Ms Stewart and Mrs Rutter-Brown share matters in school and reflect on the national and global events and concerns that impact on the education we provide.
ukraine - no them, only us
On Friday, I spoke at a vigil in the town centre, organised by Northwich Town Council. Political representatives were there including our MP, Mike Amesbury and the Mayor of Northwich, Sam Naylor. There were also representatives of different religious including the Church of England, Catholic, Muslim and Salvation Army communities. I had been asked to go as a member of Humanists UK to represent those without religious faith and consider the matter from the perspective of someone working in a primary school. It was lovely to see Kingsmead families at the vigil and I am sharing what I said with everybody here.
What can a secular perspective offer in times of crisis? What solace and support can we offer to our friends in Ukraine? Not easy. Yet, despite the news, I believe this is a time to reflect on our shared humanity.
One human race.
In our school are families with Ukrainian and Russian heritage, including my own. Every Spring Term our whole school focus is caring for other people. Each Spring we might reflect on the words of MP Jo Cox in her 2015 Maiden speech to parliament, ‘We have more in Common than that which divides us.’ It might be hard to comprehend in wartime. But these are the words I offer you.
War tears us apart. It divides countries, communities, even families. Its tentacles spread far beyond the countries fighting. Alongside newsroom footage of Ukrainians defending their homeland are Russians protesting against the war (at great personal risk). Ukrainians queue for trains alongside students from Africa, Asia and Europe. An American national, living in Ukraine lives in the only house in the street with a cellar. A shelter his family now shares with twelve neighbours. I have seen a report of Ukrainians, under occupation, lending a Russian soldier their phone so he could call family back home. He broke down in tears. The words of Jo Cox ring as true as they did in 2015.
There are no words to soften blows from artillery or to ease the fear of foreign troops. Most children in the UK thankfully have little experience of war. But they do know about bullying. They know that an imbalance of power used to abuse or control another is just wrong. We teach them that it isn’t only the aggressor whose actions fuel bullying. We teach about the problem of standing by; ‘It’s not my friend,’ ‘It’s a country far away’. Because, to be anti-bullying, it isn’t good enough just to not be a bully yourself. We humans are social animals, our characters judged not only by our actions but by what we are prepared to accept, ignore, tolerate or just put up with. Here in school, we teach our children useful and kind responses to meeting aggression peacefully. This isn’t an easy option, we just need to be courageous in different ways. In a school playground, it might be as simple as leaving the security of standing with a friend to stand shoulder to shoulder with their victim. It might be by speaking truth to a bully, stating disapproval, rather as President Macron has done. It can be other peaceful action: not providing a safe place for wealthy supporters of an aggressive, bullying regime, allowing them to store vast wealth, enjoy privileges and benefit from political influence. Whether an adult or child, such action is not without cost. It takes courage and fortitude. You might lose a powerful or popular friend, influence, resources or personal support. This is what our relatives did in the second world war; they endured hardship together, for a peaceful future in Europe. A peace that has, with limited exceptions such as the war in Bosnia, largely, held.
And finally, to friends in Ukraine, if History teaches us anything, it is that however powerful someone seems, however mighty their army, vast their resources, vice like their apparent grip on power, their time will come. Just over 80 years ago it was Nazi Germany who was the bully, marching into European countries, including Ukraine and Russia. Together, with more in common than divided us, alongside allies from Africa, America, Asia and Europe, Britain played a huge, vital part in bringing that regime to an end, ushering in such a long period of relative peace. I learned that in Germany last week, there were more offers of places to stay refugees from Ukraine than refugees arriving in their country.
All things pass.
There is no them, only us.
Love and compassion are necessities, not luxuries. Without them, humanity cannot survive
Some parents and carers might have received a Valentine's Day card from your child this morning. There's word for that - 'storge' (pronounced stor-ghee and coming from the ancient Greek word στοργή).
I wonder whether the children know something we adults might have forgotten in the red hearts, fizz and fluff of modern St Valentine's Days? That the fluttery love of Cupid with his bow and arrows is only one small part of love. The Greeks had four main types of love and children are learning about these in assembly.
Storge - is family love. Whether in a birth family, step family or adoptive family this is love not between people who have chosen one another but from closeness and familiarity, intimacy and the sharing of daily life.
