Well-Being led approach to examination success.

Placing the well-being of pupils first ensures examination success. This has once again been evidenced at Bethany School by outstanding A level and GCSE results. In March, it was announced that the School was in the top 2% of schools nationally for A level progress and Bethany was one of the very few senior schools in the country to have been awarded the National Wellbeing Award for Schools.

At Bethany, a great deal of thought goes into considering how pupil wellbeing can best be supported during the stressful exam period.  We highlight the need to place the child at the centre of very decision and we believe that by doing so we will usually take the right approach.  Key to our approach to pupil support during assessments and examinations is that strategies for promoting wellbeing are thought of and rehearsed at the start of the year so the routines and behaviours become normalised, offering maximum support to pupils when it comes to the examination period itself.

Bethany School’s 10-step approach to promoting assessment and examination wellbeing starts with the adage ‘planning and preparation prevents poor performance’:

  1. Begin preparation early: considering individual pupil needs at the start of the year means that all elements of examination preparation have been rehearsed.
  2. Provide pupil and parent sessions on effective revision and mindful preparation for the examinations, support this with regular updates to pupils and parents on effective revision strategies.
  3. Pupils with coursework ‘pinch points’ are supported through after-hours access to academic facilities.
  4. Pupils with examination access arrangements are given the opportunity to practise in an examination environment (e.g. if taking examinations alone, they will have the opportunity to do this prior to the examination).
  5. Staff work on individual strategies for pupils with anxieties around the examination room itself, so that they can rehearse beforehand how they will deal with that “over the threshold” moment.
  6. With day pupils, parents are encouraged to practise the examination day routine at home so that pupils feel comfortable with the pre-exam routine and can identify any areas of difficulty or stress beforehand.
  7. Run examination warm-ups for pupils to receive specific advice in the run-up to the examination and can talk through any anxieties with their tutors. The shared experience of these can minimise individual anxieties.
  8. Support pupils to keep up their energy levels and prevent fatigue during examinations by providing water and a cereal bar or fruit in the examination warm-ups.
  9. Offer boarding pupils the opportunity to unwind by opening School sports facilities in the evenings and at weekends and make available early morning swimming which helps pupils work and exercise when they are most effective.
  10. On results days, have Tutors, Housemasters/Mistresses and the Senior Staff (including Head of Sixth Form and UCAS Coordinator for A level results) available to share in pupils successes but also to provide appropriate counsel and support for those who have missed out on what they had hoped to achieve.

What we have found over the past three years of running this programme is, that for those pupils whose anxieties are well known, their performance loss in examinations is minimised by practising and rehearsing their strategies for assessments and examinations.  Furthermore, our focus on the individual benefits all because we are mindful as a whole school community at all times of the need to be supportive during these stressful moments in young people’s lives.  However, it is not until after all issues arising from the Results Days have been resolved that we feel our job for the year is done.  From very early on both Results Days we have Senior Staff and Tutors available to meet with pupils and families to provide valuable one to one counselling and support with next steps both for those who have exceeded their expectations but also for those who, for one reason or another, have not made the grade.  Pupils and Parents are hugely grateful for the time that is spent with every individual who needs support on Results Days and, indeed, in the days afterwards.

Great examination results are the inevitable outcomes of perseverance, perspiration, inspiration and especially effective teamwork.

The proof of a pudding is in the eating of it.  Bethany serves up a great pudding!

Ilness becomes Wellness

In its most basic form the core definition of well-being according to the Oxford English Dictionary is a state of being comfortable, healthy, or happy. We have a lot to be thankful about. Our children have more material things than we had. The health care system is much better. The quality of food is better. Dare I say it education is much more child focused. Life choices are far broader. We all know a lot more about a lot more.

At Bethany the pupils’ well-being has always been at the centre of what we do.

Time and time again when I ask the children why they like Bethany so much they say that it is because the staff genuinely care about them. That goes to the core of well-being.

​​​​​​​Therefore maybe, just maybe, the secret of well-being is time. We are all leading increasingly busy lives and whilst we have more money we have less time which means we can give more quantitative material things like iPhones but less qualitative things like time, patience and encouragement. At Bethany due to our small classes and caring staff we are able to give pupils more time, we are very patient and give a lot of encouragement.

