Are partnerships with local schools and the community beneficial? Who do they benefit?

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.

WHS ‘Helping Hands’ at Wimbledon Guild

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”

Photos above: Befriending and Year 3 Paired reading at Blackham House & Kew House

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”

 

Above: Year 5 ‘Clever Clogs’ with primary pupils working at WHS

 

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.

 

 

Further reading:

www.mentalhealth.org

www.ox.ac.uk/research/why-doing-good-can-do-you-good

https://www.phc.ox.ac.uk/news/blog/why-doing-good-can-do-you-good/search?category=statistics&b_start:int=730

 

 

 

 

Coaching at WHS: developing approaches to academic and pastoral support

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?

Coaching is:

  • 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!

Final thoughts…

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?


Further reading

www.emmagleadhill.com

https://coactive.com

GROW 2.0 – Being Human in an AI World

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’[1] 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.”[2]

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[3], 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.

Panel Discussion

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.


References:

[1] Michael Bugeja, Living Media Ethics: Across Platforms, 2nd Ed. 2018

[2] Online Social Networking and Addiction – A review of Psychological Literature, Daria J. Kuss and Mark D. Griffiths, US National Library of Medicine, 2011

[3] November 2018

Why does Wimbledon High School need a behaviour system?

Richard White, School Consultant teacher and Head of Year, explores the benefits of an integrated and centralised behaviour system in schools and why they are so important.

Why?

When I first started discussing the need for a whole school behaviour system ‘why’ was ostensibly a very sensible question. Generally, pupils at WHS are well behaved and there are not a great deal of problems with disruptive behaviour in lessons. On the whole, they treat each other well and show respect towards adults.

Yet this ignores a number of very good reasons, perhaps most importantly that children need clear boundaries. I am sure that most 11-18 year olds would like to say that they do not want boundaries to be put in place, but it is those boundaries that help to develop a safe secure environment and a sense of respect when they are consistently applied. It is also important to help allow teenagers to understand the responsibility they have for their behaviour and subsequent consequences.

Behaviour

The need to have parity of consequences for both positive and negative behaviour, and to have the behaviour of the individual as the focus rather than the teacher’s response to this. This has an impact on staff wellbeing as well, rather than having to chase pupils for detentions or dealing with differing expectations between members of staff the behaviour can be dealt with more objectively at a later point.

By having a behaviour system we are much more able to log patterns of behaviour and help us to build a better picture of the students we teach, as well as having more informed discussions with them and, if necessary, with their parents. This could help us discover when there are issues for pupils faster and allow us to put strategies in place to help them quicker. Whether positive or negative, a behaviour system can allow staff to focus on the behaviour of the pupil rather than potentially making it personal.

Linking back to the initial question of why do this (as the students are not, on the whole, badly behaved), we want to reward the girls more, particularly those who might normally go unnoticed. We wanted to see if we could find a way to recognise a range of girls – those who excel academically and those who publicly achieve – but also those who come to school and work to the best of their ability day in day out, who hold doors open or do small things to try and improve the lives of those around them. Both are of equal importance.

How?

When creating a system from scratch it became apparent very quickly that having buy-in from staff, SMT and pupils were going to be the biggest challenge from the outset.

I have been lucky enough to work in a range of schools with varying behaviour policies, so I took the broad idea of a three strikes rule and a diamond. One side of the diamond would be positive and the other negative, as you move to the tip of the diamond on either side this should represent either more serious consequences or rarer and more sought-after rewards.

After presenting the idea to SMT with the positives that I have outlined above we formed a strategy group that was available to all members of staff. I seem to remember that we ran 5 after-school sessions, each reviewing suggestions of the last subject and how the ideas would work for each different subject.

We also met with the student counsel as well to have their views on the broad idea and what areas of behaviour needed to be recognised and reprimanded. It would have to be said that of the three interest groups that were approached the students were by far the keenest and have always been happy to see those of their peers not representing their community positively dealt with accordingly.

We rolled the system out to a single year group in the final term of the year and were able to iron out any issues with the system ready to launch to all staff and pupils in the following September. This has been reviewed periodically to allow staff and pupils a voice on how the behaviour system is working, allowing for changes and improvements to be made.

What is our system?

