Autumn 2021

caring for ourselves

This term we celebrate our place in the world and the positive contribution we can make to a happy and successful life. Pictured are our Red Admirals and Hummingbird Hawkmoth award winners Summer 2021

Monday Message - 13th December

seasonal goodwishes to everybody - unlimited

My friend Stephen does not celebrate Christmas at all - but he does have a big celebration for the Winter Solstice. I suspect that he feels the need to celebrate in some manner because of Geography. Here we are, on around the same latitude as Gdansk, Denmark, southern Norway and Sweden. We live slightly north of the southern tip of the Hudson Bay in Canada. Baby Jesus or not, we Northern folk would, I suspect, be getting ready for a massive festival involving lights, comfort food, meeting up with friends and family and sharing goodwill. I think this is because culture is as adapted to landscape and weather as are plants and animals. Culture owes as much to our habitat and weather as it does to belief.

Up here in Northwich, in the Northwest in Northern Europe we ]enjoying a winter festival at with people of all faiths and none decorating trees, baking cakes and sending greetings. Bringing evergreens into the house is a tradition which pre-dates Christianity, harking back to older Gods, older practices and beliefs about caring for nature so that the Spring will return. We hunker down over the winter months; I read that the enviable standard of reading in Finland owes at least as much to long winter evenings as it does to their enviable education system!

Recent news has been dispiriting and has tested all our patience and goodwill. With hopes dashed and the pandemic far from over, the past term has, in my experience, been the most challenging of the pandemic - something I was not expecting and possibly partly due to pandemic fatigue that lived reality. School has been open all term and I am so grateful for that; fewer people are becoming seriously unwell though I was saddened to hear about the first death from the Omicron variant today.

However, being a Primary Headteacher is the best antidote to despair and pessimism. Young children are so full of eagerness, hope and optimism that it’s difficult to keep up negative views for long. Reading a story to Ladybirds and UKS2 was an unmitigated joy last week and I hope the children enjoyed it half as much as did. Teaching is a profession with moral purpose. Teachers play an important part in securing the best educational outcomes for children as individuals as well as for society. We also play a part in their moral and ethical development. Ofsted call this SMSC, social, moral, spiritual and cultural development. That these are seen as part of children's education, suggests that the good citizens we want for our society do not come about by accident. We in school work, in partnership with families, to deliver to the world, young citizens who are able and want to make a positive contribution: to their family, their community, their planet. Such citizens will know and understand that life in a globally connected world is difficult and complicated. As they get older they will need to understand that those offering simple solutions to complex issues are generally best treated with caution. More than ever, happy life in modern Britain, requires the ability and grace to respect views you disagree with and engage with people with whom, apparently, you have little in common.

In Ofsted’s definition of SMSC spirituality has very little to do with religion. It is about deep and profound learning in all subjects. Spiritual development is about contemplation and awe-and-wonder. It is less about what you believe than about learning and understanding the world a bit better, unravelling some of its mysteries, just contemplating others. It is about considering our world and the cosmos, it’s infinite complexity and beautiful connectedness. For learning to be spiritual, learned concepts must be experienced internally – as awe and wonder, becoming part of the inner life, the contemplative life. And children are great – because you get to see it when it happens - their eyes widen and their jaw drops. "No way!" they say. "Yes way!" I reply and it is moments like this when I love my job most. I have seen this spiritual learning in every subject in school. Retelling the Christmas story in assembly today, I used some sublime Renaissance art to help children consider the plight of Mary in Roman occupied Palestine and the strange symbolism in gifts of Gold, Frankincense and Myrrh – why it was that the baby Jesus was not given a rattle and a board book copy of The Very Hungry Caterpillar!

For profound of learning to occur, children must be curious, looking out without judgement into the universe, the world and at their fellow human beings too. Fear cripples curiosity; children should be open-hearted, curious and non-judgemental to experience life and learning fully. Our curriculum, including through assemblies, focusses on our common humanity, fostering the notion that we humans are remarkably alike, so that our little differences become a place not of fear and resentment, but of interest and enquiry.

Mary is revered in both Christianity and Islam; Muslims believe in the virgin birth and in fact Jesus’ first miracle occurs not in the New Testament but in the Koran. In the Christian New Testament the Christmas story is stuffed full of symbolic meaning. Mary – a woman, is given a great task. Shepherds - rough and ready agricultural workers were the first to be chosen by angels to visit the Baby Jesus (no accident). Wise men from distant lands studied the stars and noticed something afoot – learning and intellect too is valued in the New Testament. So, here’s a story, told in some of the greatest art and most sublime music humankind has made. A young, single, pregnant woman; an artisan carpenter (Joseph); manual labourers (shepherds); a small businessman (innkeeper) and three wealthy foreign intellectuals come together and find, in the words of Jo Cox, that they have more in common than that which divides them.

With all the pressures and uncertainties of the times we live in it is unsurprising that people have been finding it difficult to be sanguine. I will be using the holiday to refresh, reflect and restore. I wish you all, each and everyone, the very best time over the holiday. I hope we can all return in January, with common purpose (the wellbeing and education of our children) and ready for whatever is thrown at us next.

Happy holidays, everyone - unlimited!

Ms S :-)

Monday Message - 6th December

brave acts to celebrate

This week's thinking for children, on how they can care for themselves, began today with an assembly about bravery. Not the combative daring do that is often associated with the word brave, but the quiet bravery of two women, one a Nobel laureate, the other a woman revered in both Christianity and Islam. As is often the case, assembly themes are the consequence of what we have noticed in class, in the playground and sometimes (as is the case this week) what we have been made aware of in children's activities out of school.

