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October 2019 Blog

A couple of weeks ago I went to a Resilience conference. There is nothing particularly unusual in this. Resilience conferences have been all the buzz for a while, and I have studiously avoided them like the plague. As with all things, and this happened with the concept of mastery as well, I did not want to engage with the concept of resilience, until I was fairly clear in my own mind, what I was looking for with regards to our College community. 

The last two exam seasons have taught me a lot about what I need resilience to mean for us at Crookhorn, both as far as the students and the staff are concerned. As a result, when I was invited to this particular conference, where the highly regarded sports psychologist Michael Caulfield was the main speaker, I decided it was time to go, with an ‘Open Mind’!

It was the right decision. Michael distilled the lack of resilience down to two things:

  1. Loss of routine
  2. Loss of connection with people (and by this, he was not referring to the very superficial emoji driven cyber communication)

To regain resilience, he had three very simple strategies:

  1. Walk
  2. Talk
  3. Sleep

More than anything, I love a simple strategy and both aspects of his presentation made complete sense to me. The solution has the added benefit of being completely ‘free and available to all!’

When I think of our students, we do normally struggle as we approach holiday time. The students I think go into a state of subconscious panic at the impending loss of routine which College provides and the loss of the daily contact with their friends, which let’s face it when you are a teenager is paramount. What stretches in front is uncertainty each day, as no particular rhythm or routine exists except possibly long mornings in bed, which I am sure are welcome, but then what? Some more organised students may have arranged to meet up with friends, but plans can change at the last minute. For others, there is the prospect of long, lonely afternoons and evenings, without that key opportunity to offload to friends. Family members might surround them but are maybe not the people they will subconsciously choose to offload to.

If we reflect on how resilience dips during term time as well, it can come after friendship fallouts, when a routine of who to sit with at lunchtime and who to walk to College with has to change, and there is the loss of that person with whom physical communication had played an important part.

If the solution is the three steps of walking, talking and sleeping, then as a College, it is our prerogative to now start promoting this within our learning strategy of OPEN MIND. James Collins and I did an assembly to Year 11 just before half term focussing on the ‘walk; talk; sleep’ but to get teenagers to buy into unfashionable concepts such as sleep, we need to have a powerful ‘buy-in’ message. 

To this end, we have started our research around sleep. A member of staff sent me a link to a TED talk, which focuses on the importance of sleep. The talk was given by Matt Walker who is an English Scientist and professor of neuroscience and psychology at the University of California (Americans always seem to take these things much more seriously than we do in England!). Matt Walker and his team have been doing extensive research into the connection between sleep, learning and memory. 

What they have found after conducting various experiments is that there is a 40% deficit in the brain’s capacity to make new memories without sleep. By tracking the activity in the part of the brain called the hippocampus which is responsible for receiving and processing all information into the brain, the scientists found that sleep deprivation almost shuts down the functionality of the Hippocampus. This effectively means that experiences or learning cannot be committed to memory.

Regular deep sleep generates intense brain activity that carries out a sort of ‘file transfer’ if you like, moving information from the short-term memory to long-term memory, making that information or knowledge safe. Without this deep sleep the file transfer process does not happen, and the information in the short term memory gets overwritten quickly with new information coming in.

As a result, it is very clear that we all need sleep after learning, to hit the ‘save’ button and we need sleep before learning, to prepare the brain so it can absorb new information. Without sleep, the brain just becomes water logged and cannot process or save new information. The key point now is to sell this to our teenagers, so they start to see sleep as being their super power that will make them stronger and capable of success. And what teenager does not want to be successful? 

