In this week’s WimTeach, Miss Judith Parker, Head of Spanish, explores the positive impact of biophilic classrooms on students’ learning outcomes and wellbeing, and advocates for plants in every classroom.
A couple of years ago I decided to brighten up my
classroom and office by bringing in some plants from home. Aside from the accidental
watering of the inside of someone’s locker, the effects were remarkably
positive. The introduction of plants not only enlivened previously drab spaces
but also invigorated students and colleagues. Research studies, including
a project led by one of our GDST schools, are revealing the hidden benefits of
Mindfulness and wellbeing
When I first brought plants into my classroom,
students and colleagues expressed reverently how calm they felt upon entering
the space. There are plenty of opportunities for mindful moments of
appreciation with plants. We delight in the gradual unfurling of a new leaf or
the surprise appearance of a new shoot. Research studies on the psychological
impact of indoor plants have demonstrated that they improve mental wellbeing
through suppressing the sympathetic nervous system and reducing blood pressure. A study on hospital patients noted
the therapeutic benefit of indoor plants and recommended them as a low-cost,
straightforward intervention to improve post-surgical recovery.
The benefits of biophilic classrooms
Specific studies into the impact of plants in
classrooms have shown that they enhance students’ learning. ‘Biophilic’
classrooms, which are designed to connect students and teachers to nature, have
a positive impact on focus and creativity. Putney High School has paved the way
here with their 9-month study on the impact of biophilic classrooms. This
led to a report and
exhibition of their designs and findings at this year’s Chelsea Flower Show.
Their project is based on ‘The Flourish Model’ which aims to facilitate
creativity through a tranquil environment. We are, of course, more likely to
explore and innovate when we are feeling calm and safe, rather than anxious and
stressed. Plants help us to get into that comfortable state. The report also
demonstrates how better air quality from plants improves students’
concentration and engagement in lessons, as well as their emotional wellbeing.
“There are no gardening mistakes, only experiments”
– Janet Kilburn Phillips
Plant care offers a new learning experience. It
provides the opportunity to contribute towards a shared space through teamwork.
There is a collective effort and pride in managing to keep plants at the very
least alive, and ideally thriving.
I brought in several plants for my new tutor group
in September. In typical WHS spirit, my wonderful Year 10s immediately embraced
them with enthusiasm and affection. I returned for afternoon registration that
same day to find that they had already added name labels to the pots. A
consultation had taken place as to their ideal placement in the form room.
Plant care brings out the nurturing instinct of our students, who earnestly confer
about the optimum moisture level of the soil and in what parts of the room each
species might be happiest. Our form’s ‘Head Gardeners’ take on their
responsibility with the utmost diligence.
When faced with imminent school closure in the
first lockdown, I entrusted my leafy collection to my students. Some had
enthusiastically volunteered; others simply happened to pass through the MFL
corridor and found themselves unexpectedly becoming surrogate plant parents.
Email updates on my beloved plants, now scattered around students’ homes across
London, punctuated the long months of lockdown and school closures. One student
gently broke the news to me that a particular plant, despite her efforts, alas,
had not survived the challenging times.
The plants of 10JIP have recently spent the
half-term break in the homes of different form members, and several students
are excited to bring in their own plants from home. Some students were hesitant
about looking after plants as they had no experience in doing so, which is an
even better reason to put them in charge. After all, at WHS we encourage
students out of their comfort zone and towards experimentation, even in the
face of potential failure.
Incorporating nature into our daily lives
For those of us living and working in congested and
polluted urban areas, the sad reality is that we are spending very little time
interacting with nature. We all want to be eco-friendly and care for our
natural environment. However, we can easily spend consecutive days exclusively
indoors and without any direct contact with the natural world. We need
plants in our classrooms to maintain our connection with nature.
Plants make us happier, calmer and more creative. They
should be an integral part of a classroom environment. At Wimbledon High, we
are fortunate already to have a committed Eco Team, Blog and Gardening Club. Let’s
bring plants within reach of all teachers and learners.
Top tips for introducing plants to the classroom:
with the most resilient species, such as sansevieria (snake plant),
spathiphyllum (peace lily) and chlorophytum comosum (spider plant).
sure that there is a suitable spot for your chosen species, taking into account
temperature, levels of light and humidity.
one or two students to take the lead in plant care and establish a weekly
routine of watering.
Ms Jenny Cox, Director of Co-curricular and Partnerships considers ‘School life outside the curriculum, is it important?’
“I need 3 A*’s to get to where I want to be. That means more focus on work less time on other things.”
sure we have all heard this or possibly said this at some time in our lives,
particularly when we feel under pressure. I’m pleased to say that Wimbledon
High bucks the trend with the approach that promotes work, work, and more work,
as being the key to success. We see the drive to achievement as a more rounded
and fulfilling experience. However, is everyone convinced of this?
Anxiety, self-confidence, motivation
and concentration can play a huge role in our mind during day-to-day life. How
we choose to deal with these can affect our well-being and our ability to
function effectively. Cognitive anxiety can exhibit itself as Fuzzy Head Anxiety, sometimes also known as Brain
fog anxiety, which can occur when a person feels so anxious, they have difficulty
concentrating or thinking clearly. At
times, high somatic
anxiety can lead to sickness, upset and a lack of appetite. Whilst it is normal to experience occasional cognitive
and somatic anxiety, especially during times of high stress, it important to
have strategies to help us lift ourselves out of this, as the worries about grades, about covid and about not
being good enough, are all very real concerns as we ease ourselves back into
Look beyond yourself
It has long been acknowledged that acts of generosity raise
levels of happiness and emotional well-being, giving charitable people a
pleasant feeling known, as a “warm glow.”
In the Medical News Today, Maria Cohut (2017) wrote an article on how ‘Generosity makes you happier’. She reported on a study of forty-eight people, all of whom were allocated a sum of money on a weekly basis for four weeks. In short, one group were asked to spend the money and the other group asked to make public pledges and all participants were asked to report their level of happiness both at the beginning and at the end of the experiment. The results found that all participants who had performed, or had been willing to perform, an act of generosity – no matter how small – viewed themselves as happier at the end of the experiment. It is studies like this, alongside others, that convince us that our partnership and charities work, so heavily and generously invested in by our students, is vital to maintaining a sense of perspective and our sense of well-being.
