It’s good to talk

It is good to talk…

​​​​​​​There is now more focus being placed on mental help as well as the positive and negative part that social media can play in it.

We should talk about mental help and improve matters so that we can all help to change lives. The very sad death of Caroline Flack highlights the importance that modern pressures can bring onto some people.

One in eight young people and one in four adults experience a mental health problem in any given year. We should be living in an environment where it is safe to talk about mental health. The more conversations we have the better and we can all help to end the isolation, the shame and worthlessness that too many of us feel when experiencing a mental health problem.

We all know that talking about mental health is not always easy. But starting a conversation doesn’t have to be awkward and being there for someone can make a huge difference.

Here are some tips that could guide us to make sure we are approaching it in a helpful way.

Ask questions and listen
Asking questions can give the person space to express how they are feeling and what they are going through and it will help us understand their experience better. Try to ask questions that are open and not leading or judgmental – such as, “How does that affect you?” or “What does it feel like?”

Right time and place
Sometimes it is easier to talk side by side rather than face to face. So if we do talk in person, we might want to chat while we are doing something else. We could start a conversation when we are walking or waiting for someone. The best place to talk is a place where we feel most comfortable wherever that happens to be or perhaps we might prefer to talk to your friend online. Whenever we talk to a friend, it is at a time our friend feels able and is unhurried and is away from others.

Don’t try and fix it
It can be hard to see someone you care about having a difficult time but try to resist the urge to offer quick fixes to what they are going through. Learning to manage or recover from a mental health problem can be a long journey, and they have likely already considered lots of different tools and strategies. Just talking can be really powerful, so unless they have asked for advice directly, it might be best just to listen.

Treat them the same
When someone has a mental health problem, they are still the same person as they were before. and that means when a friend or loved one opens up about mental health, they don’t want to be treated any differently. If we want to support them, keep it simple. Continue to do the things with them that we would normally do.

Be patient
No matter how hard we try, some people might not be ready to talk about what they are going through. That is OK. The fact that we have tried to talk to them about it may make it easier for them to open up another time.

And there are lots of things that we can do to support them even if we are not talking to them such as doing things together, sending them a message to let them know that we are thinking of them, offering to help them with day to day tasks.

Who is the best person to talk you?
It can be our friends, our family, someone we know in School or in work, or sometimes it can be someone we do not know so well. The best person is the person we would feel most comfortable talking to.

If we notice our friend doing something different to what they normally do and we do not understand why, then that might be the time to try and start a conversation.

People often don’t think that mental health is important to talk about, or that their feelings aren’t worth bothering others with. By talking about mental health we reduce the stigma surrounding it and becoming more open to talking and supporting one another.

We owe it to each other to seek help if we need it and to offer help if it is required. The Mental Health Organisation website is very useful.

Also perhaps try their suggested random acts of kindness – research shows that helping others can be beneficial to our own mental health. It can reduce stress, improve our emotional well being and even benefit our physical health.

There is never any shame in asking for help. We all need help from time to time.

Rugby in School

​​​​​​​​​​​​​​As the Senior Rugby season draws to a close it is, perhaps, worth reminding ourselves of the value of the sport of Rugby to Schools.

Rugby at Bethany has become the mainstay of the boys’ sporting calendar and has usurped, to a degree, football at a senior level. There are many reasons why this has been the case but principally the main reasons for this are the reasons why rugby is so valuable in Schools.

First and foremost, to be successful on a rugby pitch requires the whole team to work together in all aspects of the game. There is no time to drop out or drift in and out of a match when everyone on the team is responsible for the defensive line and structure, or the attacking lines required from both forwards and backs at every breakdown.

It is no surprise that in his pursuit of Olympic Gold for Fiji at the Rio game that Ben Ryan’s mantra was ‘the standard you walk past is the standard you set’. This simply meant that everyone in the team had to be the witness to the standards of the group and, therefore, not shirk from those standards.

The New Zealand All Blacks and the British and Irish Lions highlight for every player the need to honour the jersey, to honour the sacrifice of those that have gone before and to live up to the expectations of all those who have got them to the point of playing for their respective sides.