On 29th September I introduced children to a wonderful word: malarky. While children think very much as adults do, they have less experience and so get caught up in the malarky of the moment. Malarky can lead children to dare to do what can be risky to themselves, other people or the community. To maximise the fun and minimise any downsides we are exploring words like courage, brave, dare alongside others like cowardice and foolhardy.

Children, caught up in the malarky of a dare, inside or outside of school, might lead them to encourage their peers to do something that they themselves would be too fearful (or sensible) to risk. The person doing the daring deed is of course, responsible and accountable for the consequences of their actions. It is also useful and kind to challenge onlookers, those negative encouragers without whose companionship the person in bother would not have acted in such a reckless way. Whether climbing in dangerous places, playing on roads or shoplifting sweets.

Words in themselves are rarely good or bad. We will be asking children to reflect on words this week - when they are useful and kind and when they are not. We hope our children will be brave and courageous, standing up for what is right, challenging unkindness to others, even when it comes from their friends. But we don't want them to be reckless, thinking that doing what their friends want them to do but won't do themselves is anything other than foolish, reckless or plain old wrong. We hope all our children with dare to have a god, try their best, even when uncertain or risking failure. But we don't want them to dare what they know is wrong to garner the approval of the group.

This is why, this week, we are celebrating some of the bravery, the courage and the daring that is not combative but that is useful and kind - unlimited.

Ms S :-)

Monday Message - 29th November

to thrive in a frightening world

During the pandemic all public services have seen rises in demand for services. Parents and carers are rightly concerned about the impact of schools being closed for so many children has had on their learning and future prospects. The word 'trauma' is used a lot and we have had training over many, many years about the impact of trauma on children and families. This enables us to support the very small minority of children unfortunate enough to have experienced multiple and profound adverse childhood experiences (ACE's) and who require significant additional support and care to give them the best possible support for positive and fulfilling futures. However the focus on trauma as a society, while overwhelmingly positive, has another, unintended consequence. In uncertain times such as we're experiencing right now with climate change and the pandemic, I wonder if the very experience of being human, of living in the world as it is, has been to some extent pathologised, thought of as an ailment requiring treatment and not just part of being human.

An uncertain world and big events are part of the human condition. Our grandparents and great grandparents grew up in the shadow of war, real and imagined. The Spanish Flu killed more people than the Great War. Between 1939 and 1945 children grew up up playing on bomb sites, eating rationed food, spending the night in air raid shelters and worrying for their parents serving in the war. The following generation (many of whom still played on bomb sites) lived through the Cold War; we received pamphlets through the letter-box giving advice on what to do in the event of a nuclear attack (get under the dining table and put a white sheet over it). Then came AIDS, the pandemic of the 1980s, a disease still with us but managed effectively thanks to our NHS and international investment and collaboration on scientific research. Yet here we are, bobbing along, making the best of our lives and time here, experiencing happiness and fulfillment alongside the downsides of life on planet Earth.

Climate change, the pandemic (and stuff in the news right now like the Omicron variant and refugees drowning in the Channel) are of huge concern. In the case of climate change, even more so for our children who will live to see more of its effects. So what could be a useful and kind response to our children anxious about this and other things they see in the News?

When part of the Global Learning Programme, quite a few years ago, we learned that, when there are controversial and potentially upsetting things in the News, it is important not to ignore them. Nature abhors a vacuum and if they don't learn from the adults who care for them, children will fill in gaps in knowledge with a hotchpotch of the made up and sensational. Oxfam tell us that the best approach is to encourage a sense of agency through their own small acts.

Whether walking to school, recycling or avoiding single use plastic, planting a tree or wearing reused uniform, small acts have at the very least as much benefit for children's individual anxiety than a series of counselling sessions (with nature and everyone else benefitting too). Children concerned about Covid, are better off knowing why classrooms are ventilated (and dressing appropriately), washing their hands, avoiding getting too close to one another's faces. When we wear a mask we model for our children good citizenship, we show them that we know there is a risk of catching Covid, that we take it seriously and that we go about our business with caution and care for those about us.

Nobody respects what they do not understand (tomorrow, Thursday's and special Friday assemblies will be on this theme). In terms of our emotional wellbeing, what we do not understand can be all the more frightening and upsetting because we feel powerless and at the mercy of events.

I hope by understanding our world and our children better, we can take a humane and intelligent response to trauma and the pandemic (and the new strain hitting the news). As adults blessed to have lived through one of the most stable times in history I wonder if we might be more anxious than our children, looking at our their childhoods through the lens of our own? Children do not compare their childhoods to rosier times, children live in the moment and bob along, finding laughter, joy and happiness outside of perfect worlds - thank goodness!

Perhaps the road to thriving begins with acceptance of the best possible path from where we find ourselves. In my time working with children I have found them often more pragmatic in this department than adults; I am almost always more optimistic and hopeful following my interactions with children.

It looks like there may further Covid hills ahead and face coverings are mandatory in shops and on public transport. We had already reintroduced masks and will tighten up enforcement outside classrooms or offices. I hope families will support us on the school grounds; the least and worst consequence is that it shows other people your care about them and that you know the virus is still with us and we're not out of the woods yet.

Ms S :-)

Thursday Thought - 18th November


Anti-bullying week takes place every year in November, raising awareness of the damage bullying can do, particularly to young children in schools. This year’s theme is ‘One Kind Word’. Through assemblies this week we have shared with the children what bullying is and what they can do if they are being bullied or see someone else being bullied.

The Anti-Bullying Alliance defines bullying as: the repetitive, intentional hurting of one person or group by another person or group, where the relationship involves an imbalance of power. Put simply this means any situation where your child is being deliberately and repeatedly hurt by other people and they find it hard to defend themselves. This could be face to face or online, in school or in the community. It may be physical, or it could be verbal or emotional.