We use a system that works on house points and negative behaviour points. The pupils receive house points (this was to try and raise the profile of the house system when we first launched our behaviour system) for model behaviour, class and homework effort, great contributions, excellent achievement and postcards home. We have a range of rewards from half-termly breakfasts put on for those who receive the most model behaviour points in each house and in each year group, which is led on by the House Captains and attempts to further inter-year bonding in the school. We have trips to a local coffee shop, different levels of certificates for accumulative achievement, a cinema trip for the winning house, a range of prizes in the end of term assemblies and in our end of year speech day we have a host of awards that recognise student’s achievements of an academic and personal nature.

The negative behaviour is precisely focused on with detentions being issued when 3 points are collated in a specific category in any 2-week period. Pupils will be told when they are receiving points, but there is not a requirement for staff to get involved in prolonged discussions there and then. The cumulative behaviour is dealt with by the year team, and if they decide detention is warranted then one is issued after a discussion with the pupil regarding their behaviour that led them there.

Every form tutor has a screen that allows them to see when their tutees have two points in any given category so that they can be involved in discussions with their tutees before their behaviour escalates into detention. This allows for the tutor team to step in before the situation has become an established pattern of behaviour.

Depending on the seriousness of offence this can then escalate into further consequences. The intent is to stop this though, particularly if behaviour is recurrent, and after 2 detentions in the same term for the same behaviour type the student would be placed on a report, not as a further punishment but to try and help them alter the negative pattern of behaviour and give them a greater sense of ownership of this. It also allows for more immediate praise when things go well which can have a far bigger impact than repeatedly punishing pupils.

Problems?

As has been alluded to above having buy-in from all interest groups is the biggest challenge. Staff training, in particular, has been particularly important, and we are very lucky that we have a staff body that has embraced the system. That isn’t to say that there weren’t teething problems, particularly when staff had for so long had their own independent systems for dealing with their pupils. However, with regular training initially and with training new staff in how the system works as part of their induction training sessions has helped it become a part of daily life at school.

Another issue has been age bias. I hold my hands up as a guilty party here. As the pupils get older we often assume that they care less about getting positive points, but as my Year 11s recently showed me when they took me to the task of my tardiness at given them points, they do still care; of course, they do! When they work as hard as our students do they want, and deserve recognition for their efforts.

Technical training and reporting was also initially an issue, and ensuring that there is parity between year groups in approach and staff more generally will always be something the school needs to be mindful of. As with any system that relies on people things will always be subjective, and therefore never without its problems.

Impact?

We often see that the younger year groups have issues with organisation and homework at first, but we also see these behaviour patterns change. These behaviours were not confined younger year groups at first, but are much more so now. When boundaries are consistently enforced, and discussions centre around the behaviour and what can be done to change it they have appeared to have had a much bigger impact.

Behaviour is not perfect, and in a school, I do not believe it ever will be. However, our pupils learn to be more responsible for their behaviour and we are able to have much more informed conversations with them and their parents about both the positive and negative behaviour we see in school.

 

Should we reclaim the asylum?

Asylum

Tara, Year 13, explores whether the asylum would provide the best care for those with mental illnesses or whether it should be left in the past.

AsylumWhen someone says asylum in the context of psychology, what do you immediately think of? I can safely assume most readers are picturing haunted Victorian buildings, animalistic patients rocking in corners and scenes of general inhumanity and cruelty. However, asylum has another meaning in our culture. Asylum, when referring to refugees, can mean sanctuary, hope and care. Increasingly people are exploring this original concept of asylum, and whether we, in a time when mental illness is more prevalent than ever, can reclaim the asylum? Or is it, and institutional in general, confined to history?

In the last 40 years, there has been a shift towards, “care in the community” and deinstitutionalization, facilitated by the development of various new medications and therapies. This has undeniably led to significant improvements in many individual’s mental wellbeing, better protected their human rights and reduced stigmatisation.

However, it also has led to significant cuts in facilities for those unable to transition into society, with almost no long-term beds available in mental health hospitals or inpatient units. Whilst this has left some dependent on family and friends for support, many have ended up in prison or homeless, with a third of the homeless population estimated to be suffering from schizophrenia or bipolar disorder. Some would, therefore, argue that a reinvention and rebranding of the asylum could provide long term care for severely and chronically ill patients, who even with intensive therapies and drugs, are unlikely to reintegrate back into society.

Designed in collaboration with patients and experts, these ‘asylums’ are not necessarily all intended to be large scale hospitals. The system is intended to be flexible, varied and voluntary where possible.  By providing more community-based institutions, with as low a density of residents as possible, we can maximise privacy and trained staff can focus on each patient as individuals in a less punishing environment, removing many of the factors contributing to their distress, and overall improving their quality of life.