Work hard and play hard
In 2020, 98% of the top ten highest achievers in Years 7, 8 and 9 at Wimbledon High took part in at least five sessions of co-curricular activities per week; is this a coincidence? Previous research has also revealed positive and significant relationships between higher physical activity and greater academic achievement (Chih and Chen 2011; Bailey 2006; Chomitz, Slining, McGowan, Mitchell, Dawson, and Hacker, 2009). There are a multitude of benefits to taking part in a balanced programme of co-curricular activities. Whether they are in school or externally organised, both appear to be hugely beneficial.
the feelings of immersing yourself in the activities you love will again enhance
feelings of well-being and start to reduce levels of stress, should they be
high. The well documented moments of Flow (Csikszentmihalyi,
Harper and Row, 1990) refer to those times when people report feelings of
concentration and deep enjoyment. These moments maybe found on the hockey
pitch, in orchestra, chess club, debating, GeogOn, Femigineers, whatever is
your passion. Investigations have revealed that what makes the experience
genuinely satisfying is a state of consciousness; a state of concentration so
focused that it amounts to absolute absorption in an activity. People typically
feel strong, alert, in effortless control, unselfconscious, and at the peak of
their abilities. Both a sense of time and emotional problems seem to disappear,
and there is an exhilarating feeling of wholeness. This can be controlled, and
not just left to chance, by setting ourselves challenges – tasks
that are neither too difficult nor too simple for our abilities. With such
goals, we learn to order the information that enters our consciousness and
thereby improve the quality of our lives.
outside the curriculum, is it important?
Evidence seems to point in the direction that a well-planned
and attainable life outside the curriculum will enhance academic studies,
promote feelings of well-being, and give a sense of perspective on day-to-day
anxieties. Having said this, we have
decided to research this ourselves. Look out for the opportunity to be part of
a piece of research later this year, conducted by Ms Coutts-Wood and I, where
we shall dig deeper into life at Wimbledon High. Specifically, we will be
investigating the impact of our co-curricular and partnership programmes on
academic progress and well-being.
Bailey, R. 2006. Physical education and sport in schools: A review of benefits and outcomes. Journal of School Health, Vol. 76, No. 8.
Chih, C.H. and Chen, J. 2011. The Relationship between Physical Education Performance, Fitness Tests and Academic Achievement in Elementary School. The International Journal of Sport and Society, Vol. 2, No.1.
Chomitz, V.R., Slining, M.M., McGowan, R.J., Mitchell, S.E., Dawson, G.F., Hacker, K.A. 2009. Is there a relationship between physical fitness and academic achievement? Positive results from public school children in the Northeastern United States. Journal of School Health, Vol. 79 Issue 1, P30.
Cohut, Maria. 2017. Medical News Today ‘Generosity makes you happier’
Alexa Cutteridge, Head of Curriculum PE and Assistant Head of
Year 7 looks at the power of your breath as a key mindfulness and well-being
tool in schools.
As described by Jon-Kabat-Ziin, Mindfulness means ‘paying attention in a particular way: on purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgementally’ (Mindful Staff, 2017). Breath work or Pranayama if frequently used as a mindfulness tool and as described by the Yoga Journal Online here ‘is the formal practice of controlling the breath, which is the source of our prana, or vital life force.’
Breath work has been used for thousands of years as a form of
meditation in addition to being a key part of yoga and mindfulness practices.
Importantly, when we connect to our breath, we connect to the present moment
which help to stop ourselves moving back into the past or jumping ahead into
In Summer 2020 during the Guided Home Learning modules, the Y12 and Y13 explored the power of their breath and similarly this academic year Year 7 have looked at the ways in which to let your ‘breath be your anchor’ to calm their nervous system and sooth them in times of worry or challenge. I have also used breath work on the sports field, with my netball and tennis teams, to focus the mind and calm the nerves before high-stake matches – it has been so rewarding to see the positive results from such a simple tool.
Below are the key benefits:
breathing can increase attention and focus the mind which can help
concentration in the classroom (Holcombe, 2012).
breathing can lower blood pressure and creates a sense of calm – by
breathing fully, you activate your parasympathetic nervous system, and as a
result slow down your heart rate and lower your blood pressure.
breathing can reverse the ‘fight or flight’ response and reduced the
release of stress hormones: cortisol and adrenaline.
have shown) that breath work can help treat mental health disorders
including depression and PTSD. (Seppälä, Nitschke, Tudorascu, et. al., 2014)
breathing can enhance the quality of sleep (Newsom, 2020).
stated by the The Editors at Chopra (2020) ‘breathwork can also be
spiritual’. When you practice deep breathing you connect with your true
Self and you can let go of your ego and any other attachments you have. It is
therefore quite common that people who practice breathwork can experience
spiritual awakenings or similar experiences.
Further benefits and evidence to support mindfulness which
include breathing tools, can be found here:
A finger breathing practice is where you trace the outline of
your hand with the index finger of the other. On the movement up the side of
the finger you breathe in and on the way out you breathe out. It is a super
simple tool but can be used subtly in the classroom and allow pupils to focus
on their breath and away from any worries or troubles they may have.
Famously used by the Navy SEALS, box breathing allows you to
reset your breath, in particular times of high stress and when in fight or
This practice is regularly used in counselling and psychotherapy and is particularly helping in dealing with panic attacks and moments where we are caught in rumination and worry. The practice involves breathing in for 7 counts and breathe out for 11. You continue to breathe normally however, if you have to fit the numbers to the breath rather than the other way round then that is fine. The concept is that the out breath is longer than the in breath which creates an automatic effect of calming your down, slowing your heart rate and taking you into a state of balance (Mindfulness in Schools Project, Teacher Notes, 2016).
Ujjayi Pranayama oceanic breathing
“Ujjayi Pranayama is a balancing and calming breath which
increases oxygenation and builds internal body heat.” —Krishnamacharya
This breath is very often used in Ashtanga and Vinyasa yoga
but can also be use in a seated position as part of a breathing practice off
the yoga mat. It allows us to anchor the fragmented mind and also allows us to
be energised, as well as calm.
Watch how to here with Adriene:
In addition to these four breathing tools, it is also
important to notice moments in the curriculum where breath work plays a key
role such as Sport, Drama and Music, and is perhaps already creating hidden
opportunities to support well-being.
There is no one size fits all when it comes to well-being tools,
but it is certainly worth carving out time in schools to exploring breathing
tools and empowering pupils to be curious about what benefits they can gain from
them for both their school career and beyond. The best bit about using your
breath as a well-being tool is that it is always available to you and is completely
free – no excuse not to at least try it!
Seppälä, E.M, Nitschke, J.B, Tudorascu, D.L, Hayes, A,
Goldstein, M.R, Nguyen, D.T.H, Perlman, D and Davidson, R.J (2014). Breathing-based meditation decreases
posttraumatic stress disorder symptoms in U.S. military veterans: a randomized
controlled longitudinal study. Journal of Traumatic
Stress, [online] (4):397-405. Available at:
With ‘slowing down’ a key part of our wellbeing strategy of ‘Strong Body, Strong Mind’, our Director of Studies, Suzy Pett, looks at why slowing down is fundamental from an educational perspective, too.
So often, the watch words of classroom teaching are ‘pace’ and ‘rapid progress’. I’m used to scribbling down these words during lesson observations, with a reassuring sense that I’m seeing a good thing going on. And I am. We want lessons to be buzzy, with students energised and on their toes. We want them to make quick gains in their studies. But is it more complex than this?
The more I think about it, the more I am convinced that ‘slow and deep’ should be the mantra for great teaching and learning. I’m not suggesting that lessons become sluggish. But, we need to jettison the idea that progress can happen before our very eyes. And, with our young people acclimatised to instant online communication, now more than ever do we need our classrooms – virtual or otherwise – to be havens of slow learning and deep thinking. Not only is this a respite from an increasingly frenetic world, but it is how students develop the neural networks to think in a deeply critical and divergent way.
What I love most in in the classroom is witnessing the unfurling of students’ ideas. This takes time. I’m not looking for instant answers or quick, superficial responses. I cherish the eeking out of a thought from an uncertain learner, or hearing a daring student unpack the bold logic of her response. Unlike social media, the classroom is not awash with snappy soundbites, but with slow, deep questioning and considered voices. As much as pacey Q&A might get the learning off to a roaring start, lessons should also be filled with gaps, pauses and waiting. You wouldn’t rush the punch line of a joke. So, it’s the silence after posing a question that has the impact: it gifts the students the time for deep thinking. In lessons, we don’t rattle along the tracks; we stop, turn around and change direction. We revisit ideas, and circle back on what needs further exploration. This journey might feel slower, but learning isn’t like a train timetable.
But what does cognitive science say about slow learning? Studies show that learning deeply means learning slowly. I’m as guilty as anyone at feeling buoyed by a gleaming set of student essays about the poem I have just taught. But don’t be duped by this fools’ gold. Immediate mastery is an illusion. Quick-gained success only has short term benefits. Instead, learning that lasts is slow in the making. It requires spaced practice, regularly returning to that learning at later intervals. The struggle of recalling half-forgotten ideas from the murky depths of our brains helps them stick in the long-term memory. But this happens over time and there is no shortcut.
Interleaving topics also helps with this slow learning. Rather than ploughing through a block of learning, carefully weaving in different but complimentary topics does wonders. The cognitive dissonance created as students toggle between them increases their conceptual understanding. By learning these topics aside each other, students’ brains are working out the nuances of their similarities and differences. The friction – or ease – with which they make connections allows learners to arrange their thoughts into a more complex and broad network of ideas. It will feel slower and harder, but it will be worth it for the more flexible connections of knowledge in the brain. It is with flexible neural networks that our students can problem solve, be creative, and make cognitive leaps as new ideas come together for a ‘eureka’ moment.
Amidst the complexity of the 21st century, these skills are at a premium. With a surfeit of information bombarding us and our students from digital pop-ups, social media and 24 hour news, the danger is we seek the quick, easy-to-process sources. This is a cognitive and cultural short circuit, with far reaching consequences for the individual’s capacity for critical thinking. With the continual rapid intake of ideas, the fear is a rudderlessness of thought for our young people.
And yet, peek inside our classrooms, and you will see the antidote to this in our deep, slow teaching and learning.
Sources:  David Epstein, Range (London: Macmillan, 2019), p. 97.
 Maryanne Wolf, Reader, Come Home (New York: HarperCollins, 2018), p. 12.
Head of Year 7 Jenny Lingenfelder reflects on encouraging emotional agility during the ‘transition’ phase from Year 6 into Year 7.
We prefer ‘Stepping In’…… I fondly call my new cohort of Year 7s on their first day (or should I say term?), ‘turtles’…. their backpack has their life in it and appears to dwarf them as they wide-eyed, set off down school corridors navigating their way around what will be ‘home’ for the next 7 years.
Even for the majority who are eagerly awaiting the increased independence and exciting changes ahead, transition from primary to secondary school is well known to come with its challenges – both academically and emotionally. One aspect we have been focusing on in the Year 7 pastoral team is that of emotional agility and how to resolve conflict when the ‘friendship issues’ emerge once they have settled in. These are a common and developmentally crucial feature of adolescent life and so our focus is primarily how to navigate them effectively.
Brene Brown’s research into shame and vulnerability over the past twenty years is insightful and brings a wealth of authentic guideposts which can be easily adapted for pastoral care. The crux of her book ‘Daring Greatly’ focuses on how we build shields up to protect ourselves from feeling vulnerable such as perfectionism, foreboding joy, playing the victim or the Viking to name but a few. Traits we as adults can all recognise but which start to emerge when we are in the playground. Her strategies to break down these shields include practising gratitude, appreciating the beauty in the cracks, setting boundaries, cultivating connection, being present and moving forward all of which resonate deeply with our pastoral vision at WHS for our young girls in today’s society.
All well and good but how does this work in practice?