As parents and carers, we all want our children to be happy and safe and it is natural to worry about bullying - particularly if we have experienced bullying ourselves, or we think our child may be more vulnerable to bullying. As a parent or carer, you are a vital piece of the puzzle in tackling bullying. You have a unique role to play in guiding and supporting your child through their school years and there are lots of positive steps you can take.

Children are influenced by the home, community, and society they grow up in, by the things they see, read, and hear, and the people around them. We all have a role to play in creating communities where children feel safe and valued, where we stand up to prejudice and are united against bullying.

Children are developing physically, emotionally and socially and need our help to understand how to behave towards others and when they have crossed a line. For some children it may be particularly difficult to regulate their behaviour or actions, and they may need additional support. Others will be copying prejudicial or harmful behaviour they have learnt from others. It’s also common for children to have arguments and friendship fallouts and they will need our guidance to resolve conflict, make amends and move on.

We are all capable of bullying behaviour. What is important is that we recognise it and endeavour to stop it, and where we have hurt others, learn to take action to put things right.

We have a vital role to play in modelling positive relationships for our children. Through our own behaviour we can teach children to be kind and respectful to others. So it’s important that we talk kindly about other people, reach out to others who may be seen as ‘different’, lonely or isolated and recognise and stand up to injustice.

You can also help your child to understand true friendship: you can teach your child the qualities of a true friendship such as kindness, respect, boundaries, laughter, forgiveness, and trust. This will help your child recognise if others are being unkind or manipulative towards them. Encourage your child to be open to friendship rather than insisting on one best friend. Experience shows you can be vulnerable if they decide not to be your friend anymore!

Establish physical boundaries: help your child to understand that their body belongs to them, and that everyone has their own physical boundaries. This means it is not okay to be rough with other people, or to touch, hug or grab them without their consent. It is never okay for someone to physically hurt someone else and children need our help and guidance to learn to give people personal space.

Take time as a family to think about what it means to be kind to others. Kindness starts at home so think about the different messages you give to your child about kindness in your words and your actions. You could have a kindness jar where you share ideas for being kind and choose a different one each day.

And teach your child about being an upstander. Being an upstander (and not a passive bystander) means a child takes positive action when they see a friend or another student being bullied. Ask your child how it feels to have someone stand up for them, and share how one person can make a difference. Children and young people have a huge capacity for challenging injustice and bringing about positive change. It is important as parents that we encourage this and help children identify their values and their passions.

When we are kind, we inspire others to be kind, and it creates a ripple effect that spreads outwards. Just as a pebble creates waves when it is dropped in a pond, acts of kindness ripple outwards, touching others lives and inspiring kindness everywhere the wave goes. The Anti-Bullying Alliance website said: “Kindness is more important today than it has ever been. The isolation of the last year has underlined how little acts of consideration can break down barriers and brighten the lives of the people around us.” So let’s all use ‘One Kind Word’ this week and beyond. One Kind Word really can make a difference, especially for those who may be struggling. It can be a turning point. It can make their day and it can help break the cycle of bullying.

Thursday Thought - 11th November

remembrance and remembering

What might we take from Remembrance Day 2021?

Remembrance Day is something most of us notice, either by participating in the 2 minutes silence, catching it on the TV or just noticing how everything suddenly falls silent. We have thought differently this year and looked at this international event through a different lens. Remembering that children have, over the past few years, had fewer opportunities to connect and talk with wider family and knowing the importance of belonging for every child to thrive we asked children to have conversations at home and see if they could find out about their own family members who served in wars. So much talk of adult talk with children involves instructional language - about cleaning teeth, washing hands and things we want them to do. I hope that this year Remembrance Day has stimulated some interesting talk, conversation, with children at home.

We have learned that our families include servicemen and women from the Army, Navy and Airforce as well as on the Home Front. We have a serviceman from the Philippines who fought with the US Army, servicewomen served in the RAF, Army and Land Army (that all important army at home that kept the population fed during World War 2). We have people who served in the German Army, reminding us that whether on one country's side or another, service folk all have families who love them. Our Kingsmead family have served in India, Burma, North Africa, France, Belgium and in really famous battles like El Alamein and Gallipoli. A serviceman has fought pirates in Somalia! Another has served not for a country but in the United Nations Peacekeeping forces as a blue beret.

It was a delight to see the efforts of children and adults talking and thinking and remembering together - the very best of home learning involves what we can't replicate in school and conversations about each unique family but with much in common was one such thing. The Wall of Remembrance shows how much this optional learning at home has grabbed the children and caught their imagination. Some have found out about family members they didn't know they had. Others, living in families other than their birth families, have connected and put down roots in their adoptive families. In this way I am confident that we have not only remembered with respect this year but have also gone a small way to supporting children's sense of belonging and wellbeing too.

Ms S :-)

Monday Message - 9th November

"A man’s manners are a mirror in which he shows his portrait.”

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

Some thoughts on this, The Golden Rule and how adults in school and at home serve all children best when we're in partnership, when we act with understanding and respond consistently usefully and kindly when things do go wrong.

If Goethe was writing today, I expect he'd be writing 'A person's manners are a mirror in which they show their portrait.' Assembly yesterday was about good manners and how, although we tend to think of these in terms of being kind to others, perhaps the person that good manners benefit most is ourselves.

Every adult in school has the responsibility to help children: to provide the care, guidance and support they need to develop into pro-social young people who can thrive. This entitlement is for everybody - we make no exceptions and there are no outsiders. But there are times when people will go above and beyond, go the extra mile. This might be because some folk just need the extra mile. But more often than not people go, above and beyond, because of someone else's own good character - as shown to us through their manners.