As parents and staff, one of the ways we can meet our teenagers’ needs is by giving them attention – helpful attention. Giving our children helpful attention helps us to develop close and co-operative relationships with them and builds their confidence and self-esteem. It’s a way of showing that we care and that they matter.

Teenagers need us to give them choices and responsibilities appropriate to their ages.

I am a great believer in personal responsibility. When we do well we rightly get praise, but when we make mistakes we should be held accountable for them and that is very different than the more narrow definition of being blamed for them.

We are primarily responsible for our own well-being. There is a strong correlation between someone taking responsibility for their own actions be they good or bad and a good sense of well-being.

The singer Cher was once interviewed and she said that her mother gave her a five-year rule. Namely that the really important things in life are things we remember five years after they have happened. Very rarely are these things the same items that stress us so much in our normal daily lives.

Our well being would be improved if we worried about the right things rather than the wrong short term things.

My grandmother, lived with us in my childhood home and if I ever began to feel sorry for myself, she would immediately say “never ever forget that there are people in this world you are far worse than you. Stop feeling sorry for yourself, you do not realise just how lucky you are.”

Consequently, another aspect of well-being is perspective. Too often in our sad times we lose perspective and do not realise that there are aspects of our lives which are quite good and we should be grateful and happy that they exist. We should never lose sight of this. And when we do we should seek help.

I think as a nation and indeed as individuals we perhaps are too quick to excuse away disappointment as someone else’s responsibility rather than persist, engage, question, react and reflect, which incidentally are all aspects of our virtue of learning here at Bethany.

So you see we promote well-being not just in our pastoral care but also in how we teach your children and how we interact with you as parents.

Bethany pupils are so lucky to be getting the relevant support in a whole variety of areas be that inside or outside the classroom.

In March this year Bethany was judged to be a school which promoted well-being when we obtained the Well-being Award for Schools and we are one of the very few secondary schools in the country to have this award. In the final report the School was praised for the commitment shown in supporting children and young people to thrive and the positive impact of the support put in place when it was needed. This was correctly identified as part of the ethos of the School.

Indeed this success has meant that we have been nominated for a national award to be judged by The Education Business Awards which have an established reputation for showcasing success stories and examples of operational excellence in the UK Education System.

Next year we are going to rename the Medical Centre as the Wellness Centre because I believe that this is a more appropriate name. This is because pupils go to the Medical Centre to get well.

There will not be the access to the same levels of support in much larger environments such as university but these facilities do exist there.

If a person ever struggles at university then he/she should take ownership, seek help when he/she is struggling. Please remember that perspective is also very important and that whatever negatives you are feeling should be compared to the positives in your life and the positives will always outnumber the negatives.

Finally please remember that even in the darkest days there is always someone worse off than yourself. Your future and your destiny is in your hands and please remember that there is always humour to fall back upon.

Two boys were arguing when the teacher entered the room. The teacher says, “Why are you arguing?”

One boy answers, “We found a ten pound note and decided to give it to whoever tells the biggest lie.”

“You should be ashamed of yourselves,” said the teacher, “When I was your age I didn’t even know what a lie was.”

And with that, the boys gave the ten pound note to the teacher!

 

The benefits of laughter

We live in stressful times. Some times in our lives are more stressful than others. For example, when we do exams we feel stressed. Year 7 and 8 may have felt stress when they were doing their exams last week and the week before. Year 9 may be feeling stress this week as they are doing exams. Years 11 and 13 may be feeling stressed as they have their GCSE and A level exams this term.

One of the great stress busters in life is laughter. Many a stressful situation was diluted with laughter. Indeed, Lord Byron (a famous British poet) is reported to have said “Always laugh when you can, it is cheap medicine.”