Nicola Lambros’ contribution to the GL Assessment Children’s Wellbeing report this year clearly lays out the correlation between wellbeing and impact on learning. Whilst genuinely complimenting schools on their support for the mental health of their students, she compares some of this help to that of taking paracetamol for a headache – whilst alleviating the pain, it doesn’t help uncover the underlying causes. She has a point. So how do we avoid putting a plaster over these issues? How do we bring about a deep, raw and authentic cultural shift in how we manage teenage behaviour in an ever increasingly sexualised, intrusive and pressurised society where comparison is the killjoy of creativity? How do we go about ensuring the girls develop emotional agility from a young age? And develop self-efficacy which is authentic and whole-hearted, a firm foundation for the teenage years and life in general?
Big questions, but ones we relish in the Year 7 team, especially with the knowledge that scientific research has now proven that the teenage brain has a further burst of growth at this time allowing for the reprogramming of those learnt behaviours which were previously thought of as hardwired and unchangeable. With this understanding, it is an exciting prospect to know we can equip our girls from an early stage with the tools on how to be emotionally agile throughout their teenage years and beyond.
Here are some reflections outlining where we are seeing some fruit:
Practising proactive intervention. When a friendship issue arises, at times getting those involved around the table for a mediation is the best option. It’s uncomfortable (initially) but that vulnerability enables authentic conversation, breaks down walls and provides a way of moving away from blame and forging a pathway forward. Another strategy we have used is the ‘Support Group Method’ which encourages collective responsibility: with the individual’s permission, spilt the form into small groups, share what the problem is and ask for ideas on how to move forward. Getting students to write down their ideas and pop in a box enables more freedom of thought.
The not so nice emotions and how we describe them. Psychologist Susan David in her TED talk ‘the gift and power of emotional courage’ maintains ‘tough emotions are part of our contract with life’ and more poignantly ‘discomfort is the price of admission to a meaningful life’. Enabling girls to experience this on their level with a friendship fallout is crucial in helping them develop emotional intelligence. She also stresses that we own our emotions, they don’t own us. So, rather than ‘I am stressed’ using the phrases ‘I’m noticing’ and ‘I’m feeling’ can help embed emotional agility in the long term.
Use of coaching methods. Whether in PSHE lessons or pupil meetings these can equip girls with tools to reach their full potential and prevent bad habits from setting in early. Top performance coach Sara Milne Rowe’s new book ‘The Shed Method- Making Better Choices When It Matters’ is illuminating on this topic. She maintains ‘mind energy is the fuel that fires our brilliant human brain and is at the heart of building any new habit- be it a body habit, mood habit or mind habit’ and provides practical examples of how to set goals and achieve them; strategies which can be translated easily into the school setting.
Listen to pupil voice. Whether it is touching base after the first couple of weeks, canvassing opinions on the Year 7 PHSE programme or at the end of a term, we ask our Year 7 girls for feedback regularly which helps enormously to know what is really going on during this phase. One notable occasion is asking the girls to nominate who and why they want to give the Speech Day ‘Grit’ Awards to in the year group. Reading the nominations has each year brought me both to tears and chuckles and reminds me that we wouldn’t have known about the small acts of kindness or bravery that happen on a daily basis unless we asked our girls to tell us.
Thinking creatively. We took Year 7 to see Wicked this year and have incorporated the story into how to approach friendship issues and ideas around acceptance in the wider world. The staff enjoy this just as much as the girls!
It’s an organic and evolving process and one that excites me greatly. Sometimes ensuring a smooth transition process does require a paracetamol or a plaster. However, building emotional agility takes time and effort to adopt as a habit. It is not (as is often perceived) the case of putting on resilient armour reading for battle. Vulnerability is at the core of this approach and that takes real courage. But it is worth it and I feel privileged to work in a place where girls and staff are willing to give it a go.
Jenny Lingenfelder, Head of Year 7
 Brene Brown ‘Daring Greatly. How the Courage to be Vulnerable Transforms the Way we Live, Love and Parent and Lead’, 2012
 GL Assessment Children’s Wellbeing: Pupil Attitudes to Self and School Report 2018
 See Ken Rigby University of South Australia for more detailed information on different intervention approaches, March 2010
Rachel Evans, Director of Digital Learning & Innovation, writes a personal reflection on the past two months as WHS planned and implemented our Guided Home Learning programme, and considers what lies ahead.
It’s 16th March and I’m getting ready to leave school, knowing that I’m unlikely to be back at my desk with its view of the cherry blossom for a good while. My husband has called to say he has a temperature and cough, meaning self-isolation for my household. I gather some freebie cloth bags from BETT and cram them with everything I think I might need, leaving behind a stack of library books – I come to regret this later! Within a week I’m being video-called by a colleague who holds his phone aloft so that I can see and hear the whole school singing our school song as we close the site, and Mrs Lunnon says “Whatever happens, however long this is, be brilliant.” It all seems rather unreal.
As the Covid-19 crisis mounted in late February and early March, along with other schools across the world we began to plan how we could continue teaching and learning as our staff and students scattered to their homes. We have been committed for the past 5 years to integrating technology for teaching and learning – both in terms of hardware, with our BYOD scheme and Junior iPads, and software, as a Microsoft Showcase School. Nevertheless, the challenges of this unprecedented situation are significant, and like all use of technology in education, go far beyond simply having the right tech in place.
Back in January, Suzy Pett (Assistant Head Teaching & Learning) and I had been privileged to speak at the BETT educational technology show and share our WHS digital philosophy with a wider audience. What has struck me as we have rolled out our Guided Home Learning programme is how those values have been tried and tested in this unprecedented situation. Edtech should be an excellent tool, seamless and most importantly authentic. How did these principles guide us in practice?
An excellent tool
We’re always clear that we have a ‘pedagogy first’ approach to using technology and we’re careful to select software and systems that deliver value, rather than being gimmicky or distracting. This was helpful as we considered what ‘home learning’ would look like in practice. Teams allows video-conferencing, something we had only tentatively explored before between colleagues. Now we made the decision to offer at least some ‘live’ lessons remotely, and added in the practical details – the way we’d use Teams announcements to start lessons, our protocols for video conference lessons, and how our existing use of OneNote would fit into this model.
In the Junior years, we began with simple Firefly pages, then worked over Easter to move to a more interactive offering. Choosing Firefly Tasks was straightforward, while Flipgrid would offer some interaction between the girls and chances for personalised video feedback for every pupil from her teachers.