Therefore, what rugby highlights is the value of community and how we work together towards a goal as a community, as a team and as a group we can achieve excellence.

At Bethany, being part of the Senior Rugby squad gives boys the opportunity to integrate across three-year groups and to knit together through this shared experience especially on the annual tour. This means that they have a shared bond which sees them build friendships that will last a lifetime.

The second value of rugby is that it teaches young people to persist. We can marvel at the way in which the referee in rugby is still treated with due respect, the referee is still called ‘sir’ by the players and coaches and the referee’s decisions are final and accepted with no argument.

Further, in order to be prepared to take the physical contacts and be able to be the support to the ball carrier working hard to get on their shoulder takes immense self-discipline. It would be very easy to shy away from tackling a big lad by diving for the tackle but not quite getting there, but this is what leads to injuries and equally lets your mates down.

Not getting up from the mud quickly in order to get back on the ball carrier can lead to him being isolated so it takes real persistence to be motivated enough to get there and be the support. All these lessons teach players the value of persistence, a value that is essential in life because it means that you can be someone people rely on.

At Bethany, the expectation for the Senior Rugby squad is that they come to training for two lunchtimes a week on top of the games afternoons which are usually dominated by fixtures. They have the opportunity to pit themselves against a range of School sides and Tunbridge Wells Rugby Club. In order to meet these obligations, they are required to persist even when the weather turns and they have lots of other commitments calling on their time.

Without a doubt, the reason why playing rugby is so important to the development of young people is that they have to put someone else first. That is also the Bethany way and long may that continue.


Giving and receiving

​​​​​​​​​​​​​​The joy of giving is greater than the pleasure of receiving

When you ask anybody what they love about Christmas, there is no single definitive answer, ranging from decorations to food and from family to presents.

For me, I’ve always known that the most important and enjoyable aspect of the festive season is seeing friends, whom I have made a commitment to see more of, but due to busy lifestyles, we invariably do not see each other as often as I would wish.

From a personal perspective, I always get more joy out of giving than receiving as when I give I feel really good about myself.

There is a very good scientific reason why giving gifts is better than receiving them, and it’s not only because our parents drilled the idea into us from the earliest opportunity – it is all thanks to this (admittedly slightly sinister-looking) molecule, Oxytocin.

Oxytocin is also known as the ‘love hormone’, the ‘hug hormone’ or the ‘cuddle chemical’ because all of these things make your body release it in abundance. It is the primary reason why these things make us happy and both giving and receiving gifts will produce oxytocin.

Given that many children like receiving far more than giving, I do wonder whether this is because the production of oxytocin increases as one gets older. There must be studies done somewhere in the world on this as a hypothesis.

There may be complicated biological explanations for why giving makes us happy, but do you really need to understand it to know that being generous is a good thing? I am personally delighted when I see generosity taking place, whether it is between friends and family, or simply welcoming loved ones to your home.

I like to think that it’s simpler than chemistry and the fact we feel good because we are doing good. Being generous requires little encouragement, especially at Christmas. All I need is the thought of the smiles of the people around me at this time of year, and the presence of family and friends joining in the festivities. What more can you ask for, really?

Finally, it is worth remembering that what is important is not what is under the Christmas tree but who is around it.

Peer pressure

​​​​​​​In other words, peer pressure is when we feel that we have to do something because our friends are doing it. There may be occasions when we are afraid to speak our mind in case we get laughed at. When we feel torn between what our friends are doing, saying or thinking and what we really want to do, say or think.

Peer pressure tends to be associated with children and School but it is equally valid in the world of work and in society in general.

Of course, if our peer group is nice, responsible and sensible then copying what they are doing may be a good thing. Bethany is full of very nice peers. On the other hand, if our peers are up to no good and leading us astray then that is not good.

Our peers could be our friends where we live or work. Have you ever heard the saying “they are following each other around like sheep”? Or maybe we had a discussion with our parents, where they have asked us why we did something daft. Our reply may have been something along the lines of “ we did it because our friends did it”. And our parents might have said, “And if your friends jumped off a cliff, would you follow them?”