It is good to share a good laugh. But did you know it can actually improve your health as well? Laughter is indeed strong medicine. It draws people together. Laughter strengthens your immune system, boosts your mood, diminishes pain, and protects you from the damaging effects of stress. As children, we used to laugh hundreds of times a day, but as teenagers and adults, life tends to be more serious and laughter more infrequent. But by seeking out more opportunities for humour and laughter, you can improve your emotional health, strengthen your relationships, find greater happiness—and even add years to your life.

Nothing works faster or more dependably to bring your mind and body back into balance than a good laugh. Humour lightens your burdens, inspires hope, connects you to others, and keeps you grounded, focused, and alert. It also helps you release anger and forgive sooner.

Best of all, this priceless medicine is fun, free, and easy to use.

Here are some reasons that laughter is good for your health

Laughter relaxes the whole body.  A good, hearty laugh relieves physical tension and stress, leaving your muscles relaxed for up to 45 minutes afterwards.

Laughter boosts the immune system. Laughter decreases stress hormones and increases immune cells and infection-fighting antibodies, thus improving your resistance to disease.

Laughter triggers the release of endorphins, the body’s natural feel-good chemicals. Endorphins promote an overall sense of well-being and can even temporarily relieve pain.

Laughter protects the heart. Laughter improves the function of blood vessels and increases blood flow, which can help protect you against a heart attack and other cardiovascular problems.

Laughter burns calories. OK, so it’s no replacement for going to the gym, but one study found that laughing for 10 to 15 minutes a day can be enough to lose three or four pounds over the course of a year.

Laughter lightens anger’s heavy load. Nothing diffuses anger and conflict faster than a shared laugh. Looking at the funny side can put problems into perspective and enable you to move on from confrontations without holding onto bitterness or resentment.

Laughter may even help you to live longer. A study in Norway found that people with a strong sense of humour outlived those who don’t laugh as much. The difference was particularly notable for those battling cancer.

Therefore the physical health benefits of laughter are that it: Boosts immunity, Lowers stress hormones, Decreases pain, Relaxes your muscles and Prevents heart disease

The mental health benefits of laughter are that it adds joy and zest to life, eases anxiety and tension, relieves stress, improves your mood and strengthens resilience.

The social benefits of laughter are it strengthens relationships, attracts you to others, enhances teamwork, helps defuse conflict and promotes group bonding.

Laughter makes you feel good. And this positive feeling remains with you even after the laughter subsides. Humour helps you keep a positive, optimistic outlook through difficult situations, disappointments, and loss.

More than just a respite from sadness and pain, laughter gives you the courage and strength to find new sources of meaning and hope. Even in the most difficult of times, a laugh – or simply a smile – can go a long way toward making you feel better. And laughter really is contagious. Just hearing laughter primes your brain and readies you to smile and join in the fun.

So how can we bring more laughter into our lives?

Here are some ways to start:

Smile.  Smiling is the beginning of laughter, and like laughter, it’s contagious. When you look at someone or see something even mildly pleasing, practice smiling. Instead of looking away, look up and smile at people.

Count your blessings.  Literally make a list. The simple act of considering the positive aspects of your life will distance you from negative thoughts that block humour and laughter. When you’re in a state of sadness, you have further to travel to reach humour and laughter.

When you hear laughter, move towards it.  Sometimes humour and laughter are private, a shared joke among a small group, but usually not. More often, people are very happy to share something funny because it gives them an opportunity to laugh again and feed off the humour you find in it.

Spend time with fun, playful people.  These are people who laugh easily–both at themselves and at life’s absurdities–and who routinely find the humour in everyday events. Their playful point of view and laughter are contagious. Even if you don’t consider yourself a lighthearted, humorous person, you can still seek out people who like to laugh and make others laugh. Every comedian appreciates an audience.

Bring humour into conversations.  Ask people, “What’s the funniest thing that happened to you today? This week? In your life?”

So my challenge for you today is to make someone laugh.

An Irishman and an Englishman walk into a bakery.

The Englishman steals 3 buns and puts them into his pockets and leaves. He says to the Irishman, “That took great skill and guile to steal those buns. The owner didn’t even see me.”