What skills did teachers need to feel confident and secure with these new features of familiar systems, and with some entirely new apps? We created a common approach to ‘lessons’ so that staff and students alike would have clear expectations and a consistent experience with a clear framework of skills to learn. We ran in-person training sessions for all staff, and then, after the site closed, online training in Teams (sometimes about Teams, which can be surreal!). We all became inexpert videographers, finding ad-hoc ways to make, edit and share videos of tips, and training sessions. We were grateful for Microsoft’s extensive support materials, and our GDST sister schools and other professional networks of colleagues, to share ideas and pool materials.
As the weeks have gone by there have of course been peaks and troughs in the experiences of all concerned – both technical and human. On the first Monday as pupils across the world stayed at home, both Teams and Firefly faltered. We are all at the mercy of our home wi-fi connections with most providers having outages at times. No software or system is perfect, and we are often pushing at the edges of the original design and use cases which are mostly based on being together in physical school. Teachers and parents alike feel the pressure of combining childcare, home learning and full-time jobs. But we do believe that alongside a plethora of subject-specific online resources, these systems have enabled us to continue with teaching and learning that has been effective, productive and not too impossible to manage for students, staff or parents.
Feedback and listening to the community in the first week led us to deliver new advice for teachers – we began to move away from trying to replicate an offline experience in an online environment. (There was much discussion of synchronous and asynchronous learning – terms bandied about which were unknown to non-experts the week before!) A video call in Teams can’t feel like a lesson – you can’t see everyone at once and interactions quickly feel stilted and frustrating. But making use of the chat, the thumbs-up emoji, limiting the time on the call and following up with text-based chat or collaborative work in OneNote makes all the difference. We started working differently: taking the pedagogical aim – for instance, the benefit of small group discussions in a lesson – and working out how to deliver that effectively in Teams – by having group channels with the teacher dropping in to listen and give feedback. We encouraged teachers to break away from the screen as well, for everyone’s wellbeing and to bring the variety of types of work they would to a ‘real life’ lesson.
Our wonderful teaching staff have a high confidence level with the technology because we use it every day, and that has allowed them to experiment and explore. This week, the Head of German and I have figured out how to add subtitles or voiceover in a foreign language to an existing film clip with the software we have or free apps. We’ve got some ideas and learnt some new stuff, and we know the girls will come up with even more. Everyone is rising to the challenge of exploring and integrating new tools and new ideas – whether that’s a deeper knowledge of systems we used already, or brand new work.
Early in our planning, Fionnuala Kennedy, our Senior Deputy Head, came up with the three words to sum up our approach – clarity, consistency and connection.
Connection – use the technology at our disposal to stay connected with each other in as human a way as possible.
Whenever I speak about our digital strategy, I always put authentic first in the list. Our vision for digital technology embedded in our school life is a holistic and human-centred one. I talk about the need for the use of technology in schools to respect teachers’ professional judgements and their personal approaches. More technology is not necessarily better: teachers must choose their own path and my role is to encourage, guide, facilitate. Now we were all going off to our own homes to interact with one another entirely via screen, and one size did have to fit all in order to allow us a safe, consistent and calm remote learning experience. My peers on Twitter were jubilant that for digital specialists, our time had come! I wasn’t so sure it was that simple.
I shouldn’t have worried. Our Wimbledonian spirit has meant that although we are all working in an unfamiliar and more standardised way, individuality has triumphed. Ms Phillips taught a remote sewing class, by voice and whiteboard from Teams; Dr Neumann encouraged her class to go outside, get a flower, dissect and photograph it; Spanish classes made board games; English classes acted out their text with soft toys; music groups made amusing remote ensemble videos; Junior girls in STEAM club explained their wacky home science experiments on Flipgrid. In among the functional necessity of online learning our authenticity and creativity has shone through.
Back in January at BETT, I quoted Georgia, a Year 13 student, talking about collaborating with her peers online:
“you’re helping others, they are helping you… It adds a new dimension to learning that doesn’t make it seem so stifled.”
This has turned out to be as true as ever. It’s been superb to see even the Year 5 and 6 girls who are new to using Teams and OneNote not only collaborating, but problem-solving and encouraging one another and their teachers in a warm and kind community.
What have we learned? And what comes next?
Although it feels a great deal longer, we have been away from our much-loved school building for 26 school days, as I write this. In a period characterised by fast-paced and ever-changing decision making, it’s salutary to pause and listen before we start thinking about the lessons we may have learned. We still have the challenge ahead of returning to our school site with social distancing in place. It’s clearer than ever that this is a marathon not a sprint, and that we’re all learning as we go. Nevertheless, I’d like to share a few themes that seem to me to have emerged already.
Humility & Openness
Hardly anyone responsible for planning or delivering the remote learning taking place in schools throughout the world is an expert in the pedagogy and science of online or distance learning. It’s not part of our usual skill set. Remote learning is not like learning in a classroom and the two are not interchangeable. What those of us in education have achieved in the past eight weeks is our very best effort to ensure that learning is sustained for our students during a global crisis and unprecedented social lockdown. We’ve used our pedagogical expertise, and our deep knowledge of and care for our students and teachers to create a programme that works in our own context.
What we should do as we plan for the next academic year is make sure that we draw on expertise in the fields of online learning, instructional design and distance learning. We can then design new timetables, develop and modify our schemes of work, and put in place appropriate technology and courses to ensure that we can move to even more pedagogically robust guided home learning should we need to do so again. We can learn lessons from this experience and open up to new ideas for the future. A flexible, creative and exciting way of thinking about ‘school’ may lie ahead.
Wellbeing & Community
We must remember that for all the cheerful social media sharing of birdsong and baking bread, for many people in our society this period may have been incredibly difficult – for reasons of economic disadvantage, personal risk of illness, mental health challenges and bereavement. Supporting the wellbeing of our own community and looking outwards to help others wherever we can – as our staff and girls have done wonderfully – has been paramount.
Within the school, finding ways to keep us connected digitally, both serious and fun, has been a privilege. Seeing staff and students create video assemblies, online quizzes, and share music and art have all been a joy. One of our students wrote:
“when watching the assembly this morning from Mrs Lunnon, I saw the views of the video rising. It was so satisfying and empowering to watch all the WHS seniors watching the same video as me at the same time.”