Philia (fil-ee-ah) - the love between friends. Plato prized this love above all. It is a deep love based in trust and unconditional regard. It is free from possessiveness or jealousy, where friends are valued, faults and all, for who they are. It comes from a place of deep trust for the other and the sharing of confidences, interests, fears and ideas, free from worry about judgement, ridicule or that the confidence will be betrayed.
Eros - romantic love. The fluttery love that as we grow we feel for another person; it is full of excitement and passion. Today's assembly was about romantic love where Frog falls in love with Duck - 'A frog and a duck. Green and white. Love knows no boundaries.'
Agape (pronounced ag-ap-ay) - the love of things. By this the Ancient Greeks didn't mean possessions or stuff but enjoyment, fascination and fulfilment. People of faith love their God, religion, its beliefs and practices. People can love music, poetry or art so that it moves them to tears. We love authors, sports, activities, certain food, a colour. The love of nature, the natural world, for animals and plants is agape. Agape is the love that children were invited to make a green heart for. It is thought to be key to human happiness, our wellbeing and mental health.
Today's St Valentine's Day assembly introduces the children to these four very important Ancient Greek words and we will reflect on them some more throughout the week. The Greeks held that for a relationship with that 'significant other' to be lasting and deep, all have to be present and that relationships based only in Eros will not stand the test of time. This is why, in school, when teaching Relationships and Sex education, it is the relationships bit (the honesty, kindness, trust, caring and respect) that comes first and foremost.
Of interest to adults and to be shared with the older children this week is a fifth love: Mania. For the Ancient Greeks this more obsessive love is a madness and is where the word manic comes from. It is linked to the other four types of love but is harmful. When people love a person in a manic way, (eros or philia) they want to possess them, own and control them. This is when relationships exclude others and become over reliant and unhealthy. Mania is also linked to agape and addiction. Whether a friend or a thing, mania is not good for anyone.
I will be sharing this thought with the Key Stage 2 children this week, hoping it might make them reflect on some friendship issues that can crop up from time to time, to say nothing of the time spent on phones and devices!
Happy Valentines Day - I wish you all some love this week, in whichever form it visits you!
ST VALENTINE'S DAY
PART 1 - An invitation for everybody to make a green heart to show the love.
We are well into our Spring term focus on caring for other people. Valentine's Day can be fun but it can also leave people feeling left out. We have been thinking of the importance of everybody in school so over the next couple of weeks we are inviting every child and family to join us in the campaign to Show the Love by making a green heart. The idea is that we make a green heart to send, through the post, via social media or email to our elected representatives in parliament.
Children can feel overwhelmed by the world's problems and an effective way of teaching about difficult issues (which climate change certainly is) is to encourage their participation, by taking action and participating in our world, we not only help make it better but it also helps our own wellbeing. From feeling too small to make a difference, coming together in a school, town, country and making a big statement can get voices heard.
By law schools must promote fundamental British values. These include respect and tolerance of people with different beliefs to our own. It includes respect for everyone in the UK, in line with the Equality Act this means regardless of age, sex or gender, religion or ethnic group. Respect for the rule of law (which in school includes our rules and policies) and understanding democracy are also fundamental British values.
Democracy is an interesting one in the primary school. Children might vote for games and things in class and we vote for our Eco councillors in school (we even participated in an election back in 2016 and had our own ballot). However, even our oldest children are seven years off voting age and it can all feel a bit irrelevant. But children share many of our adult hopes, aspirations, anxieties and concerns and although not everyone can vote but we can all participate and we can have our voices heard. Assembly today encourages children to come together and share messages about climate change with our MP, Mike Amesbury. Assembly makes no mention of political parties as primary school is not the place for this. Children learn that they have a representative in Parliament called Mike. He is there not only to represent the interests of those who voted for him but, once elected, is there to serve everyone in Weaver Vale, including children too young to vote.
I have to say, sitting indoors listening to the February weather howling outside I was happy to spend few hours making a green heart asking my MP to make the future that our children will inherit a priority in his work. I felt that I had participated a little and hope that my work today might become a small part of a much larger and more important voice, from the children and families at our school asking our MP to share our love for our home planet.
Happy Valentines Day Part 1!
Ms S :-)
27th January is Holocaust Memorial Day and we are mindful of this important day in the international calendar through our thinking this week. Since the school opened in 2004, governors have asked that we do not shy away from controversial issues but rather to teach about them in age-appropriate ways.
