Spring Term 2021 Newsletters
Autumn Term 2020 Newsletters
23rd April 2021
Unity is our new Value for the month and I spoke to the children about this interesting topic in Assembly. It’s generally accepted that unity is a good thing and disunity needs to be avoided. “United we stand, divided we fall” was an anthem in the early days of the formation of the United States of America, although the sentiment has origins much further back in history. Unity can embrace territory, people and ideas which makes it quite hard to explain in age-appropriate terms for children, although we all had a good attempt during the Brexit saga. I cited the more positive example of our House system: Herge, Montgomery, Baudouin and Schuman (in no specific order!) which will soon be joined by a new house called Cavell to honour the remarkable contribution of that British nurse on Belgian soil. The House system helps to join the school ‘vertically’ through the year groups and the Dojo points awarded to pupils are not calculated individually but accumulated into House totals. At the end of the year, after a nail-biting finish at Sports Day, a House wins a trophy. It’s competition, but with a small ‘c’, and it does more to unify than separate us. This is perhaps because the ‘rules’ are clear and simple. The same is also true for my keen insistence on uniform. As the word suggests, we are together and identified as one, even though we are a spectacularly diverse as individuals. We are bound together as a community by a set of conventions (a spoken and unspoken language) that allow us to concentrate on the more complex tasks of learning and growing up.
Our unity also brings us safety and support. The nurturing of our young people is my greatest responsibility and joy and the gentle boundaries and pathways we create in the school provide a safe zone where children (and adults) can develop and flourish. Our unity can also help us weather the unexpected and the difficult: the extraordinary last 18 months has proved that. It is the case that ordinary debate and disagreement is a sign of a healthy, thinking, creative life that leads, usually, to an improvement in any situation. As a phrase that has been heavily manipulated over the years says, “The ties that bind us are stronger than those that would tear us apart.” This suggests, however, that one cannot be complacent about the gift of unity. The ties that bind us require care and attention to help them remain strong, otherwise they may become weak and fail. All the Values we focus on and highlight during the year are designed to do exactly that and are an aspect of BJAB life of which I am most proud. We actually demonstrate our Values in the way we go about our daily life and it was a telling and significant comment in our last Inspection that teachers and older pupils were witnessed modelling the desired behaviour.
As the summer term progresses I am sure I will encounter many examples of how our unity is assisting the pupils’ development and the school generally and I look forward to sharing more of those thoughts in the weeks ahead.
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.”