Arguably patients may become less isolated, as they are given a safe space to socialize and engage with people they can relate to and support. Unlike temporary units and mental health wards, these institutions would provide long term stability and respite, away from the continuous turbulence and disruption typical of hospitals.

Lastly many will benefit from the structure, intensive therapy and monitoring of medication provided by institutionalisation, which greatly reduces the likelihood of individuals harming themselves or relapsing. Some would argue the notion is too idealistic and that current models provide a utopian ideal of mental health care, and whilst seemingly unattainable it demonstrates to policymakers the importance and possibility of a change in direction.

This reinvention would require considerable time, money and commitment, especially as mental health care has been historically underfunded.  However, in this ever-changing climate the asylum might seem like a taboo topic of the past, but if we can shift our focus, if we can overcome our assumptions and reclaim the asylum in both meaning and function, it could be a thing of the future.

The Brain Chemistry of Eating Disorders

Jo, Year 13, explores what is happening chemically inside the brains of those suffering from eating disorders and shows how important this science is to understanding these mental health conditions.

The definition of an eating disorder is any range of psychological disorders characterised by abnormal or disturbed eating habits. Anorexia is defined as a lack or loss of appetite for food and an emotional disorder characterised by an obsessive desire to lose weight by refusing to eat. Bulimia is defined as an emotional disorder characterised by a distorted body image and an obsessive desire to lose weight, in which bouts of extreme overeating are followed by fasting, self-induced vomiting or purging. Anorexia and bulimia are often chronic and relapsing disorders and anorexia has the highest death rate of any psychiatric disorder. Individuals with anorexia and bulimia are consistently characterised by perfectionism, obsessive-compulsiveness, and dysphoric mood.

Dopamine and serotonin function are integral to both of these conditions; how does brain chemistry enable us to understand what causes anorexia and bulimia?

Dopamine

Dopamine is a compound present in the body as a neurotransmitter and is primarily responsible for pleasure and reward and in turn influences our motivation and attention. It has been implicated in the symptom pattern of individuals with anorexia, specifically related to the mechanisms of reinforcement and reward in engaging in anorexic behaviours, such as restricting food intake. Dysfunction of the dopamine system contributes to characteristic traits and behaviours of individuals with anorexia which includes compulsive exercise and pursuit of weight loss.

In people suffering from anorexia dopamine levels are stimulated by restricting to the point of starving. People feel ‘rewarded’ by severely reducing their calorie intake and in the early stages of anorexia the more dopamine that is released the more rewarded they feel and the more reinforced restricting behaviour becomes. Bulimia involves dopamine serving as the ‘reward’ and ‘feel good’ chemical released in the brain when overeating. Dopamine ‘rushes’ affect people with anorexia and bulimia, but for people with anorexia starving releases dopamine, whereas for people with bulimia binge eating releases dopamine.

Serotonin

Serotonin is responsible for feelings of happiness and calm – too much serotonin can produce anxiety, while too-little may result in feelings of sadness and depression. Evidence suggests that altered brain serotonin function contributes to dysregulation of appetite, mood, and impulse control in anorexia and bulimia. High levels of serotonin may result in heightened satiety, which means it is easier to feel full. Starvation and extreme weight loss decrease levels of serotonin in the brain. This results in temporary alleviation from negative feelings and emotional disturbance which reinforces anorexic symptoms.

Tryptophan is an essential amino acid found in the diet and is the precursor of serotonin, which means that it is the molecule required to make serotonin. Theoretically, binging behaviour is consistent with reduced serotonin function while anorexia is consistent with increased serotonin activity. So decreased tryptophan levels in the brain, and therefore decreased serotonin, increases bulimic urges.

Conclusions

Distorted body image is another key concept to understand when discussing eating disorders. The area of the brain known as the insula is important for appetite regulation and also interceptive awareness, which is the ability to perceive signals from the body like touch, pain, and hunger. Chemical dysfunction in the insula, a structure in the brain that integrates the mind and body, may lead to distorted body image, which is a key feature of anorexia. Some research suggests that some of the problems people with anorexia have regarding body image distortion can be related to alterations of interceptive awareness. This could explain why a person recovering from anorexia can draw a self-portrait of their body image that is typically 3x its actual size. Prolonged untreated symptoms appear to reinforce the chemical and structural abnormalities in the brains seen in those diagnosed with anorexia and bulimia.

Therefore, in order to not only understand and but also treat both anorexia and bulimia, it is central to look at the brain chemistry behind these disorders in order to better understand how to go about successfully treating them.