The Holocaust Memorial Day (HMD) Trust do not recommend marking the day specifically with children younger than 8 and so the day will be taught about and the holocaust specifically mentioned only with children in Key Stage 2, through two phase assemblies and a folder of reading material I selected from the HMD Trust website. I chose stories appropriate for our older children and also because they reflect our own school community with British, European Jewish, Muslim and Sinta (Romani Gypsy) stories included. Children in upper key stage 2 studied War and Peace last term and so can think more deeply. The learning will be more general for years 3 and 4.
Thinking will begin with a story in a recorded assembly 'Along Came a Different.' This simple story reflects children's tendency to like people to be like them and, through daft rules for different colours (the reds, blues and yellows) challenges this sort of thinking with gentle humour. That is more than enough for the very youngest children. In KS1 assembly we will build on this thinking and Wednesday's word, prejudice will explore the idea of pre-judging anyone for a superficial difference and rather, remembering that we are one human race, one human family. There will be no reference to the Holocaust.
Lower Key Stage 2 children will learn that sometimes people have been hurt for just being different and there is a day every year, 27th January, this Thursday, when we remember people who've been hurt by more powerful groups, just because of a difference that a they don't like. The oldest children will learn about what genocide means - the intention of a powerful force (government, militia, or army) to eradicate an entire group of people because of some difference. This might be religious, as in the case of the Jewish holocaust or the Serbian attacks on Bosnian Muslims. It can also be tribal, as in the case of Hutus and Tutsis in Rwanda.
Why is it important that children learn about and we remember such a terrible event as the Holocaust? Well, as Maya Angelou said
History, despite its wrenching pain, cannot be unlived, however, if faced with courage, need not be faced again.'
I'm with Maya Angelou that History is less important as a subject where we celebrate and glorify our past but one that has great importance for our future. When History offers events - however terrible - to reflect on, to learn from, it lights a candle on the future. Historical facts are what they are, but the facts of the future are ours, and our children's to make.
And so everyone in school (whether they hear the word 'holocaust' or not), will be encouraged to connect their thinking from the assemblies, tunes, words and stories this week to caring for and about other people. We hope every child will connect our SMSC (social moral, spiritual and cultural) curriculum, taught through our five routines, to our guiding principle of to having no outsiders at Kingsmead; to our commitment to the value of everybody and our responsibility to be useful and kind - unlimited.
Catriona Stewart :-)
to be safe and feel safe
Our right, our responsibility and the importance of telling.
Assembly today shares with children the idea that, while one human race with much in common, we are also all different. Things that bother one person and make them feel anxious and afraid might be water off a duck's back to another.
Assembly reflected on things like loud classrooms and rough play. No one is harmed by a calm quiet classroom but for some children (and adults) high noise levels become harmful in terms of anxiety and stress. Therefore it is useful and kind to expect children (and adults) to use inside voices and keep noise levels low. Some children are unbothered by rough play but many are bothered and feel excluded or threatened when play becomes too physical. Therefore it is useful and kind to keep any rough play in the family and out of school. No one is harmed by its absence but all children benefit. Those who enjoy physical games benefit too, from not being in trouble if someone is hurt or upset by their exuberance.
Today's assembly developed thinking from last week's, in that a school is not a family in the sense of 2-6 people or so living in one household. We are over 350 people in one shared community. Our community is a loving one. It is our guiding principle that school should be a place that offers a warm welcome - unlimited, values everybody and has unconditional regard for all. We care deeply for each and every child's development: academic, creative, emotional, physical and social. We have high aspirations and expectations for all to become the useful and kind young people we know they can be. Useful and kind to themselves and their own aspirations and, as we are thinking about this term, to other people - unlimited.
Children were asked to reflect on their right to be safe and feel safe and the rights of others to be safe and feel safe around them. Assembly finished with a very important ask of the children - to think of an adult in school (and another in case their first choice was unavailable) who they could go to for help.
On behalf of all the adults working in school I made the children a promise that we will do all we can to keep them safe. But we can only do this when we know. Children rarely say or do unsafe or hurtful things when they see an adult is watching and so we rely on children to tell us things we don't see and which they have been unable to sort out for themselves. Parents and carers can help us at home by asking children who in school they would go to if they were experiencing bullying or other unkind behaviour, or if they saw this happening to someone else.
