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October 2020 Blog

I sat for a long-time planning what to write this month and for hours, in fact, days, what stared back at me was largely a blank page. I went through the calendar, again and again, to see what exciting extracurricular events I had to report on, and there was nothing there. Eventually this morning I went back to last year’s October blog, to see what I had written about. Even though I say it myself, it was a wonderful if poignant read. There had been the trip to the Royal Opera House to watch the beautifully haunting ballet of Manon; the Year 7’s had been to Hastings to re-enact Harold’s demise and William’s victory; the Year 11 triple scientists had enjoyed Operating Theatre Live; other Year 10 and 11 students had been to Chichester Festival Theatre with Mrs Barrick to watch Macbeth; Year 8 students had made a film with Art UK, and finally students from all Year groups had taken part in the Hampshire Book Awards.

Oh for the days before the virus, the days when social distancing was an unheard of phrase, when face masks and visors were worn in operating theatres only, when the rule of 6 would have only been part of a board game and lockdowns something we considered when the scaffolding was wobbly or there was a swarm of bees that we would need to keep the students in their classrooms for, just a little while for safety.

Yes, in many ways it is post-apocalyptic- and I still get overwhelmed, as much in my personal life as in my professional life, by how much life has changed. But here is the thing. As humans, we have the remarkable ability to adapt where there is the will, and we are adapting to the new normal. I know and I accept that I cannot write about the wonderful extra-curricular experiences Crookhorn students have had over the last seven and half weeks, but I can comment on the amazing adaptability of staff and students to the new normal. Throughout these weeks we have worked consistently on our new systems to try and get them to work as effectively as possible. We have revisited and revised our risk assessment continuously and we have sought to be creative in ways that I would never have dreamed possible prior to the virus. To this end, the College successfully reopened and has stayed open. Safety and learning have been our key daily focus, and every day we achieve this is a good day.

Amazingly in my October blog last year, I talked about a resilience conference I had just been on with Mr Lemon, and how much I had liked the wise words of the sports psychologist Michael Caulfield. He talked about resilience coming through walking, eating, sleeping and talking. I found that this simple approach finally made sense to me. I had always had a bit of a pathological avoidance of the word and concept of resilience up to this point, as it has always been much used, but with little advice on how to achieve it. There were four simple ways to address it and so our GO WEST strategy was launched. Well, that was well-timed! GO WEST became the mainstay of our virtual assemblies during lockdown and has been the framework around which we have built our daily PSHE programme and our virtual assemblies over the last half term. If students can learn about the importance of these basics now, then we are helping to create a next-generation that will be able to face the challenges of the future. In my October blog last year, I talked quite extensively about the power of sleep, and as this is an area that has concerned us significantly during lockdown and still now as students struggle to adjust back into routine, I have added what I wrote then and the link to an excellent TED talk on sleep, to the end of this blog just as a reminder of just how important this part of resilience is.

Our work on developing ‘Blended Learning’ which I wrote about extensively in last month’s blog has continued to grow and we are in a very different place at the end of October to where we were at the end of September. As teachers, adapting to this new way of planning and delivering learning continues to be tough. However, the opportunities ‘Blended Learning’ affords are without doubt exciting and will change the way we teach for the better going forward. On a daily and weekly basis, we continue

to learn so much about the capability of ‘itslearning’ in supporting student learning, whilst in College in the face to face dimension and then at home in the remote independent dimension. So, whilst our students might be missing out on their cultural enrichment currently, they are making huge strides with yet another essential life-long skill: that of being able to learn independently.

Not all enrichment activities have been shelved though. Through careful and resourceful planning Mrs Mack was able to organise a virtual mock interview day for all our Year 11 students. Volunteers from over twenty different local businesses; (including representatives from IBM, BAE Systems, Staunton Country Park and Amazon) supported the event, giving students valuable feedback and advice on their CV's and interview techniques via live streams.

I am so proud of the way the students rose to the challenge and presented themselves in a professional and mature manner. Without a doubt their adaptability to the new challenges that face them in our modern world is superb.

Likewise, the post 16 careers fair was transformed into virtual post 16 individual packs for the students, and Mrs Mack is now in the process of following up with each Year 11 student to make sure that the applications to College for post 16 courses are well underway.

Mr Carver and Mr Lemon are also desperate to get underway with some year group based extra-curricular activities after College. Mr Carver is re-launching ‘Run Club’ with two-year groups, whilst the Year 7’s are going to get their first taste of what House competition is all about with a House netball competition for Years 7-10. Details of each event will be posted through our weekly newsletter.

For Year 8’s, where we actually have the highest level of concern with regards to cultural deficit due to the virus, we are starting the Year 8 reading programme for the next half term, where every Year 8 student can bring in a book from home to read at the start of period 5 every day. To make sure that we move away from the standard ‘Diary of a Wimpy Kid’ staple, a booklist of great reads was issued out to all Year 8 parents just prior to half term, to encourage reading that will benefit the growth of the mind, vocabulary and creative thinking.

Likewise, in the last assembly that Mr Collins and I delivered, around making mistakes (part of Open Mind), we focussed on the greatest mistake that continues to be made every day that is going to require significant growth of mindsets, adaptability and creative thinking by all the next generation. This mistake is connected to David Attenborough’s witness statement encapsulated in his latest film: A Life on our Planet, where he explores the frightening demise of planet earth over the last 50-60 years. His apocalyptic predictions of what will happen to the human species unless we change our current patterns of living are a wake-up call to us all specifically if we are to leave a habitable planet for future generations. Finding palatable solutions to the current patterns of living that cause so many problems for the planet will require us to be brave in recognising our mistakes, and not shy away from recognising the extent of the impact that they have. So even though our physical cultural enrichment might be limited there is plenty for our students to be creatively thinking about!

I am finishing this blog as Boris is announcing a new lockdown for England. It is absolutely clear that schools will, of course, remain fully open and, at this moment in time, I have not received any further updates from the Government. I expect we shall receive more information over the next couple of days and I shall provide further updates via parent mail if and when they do arrive. As it is, we are all set to continue with our safety procedures in place for another half term focussed on safety and learning.


Section from the October Blog 2019 on the power of 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 brains 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 waterlogged 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 superpower that will make them stronger and capable of success. And what teenager does not want to be successful? For boys, there is also an important message about what sleep can do to aid your virility - and I am sure that this might also have some buy-in.

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: