I work where I do. 

A place where students feel that they can send such notifications of support can not be a bad place - rather, it is a truly wonderful one.

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