Yesterday's assembly shared a true story - one from right here in school. It was not about someone who is perfect but someone who has been consistently kind, helpful - a person with A* manners, a full on 'good egg'. They understand that speaking and interacting with adults respectfully looks and sounds different to when they're in the playground with friends.

But in school, just as in life, some might, now and then, receive more than they are entitled to. They notice that people have gone the extra mile for them, above and beyond what they might expect. Sometimes (of course not always) this is a consequence of their good manners, the banking of the countless times they have said 'please', 'thank-you', waited their turn or let others go first. This morning I was greeted by a young man in year 3 on his way to Early Birds. I opened the door for him so he could get into breakfast. This young man could see I had stuff to carry so he waited. He waited while I sanitised my hands, he waited while I signed in and when I thanked him he said 'You're Welcome.' When this young man's hand went up in assembly a couple of hours later, I made sure to ask him to share his thoughts. That first thing interaction set both our days up very well.

Many manners and courtesies reflect time and place. 'Ladies first', which I heard a lot back in the last century, is today better served by 'after you'. In many cultures, religions and households, people expect shoes off at the door. Some manners are universal truths - they have been advocated by religions and philosophies across the world and throughout our long human history. First among these universal truths is The Golden Rule - treat others as you yourself want to be treated. When people practice the habit of good manners (which are useful and kind), they receive back at least as much in good manners, usefulness and kindness from others. This is why when children are taught and learn good manners, first at home and then once they start school, they experience happier school lives, have better relationships with adults and their peers, and find that people are more often kind and considerate and will even go the extra mile for them.

Sometimes, treating others as you want to be treated can be hard. Especially when they have done something wrong. It involves empathy, putting yourself in the other person's shoes and asking 'If I'd done that, how would I want to be treated?' Even when you can't imagine every doing what they've done. Most of us would expect a consequence for our wrongdoing, we would not expect to get away with it, I hope most of us would feel remorse and make a mental note to show our better character in future. What we would not want, or expect as adults, would be to be judged and thought of only for that bad thing we have done. We would be hopeful that we could make amends, learn better ways and earn some forgiveness. And if we adults would not expect to be judged by the worst of ourselves, how much more important is this for children whose characters are not yet formed?

Children come home and and regale their families tales from school. And what is more exciting to tell than recounts of misadventure, misdemeanour and Very Bad Acts! In that respect children are no different to us adults; magazines and tabloid papers full of gossip and scandal sell very well. Of the stories children bring home, they are all told through the eyes of the child and the age they are. Some are true, some may be exaggerated, others might be missing an important part of the picture or sequence of events. Perhaps you hear one child’s name mentioned more often in less than complimentary ways. How can families respond usefully and kindly at home?

I have written the following words many times since starting here back in 2004 before your children were born – we don’t have naughty boys and good girls at Kingsmead. We just have hundreds of lovely nippers and everything they do. In school our job is to treat each and every child as we would want our own treated - whether they were showing the wonderful manners I described earlier or indeed if had done the ‘Bad Thing’ that children come home telling their families about.

We would not want our own children’s unkind, unhelpful or unsafe behaviour to go unnoticed or treated lightly. We would expect that anyone hurt or impacted negatively (victims of poor behaviour) to matter, to be taken seriously and for their safety and care to be uppermost. We would expect that consequences would follow in order that our children would learn that their behaviour was not acceptable and was wrong. We would want our own children to feel remorse and regret, we would encourage them to feel empathy. If unable to, would be clear that their behaviour was wrong and not seek to excuse or downplay it or blame others for their child’s wrongdoing.

Equally, we would not want our child to be judged only on the worst of themselves. We would expect consequences to be age appropriate and that exclusion from class or playtimes are very serious consequences for any child. We would be hopeful that our child would, with guidance and support, be able to learn more pro-social ways and learn and develop as a usefuller and kinder person. We would be hopeful that other people would note their best intentions as well as the wrong things they have done. We would know that no one becomes more pro-social by being excluded, by being looked on as ‘naughty’ or ‘bad’, someone who people should keep away from. We would be hopeful that parents and carers might look on our child as they would want theirs looked on, should they be in the other child’s shoes.

So when the stories come home perhaps we could respond with 'That does sound bad. I wonder how you could be helpful in your class. What might you do if this happened again?' You might ask about the consequences - for everyone involved, including the positive consequences for anyone who helped. Your child might be able to suggest looking after someone who'd been hurt. They might even suggest ways they could help the child who'd done the bad thing (children are often better at grown ups at seeing hopeful possibilities). Then the language and focus turns towards the useful and kind, the pro-social action we want to see from everybody.

Ms S :-)

Thursday Thought - 4th November

happy diwali

In assemblies and class this week the children have been learning about Diwali, known as the Hindu festival of light. Diwali is the five-day Festival of Lights, celebrated by millions of Hindus, Sikhs and Jains across the world in the month of Kartika (our October/November) and it is held on the darkest night of the month, the night of the new moon, when the moon can’t be seen in the sky. Diwali is a festival of new beginnings and the triumph of good over evil and light over darkness.

Although many of our children don’t celebrate Diwali, the key values behind the festival will help our children grow up to be well rounded individuals. The origins of the festival are unclear but there are a number of stories to explain how the festival started. One of the most common is the story of Rama and Sita, which is retold each year during Diwali. A story of how good can triumph over evil. It also speaks of the importance of friendship and loyalty, giving and sharing, goodness and happiness, hope and new beginnings. In the story Lord Rama won over evil with discipline, humility, tolerance and goodness.