Peers influence our lives, even if we don’t realize it, just by spending time with us. We learn from them, and they learn from us. It’s only human nature to listen to and learn from other people in our age group.

Peers can have a positive influence on each other. Maybe another pupil, when you were at School, taught you an easy way to remember some algebra, or someone on the netball team taught you a good move. Perhaps a friend whom you work with recommended a good book for you to read, a good holiday destination, or introduced you to a new hobby or past time or indeed recommended a good school for your child.

Some young people give in to peer pressure to be liked, to fit in, or worry that others may make fun of them if they don’t go along with the group. Some may go along because they are curious to try something new that others are doing. The idea that “everyone’s doing it” may influence some young people to leave their better judgment, or their common sense, behind. But if peer pressure is making us do something that you know is wrong, and could get you into trouble, or that makes us feel uncomfortable, then we should not do it.

The young people of today may feel pressured to drink an alcoholic drink, use social media inappropriately, or experiment with a substance, or lose weight, or look a certain way or do something wrong just to fit in. All of these are wrong and should be resisted.

It is tough to say “no” to peer pressure, but it can be done if we seek some help. We may also need to find our own inner strength that will enable us to walk away from uncomfortable situations.

If we continue to face peer pressure and we are finding it difficult to handle, we need to talk to someone we trust. In addition to having a very supportive parent body at Bethany, our pupils are very fortunate in that there are a range of people to within the Bethany community to go to for assistance including but not limited to; a teacher, a friend, an older pupil, the School nurse, the School Chaplain, House staff etc and we can get the right help so that we are better prepared for the next time we face unwelcome peer pressure

Remember that peer pressure can be a positive thing, such as:

• Our peers can motivate us to do better at school or at work
• They can inspire us to do something creative or pro-active
• They can cheer us up when we are feeling down, and help give us support when we can’t find it elsewhere.

As long as it is increasing the happiness of everyone, and not making anyone feel anxious, stressed or upset, peer pressure is good but if peer pressure is making us doing something that we would rather not do then it far from OK and we should remove ourselves from this group. If we cannot do it alone then we must get assistance to help us out. We all need help from time to time.

In summary, it can be really tempting to do everything we can to fit in with our friends, but if we don’t feel comfortable, it’s OK to say “no” and make our own choices.

At Bethany we want all our pupils to be the very best versions of themselves and not second rate versions of anyone else.

Sustainability at Bethany

​​​​​​​​​​​​​​Sustainability is fast becoming a buzz word at Bethany.

This is largely because this year we are launching the Bethany Sustainability Agenda as we seek, as a school and as a community, to learn to live in better harmony with the natural world around us, protecting it from both damage and destruction.

I am sure few would disagree with the fact that the modern world has become increasingly consumerist and most of us live a primarily urban existence in which we consume a lot of natural resources every day, often without considering the impact of this on the world around us.

We are trying, therefore, to refocus on the balance between needing to move forward technologically and economically whilst at the same time protecting the environments in which we and others live – balancing our current needs with the need to preserve the well-being of future generations.

In developing the Bethany Sustainability Agenda, we have looked to ‘The Three Pillars of Sustainability’: economic development; social development; environmental protection – and have used these to set out our starting point for policy and plan.

We are starting to think about how we can better use resources, including cutting our energy and water consumption, recycling more, eliminating single-use plastics and using and wasting less paper. We are exploring alternative energy sources such as solar and wind power. We are seeking to raise awareness of environmental issues through our assemblies and tutor programmes, through School Council and through the ‘Warriors for Change’ group led by Miss Bridge.

Already we have made some gains – our school uniform supplier Barsleys now only source the eco-friendliest products: our current blazers, for example, contain 100% polyester made from non-biodegradable plastic drinking bottles which would otherwise end up in a landfill. We have included environmental campaigning in our Project Based Learning planning for Years 7 to 9. We are also working in harmony with our caterers, Holroyd Howe, to reduce our carbon footprint in their operations.

