HT blog 2017.6

The blog this time is written by the newest member of SLT, Assistant Head Mr Pooley, and focuses on our ability to impact our own wellbeing

 

I am writing this blog after a fun-packed family half term. It was refreshing to spend time with my family, enjoy days out and watch my two young sons growing up fast. Taking time to connect and be active as a family is an important aspect of improving wellbeing. It got me thinking of the people and experiences that have impacted me and how thankful I am to be have been given so many opportunities throughout my life.

As a student I attended The Bishop’s Stortford High School and, similarly to our students, I was given many opportunities outside of the classroom. We are blessed as a school to have such a wide variety of extra-curricular opportunities and my advice to our students is take them, do not wait and regret not getting involved. This term there are sports clubs / fixtures, music events, house plays and many more activities to get involved in.

Before half term I ran a session for new staff on the ‘Five ways to wellbeing’ and we focused on the theme of giving, and how showing gratitude can increase your happiness. How often do we show gratitude? I started to reflect upon the support I have received in my new role this term, both at home and from colleagues at school. Simon Balle really does have a fantastic community spirit and people are so supportive of one another. It is important all of us take time to show appreciation to people that have influenced us or helped us.

With the increased pressure on our students it is important to get the balance right and ensure they are given the right support both at home and in school. Be proactive in improving your own wellbeing and focus on the five strands:

 

Connect with others

Give

Be Active

Take Notice

Keep Learning

 

My final message to you all (that I need to remind myself of when busy at work), is to make time to be active and connect by spending precious time with family and friends.

HT blog 2017.5

Mrs Saunders gets the blog ball rolling this academic year with more on her thoughts on ‘home’.

I think this is an excellent opportunity to share with a wider audience those thoughts and messages I have shared with students, staff, Governors and our visitors on Open Day.

So, the thing that kept coming back to me all over the summer was the importance of a good home. I watched and heard on the news many stories about the partition of India and how so many people were immediately displaced back in 1947. Tales of how now elderly folk, although not having returned, spoke of “home” despite living in the UK for many years. I heard the phrase-“Home is where you belong” and this got me thinking!

A student had emailed me in the summer term (they do!) thanking me for the wonderful school and opportunities Simon Balle gives to her and her friends. She spoke of “more than a school, a home”.  And indeed it is the deep sense of community, respect, commitment and family we daily endeavor to foster.

One of our younger children thanked me for “always speaking with her when I visited her class, despite being so busy and amazing running the whole school”.

Our children tell us that school is a safe place and they spend many hours here, often more than at home! They like the routines we establish, the rules we have, the values we promote and the relationships we form. This is part of our success as a school.

Already this term we have had some important “family” events which will lay those important foundations and create shared memories for the rest of this academic year. The “Open Morning” was a huge success and we have received so many emails not just from the day but from the guided tours from students this past week.

This was followed by the “School Fun Run” where we all watched our youngest children enjoying the festival environment alongside the most senior students. As I write, our second group of year 7s are at Phasel’s Wood camping and Emily Robinson and her team of staff could not speak highly enough of the first group and again that deep sense of community.

Earlier this week was our first ever Harvest Festival at All Saints Church. Our primary-aged children presented gifts and sung to their parents, prepared by Nancy Iles and Rachel Southall. Parents also enjoyed hearing senior students performing musical interludes.

These events are so important, special family times. However everyone knows it is the day to day which is equally important.That sense of identity and community needs to be lived out in every classroom, every lesson and every conversation.

And that reminds me- today is the “Golden Lunch” at Hertford Baptist Church for local senior citizens… beliefs in action!

HT blog 2017.4

Our blog series returns once more to Mrs Saunders – who writes of springtime and restlessness….

Everywhere you look, you are reminded of Spring! Not summer- yet- but Spring. As I write it is the “Spring Bank Holiday”, not Whitsun anymore (actually it is next Sunday), so Spring. Despite travelling a lot, both in the UK and farther afield, I am always reminded of how even in Hertfordshire you can feel as if you are “in the middle of rural England”. We are so fortunate to have so many green spaces, woods and countryside around us. Even at Simon Balle our campus should be seen as a “gift”. Indeed after the school was built in 1956, it appeared in an architectural magazine in an article titled “A glass palace set in parkland- a new school, Simon Balle”.