So how can we support our children to understand these values and put into practice these qualities?

Discipline - Diwali usually starts with the brahmamuhurta (roughly one-and-a-half hours before sunrise) and that's usually around 4:00 a.m. This early wake-up is considered to be the first step to a disciplined life and is symbolic of mental and spiritual awakening. It is believed that the sages who started this custom wanted it to become a norm of life. These early hours of the morning are said to be the ideal time for improving productivity, acquiring knowledge, achieving ethical discipline, developing physical and mental health, and thereby attaining professional and personal success.

So if you are tired of trying to get your child to wake up early every morning, use this Diwali as an opportunity. Teach your child about the concept of brahmamuhurta. For 30 days, starting this Diwali day, plan on waking up early as a family. It will be difficult in the first week, but if you keep the motivation level up, you can be sure to make a new beginning.

Goodness - Diwali marks the victory of Lord Krishna over the evil demon Narakashura. This symbolizes the victory of good over evil. Humans are made of three basic qualities - sattva, rajas and tamas. These qualities symbolize goodness, passion and destruction. Since none of these qualities can be totally eliminated from a person, there needs to be a perfect balance among them. The responsibility of parents lies in nurturing goodness in the hearts of their children.

Try to encourage your child to do at least one good deed every day. It could relate to helping you in household chores, being obedient or always speaking the truth. Let them note down whatever they do. At the end of the month, they should be really astonished at the number of good deeds they have done.

Humility - Lord Rama is the perfect example of how important it is to be humble and gentle. That is why he was known as 'Maryada Purushottam' (Lord of Virtue). He was always seen as being the perfect son to his parents, the ideal protector of dharma and a living example of morality. Diwali is the perfect occasion to teach your children all these divine values.

You could ask your child to prepare a chart with humble and polite expressions like, 'Excuse me', 'Please' and 'Sorry', and display it on a wall. Every time your child makes a humble expression, let them stick a star on the chart. Just imagine how they would feel on seeing the chart covered with little stars by next year's Diwali.

Tolerance - Diwali isn't confined to Hinduism. Jains celebrate it as the day when Vardhamana Mahavira, the last Tirthankara or Teaching God, attained eternal nirvana - spiritual liberation. Sikhs celebrate this day as Bandichor Diwas (Day of Liberation) to mark the release of Guru Hargobind from Gwalior prison where he had been a political prisoner. In Nepal, people celebrate the day as the anniversary of King Ashoka's conversion to Buddhism. Diwali is, therefore, a great example of the brotherhood of religions.

Try to teach your child the customs and traditions of different cultures across the world. Enable them to see links between different cultures, religions and celebrations and have respect for people with different views and beliefs from themselves. One of the most important things we can do to raise a tolerant child is talk about what tolerance is, and model it ourselves. We may think of ourselves as tolerant people, but we make hundreds of judgements every day, and we’re not always as discreet about them as we might think.

‘Diwali is a symbol of hope for humanity. May it bring universal compassion, inner joy of peace, love and the awareness of unity to all.’

Mrs RB

Thursday Thought - 14th October

managing risk usefully and kindly

Further to my letters of yesterday regarding enhanced risk measures in Key Stage 2, I want to assure you that these are kept under review, as our risk assessment has been throughout the many months of this pandemic and that we are in regular contact with CW&C Public Health as we have been throughout. Measures taken as of this morning (which we were informed and advised about yesterday are on the advice of Public Health) are there to reduce risk in an area where rates are high. It is perhaps no surprise that schools and colleges reflect local rates and the fact that more people in schools (children) are unvaccinated. Earlier this week I shared an updated risk assessment wuth staff and governors, only to be sending out an updated updated one last night. Such are the times we live in.

We can do less about the times we live in than we can about how we greet them. The Thursday Thought in assembly today, shared on Google Classroom, was about this and how when anxious or overwhelmed, simple kindness can be the best response. I asked children to think about how they might be kind to those in their class whose best mates are in other classes as in Year 3-6 we are minimising mixing until after the half term. I wonder how they might be kind to staff too who from Mrs Dutton and her team in the kitchen who has moved to lunch boxes for Key Stage 2 overnight - thank you Mrs D), to Mrs Bodger and her team at lunch time and before and after school to the teaching staff who have all turned round routines at short notice and offered help and kindness when it would be easier to share frustration and grumpiness. Thank you to all the parents and carers who kindly accepted mask wearing on the yard today following an email sent far too late yesterday for people to have noticed. Thank you to the families who have understood we have been doing our best and appreciated our best endeavours. Thank you families for your best endeavours too; we know this is frustrating and staff in school share your frustration. We all prefer life to be predictable and certain, two things in short supply in the times we live in.

We know some of you will be anxious, children too. This is why Thursday's Thought in class included a link to information on where there is age appropriate information on the virus inclusing a book illustrated by Axel Schleffer.

Psychologists now know that children don't think differently from adults, they just have less information and experience on which to base their thinking. I have met many a ten year old with a profound knowledge of the world and few of voting age would beat William in Year 6 on his understanding of how the Roman gods, while taken from the Greek reflect a more serious, empire building and militaristic outlook. This is why I am very much in favour of lowering the voting age but that's another blog! Humans who are ignorant of something can find it scary, from a virus to a new neighbour, knowing makes life better and easier to navigate. As I said to the children, 'Knowing about things stops them being scary so I hope you can spend some time with teachers in class and families at home looking at some things on our website, so you're knowledgeable and clever - much better than being anxious and unknowing.'