But change doesn’t happen overnight. Not real, long-lasting, continuing change. Whilst we have every intention of looking back at the end of the academic and celebrating what we have achieved to make Bethany a more sustainable place, this is an agenda that needs to grow roots and flourish.

As we begin to get this off the ground, please do encourage discussion at home to raise awareness to global issues, and please do support the initiatives that we put in place and share. The first being the re-usable water bottle campaign which launches after half term… please do remember to label the bottles!


Anti-Bullying Week

This week the School will be drawing attention to the issue of bullying as we actively support the Anti-bullying Week 2019 in conjunction with the Anti-bullying Alliance.

This year the theme is “Change Starts with Us” and this fits very well with the message we have been presenting to our pupils through this academic year. The notion of change starting with us relates to empowering both the victims and the bystanders to take a stance that ends the bullying cycle.

At Bethany we promote kindness, respect and tolerance as many other Schools do but here, we promote these values as active behaviours, thus it is not about our pupils passively ensuring they are not being unkind to others, but more than they are seeking to actively be kind towards others; it is not that they will quietly not be disrespectful or intolerant but that they will be actively respectful of others and their views while seeking to challenge their own believes to ensure they remain valid.

In view of this, it will come as no surprise to our pupils that we expect them to be active in challenging bullying behaviours if they encounter this in School, out of School or on the internet. For many years now we have worked to empower victims to seek help and support and bystanders to intervene when they see unkindness and bullying both in the real and cyber worlds.

I hope that you will take the opportunity to discuss bullying with your children and support the message that all communities are better served when we all take responsibility for ourselves but also look to have a positive impact on those around us.

Change really does start with ourselves.


Benefits of Kindness

Assembly October 2

Desmond Tutu once said, “Do your little bit of good where you are; it’s those little bits of good put together that overwhelm the world”.

Can you recall a time somebody was kind to you? Can you remember what that was like for you? How did it make you feel? Now if you swap places can you think of a time you were kind to another person? Can you remember how you felt, I bet you felt good?

This shows that kindness affects both donor and recipient in very positive ways.

Kindness is fundamental to our human existence. When we are born, we are enriched with the kindness of our parents’ nurturing. We rely completely on our parents. Therefore, kindness is sewn into the framework of our DNA.

Some people have opinions on how to improve the world, but how many of us want to practice kindness in our own backyard?

Mark Twain once wrote, “Kindness is a language which the deaf can hear and the blind can see.” Kindness is not something that demands hard work. It originates from the simple act of doing no harm to others.

Kindness also involves judging less, however, compelled you might be to do so.

There are many benefits to being kind.

If you are kind to others you feel happier within yourself because you get joy out of helping others.

Being kind helps us gain energy and boosts our self-esteem. This is because research shows us that when we are kind we produce an enzyme called serotonin which helps us feel calm and even heals wounds. Serotonin is sometimes called the happy chemical because it contributes to wellbeing and happiness.

Being kind is literally good for your heart. When you are kind your body also produces a hormone called oxytocin which helps to lower blood pressure and improve your overall health.
Being kind can help you live longer. Did you know that people who volunteer tend to experience fewer aches and pains? Giving help to others protects overall health twice as much as aspirin protects against heart disease.
Kindness can be taught and the best way to teach it is by example. So when we are kind we are teaching others to be kind.
Kindness is also contagious. If we see other people being kind then we are more likely to be kind ourselves.

Being kind reduces pain because when we engage in acts of kindness produces endorphins—the brain’s natural painkiller. Studies show that people who are continually kind have 23% less cortisol (the stress hormone) and age slower than those who are not kind.

Being kind reduces anxiety. There was a study that was done at the University of British Columbia. A group of highly anxious individuals performed at least six acts of kindness a week. After one month, there was a significant increase in positive moods, relationship satisfaction and a decrease in social avoidance in socially anxious individuals.

So how can you display kindness in a normal way?

