Previous Term's Newsletters
5th March 2021
The value of the month (March 2021) at BJAB is tolerance. In assemblies with the children the concept of tolerance has been explained mostly in terms of respect: to be tolerant means showing respect for opinions and ideologies of other people and groups. Whilst one can appreciate and understand the need for the age-appropriate simplicity of this definition, as I was correctly reminded this week, it does not reveal the whole story. To leave the explanation of tolerance only as an act of respect, may suggest it is rather a passive occupation. Respect for others, their opinions and ideologies at a basic and non-intrusive level does not always mean we have to understand or engage at a deeper level. We may consider ourselves to be thoroughly modern and ‘woke’ ( to use the current expression) if we simply recognise, acknowledge, even apply a label to, the existence of this diversity but, in actual fact, carry on as usual. We could, by taking this attitude, remain confined and restricted in our own silo of culture, religion, outlook, thought and practice but still convince ourselves we were tolerant of others.
The guidance for teachers I am giving in the follow up to the introduction of the value of tolerance, is that we use it as a springboard for intellectual enquiry, for exploring freedom of thought and an exercise in reinforcing another of our core values, kindness. Tolerance, with this approach, becomes an active learning exercise to understand through reading, discussion and critical thought how and why the world is as it is.
The benefit of values education in a school community is that, especially with the example of tolerance, the focus is not only on the individual. All personal learning journeys are different and to inspire one pupil to express a deeper understanding of another creed or culture is a worthwhile and joyous thing. But individuals make up communities and our community at BJAB contributes to society as a whole. The real gain and impact is in the accumulated effect of all members of the BJAB community seeking and living out tolerance in our daily lives. As we have the privilege of engaging directly with young and tender minds we can also take the advice of Voltaire to heart: “always start from the present” because there are “different times, different needs.”
9th October 2020
When I ask prospective parents what they are looking for from a BJAB education for their child, the number one response is “I just want them to be happy.” In which case, are we teaching happiness? Is it even a subject? The answer is a firm “yes,” because in my experience, I know that a happy child is a more effective and successful learner. Going further, I believe that learning happiness has a longer lasting impact than many other subjects we teach.
Most education systems across the world put high value and reward on the achievement of exam results, so we naturally spend a large proportion of our time and effort giving young people the knowledge and skills to sit and pass exams successfully. These achievements enable our children to enter reputable universities and embark on fulfilling careers. Those of us who have followed similar routes understand this. But what happens when situations becoming challenging, such as a viral disease pandemic turning the world upside down? How many of us are able to draw on strategies, learned at home or at school, which help us to maintain a positive outlook on life? Unfortunately, not all. It’s a sobering fact that the ”well-being” and “self-help” industry, with its books and courses and social media programmes is cashing in on us who are, in effect, having to re-learn our ability to be happy.
Teaching children how to be happy, or how to create a sense of well-being, does indeed equip them for future life. When I was Head of British Education for a group of schools in Dubai, the UAE government launched an initiative to promote happiness. They even appointed a Minister for Happiness. The cynics had a field day!
Children are very open and honest explainers of their feelings. BJAB’s teachers are expert in picking up on the comments and sentiments from children which trigger how the day is likely to go. One of the reasons why I enjoy greeting pupils in the morning is that I can assess very quickly how they are feeling and whether any extra support is needed. It’s almost a register of happiness. The practical methods of teaching happiness include the integration of happiness as a value for the whole month across the school; the methods I described in the newsletter employed during assemblies; and the sincere celebration and acknowledgement of events at school such as births, birthdays and weddings which are a reminder of our growing and vibrant community.
In the midst of our complicated lives, perhaps sometimes we need to remember our first instinct: ”I just want them to be happy.”