Schools can often be bleak places and I am reminded of the Victorian schools in London, often with high gates and a few concrete yards. It is therefore a pleasure to see how much our students of all ages enjoy our grounds; the numerous sporting activities, welly walks with reception children and the wonderful creative play areas in our Larch Centre. This is why this “birthday” year we are using all funds raised to enhance theses outdoor areas. Indeed we are often reminded of the link between wellbeing and being outdoors.

I have recently got a “magic” watch which seems to tell me everything- when I need to move, how many steps I have taken, my heart beat, how long my drive to Hertford will take each morning, and even when I go wrong on my orienteering course. On the plus side, it is keeping me even more active. I was once described as a “restless soul” both in terms of never sitting still and always thinking about something. A blessing and a curse! However some degree of restlessness is what we want for all of our students. We need them to leave their “digital devices” and go out and value the countryside, to have new ideas and to be creative.

I am writing this as I look out over Buckinghamshire fields; the Jacob sheep are outside my window and from the other side of the house I can see a beautiful meadow of wild flowers. Bliss- and I even have wi-fi!

HT blog 2017.3

This time the blog is written by Assistant Headteacher Yvonne Adshead……

 

First Impressions – Lasting Impressions

I am writing this blog as we approach the end of the Easter holidays. During the break I have been fortunate enough to spend time in Barbados where my son has been playing cricket. This was my first time in the Caribbean and had it not been for my son, probably somewhere we would not have considered for a holiday. I am in no doubt now that we will return one day as our lasting impression of the people, the culture, the sea and beaches and of course the food and drink is so favourable.
HT blog YAMy first impression of Barbados was formed during the drive from the airport to the hotel. It appeared to be of an island of extremes – extreme poverty and extreme affluence, but I deliberately listed the people first in my lasting impressions earlier as they are, as we approach the end of our trip, my strongest memories. Throughout my stay I was privileged to meet many locals, usually at the cricket grounds, who gave me a real insight into the culture. The Bajan people were so generous with their hospitality and their time and, as is often the case, those who had the least were frequently the most generous. To get to the cricket grounds everyone took the “Reggae” buses, an experience not for the faint hearted. I recall one particular occasion, but there were others very similar, when we asked a gentleman if he could advise us where to catch the next bus. Rather than telling us how to get there he immediately walked us across town, a good 15 minute walk, to the next bus terminal. On the way we chatted to him about his work and family. He said he had just finished a 12 hour shift and was on his way home. I assumed he needed to catch a bus from the terminal but when we reached our destination he said that he needed to catch a different bus from the terminal that was 20 minutes in the opposite direction to the one he had just walked with us. We were embarrassed and yet so grateful that he had walked so far out of his way that we offered to get him a taxi home. He insisted it was “no problem” and set off in the opposite direction. We met so many people during our stay who were exactly the same and these first impressions of the Bajan people have left a lasting impression on me.

I later began to reflect further on the whole notion of the importance of first impressions. What are the first impressions people have of Simon Balle as they drive in to the carpark, as they enter reception, as they meet the staff and students and see our learning environment? This trip has reminded me so much of the importance of first impressions and how they become part of our lasting impressions of someone or somewhere. So what will this mean for me this term? I am going to make a conscious effort to find time to talk with our visitors, new parents and students, at the Year 7 intake events and the Year 12 Induction days, to find out what their first impressions are of our school. I also want to speak to those who are shortly to embark on employment, apprenticeships, and university courses about how important it is to make the right first impression as this is when so many judgements are formed and it is important to ensure that the first and lasting impressions are positive and the right impression that you want to create.

HT blog 2017.2

This time the blog returns to Alison Saunders.  She writes (during half term) about the benefits of wellbeing and the importance of sleep:

 

So it is half term; half way through this academic year. Of course this whole notion is one obviously only associated with school children, teachers and parents. Not people with “real jobs” or so they say. However working in a school is intense and sometimes I wish we as teachers, worked less hours a week and had less holidays. I know this is not a popular thought! However here I am on half term and enjoying the change of pace. In fact, my husband was most fortunate again to be awarded a scholarship to return to Los Angeles to study, so I am in warmer climes working and sightseeing.

AJS2I have always been naturally curious, some say nosey! Not the curiosity that wants to know how things work and this then tends to involve a lot of dismantling items. (My mother in law tells me that was my husband as a child and this led to all sorts of incidents)! No, I am more of the books, travel and outdoors type. So half term is an ideal way to satisfy this curiosity albeit at home or away.   And so we talk about re-charging our batteries. Wellbeing is on everyone’s lips and you can imagine there is a large industry associated with this here in California, from juice and whole food bars to gyms, and yoga tights (yes, all very casual dress). However what delights in being able to swim in the sea, ski in the mountains and trek in the desert, all in one state, at the same time of year!

Lucy Parsons, the author of “The ten step guide to acing every exam you ever take” writes about how wellbeing is key when taking exams. She speaks of students needing a “strong foundation”:

  • A decent amount of sleep every night
  • Nutritious food
  • Regular exercise
  • Time to relax and re-charge

 

She says:

I’ve heard of students falling asleep at 2am with the television on in their bedrooms and waking up a handful of hours later with the television still on. I’ve heard of Year 10 pupils who never get more than six hours sleep in a night. What makes me incredibly sad is that these teachers, who pour their hearts and souls into helping these children get the grades they’re predicted, are fighting a losing battle.

I would suggest that we start to educate students about the importance of sleep, how much they should be getting and how to cultivate healthy sleep habits. However, young people can only do so much without the support of their parents. So, schools should be setting clear expectations about what a healthy lifestyle looks like outside school, in order to support the learning that goes on inside school.”

Wellbeing is not something that others do to you- we emphasise in school that it is about taking responsibility for yourself. Young people however need good role models; they need parents and teachers who not only take those four things seriously but also can explain why they are so important to adhere to, for a happy successful healthy life.

Indeed, life for so many people is stressful and challenging. However, we cannot avoid stress nor should we choose the easy way. It is how we cope with life and enjoy it, which makes the difference. Be curious, keep learning, follow your passion, eat well and get good sleep. Hopefully I am now re-charged and ready for the time ahead!

HT blog 2017.1

For the first HT blog of 2017 Assistant Headteacher Ian Finch ponders resolutions….

As I sit and write this, I have left-over festive food in my fridge and Christmas specials still on my TV planner. I celebrated the arrival of 2017 like many others; we were in the company of friends, in their house, watching the BBC show the spectacular London Firework display. We started talking about what we wanted to achieve in 2017.

IF-blogThe next morning we left for home and heard members of the public call up the radio station declaring their New Year’s resolutions. They all had one thing in common: putting right what hadn’t been done the year before. All were correcting previous poor decisions, generally relating to both fitness and time management.

It struck me that we constantly use New Year to make resolutions, yet how many are actually kept to? I think it is a shame we wait until January 1st to make decisions concerning key topics that affect both adults and youngsters throughout the year, particularly our physical and mental well-being.

I don’t set new year’s resolutions. I respect those that choose to, and those who meet their targets; however my resolutions are set continuously throughout each year. Like any decision-making process, I try to make, and encourage, the right decisions each time. This ‘resolution’-making process occurs throughout the academic year: Year 7 students making informed decisions about their learning; Year 8s making decisions about their motto of being ‘the best they can be’; Year 9s and 11s making key decisions about their future subjects, whilst Year 10 students are already looking at career pathways. Sixth-Form students independently make decisions constantly about their own time management. However, it doesn’t just start at the secondary stage; the Larch Centre staff are constantly reinforcing positive behaviour, encouraging Year 1 and Reception students to make to make the correct decision first time around.

These key decisions or even ongoing resolutions are part of a student’s journey to improve their physical and mental well-being as well as improve their attainment. Our community always looks out for the well-being of students through pastoral care and our formal assembly programme. One would hope that our students would not feel it necessary to make large resolutions at the start of 2017, but, instead, plenty of short-term goals to fulfil and surpass their aspirations.

As I stated earlier, I do not have a resolution for 2017, but I do have plenty of short term goals. I will make sure that these are met but not at the detriment of my own well-being….. Perhaps that could be my New Year’s resolution!

Happy New Year and good luck with all your goals, whatever form they are in!

 

HT blog 2016.8

The final SLT blog of 2016 is written, fittingly, by Assisstant Headteacher Andrew Grantham who is coming towards the end of his final term at Simon Balle…..

ARG SLT blog

….It’s time for me to come out.  I am a Christmas person, a fan of this time of year.  I like the run-up to Christmas, the Christmas songs, the decorations and lights, the time with family and the overall message that this being the “season of goodwill” entails.  I have to admit that I sometimes find it hard to understand those, some very close to me, who are adamantly not Christmas people.   I just don’t get it!

I think I also like this time of year because, above all other times, it seems natural to look backwards and forwards, to reflect upon times gone by and hope for the future.  I feel it particularly keenly this year as I come to the end of my time teaching at Simon Balle and move on to pastures new.   After more than 23 years, I can say with certainty that I have been lucky to teach in such a good school and that students get a good deal when they become members of the SBS community.  As an Assistant Headteacher with responsibility for assessment and data, it is fabulous to see the hard work of students who sat their exams in 2016 rewarded and the school being second in the county and well inside the top ten per cent nationally for progress they achieved.  (In fact recent official publications suggest we were in the top three per cent).  That is the looking back part and now it’s about looking forward to ensure that the next cohort of students in Years 11 and 13 achieve as well.

Looking back also makes you sometimes a little sad or worried.  I do not know what is likely to come from the rise of populist movements around the western world, but there are signs that we all need to be vigilant; prepared to speak out when intolerance and bigotry seems to become just that little bit more acceptable because of what some politicians say and the way they say it.  There are many reasons, completely understandable, why some people feel the need to give the establishment ‘a kick’.  People who feel excluded from the benefits of modern society and fearful for their futures are looking for an alternative, but sometimes this creates room for darker and more unpleasant passions to rise.

In a previous blog I talked about the importance of teaching students about politics in schools and giving them the opportunity to discuss issues and take part in events.  This is important to help them to be active and engaged citizens, confident in themselves, their place in society and the role they can play.  Events have certainly reinforced that belief in me.  Also, it has demonstrated to us the importance of developing tolerance and kindness in our young people and of diversity in society.  The acceptance of ‘difference’ is something that can strengthen our community and need not be seen as a threat.  Staff and students at Simon Balle together create a community that is caring, tolerant and outward looking; where passionate debate can occur, but in an atmosphere of safety and mutual respect.

I hope that 2017 will be a year to remember for all the right reasons and I wish all of our students and their families a very Happy Christmas and New Year.  Each year, as students leave and move on to the next stage in their life and learning, I know that they are well prepared and that the school lives up to its tag line of “creating tomorrow’s citizens today”.  When I meet ex-students and hear all about what they are doing and the lives they are leading, this is reinforced even more.  My next school has a lot to live up to!

HT blog 2016.7

The first HT (SLT) blog of this academic year has been written by School Manager Madeleine Harman.  She discusses ‘Determination, Resilience…….and Sequins!’

 

HTblog MHAs the evenings start to become darker earlier you know that programmes like ‘The Great British Bake Off’ and ‘Strictly come Dancing’ are in full flow and will take us nearly to the festive season. Everyone has their preference but as I am definitely not a baker I confess I am hooked on Strictly. I love the music, the props, the sequins but most of all the dancing, which this year has been of a very high standard. Having watched it since Series One I now consider myself a knowledgeable armchair judge and know a samba from a rumba. Nor do I confuse the merangue with a meringue. But it is it difficult to spot some of the very technical footwork like the famous reverse fleckerl or the spin turn.

However, more importantly, I truly admire the determination and resilience of the dancers, both the professionals and the celebrities. They inspire with their hours of exhausting training and the way they continually strive to reach perfection and learn from their mistakes. Some put their trust in their professional partners and are willing to take a risk with the choreography even although it might impact negatively on the judge’s scores (especially the head judge). Many of the celebrities still have to fit in their ‘day job’ so their time management and organisational skills have to be excellent.

As the better dancers progress through the series their fitness levels improve along with their stamina and many realise that they can dance, act and interpret music to almost a professional standard.

Reading this through I realise how similar the celebrity dancers are to our students as they share many of the same qualities. We want all our students to be resilient, determined, learn from their mistakes and be willing, on occasions, to take a risk. We also want them to be fit and have staying power. They should have a thirst and an appreciation for learning – they may not all be ‘Strictly’ fans but they should be learning fans.

Keep on dancing – keep on learning!

HT blog 2016.6

AJS2As we approach the end of this academic year it is time to reflect and plan ahead.  Of course it is a truism (as we all know) to comment upon ‘how time flies’ not only when you are enjoying yourself but as you get older.  Inevitable:  one year to our reception children is just over a quarter of their entire lives.  One year to a more ‘senior’ person like me is – well – ‘nowt but a blinking of an eye’.

In fact I hesitate when asked how long I have been Headteacher here at Simon Balle.  Not because I cannot remember – I can.   Because I simply cannot believe it and the words make little sense as I say, ‘since 1997, so 19 years’.  That first Christmas my Head of Maths (Mr Klippel) brought his newly-born son into the assembly.  Now Andrew has taken his A levels and is waiting for his results!