I hope this information might reassure adults and children alike, especially regarding school attendance. The government is clear, the Department of Education expect all children to attend school. That said, given the local rates and rates in school, we are being flexible to some degree. We will authorise medical absence for a PCR test and waiting for the result. If someone in a household has tested positive for Covid and is choosing to isolate their child in order to protect others in school from risk, we will authorise that absence and thank them for their consideration. Equally, we respect those who choose to send their children into school as is fully within their rights. Family situations are different and we make no judgement.

In other cases, attendance is expected unless children are unwell and isolating due 'to a parent or pupil feeling anxious' [government guidance] will be unauthorised and if a pupil, managed in line with the attendance policy. As advised previously, if children have cold and flu symptoms, headaches or nausea we are asking for you to have a negative test result for Covid before sending them in and that a precautionary principle of not sending in children who are sneezing and coughing and unwell will help any infection spreading. There was some good news this morning; LFT tests are 90% accurate and therefore it is reasonable for us to not require PCR tests for people without the usual Covid symptoms unless, like many families and staff who this morning, were contacted to say we have been identified as a close contact and to book a test.

When making decisions about children’s attendance school it is important to balance long term, life changing opportunities of education with shorter term risk of isolating them at home when they are well and ready to learn. I do not for one minute underestimate the risks from Covid and have lived and breathed the risks every day for over 18 months. But it is a fact that risks to the overwhelming majority of children's futures from Covid while in school remain significantly less than the risks from loss of education from staying at home. Risks to adults who have been double vaccinated are reduced in that even when an vaccinated adult unfortunate enough to contract Covid (as some of my friends have) they are far less likely to develop serious disease.

I have asked teachers to be mindful of those children at home who are well enough and ready to learn. I have asked that they ensure learning opportunities are provided and Mrs R-B and I are moving to online assemblies again to help, at least until after the holiday. We hope this helps. We have a website page dedicated to learning at home: which may be useful whenever a child is at home such as for 48 hours after sickness. If you need support accessing home learning please contact first your child's teacher, then the phase leader and if that doesn't resolve your issue, myself or Mrs Rutter-Brown.

Please be mindful that this third wave of Covid is different from previous lockdowns where some teaching staff ran in school provision and others the learning at home. This time, school is open for all and teachers must therefore do their best for the children in class in front of them with those at home. No child is less important than any other and we will do our very best within the resources we have at a very difficult time for us all.

Do get in touch if you would like to discuss anything further.

Kind regards and, once again, my thanks,

Catriona Stewart

Thursday Thought - 7th October

we treat other people with kindness and respect - unlimited

Assemblies this week are about the unlimited bit of useful and kind and the responsibility in school to treat other people with kindness and respect. We owe a lot to our friends across the Atlantic in the USA this week: for our song, it's singer and our story - The Bad Seed - which will be Friday's fable. Our music is a song many will know as I have played it in assembly before. It was chosen today for two reasons: October is Black History Month and Nina Simone, the singer not only has a beautiful voice but worked with Dr Martin Luther King to peacefully demand civil rights for all Americans, regardless of their colour. The other reason for it being this Tuesday's tune is that it tells of people in very difficult circumstances who nevertheless found the strength of character to listen, respect and be kind to one another.

As I looked about assembly and did an inspection of the staff and children in front of me, I could see that treating other people with kindness and respect were going to be a piece of cake for me today because every adult and child in the hall was someone I like and respect. But what about when it's hard? Most children won't like everyone in their class and true to say, some are harder to get along with than others. I often say we have no good or bad children in school, just lots of lovely nippers and all the things they do.

We all - adults at home and in school and children - have some responsibility for being unlimited in our kindness and respect, including when it involves looking usefully and kindly on those who are making the task more difficult for us. The book The Bad Seed and the song Mr Bojangles, shine a light on those it could be harder to like and respect. Surely, if we treat others people with kindness and respect unlimited, rather than just the people we know and like, this is a better measure of our character, better for ourselves, those around us and the place we live in?

Happy Monday, Ms S :-)

Thursday Thought - 16th September

play is the work of childhood

Jean Piaget

Piaget was a Swiss psychologist known for his work on child development, the importance of education. In 1934 he said

"only education is capable of saving our societies from possible collapse, whether violent, or gradual."

Piaget's work on the importance of play has informed initial teacher training and educational thinking for many decades. Our Early Years curriculum recognises this, with its emphasis on child led learning, learning through play.

It is tempting to think that learning is work and play is something else. But from our first days interacting with the world and just like everything else in our human lives, we learn to play. Children arrive in school with a myriad of different experiences and some need more support to enjoy successful and happy play than others.

We have been thinking about play and playtimes this week in assemblies. We started on Monday with Mrs Rutter-Brown's recording of the story of Lutz Long, a German athlete famous for coming second and befriending Jesse Owen, the gold medal winner, in the 1936 Olympic games. Mrs R-B talked in that assembly about the importance of winning games well; and when you lose, not to let that spoil the fun of the game.

In our live assemblies this week we have used two books by Mac Barrett and Jon Klassen - Triangle and Circle. I love telling these stories in Reception every year. Like any good book they stand the test of time and older children enjoy them just as much, engaging with the deeper meanings as well as the humour. They're a magic mix of words and pictures and Jon Klassen can say with two circles and some ovals a range of emotions, feelings that would be hard to put into words - genius! We also introduced the word 'malarky' an old fashioned word we used to describe wildness, fun, unpredictability and imaginative world of play at its best. The nature of play is that most is not controlled by adults and it is not rule bound. Games in sports and board games are different but what we have been thinking about this week is the play that is led by children making up their own games, rules and customs.

When we think about this it's no surprise that more fall-outs and disagreements happen over playtime and lunchtime where boundaries are there but are less adult-led. Children nowadays, and even more so since the pandemic struck 18 months ago, have been restricted in their play. Their play has been more carefully arranged, here in school and I expect at home too. This means children's resilience with the malarky, the unpredictability and slightly wild aspects of great play is in need of support.

Which is what assemblies have been about.

Triangle is the comedian of the three friends (Square is another story). He is a trickster and just like so many children, he enjoys playing tricks on other shapes and bending rules. But when the trick is played on him, he is less happy about it. The book deals with this beautifully, without preaching but with humour. Square (as one might expect) is less sanguine with bending rules and being tricked but he too can find fun in tricking Triangle back. Circle, is a philosopher, a bit bossy but ever so reflective, kind and well meaning. She's not perfect and can say unkind things. We asked children to think if in the malarky of a game where they lose control, have they been like Circle and said unkind things they regret? And, like Circle, did they take responsibility and apologise?

Mrs Cotton often talks to us about her work with the Ladybirds and how she tries to avoiding being a Helicopter teacher. Helicopter teachers and helicopter parents, diving in to solve every little issue for children may have the best intentions but this comes at a cost. Children are deprived of their agency, their capacity to reflect and restore for themselves, their ability to be resilient. It's not our job to control play but to usefully and kindly help children navigate those very grey areas of tricks, malarky, unpredictability and rule bending that can be so much fun. It's no fun if someone you're playing with goes to an adult everytime the game doesn't go their way. Neither is a game fun when you are excluded or have unkind things said to you which leave you feeling outside of the group.

Jon Klassen and Mac Barrett's books make young and old laugh out loud. Humour is such a force for good, much better than a lecture or made to feel guilty about something. Humour enables us to deal with serious things in a low threat way and offers high challenge to be our best selves and fun to be with.

When children come and tell me about something at play time, something that's upset them I try to remember first to acknowledge their distress and offer comfort. I then might say 'I wonder why that happened?' or 'I wonder what you might do to feel happier?' I might support them in going and talking to the person they're upset about and watch from a distance. Of course sometimes things are more serious like any physical aggression we will be intervening more directly. But most playtime disputes and upsets, just like most incidents with friends in class and with brothers and sisters at home are squabbles, not so serious. They are not trivial to the child however and are served best I think with due regard, and useful and kind discussions about action they can take. This takes a lot more time than helicoptering in but I suspect it serves our children's happy playtimes far better.

Ms S :-)

Reflect and Restore.pdf
Our reflect and restore sheet can help children reflect and take responsibility. But the focus is on what they can do to repair and restore, on their usefuller and kinder selves. Even better - solutions come from the children.

Thursday Thought - 16th September

game theory - shining a light on supporting the best in us

Managing behaviour is one of the challenges that exhausts parents, carers and school staff equally. We really are all in it together. Might the mathematics of Game Theory have something to offer?

It will not surprise people that have attended many conferences and read a lot about managing pupils behaviour in schools. However the reading that has had the most impact on how I think and practice this in school has been reading about evolutionary psychology and game theory (the mathematical study of games). As it is people who play the games it is reasonable to expect that the mathematics of success in games might shine a light on successful human behaviour.

We practice a useful and kind approach to supporting children's social and emotional development and behaviour. Sometimes called 'tough love' this is a recipe containing several key ingredients:

  1. Unconditional regard - however we might be behaving in this moment we are human beings with the right to dignity and respect.

  2. Consequences - some we like and will continue the behaviour that led to them, others we might want to avoid in future.

  3. Boundaries - without boundaries we keep pushing, in pushing we seek to find where the boundary is; if we don't find it this can lead to us feeling insecure. People who experience and understand boundaries are invariably happier and more than those who operate in a culture of permissiveness and excuses.

  4. Not holding children to adult standards - none of us should, nor would we want to be defined and judged for the worst thing we have done. Children especially deserve another chance. Unlike adults their characters are not yet formed (that's mid-twenties I believe). Transformation is possible for all children and we know from experience that this can be the greatest joy and most rewarding part of our work as parents, teachers and carers.

We take a trauma informed approach: we connect before we correct, adults present calm and consistent role models who model self-regulation. We don't ask children to do what they cannot do but we do expect them to do what they can; we expect them to be their best possible selves. We do not excuse or gloss over unkind, anti-social behaviour and ensure that all children experience consequences for their actions - acknowledgement (of the good and the bad), praise and opportunities to discuss and reflect.

Which brings us back to game theory and the Prisoners' Dilemma.

Two members of a criminal organisation are arrested and imprisoned. Each prisoner is in solitary confinement with no means of communicating with the other. The prosecutors lack sufficient evidence to convict the pair on the principal charge, but they have enough to convict both on a lesser charge. Simultaneously, the prosecutors offer each prisoner a bargain. Each prisoner is given the opportunity either to betray the other by testifying that the other committed the crime, or to cooperate with the other by remaining silent. The possible outcomes are:

  • If A and B each betray the other, each of them serves two years in prison

  • If A betrays B but B remains silent, A will be set free and B will serve three years in prison

  • If A remains silent but B betrays A, A will serve three years in prison and B will be set free

  • If A and B both remain silent, both of them will serve only one year in prison (on the lesser charge).

Each player has two cards - cooperate (remain silent) and defect (betray the other). They play their cards and turn them over. So what is the most effective strategy? Playing the game on computers, thousands of times told game theorists that the best strategy for winning is repeat your opponents last move or tit-for-tat. If your opponent defects and you cooperate it's a big loss and you should defect next time.