The Irishman replied, “That’s just simple thievery, I’ll show you how to do it the honest way and get the same results. Let’s go back into the shop”

The Irishman then said to the owner of the bakery shop “Sir, I want to show you a magic trick.” The owner was intrigued so he came over to see the magic trick.

The Irishman asked him for a bun and then he proceeded to eat it. He then asked for a second bun and ate it and after that he asked for a third one and ate it. The owner says, “Okay my friend, where’s the magic trick?”.

The Irishman then said, “Look in the Englishman’s pockets.”

The benefits of hard work

As the famous Thomas Edison quote goes, “Genius is one percent inspiration and ninety-nine percent perspiration”. The end result of hard work is often incentive enough for us to put our noses to the grindstone and plug away at our goals.

​​​​​​​At a time when our pupils are in the thick of their public examinations, this is more pertinent than ever.

The focus of their travails is of course to see tangible measures of success, namely examination results, but there are other benefits of hard work that are perhaps less obvious.

In order to establish a competitive edge and to stand out and get noticed, hard work is the answer. Those who have achieved success often attribute their success to hard work, determination, and perseverance.

Famous American basketball player Michael Jordan is a great example of someone who used a great work ethic to gain an advantage. He was known for perfecting his skills in the off season and was able to set himself apart from the pack through his relentless pursuit to improve himself.

The advantage always goes to the person who was willing and able to dig deep and put in the extra effort.

Footballer David Beckham, rugby players such as former England player Jonny Wilkinson, the current English player Owen Farrell, and the best rugby player of them all the Irish rugby player Johnny Sexton spent countless hours practising and practising to perfect what they do.

Opportunity is another advantage that comes with hard work. Individuals who work hard and show initiative are among the first to be noticed and considered for new opportunities when they arise.

Hard work is also a great confidence builder as another key component of success is confidence. After all, you need to believe in yourself and your ability to achieve your goals.

Everyone will experience setbacks along the way, and what is most important is the ability to push through the tough times and learn from the experience. Remaining focused in your goals through the difficult times will build your confidence and equip you to deal with new challenges.

You’ll also have the confidence to go after what you want, rather than sit back and wait for it to come to you.

Hard work leads to self-improvement. Along with increased mental toughness, hard work gives you the chance to improve yourself. Hard work will help you develop self-discipline, focus and motivation.

In turn, you will become more efficient and productive; constantly improving your current skills while also developing new ones.

Satisfaction from successful accomplishments gives a new sense of energy and inspiration for the next project or goal.

I read these three quotes recently about hard work and being talented.

Hard work beats talent when talent does not work hard

Tim Notke

Success does not come from what you do occasionally, success comes from what you do consistently.

Marie Forleo

It is very hard to beat a person who never gives up.

Babe Ruth

Therefore the moral of the story is, “never give up”.

How to achieve your goals

As a Headmaster, something which naturally weighs on my mind is pupils’ futures, both at Bethany and elsewhere.  We all wonder where this generation’s future lies and I think we can probably agree that the answer is that nobody knows.  I think it’s part of the cycle of life that each generation despairs of the next and yet somehow we all made it.  My parents for example worried about my generation.

However, I came across an article recently on ‘10 tips to achieve anything you want in life’ by Olympic athlete Inga Stasiulionyte and it struck me that while technology moves at a faster and faster pace, and our children are starting to speak a language we don’t always understand, some stalwarts of life remain.  If you want to be successful in life, however that looks for each individual person, perhaps see how many of Ms Stasiulionyte’s tips you already do and how many others you could consider embracing.

  1. Focus on commitment, not motivation.

Just how committed are you to your goal? How important is it for you, and what are you willing to sacrifice in order to achieve it? If you find yourself fully committed, the motivation will follow.

  1. Seek knowledge, not results.

If you focus on the excitement of discovery, improving, exploring and experimenting, your motivation will always be fuelled. If you focus only on results, your motivation will vary.  It will be good when you get good results and not so good when you get poor results. So the key is to focus on the journey, not the destination. Keep thinking about what you are learning along the way and what you can improve.  Success in life is a process of continuous improvement.