  • Smile at people as you walk by them
  • Make others feel involved if you think they are being left out
  • If you see unkind acts happening, try to diffuse the situation or pass that information onto to someone else who could intervene and help
  • Hold the door open for the next person walking behind you
  • Say thanks often and frequently
  • Offer help to anyone who may need it
  • Look at someone while giving them a sincere compliment.
  • See how many people you can get to smile at you throughout the day. Try to count 10 people.
  • Be nice to others and treat others as you would like to be treated in return.

Therefore what goes around comes around. If you are kind to others then you will receive kindness in return. If there was ever a win-win situation then mutual kindness must surely be it.

Persistence and resilience

At the beginning of the week, I spoke to the girls in Old Pops about two of the most valuable skills they need to be successful in life: persistence and resilience. I shared with them two stories.

The first, the story of Sarah Thomas who, the week before, had become the first person to swim the channel four times. She spent fifty-four hours in the water, swimming 130 miles in total, all after recovering from breast cancer just the year before.
The second was that of Mary Kay Ash who set up her own cosmetics company during the 1960s after experiencing a series of personal traumas and the frustrations of working in a male-dominated industry that refused to reward talented women. Persistence and resilience. To achieve what they did, these two women clearly had it in bucketloads – both retaining an absolute focus on achieving their goals; picking themselves up and going again whatever adversity they faced.

The good news is that, whilst persistence and resilience are qualities that successful people have, they are not qualities they are born with. Persistence and resilience are skills that we build and learn through the experiences that we have, the way we respond to things, the situations we find ourselves in, and the things that happen to us. And there are steps that we can take to lay the foundations.


Persistence and Success go hand in hand

​​​​​​​We have a virtue of learning at Bethany and it speaks of learning habits which we require from parents, staff and pupils. The 5 learning habits we require from pupils are; persistence, engagement, questioning, reaction and reflection.

The definition of it is the ability to maintain action regardless of your feelings. You press on even when you feel like quitting until you achieve that important goal. Some people give up too soon and we do not want any of our pupils to do that.

There are many role models when it comes to successful persistence.

In 1993, JK Rowling’s marriage ended in divorce and with just three chapters of Harry Potter completed, Rowling was jobless, divorced, penniless, and had a child. Her situation was so dire that Rowling went on the dole. Two years later her Harry Potter script was rejected by all 12 major publishers. Rowling persisted and a year later, a small publisher gave her an advance of £1500 and published just 1000 copies of her book. Rowling has now sold more than 400 million copies of her Harry Potter books.

From the age of 25, Nelson Mandela was an activist for equality and justice. While spending 27 years in prison, Mandela never gave up on his fight for freedom and equality. When he was eventually released he became President of South Africa and ended Apartheid – a system of racial segregation in South Africa.

Michael Jordan was dropped from his high school basketball team and he was told he wasn’t any good. Michael Jordan persisted and went on to become the greatest basketball player of all time.

In 1954, Elvis Presley, performed for the first time at the Grand Ole Opry in Tennessee. Jimmy Denny, manager of the Grand Ole Opry, fired Elvis after just one performance and said to him, “You ain’t goin’ nowhere, son. You ought to go back to drivin’ a truck.” Elvis went on to become the best-selling artist of all time, second only to The Beatles who were also rejected in their early career and told that they, too, had no future.

Colonel Sanders, founder of Kentucky Fried Chicken (KFC), was 65 when he decided he would sell his fried chicken recipe. Sanders drove around the US knocking on doors, sleeping in his car, wearing his white suit. He was told no 1009 times. At the age 90, in 1964, Sanders sold Kentucky Fried Chicken to a group of investors for $2 million ($15.3 million today.)

All these examples show that major success rarely comes easily or without a great deal of effort. Often the only difference between those who succeed and those who don’t is the ability to keep going long after the rest have dropped out i.e. the ability to persist.

Persistent people have a goal or vision in mind that motivates and drives them. Reaching this goal becomes the focal point of their life and they devote a major portion of their energies and time toward reaching it.
A motivational speaker called Jim Rohn once said, “If you really want to do something, you’ll find a way. If you don’t, you’ll find an excuse.”

Persistent people never look for an excuse or a way out. What keeps highly persistent people going is their powerful level of desire.

