11 October 2021

The Monday Briefing: Heal the World

The Monday Briefing: Heal the World

Last week, I was fortunate enough, in my capacity as Vice Chair of ISA London North, to attend, and, during the latter part of the day, host the first Head’s Area Meeting of the academic year. 

Not only was the meeting vital in hearing important updates from Peter Woodroffe, the Deputy CEO of ISA, informing school leaders about changes to inspection criteria for the year, but it also provided a welcome opportunity to meet with fellow Principals. While a similar conference held last year online gave an indication of how powerful collegiate conversations could be, having the chance to meet face to face with like-minded practitioners was truly emboldening and heartening moving forward from the pandemic.

The highlight of the day was a speech given by Dr Kathy Weston, an expert in evidence-based approaches to parenting. Her talk raised great concern, highlighting the impacts of the unsettling last eighteen months in education, some of which have already become apparent. These included the mental health effects on students, and the post-Covid icebergs which are on the horizon: the rise in eating disorders, including in boys; the increase in anxiety tics in teenage girls and a uniform explosion in OCD among adolescents.

The most powerful part of the talk was solution based rather than problem focused, identifying a strategy with which to compact such issues. Having carried out extensive work in collaboration with several schools, and founding Tooled Up Education which offers resources and advice for parents looking to provide an environment which best helps to fulfil the potential of their children, she elaborated extensively on how best to combat such issues: by striving to support students in an empowering manner.

She stressed the importance of shaping student thinking in ways which will support their powers of resilience, which will encourage problem solving, underlined by a positive and measured approach where it is regularly made clear that they are valued by the entire school community: teachers, peers and parents. This includes the importance of student-led initiatives, a culture of praise and a sense of belonging in the school or college which they attend.

Whilst recognising the incredible resilience with which schools and colleges got through the pandemic, she implored Headteachers to form a broad coalition to support students, proactively petitioning parents to engage with the issues beyond the school gates. As soon as parents understand that they are part of the solution, the more they can help their children.

Fundamental to tackling such issues is first modelling good sleep patterns for the young. Inadequate rest leads to behavioural issues, disorders or even suicidal tendencies - and much of this is linked to the overuse of smartphones, whether before bed or throughout the day. These have proliferated the increase in sexual exploitation, amongst girls particularly, as having access, unrestricted, to a plethora of temptations can simply be too much for them. Allowing teenagers complete freedom with such devices undermines their focus on more important aspects of their lives: emotional wellbeing, academic confidence and building friendships.

What students need most in such uncertain times is a sense of belonging: the unrelenting knowledge that everyone is on their side and striving to do all they can to support them; where their bravery and courage is celebrated; where they are taught to think and show resolve in the face of challenges; where their sense of altruism and community spirit feeds into that belonging.

An excellent TedTalk by Australian educationalist Gavin McCormack entitled ‘How Education can save the world’ in December 2020 echoes such a philosophy: that school should be a place where students develop the confidence to try, and the resilience to fail. McCormack also emphasises in the talk that learning is never confined to the classroom, and I agree with this wholeheartedly: our best students are those who are empowered by their parents to discuss and question; to strive to succeed on their terms. He finishes with a wonderful anecdote describing the power of a strong sense of community in schools, and how such environments can change lives.

Even with such huge challenges on the horizon, this must remain the core purpose of our educational establishments: to develop confident and resilient young people who see learning as a lifelong process and treat it as their duty to promote such an empowering approach to others.

It is incumbent upon all of us - teachers, parents and friends - to help instill such values, for as long as we have the responsibility to do so.

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