  1. Make the journey fun.

Life is too short to be miserable.  Yes, working is serious but there is humour everywhere.  The trouble with taking things too seriously is that it will start to be like carrying a heavy emotional weight and you will lose perspective and become demotivated, inward-looking and ultimately unhappy.

  1. Get rid of negative thoughts.

Thoughts influence feelings, and feelings determine how you view your work. You have a lot of thoughts in your head, and you always have a choice of which ones to focus on: like fears or doubts or more positive ones that will move you forward (excitement, experimenting, trying new things, stepping out of your comfort zone).  I know that as a Headmaster, if I did not look on the positive side I would be unable to operate as a front-runner.  Furthermore, as a leader even if I do not feel positive about something, I must nonetheless appear to be positive, since that generates confidence in other people.  If I have a positive day at work, I go home with high levels of energy.  If I have a negative day at work, I go home tired; negative energy is tiring.  Every problem is stage one of a solution.

  1. Use your imagination.

The next step after getting rid of negative thoughts is to use your imagination. When things go well, you are full of positive energy, and when you are experiencing difficulties, you need to be even more energetic. Remember that the most important word is ‘yet’.  The expression, ‘I cannot solve this problem’ can be replaced with, ‘I cannot solve this problem, yet.’  That simple three letter word can make the world of difference.

  1. Stop being nice to yourself.

Motivation means action and action brings results. Sometimes your actions fail to bring the results you want. So, you prefer to be nice to yourself and not put yourself in a difficult situation. You wait for the perfect timing, for an ideal opportunity. Get out there, challenge yourself, do something that you want to do even if you are afraid.  Remember we have all got to take responsibility for our own actions.  We receive praise when we do things well and criticism when things do not go so well.  If you fall off the bike get back up and start cycling again.

  1. Get rid of distractions.

Meaningless distractions will always be in your way, especially those easy, usual things you would rather do instead of focusing on new challenging and meaningful projects. Learn to focus on what is the most important. Write a list of things that waste your time and hold yourself accountable to not do them.  That may well mean for example turning your phone off and not using any form of social media while you work.

  1. Don’t rely on others.

You should never expect others to do it for you, not even your best friends who most likely will be busy with their own needs. No one will make you happy or achieve your goals for you. It’s all down to you.  Remind yourself that your goals are for you to own and for you to achieve.

  1. Plan

Know your next three steps forward. You do not need more. Create and stick to a weekly calendar, noting when you will do, what you will do and how you will do. The when-what-how is very important when it comes to planning.  Review how each day went by what you learned and if you need to change things to improve matters then make the necessary changes.

  1. Protect yourself from burnout.

It’s easy to burn out when you are very motivated. Be self-aware and try and recognize any signs of tiredness and take time to rest. Your body and mind rest when you plan relaxation and fun time into your weekly calendar. There is an expression which says that variety is the spice of life so do different tasks, keep switching between something creative and logical, something physical and still, working alone and with a team. Switch locations from time to time if that helps.

You may lack motivation not because you are lazy or don’t have a goal. Even the biggest stars, richest business people or the most accomplished athletes get lost sometimes. What makes them succeed is the curiosity about how much better they can become. So above all, be curious stay curious, believe in yourself, and this will lead you to your goals and success.

Ultimately hard work in a planned and consistent way will bring you much more success than simply talking about doing work or putting off work until tomorrow.

Never put off until tomorrow what you can do today.  Stay focused, motivated, positive, don’t be too nice to yourselves, get rid of unnecessary distractions and plan properly and you will achieve your goals while having a little bit of fun along the way.

Success breeds success..

 

The importance of effective communication

Communication

Communication matters. It’s more than just talking, it’s being on the same page as your colleagues and peers, delivering the correct message and encouraging better understanding from the sender to the receiver.

This is vital within a school environment. The success and happiness of our pupils is of paramount importance and effective communication in Bethany School contributes wholesomely to both.

As children, we learn basic communication skills by observing others and modelling those behaviours based on what we see. As teachers, we encourage our pupils to become good communicators in order to stimulate thinking, within our positive school environment.