We may not want to abandon these entirely when we return to our school site, for the sense of connection they can offer.
International & National Collaboration
In this most global of crises, seeing the education community come together across the world has been inspiring. Through the Microsoft network, schools have shared their experiences and ideas. The value of online interaction and our new ease with video call technology has opened our eyes to new possibilities – with friends in our international and local partner schools, and closer to home in our GDST family. This, as Jane Lunnon noted in The Telegraph this week, is a real opportunity to arise from this challenge. Sharing experiences, ideas and resources, working collaboratively, and learning with and from one another may be a positive outcome from this crisis.
Mr George Cook, Head of Hockey at WHS, looks at how you can get fitter than you have ever been during lockdown.
In these unprecedented times it is all too easy to fall into the trap of spending time thinking about all of the things this lockdown has taken away from us.
• Seeing friends
• Going to work
• Sunbathing over the bank holiday weekend
• Going out for coffee/food
• Going shopping and socialising with friends
Another way to view this unprecedented situation is that we now have more time on our hands than ever before. Time to do all of those tasks and pursue all those goals you have been putting off because you’re ‘too busy’ normally.
The national shortage of flour is an indication of how a large proportion of our society intend to pass the time baking all sorts of high sugar not so healthy snacks and cakes. But what if you could come out of lockdown healthier and fitter than you went into it? And is this even possible?
The lockdown has given the gift of time to the nation. It may sound unreasonable to suggest that increased health and fitness are attainable targets when we are largely confined to our houses. But bear with me, there is light at the end of this tunnel…!
Do more than you eat:
We have been told that we can leave for essential food shopping and for exercising. But what if you can’t run or it simply isn’t the mode of exercise for you. No problem, one small change to the way you walk can revolutionise the way you use that magical outdoor hour.
According to the CDC, walking at 1-2mph is considered slow and equates to approximately 50 steps per minute. Fast or brisk walking is between 3-4mph and averages at 100 steps per minute. Within the same timeframe you can double your step count, lift your heart rate and work in your aerobic zone of ~60% maximum effort. This alone can take you above and beyond your NHS target of 150 minutes of exercise a week.
Benefits of sleeping more:
Most of us are guilty of wishing we could just stay in bed that extra 5 or 10 minutes when our alarm goes off in the morning. The reality of work and life schedules mean that more often than not we trade our hours of sleep in order to send that last email, complete that piece of work or to watch another episode of your Netflix series because ‘you’ve earned it’.
The cumulative effect of this on your metabolism can be hugely detrimental to your overall health. It was identified by the sleep foundation that those individuals who slept fewer than 6 hours a night were more likely to store fat and develop symptoms of metabolic syndrome.
This is therefore the perfect opportunity to rewind the effects of stress and lack of sleep that have been building up, perhaps you have become so used to it you didn’t even realise it was a problem anymore.
The lockdown has provided opportunity to hit the reset button on your metabolism and metabolic rate through self-care. And yes, all you have to do is sleep more. The caveat to this is that the same symptoms reappeared in individuals who slept for more than 10 hours a night, regularly.
Opportunities to cook and what to make:
In a world where socialising with friends often includes going out for dinner, coffee and brunch it has become all too easy to develop unhealthy and undesirable eating habits without realising it. Examples could include having a high caffeine intake, consuming lots of high sugar content snacks/sweets/desserts and not drinking sufficient amounts of water.
I’m sure many in society wondered what they might watch on TV now that all live sport has been cancelled for the foreseeable future; cue TV celebrity chefs to save the day. Each day you can find fresh inspiration for new and healthy ideas to sustain your body through lockdown. There are no more late nights away at the office (for most of us), there is more time to prepare a healthy meal to have as opposed to the quick fix oven pizza that normally comes out when tiredness dictates the menu.
Watch below for inspiration:
Maximise your workout and increase your metabolism:
He has rapidly become a household name; from becoming an author, tv star and most recently a PE teacher, Joe Wicks has become famous using one of the most simple and effective training methods available to us.
High intensity interval training: HIIT. This is exercise that involved short periods of high intensity bursts of work followed by short periods of rest.
But what does it actually do for us? Working at your maximum level for a period of 30-60s followed by a short rest period will raise your heart rate and cause you to become tired and out of breath very quickly.
By segmenting these periods of high work rate, we are able to spend more time at these elevated work levels and burn more calories and get fitter.
What to include? HIIT workouts tend to be bodyweight, perfect when your gym is now the living room. Made up of fundamental movements including, squats, lunges and jumps as well as isometric holds, it is possible to take yourself through a full body high intensity workout in less than 30 minutes.
There are many lasting benefits to this, going substantially beyond the 30 minutes you devote to it. Inactivity can lead to muscle wastage and associated injuries and conditions; this will prevent this as you become stronger than you ever imagined completing these regularly.
They also have the lasting benefit of raising your metabolism, in other words, you keep improving even after your workout has come to an end!
Lockdown has provided opportunity to reset and obtain healthy sleeping patterns, spend more time cooking healthy meals to support a balanced diet and more opportunity to exercise in different ways that can have life changing benefits far beyond our return to normality. Let’s see the positive in the current situation and prioritise our health during lockdown.
Jenny Cox, Director of Co-curricular and Partnerships at WHS looks at Wimbledon’s partnership work and whether it is a positive programme for the school and its community to be part of.
Partnerships work takes on many different forms at WHS. We are very proud of the work the Year 11, 12, 13 students take part in during partnerships afternoon, in addition to the wonderful SHINE programme, initiatives such as Merton against Trafficking and of course our charity work.
As a charity, building meaningful and positive relationships with the local, national and international community is central to the aims of the school. Whether it be leading, teaching, mentoring students at local state primary and secondary schools or entertaining, befriending, gardening as part of ‘WHS in the Community’ programme, they are all are wonderful examples of the work that takes place on a weekly basis.