It is vital that children tell adults in school rather than wait to tell adults at home. Things then can be dealt with as soon as possible after they happen. All voices can be heard and restorative conversations can send everyone home happy, or at least of the view that things have been fair. By the time children get home, stories may have evolved and changed; children may have genuinely forgotten all about what happened yesterday. Children live in the moment and it is much harder to get the accurate picture which enables us to help and support children most effectively when they have gone home without us knowing about something important enough to have upset them.
Everyone benefits from a safe school where things are in the open and dealt with. Children who might be victims of unkindness are protected and children at risk from developing anti-social behaviour can be protected too, can learn more useful and kind ways and be the best person they can be. Our children's characters are not yet formed. They hear things, see things and sometimes try them out - for good or ill.
It is because our children's characters are yet to be formed (mid-twenties, psychologists suggest) that I can say with confidence that we don't have bullies in school. We don't have racists, sexists or any other 'ists'. This does not mean we don't have incidents of bullying (we do). And from time to time we hear about sexist, racist or homophobic language or behaviour. Our restorative approach supports victims and perpetrators and has the interests of both at heart. When children tell and when the unacceptable is challenged, everyone's a winner.
Happy Monday ;-)
house rules and school rules
A shared ethos and shared values between home and school help every child. We hope that being useful, kind and ready to learn, caring for ourselves, others and the environment are valued shared with all families. Even so, the details of expectations in home and school must be different. Because being in a family and school community are not the same.
We humans are a social species and in the Spring term, our focus on caring for other people has many connections to the self-caring taught last term. As in every term, we consider children’s rights. First our fundamental human rights, for everyone, unlimited. Of course human rights cannot be enjoyed unlimited and by everybody unless each of us pay good attention to our individual and collective responsibilities – to ourselves, to others and to our world.
One of the biggest challenges schools are speaking about, post lockdowns, is pupil behaviour. Children’s ability to self-regulate, accept consequences for their actions and tolerate the differences of others or differences to life at home have been tested. Although children have been at school for the vast majority of time over the past two years, usual life has been more restricted. Experience has been more alongside immediate family (folk who eat, think and enjoy the things like them). It should not come as a shock that their tolerance for those who are different is now more tested. None of us respect what we don’t understand and it’s hard to understand what you don’t understand, what you haven't learned.
'House rules' for our children are very different from home to home. This is neither good nor bad but mostly interesting and would only be a cause for concern if a child’s welfare were at risk. We support the principle of ‘good enough’ parenting being what all children need to thrive. Good enough parenting is a very wide umbrella, people’s taste and acceptance can be very different while all good enough for their children to thrive.
In school we make the boundaries to fit wider society and all of the children thriving with the great variety of good enough parents at home. Therefore the boundaries and rules here in school have to be different. Just because we are expecting something in school that parents or carers don’t expect at home does not make us picky or silly. Just because parents and carers do not expect something as we do in school, does not mean they are not a good parent.
Happy family life can include rough and tumble. Jokes, laughing at one another with love, poking, tickling and play fighting can bond families together, providing ways of living well, up close and personal in a small group. Schools and classrooms are different. We are not together in one household. We have larger groups and here in school the rough and tumble, jokes and ‘banter’ that might well be fun in families can too easily leave children feeling they are outsiders. Jokes can turn to be at not with, rough and tumble can be used to cement your place at the top of a group rather than within it.
We are expecting all children to be useful and kind, unlimited. This means that ‘banter’ (unkind names as a ‘joke’), rough play and any fighting cannot be accepted in school. This includes the playground where rough play and fighting will be noticed, challenged and stopped. If children choose to continue with rough play, unkind words or fighting there will be consequences for the benefit of them and others. We also expect all children to be ready (and able) to learn – unlimited. This means that no poor behaviour is considered ‘low level’ and children will not be permitted to disrupt the learning and achievement of others.
In the world, who we are and how we are has consequences, some good, some less welcome. We all have to adapt and modify our conduct in different places and an important part of caring for others and ourselves, is learning to do this. In work, on a train, in shops and in the classroom, people who can modify their at home behaviour will develop the pro-social behaviour they need to make relationships with others outside the family and to thrive outside the home. We need our classrooms to bond but it is not the same as bonds at home. We hope every child enjoys unconditional love in their home – that love which is there even as their parents are utterly mortified over what their offspring has just done or said! Out in the wider world though, our actions and words towards others will affect the affection, friendship and respect we receive.
Ms S :-)