Eco SchoolsLast week, our Eco-Schools group delivered a chapel service to the Whole School community. They had worked incredibly hard to plan the session and get the information across to their peers. The Eco “Warriors” conveyed the message to staff and pupils that our environment is depleting and if we don’t do something about it soon, humans could face drastic changes to our planet.

It was heartwarming (no pun intended!) to see the professionalism of the pupils as they worked together to communicate this message to the School community. The American author, Lawrence Clark Powell once said: “write to be understood, speak to be heard, read to grow” and I think this quote resonates well with the Eco-Schools collective.

Listening is vital for effective communication. Rather than the mere exchanging of information, it’s also about understanding the emotions and intentions of that material. This is important for building relationships with our pupils as it breaks down barriers and helps us convey a clear message.

It has been proven that communicating effectively with parents can contribute to the success of pupils. At the start of the new School year, (having communicated with parents), we implemented a new mobile phone policy in order to reduce screen-time for our pupils, thus resulting in better concentration in class and more interaction with each other face to face during the day.

Constant communication with our parents helps to bridge the gap and enable them to feel more involved in school life. We have a fantastic team in FOBS (Friends of Bethany School) who are able to take on an influential role within the School community and are excellent parental ambassadors for the School.

Communication is not only about understanding and acknowledgement: it involves agreement and commitment from everyone involved. I remain immensely grateful to colleagues, parents and pupils for their unswerving support in helping each and all of us to be appreciated and respected for who we are. This is achieved through honest and sensitive communication on all sides.

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Forgive but do not forget

During the Easter holidays, I spent a week in Germany and met many lovely people. Frances and I also visited the Dachau concentration camp memorial site during our visit and this had a most profound effect on both of us.

It made me realise just out cruel people can be to one another in extreme situations. I also started to think about how such acts of savagery could ever be forgiven.

Of course, since then, there has been the indiscriminate murder of the journalist Myra McKee in Northern Ireland and the senseless bombing in Sri Lanka which killed hundreds of people.

These also made me think about forgiveness and how hard it can be to forgive. I cannot even begin to imagine the pain of the relatives involved in such despicable outrages. How can we ever forgive human atrocities?

gus-moretta-371897-unsplashForgiveness can be very difficult. When someone does something wrong to you, it often takes time and effort to get beyond what was done and to forgive.

With the rise of social media and the 24/7 consumption, we are living in a time where personal insults and messages of hate can be glorified and magnified on social media and with this blatant disregard of other people’s feelings, a minority of young people follow suit and see forgiveness as a sign of weakness.

Psychologists generally define forgiveness as a conscious, deliberate decision to release feelings of resentment or vengeance toward a person or group who has harmed you, regardless of whether they actually deserve your forgiveness. Forgiveness does not mean forgetting, nor does it mean condoning or excusing offences.

Forgiveness is such a vital key to our growth and happiness as human beings. William Shakespeare once said: “to err is human; to forgive, divine”. When we hold on to hurt, pain, resentment, and anger it harms us far more than it harms the offender. When we see other people forgive they grow in our respect.

Forgiveness isn’t something you do for the other person. Forgiveness is something you do for yourself and if it can help you heal, why is it so hard?

The weak can never forgive

There are several reasons: You are filled with thoughts of retribution or revenge; you enjoy feeling superior; you don’t know how to resolve the situation; you’re addicted to the adrenaline that anger provides; you self-identify as a “victim”, or you are afraid that by forgiving you have to re-connect with the aggressor.

Forgiveness requires feeling willing to forgive. You have to be willing to forgive before you can actually forgive. If you forgive and let go of the anger and hurt you are letting go of negative destructive emotions.

Do not let the injustice or unfairness that was done to you in the first place define you. You are better than this. Let it go, lose the unwanted baggage and move on.
If you are the one who has done wrong then remember that mistakes are always forgivable if you have the courage to admit them.

“Darkness can never drive out darkness, only light can drive out darkness. Hate cannot drive out hate, only love can drive out hate.”

The stupid neither forgive nor forget, the naive forgive and forget, the wise forgive but do not forget.

It is possible to forgive but not forget. Be the better person and do the right thing.