Partnerships are central to WHS values
Currently there twenty-one separate programmes taking place on a Thursday afternoon alone; nine in the community, six at secondary schools and five at primary schools and all of which are supported so wholeheartedly by the Wimbledon staff. The range of programmes is diverse; from our Year 3 girls going to local residential homes with WHS Year 11 & 12’s to read to the elderly, to helping with the gardening as part of our ‘Helping Hands’ project at Wimbledon Guild and of course our Entertainment in the Community group going ‘on tour’ around Merton to perform at residential, care homes and hospitals.
These programmes have bought delight to the elderly who look forward to the Wimbledon High School visits and well as our own girls:
“Week 2 into the programme – Lucy (106!) never takes part in activities organised by the care home but today she got out of her flat to spend time with the girls because she enjoyed last Thursday. It’s the most exciting time of her week”
Our partnerships with state schools has seen the launch this year of the ‘Clever Clogs’ programme for West Wimbledon, Wimbledon Park, Green Wrythe and St Andrews and St Marks school, for high achieving boys and girls in Year 5. These students are academically stretched by WHS staff and mentored for 16 weeks by WHS students. In their working books, the weekly question, “what have I learnt today” we have seen responses such as……
“I learnt how to code a magic 8 bit and how to write a chart”
“I have learnt what an algorithm is”
The ‘Teach Together’ programmes continue to be an important component of the Thursday afternoon activities. These are bespoke programmes for a variety of ages which involve WHS students facilitating the delivery of subjects such as Maths, Physics, Music, Latin, French, Netball and mentoring sessions to a range of partner primary and secondary schools. There is a high degree of collaboration between school staff and students, which brings me back to the initial question: ‘Are Partnerships with local schools and the community beneficial? If so, for who?’
There is absolutely no doubt in my mind that all of our partnership work is mutually beneficial. Current funding in state schools has triggered the decline of subjects such as Music, and very few state schools have subjects such as Latin on their curriculum or the facilities to deliver really creative and inspiring science lessons. Many independent schools are fortunate to be in a position to work alongside these schools to provide staff and students to help ensure subjects like these are still taught. I say fortunate as the benefits of working with others on our own mental health and well-being really does exist.
The more you do for others, the more you do for yourself
This may surprise you, however, putting people’s needs before our own can reduce stress, improve mood, self-esteem and happiness. It probably doesn’t feel like that when deadlines are looming, but voluntary work promotes positive changes in the brain associated with happiness which in turn gives us a period of calm and eventually well-being. Talking to someone on a regular basis can bring with it a sense of belonging and talking to someone like Lucy (in the picture above) may give a different perspective – she must have some extremely wise words for us all! It’s that sense of perspective particularly when working with those who may not have the same level of resource which is grounding, and can help us all achieve a more positive outlook. Kindness is contagious. Just one smile, high five or piece of positive feedback to anyone at any age can lift a mood and spark optimism and hope.
Emma Gleadhill, English Teacher, speaker, trainer and coach specialising in wellbeing, relationships & harnessing the power of emotional intelligence, discusses the ways we are using coaching at WHS to support the academic and pastoral strands of the school.
September 2019 marks a significant change in my role at Wimbledon – where 1:1 coaching becomes more central. It has taken a year of serious soul-searching and being coached myself in order to move away from a strength and passion (teaching A Level English) which has provided me with so much joy and fulfilment in order to use my ‘Co-Active’ training as a professional coach to work in greater depth with individuals and small groups.
So why? Why coaching? I thought it worth sharing what I see as the value of coaching – what it is and what I believe it has to offer. Coaching has been in the press a great deal over the summer – and as a relatively unregulated industry, there are many different perceptions of what it is and how it can help. Coaching is a relatively new strand to the multi-layered pastoral support Wimbledon High offers. The aim is to provide a rich range of opportunities for courageous conversations to take place that will enable pupils, and sometimes also teachers and parents to develop their voice, consider perspectives, explore their needs, and arrive at a point of choice so that they can act and thrive.
My work as a coach links strongly to my ethos as a teacher – it is about bringing my best energy, attention and training to bring about transformation. This involves examining the mindset, motivation, and creativity – for people to ‘play big’ in their lives and achieve their goals. Whether it is someone seeking coaching because they feel stuck in some area of their life, or someone who wants to dial up their performance, or change the dynamics in their relationships, for me it is about holding the space for the truth to be spoken, fears to be addressed and for obstacles to action to be brought into focus so that a clear path forward can be found. And when that connection is made, in the coachee, we really do have lift-off. Giant leaps are taken and as the momentum builds, my work is to help celebrate, savour and wire in the goodness, the motivation and energy of the possible.
Coaching is all about empowering and enabling others to engage their creativity and resourcefulness and commitment to change. As with teaching at its best – it is entirely in the service of supporting and challenging others to be the best that they can be. Unlike teaching or mentoring you are not approaching problems from a point of expertise and providing content.
What is coaching?
More about listening and questioning than giving advice and ‘telling’.
Confidential – the only exception is where someone is at risk of significant harm.
Focused on the values and meaning of the topic or situation – what is at stake, why it matters, and what you want.
Forward-looking – designing practical steps towards your goals rather than dwelling on the issue.
Challenging YOU to do the thinking, to reflect and deepen self-awareness in areas where you are stuck or play small.
About using mind and body connections to tap into the emotional resonance of the topic (if it was as simple as thinking it through, you’d be doing it already!)
Rigorous – you will be held to account for whether you do – or don’t – take the next steps you design at the end of the sessions.
Time-limited – it is designed to move you on to greater fulfilment and to take the actions that will help you reach your goals.
Empowering – you will be called upon to recognise and act on your innate creativity, resourcefulness and wholeness. (I trained in the Co-Active method).
Celebratory – through the joys and the pains of doing the hard work of making meaningful life changes – as a coach, it is my job to champion you and remind you of your strengths, your capabilities and your awesomeness.
All about personal growth – living more authentic, connected, fulfilled and purposeful lives. Coaching is a major tool for career development in the corporate world. It is like having a personal trainer for your mind, heart and spirit.
What is coaching not?
For me, coaching is not:
A cosy chat or conversation as we experience in our wider lives.
Focused on the detail of a problem (because what you focus on grows).
Therapy – the assumption is that you are creative, resourceful and whole (Co-Active) and ready and able to act on the dialled up self-awareness that your sessions should tap into if the coaching chemistry is right.