So, as usual so many things mark out this year – competitions won, lessons visited, mixed extravaganzas, Phasels Wood ‘glamping’ …and more …and more.  However, as we in September 2016 begin to think of the 60 years of the school (although not officially named as Simon Balle until September 1967) the biggest and greatest thing must be the admission of our reception classes.

It has been a real privilege to see them grow both physically, socially and intellectually.  They lap up knowledge and skills.  Their enthusiasm and command of many Spanish words and phrases seems to me to be extraordinary.  Their imaginations run riot as they create and learn, putting me into my place when I ‘checked  in’ at the airport but didn’t write my full name!  They are an inspiration – just as our sixth form students are and indeed, let’s be honest many, many of our students.

Recently I read another Headteacher’s blog (the school I visited in Los Angeles) and he spoke of his ‘bookends’ – going from spending time with the very youngest and then joining with those older students.  This is the real joy of ‘all-through’ as we discover who these individuals are as they start their educational journey to when they leave us, prepared to encounter the wider world as confident individuals and wonderful people.  People who have made a difference within our community and ready to make real difference in the wider area.

What more could we want?  When we are facing a recruitment crisis in teaching and when colleagues of mine at good schools simply cannot find teachers, let’s promote teaching and the difference a good teacher makes.

In a world of so much uncertainty and upheaval let’s stand together as a community and shape our futures.  Finally, let’s hope the sun shines on Saturday 2nd July when we hope to really ‘rock the park’ with contributions from right across our wonderful school community!

 

HT blog 2016.5

This month’s guest editor is Assistant Headteacher Rob Klippel.  He discusses below preparation, planning and the timetable jigsaw.

The final blog of the academic year will be written in July by Mrs Saunders.

 

A very busy time of year!

Klippel RobAs we start the last half term of the academic year my role enters a time of activity that I particularly enjoy. Just like planning for a holiday makes the anticipation of travelling all the more exciting, the preparation for public exams and organising the curriculum for next year means that I see these plans come to fruition over the next few weeks.

We know that exams are a stressful time and guiding students through this process helps make the journey more manageable. At Simon Balle we believe that we need to give more autonomy to the individual in planning their revision time. An exam timetable interleaved with revision sessions continues to run with each student identifying the best use of time for themselves. It was pleasing to see more than half of Year 11 take up the opportunity of Maths revision in half term and I know sessions in other subjects were equally well attended. This willingness of staff to give up their time so readily is one of the greatest attributes of the school and is always appreciated by the students and their parents.

Another area that consumes my time at present is putting together next year’s timetable, something that takes around six weeks to put together once started but requires meticulous preparation for the preceding six months. This daunting task is really just like a giant jigsaw puzzle that needs to be solved by matching up teachers, groups of students and rooms for every year group. Every year we have a different set of subjects chosen by sixth form and Year 10 students along with an alternative combination of teachers that need to be fitted together to allow the school to run smoothly. I am often asked why we can’t just run the same timetable year after year; of course just like that jigsaw puzzle, if you change just a few of the pieces, you find it doesn’t fit back together so a new arrangement has to be used.

When I am asked what we do well at Simon Balle I often reply that it is the preparation of students for their next stage of education whatever and whenever that may be. Over the past year I have been looking into progression for students into apprenticeships as that becomes a more likely pathway along with sixth form, college or employment. In my discussions with current apprentices and their employers it is obvious the ‘softer’ skills required i.e. what someone can offer beyond their academic qualifications, is a key area for success. Our role within the school is to ensure that students have the opportunities to gain experience and access these skills as well as helping them strive for qualifications at levels that stretch them academically. When visitors are taken on a tour of the school by students we are often complemented on their ability to engage and give a rounded picture of the school. To me, this is a great endorsement of the student’s ability to acquire these ‘softer skills’.

Our sixth form is a wonderful place to study and since last September I, along with Mr Preshous, have been planning changes to the curriculum offered at level 3 to give as many students as possible the opportunity to be a part of the sixth form team. We have introduced Health and Social Care along with BTEC Sport for next year to widen the range of technical and practical subjects on offer. Already I have started to look at what else we might offer for the following year as by November at our sixth form evening, students from our current year ten and many from other schools will be reviewing our curriculum offer. It is strange how we have to look so far ahead at times, at Easter this year we needed to plan the start and end dates for holidays in the 2017-18 academic year!

So at this busy time my job could be stressful just like students preparing for exams. However, planning for success means that you look ahead and foresee potential issues before they happen; if they do, you will know how to cope with them!