If you are interested in the TED talk, please watch it on this link, the first 5 minutes are particularly relevant to what I have been talking about above:

Aside from finding out about resilience and thinking hard about our strategy going forward with it we have had some tremendous enrichment experiences for the students as well. At the start of October, I was very privileged to accompany Mr Bezant to the Royal Opera House with a group of 45 students to watch the ballet Manon. This ballet is a beautiful and tragic exploration of 18th century France and the extremes it represented in terms of wealth and decadence colliding side by side with deprivation and destitution. The struggle ultimately is between love and wealth and which one at the end of the day holds the greatest richness. Unfortunately, a lesson learnt too late by Manon, as is so often the way. We were privileged to have front seats in the stalls so literally on top of the orchestra and right by the stage. This gave us the wonderful opportunity to really see the expressions and emotions being portrayed by the dancers. Mr Bezant set a follow up piece to this trip of creating a set design for the third act, that represented the essence of the story so far and the dramatic final setting. There have been some excellent pieces returned by the students, as you can see from the example attached at the end of this blog, by Amy W.

On the same day, Mrs Barrick took a group of students to the Chichester Festival Theatre to watch Macbeth as it is one of our GCSE texts. The students were exemplary in their behaviour and many of the other theatregoers commented this on. The interpretation of Macbeth itself was thoroughly enjoyed by the students and staff alike.

A little later in the month and Mrs Masson was off to Hastings with the Year 7s. The students have spent the last 3 weeks investigating the events of 1066 and they were able to use the visit to flesh out their ideas as to why William won the Battle of Hastings. Since their return the students have been working on an assessed written piece on 'Why did William win the Battle of Hastings?' Actually being able to re-enact the battle, and see first-hand the terrain and the weapons that were used, has helped the students tremendously with their evaluative answer.

Our triple science students recently took part in the Operating Theatre Live event.  This looked at both practical and academic activities discovering various structures of human anatomy.  Dissections of the respiratory and cardiovascular systems were performed, which links to the next GCSE module the students will be studying on the organisation of animals.  Booklets were completed during the event, which will then be utilised during this next module.  The ability to see physical evidence for these systems is an excellent learning tool when coupled with written and explanatory work in order to consolidate the understanding of a mammal’s internal structure and function.

In Art, six of Crookhorn's talented artists took centre stage in a film made by Arts UK. The students attended the Portsmouth's Art Museum accompanied by a film crew. Their brief was to be filmed in discussion about a sculpture by Peter Palmer, involving his self-portrait in a full body cast of clay. Our students demonstrated great insight into the artists’ creative processes. They also experienced how to make plaster moulds and clay reliefs and finished with a heated debate about the nature and purpose of art with the Arts UK team. The students now want to make full use of Art Club and have a go at their own full body casts! (This could be expensive and messy!)

For our more literary students there was the annual trip to the Hampshire Book Awards, which they found very inspiring. Paula Rawsthorne, the winning author, did a very interactive and engaging talk as she encouraged the students to discuss their favourite books and genres with her.  She went on to talk about her writing experiences as well as the inspiration behind her winning book "Shell". After the talk, the students had their books signed by Paula as well as having their photograph taken with her.  

Finally, just before half term we were supported by 16 local businesses to run our Mock Interview Day with our year 11 students.  Students had spent six weeks during PSHE lessons preparing for their interviews, focusing on creating their CVs, portfolios and looking at employer expectations.  The preparation paid off when the students arrived on time, looking incredibly smart and gave the interviewers detailed answers to the questions showing their passion and commitment (I think the learning message and their responsibility as the ‘Next Generation’ might be getting through!).  Feedback from the employers was very positive and they all stated what a pleasure it had been to interview our students and to give them feedback containing advice and guidance on interview process.  This day shows our links with the local community and how working together enables the students to realise all of the opportunities available.  We are so grateful to the businesses for supporting this event and naturally very proud of our students as this is a real landmark in the process of getting them ready to fly the Crookhorn nest!

It was an eight-week half term, with so much squeezed in that half term has been a welcome break. We look forward to welcoming the students back at the start of November, for the learning and enrichment that is all planned for the second half term alongside the launch of our resilience campaign! Here is to sleeping, walking and talking; let’s hope our students have done a lot of it over the half-term break.