Repeated failures, dead ends, and time when it seems like no progress is being made often comes before any major breakthroughs happen.
Having a highly developed sense of who you are, allows the highly persistent to continue on without being appreciated by those around them.

When that inner confidence gets challenged and shaken, it never gets destroyed and constantly acts as a source of courage and determination.
It was once said, “Motivation is what gets you started. Habit is what keeps you going.”
Highly persistent people know it is very difficult to stay continually motivated, particularly during difficult times and when it appears that no progress is being made. They believe the results of the efforts they make today may not be seen for a long time, but they strongly believe that everything they do will count toward their outcome in the end.
Persistent people realize that any goal worth reaching will take time, effort, and continuously learning new skills and thinking patterns. Naturally curious, persistent people see self-development as a way of life.

So are you a persistent person? Would you like to improve your ability to persist? At Bethany, pupils get every opportunity to do just that and all our pupils are actively encouraged to take maximum advantage of every opportunity to improve.

Albert Einstein once said:
“I think and think for months and years. Ninety-nine times, the conclusion is false. The hundredth time I am right.”
Therefore, the message is both simple and profound, please remember to persist and you will succeed.

Don’t let reflection pass you by

​​​​​​​​​​​​​​As we honour those who died in our name on Monday 11th November, we engage in (profound) reflection.

Being a reflective learner is very important and of course, reflection itself is one of our virtues of learning. While most of our virtues of learning are active, the final habit to develop, “Reflect” is perhaps the one that is most challenging to pin down.

Thanks to technology, the internet and a global obsession with efficiency, adults and children alike are always trying to press forward and move onto the next thing; it’s difficult not to as we’re all averse to the dreaded FOMO- ‘fear of missing out’. Sometimes, however spending time on reflection is more important than pressing forward, or we risk repeating mistakes and learning less in the process.

Although it’s a challenge to learn the habit of reflection, it’s something we all try to instil in pupils in the form of revision. I think we can all safely agree that preparation for exams is crucial to succeeding and that looking back at previous work is a vital part of this process.

Reflection isn’t just important for academic work, however; it’s something we could all benefit from in our daily lives at home and at work. Reflection forms part of a learning cycle in which we look over the things that went well or badly in a task, refine and tweak our processes to carry forward to the next attempt. If you remove reflection, the cycle stops- it simply becomes repetition, and from experience, this rarely has positive results.

It’s easy to see why reflecting is so important, so it’s a shame that we don’t dedicate more time to it as adults. I know that I like to move forward with things quickly, so I have been looking at ways to bring more reflection into my life. Here are some of the best ones I’ve found so far, which I will certainly give a go:

1) Allot a specific time for it.
Whether it’s before opening your emails in the morning or as you finish work, make sure you allow time to think over what’s happened recently, what you would like to repeat and how you avoid things you don’t. Make it the same time every day and it will become a matter of habit before long. Just make sure it’s not immediately before bed, as nobody manages a good night’s sleep with a racing mind!

2) Summarise each day in a sentence.
This one is more of a long-term idea, which was inspired by seeing a ‘Line a Day’ diary in a stationery shop. Summarise each day in a single sentence, and then bring that into your reflection routine a year later. Not only will it be fascinating, but you could refresh ideas that you’d long forgotten.

3) Involve others in reflection
Reflection doesn’t have to be a lonely process. You can talk through the day with colleagues or friends, or if it’s more comfortable for you through prayer or meditation.

4) Ask the right questions.
For reflection to be useful, you need to be asking the right questions. While “What did I do today?” is a good place to start, the important questions always begin with “How”. “How can I get that done faster next time?” or “How did that affect others?” are always better than “Why was I so slow?” or “Why were they unhappy?”

The journey to being a reflective learner isn’t an easy one in this fast-paced life, but refining a process is surely better than rushing to finish it and start another. I will leave you with a quote by the Chinese teacher and philosopher Confucius, who had come to this conclusion long before me:

“By three methods we may learn wisdom: first, by reflection, which is noblest; second, by imitation, which is easiest; and third, by experience, which is the most bitter.”

I will end with the following graphic which is so very true.