A self-indulgent, ‘Woo-woo’, millennial fad. Trained coaches work in a way that is informed by research in the world of psychology, and emotional intelligence, and have to keep up their own training and self-development. This is why businesses invest in coaching.
So coaching is not only a response to a problem, it is also a powerful 1:1 space to dial up your performance, name and tame the things that hold you back, and generate perspectives on your situation so that you can come to a point of choice. It is all about connecting you to your power and unlocking your potential.
Coaching approaches can also be used in the classroom to develop self-direction, ownership, engagement and independence in learners– as well as to make deeper, more memorable connections with issues by concentrating on their emotional resonance. Training as a professional coach has transformed how I lead as a trainer when I am running speaker events and workshops. It has meant what I have to offer is more focused and the collaborative approach means I am meeting people’s real needs and interests, not overloading with content I have chosen! A discipline indeed!
When could we take opportunities to use coaching approaches to encourage and empower young people in our lives to greater independence, ownership and engagement in solving their problems and the problems in the world today?
On Saturday 21st September we host our second Grow Pastoral Festival. The theme for this year is an examination of what it is to be human in a machine age. What questions should we be asking about the way technology affects our lives and what are our hopes for the future? More specifically, how will our young people develop and grow in a fast-paced, algorithmically driven society and what might education look like in the future?
In the morning session Professor Rose Luckin and Professor Robert Plomin will be giving keynote addresses, and then talk with our Director of Digital Learning & Innovation, Rachel Evans. Prof Luckin specialises in how AI might change education; Prof Plomin has recently published Blueprint, a fascinating read about genetics and education. We can’t wait to talk about how education might get personalised, and how that change might affect our experience of learning.
In the afternoon we’ll dive into some provocative debate with Natasha Devon, Hannah Lownsbrough and Andrew Doyle, addressing questions of identity, wellbeing and community in an online age with our own Assistant Head Pastoral, Ben Turner.
So what kind of questions are in our minds as we approach this intellectually stimulating event? Ben Turner brings a philosophical approach to the topic.
Is our ever-increasing reliance on machines and subscription to the ‘universal principles of technology’ eroding our sense of empathy, compassion, truth-telling and responsibility?
Our smartphones give us a constant connection to an echo-system that reflects, and continuously reinforces, our individual beliefs and values. Technology has created a world of correlation without causation, where we understand what happened and how it happened but never stop to ask why it happened. Teenagers are understandably susceptible to an eco-system of continuous connection, urgency and instant gratification. It is these values that they now use to access their world and that inform them what is important in it.
Are tech giants like Amazon, Google and Facebook creating a monoculture that lacks an empathy for its surroundings? If we all become ‘insiders’ within a technology dominated society, pushing instant buttons for everything from batteries to toilet roll, are we losing the ability to see things from a fresh perspective? By raising children in a world of instant access and metropolitan monism are we creating only insiders; young people who will never gain the ability to step back and view what has been created in a detached way. How as parents, schools and communities do we keep what is unique, while embracing the virtues of technological innovation?
Is social media destroying our free will?
If you are not a determinist, you might agree that free will has to involve some degree of creativity and unpredictability in how you respond to the world. That your future might be more than your past. That you might grow, you might change, you might discover. The antithesis to that is when your reactions to the world are locked into a pattern that, by design, make you more predictable – for the benefit of someone or something else. Behaviourism, developed in the 19th Century, believes in collecting data on every action of a subject in order to change something about their experience, often using punishment or reward to enact the change. Is social media, through its algorithms, gratification systems and FOMO, manipulating our actions and eroding our free will?
Social media is pervasive in its influence on the beliefs, desires and temperaments of our teenagers and you do not have to be a determinist to know that that will lead to a disproportionate level of control over their actions. Does social media leave our young people with no alternative possibilities; locked in a room, not wanting to leave but ignorant to the fact that they cannot?
Is social media the new opium of the masses?
Social media has changed the meaning of life for the next generation. The change in human contact from physical interactions to those, arguably superficial, exchanges online is having not only a well-documented detrimental effect on individual young people but also on the very fabric and makeup of our communities.
In addition to the ongoing concerns about privacy, electoral influence and online abuse, it is becoming increasingly obvious that social media has all the qualities of an addictive drug. Psychologists Daria Kuss and Mark Griffiths wrote a paper finding that the “negative correlates of (social media) usage include the decrease in real life social community participation and academic achievement, as well as relationship problems, each of which may be indicative of potential addiction.”
That is not to say that everyone who uses social media is addicted. However, the implications of the ‘heavy’ usage of social media by young people are increasingly painting an unpleasant picture. The UK Millennium Cohort Study, from the University of Glasgow, found that 28% of girls between 13 and 15 surveyed spent five hours or more on social media, double the number of boys survey who admitted the same level of usage. Moreover the NHS Digital’s survey of the Mental Health of children and young people in England, which found that 11 to 19 year olds with a “mental disorder” were more likely to use social media every day (87.3%) than those without a disorder (77%) and were more likely to be on social media for longer. Rates of daily usage also varied by type of disorder; 90.4% of those with emotional disorders, for example, used social media daily.
However, there is more to this than just the causal link between the use and abuse of social media and poor mental health. With the march of technology in an increasingly secular world, are we losing our sense of something greater than ourselves? Anthony Seldon calls this the “Fourth Education Revolution”, but as we embrace the advances and wonders of a technologically advanced world do we need to be more mindful of what we leave behind? Da Vinci, Michelangelo and other Renaissance masters, not only worked alongside religion but also were inspired by it. Conversely, Marx believed Religion to be the opium of the people. If social media is not to be the new opium, we must find a place for spirituality in our secular age. Even if we are not convinced by a faith, embracing the virtues of a religious upbringing seems pertinent in these turbulent times. Namely inclusivity, compassion and community, because if we do not, then very quickly the narcissistic immediacy and addictive nature of social media will fill the void left in our young peoples’ lives, becoming the addictive drug that Marx forewarned against.
 Michael Bugeja, Living Media Ethics: Across Platforms, 2nd Ed. 2018
 Online Social Networking and Addiction – A review of Psychological Literature, Daria J. Kuss and Mark D. Griffiths, US National Library of Medicine, 2011