But there is one strategy that beats it. Tit-for-tat with random and occasional let-offs. Very occasionally, even if your opponent has defected, cooperate anyway. Do this too often and you will be thought of as a sap, a soft touch and your better nature, your kindness will be played to their advantage. But rarely done it can be very successful and brings kindness and love into relationships. So this is what we do; consequences always follow actions and unkind, unhelpful actions bring consequences we may want to avoid in future. But not always. Just occasionally, perhaps if a child has subsequently done their very best or just because we love them anyway, we might let them know we don't need to have that playtime chat - this time.

Ms S :-)

Thursday Thoughts - 9th September

Singing is back!

We are proud of our tradition of being made about Music here in Kingsmead and I hope you have had a look at the letter out this week where you find links to more information about this important subject.

The commitment of adults from Mrs Whitham and our instrumental teachers to our Chair of Governors and Business Manager (both flautists in Wind Band) to the parents and carers who support practice and fund lessons at home, it is very much a team effort with the children who participate. I love Wednesdays when, while in String Band or Wind Band for just a short time, I am no longer headteacher but a fellow violinist, trumpeter or horn player. It is a real privilege and highlight of the week not only in making Music I couldn't play alone, but in forging relationships with my fellow musicians.

One thing every child participates in is singing and after so long, almost two years now, it was just a joy to hear singing in phase groups in a well ventilated hall. Singing in narrower age groups means material can be better selected. We reflected on singing. Singing is not uniquely human as whales and dolphins, birds, crickets and other animals communicate through song. But it is universally human. Not all culture use written language, wear clothes or have the same manners but we all have two things in common. All human cultures have spoken language and make music with their voices.

Singing this week reminded me how connected we are to the whole human race and it lifted my heart.

Ms S :-)

Thursday Thoughts - 2nd September

Language Matters

It is always a delight to see the children back and say 'My how you've grown' about a hundred times. Children have returned to school appearing ready to learn, enjoy, achieve and make a positive contribution to their new classes - thank you parents and carers! A specially warm welcome to the new children and families we welcomed this morning and those Reception children starting on Monday.

It's the Autumn term and the curriculum in assemblies and in class is mindful of the 'we care for ourselves' part of our core mission. We shared some news in late Autumn to give the heads up about changes this year. While we are ready to return to business as last year if required to, we have made changes to things in school that most affect children, their enjoyment and success not only here in school but also out in the wider community which is also opening up more. Lunchtime went well today and was smoother than we'd expected - well done children!

Yesterday's first meeting for staff was about supporting children's social and emotional development (including managing behaviour). This is the foundation on which all learning and achievement sits as children are people before they are learners. While teachers and support staff all have different ways and personalities, if there is one thing in school that needs consistency, it is supporting children in behaving the best they can. To be consistent it's important that all adults working in school (senior leaders, support staff, midday assistants, teachers, folk in the office and premises colleagues) have a consistent approach, understood deeply so it can be practiced to the high standards we hold ourselves and expect from staff and children in school. We thought about the language we use and how important it is. Like it or not, as any parent knows, children's behaviour isn't as controllable as we'd wish. I increasingly wonder if parents (and school staff) take too much of the credit as well as the blame for how children behave in their homes, the school and community! This isn't to say that children won't fare better in well regulated homes and schools that have clear boundaries, make reasonable adjustments for some and can show tough love when needed. But even in the same family children are all different and they bring themselves to the party! This is why supporting children's personal development and behaviour is the most challenging, frustrating, interesting, rewarding and joyful part of a teacher's profession! I thought it might be useful to share some of our thinking about language with you.

Punishment / sanction - with this, the locus of control, the power lies with the adult. It is always negative, imposed by someone with more power for which you may or may not take choose to responsibility. Children might choose to blame a parent or carer, teacher or a child they've hurt for a punishment they are given. This isn't helpful. When the punishment is over they can harbour resentment towards others, reducing the likelihood of a happier future.

Reward - again, rewards are awarded by someone with power, it's just that they are positive. Children may take responsibility for their part in achieving the reward or make consider it luck or because someone else has played a part.

Intrinsic motivation - when we act because it’s what’s right. It is linked to morality and ethics as well as a child's curiosity and interest. Intrinsically motivated learners are more interested in understanding concepts and making beautiful work than ticks, grades, stars or marks. In terms of personal development, intrinsic motivation is the self esteem we feel when we've been useful and kind. It also includes remorse when we have not. Does someone genuinely remorseful, perhaps even ashamed, someone who has apologised and made amends need another 'punishment' on top? Might it be enough to say sorry, mean it and behave differently in the future?

Some children might not be at a stage when they have developed the empathy or have the self-esteem to feel genuine remorse. Should we ask children to say sorry or, through discussion, see if an apology is what they want and choose to make. If they don't, staff can apologise to any victim for harm suffered and say how they will help to keep them safe. I think this is better than a grudging 'apology' not meant. Sorry is more than a word, it includes future conduct and action. This is why the choice to apologise should rest with the child, not the adult.

Extrinsic motivation - when we do something because we want something (sticker, playtime, certificate). In learning these range from stickers through to certificates and even exam grades grades. Extrinsic sanctions for poor behaviour include lost play time, detentions.

Consequence - whether they like the consequence or not the control is with the child. A consequence of positive behaviour is self esteem (and praise and recognition from people who have noticed), a consequence of negative behaviour is feeling remorse, shame (and a reprimand or restorative discussion with people who have noticed).

What might happen if words like sanction, punishment, prize and reward were replaced by one word, consequence? I wonder if children would begin to understand more deeply that their best behaviour and personal development is a team effort and that enjoying and achieving whether in their learning or relationships has at least as much about what they bring to the table as what the adults and children around them say and do.

Wishing you a thoughtful Thursday! Ms S :-)