 

Why using your five senses is the key to practising mindfulness at school – 19/10/18

Lucy (Year 8) looks at how our senses can be used to help us to practise mindfulness within the school day and the potential benefits this can have on our overall mental health and wellbeing.

The word mindfulness can conjure up an image of a class doing yoga or meditating.  But its key essence is about deliberately bringing one’s attention to experiences occurring in the present moment. It is about turning ourselves off autopilot, and noticing our present being. In the life of a busy Wimbledon High girl, this can be a challenging and daunting prospect. Focusing on our five senses will bring us into the ‘here and now’, and might be the crucial tool for dealing with stressful and anxiety inducing situations.

The senses are how we understand the world, and to obtain the most positive experience from the present moment we need to employ them in everything we do. Studies by Dr. Patrizia Collard (Sensory Awareness Mindfulness Training in Coaching: Accepting Life’s Challenges, Collard & Walsh, 2008) demonstrate that focussing on our senses, and non-judgementally on our current situation, results in a significant improvement in a range of conditions such as anxiety, depression and stress disorders.

A simple mindfulness exercise that could be practiced during the day at school, and without the use of a yoga mat, is the 5-4-3-2-1 tool. This exercise is an effective method of regaining control of your mind when anxiety or stress threaten to take over and reminds us to interact with the world using our five senses. It requires you to think of five things that you can see (e.g. a picture on a classroom wall).  Then you think of 4 things that you hear (e.g. the orchestra rehearsing in the Senior Hall), three things you can touch (e.g. your earrings), two things you smell (e.g. tea or coffee) and one thing you can taste (e.g. breaktime snacks).  This exercise can help you become more aware of your present situation and reduce potential stress.

Good mental health is something we should all aim for, and psychologists around the world are investigating ways to maintain a consistent level of positive mental health. Using our five senses and practicing mindfulness can help us be resilient when going through a time of stress and help keep us grounded in reality. Learning to focus on the external factors present around us helps avoid excessive focus on internal issues and can moderate extremes of feeling or emotion. Consistency and balance are crucial when aspiring to have good mental health.

However, mindfulness should not be a tool reserved only for stressful situations. Just like training for a sport, mindfulness needs to be practiced and developed to make it the most effective it can be.  Using the 5-4-3-2-1 technique and your five senses are a simple way of practicing mindfulness because you do not need equipment, a long time, or any external help. Our body has the tools we need to master mindfulness, we just need to trust them and exercise them.

For further reading, see the book “How to be yourself” by Clinical Psychologist Ellen Hendriksen (buy it here for a paper by Harvard Medical School about the benefits mindfulness has on stress and anxiety levels.

Transitions: stepping in to Year 7

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’[1] 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[2] 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:

  1. 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.[3]
  2. The not so nice emotions and how we describe them. Psychologist Susan David in her TED talk ‘the gift and power of emotional courage’[4] 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.
  3. 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’[5] 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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

[1] Brene Brown ‘Daring Greatly. How the Courage to be Vulnerable Transforms the Way we Live, Love and Parent and Lead’, 2012

[2] GL Assessment Children’s Wellbeing: Pupil Attitudes to Self and School Report 2018

[3] See Ken Rigby University of South Australia for more detailed information on different intervention approaches, March 2010

[4] Susan David TED talk ‘The Gift and Power of Emotional Courage’, Nov 2017 https://www.ted.com/talks/susan_david_the_gift_and_power_of_emotional_courage

[5] Sara Milne Rowe ‘The SHED METHOD Making Better Choices When it Matters, 2018

 

Japan- a culture to die for? Cultural attitudes to suicide in Japan and the West

Wimbledon High History

Gaining publicity following Youtuber Logan Paul’s video filmed in Aokigahara, one of Japan’s suicide hotspots, the extremely high suicide rate in Japan has been featured increasingly in Western news. In this article, Jess Marrais aims to explore possible historical and traditional reasons for both Japan and Western attitudes towards suicide.

The world of YouTube and social media crossed over into mainstream media on 1st January 2018 following a video uploaded by popular YouTuber, Logan Paul. Paul and a group of friends, while traveling around Japan, decided to film a video in ‘Aokigahara’, a forest at the base of Mt Fuji, famous as the second most popular suicide location in the world. The video, which has since been taken down, showed graphic images of an unknown man who had recently hanged himself, and Paul and the rest of his party were shown to joke and trivialise the forest and all that it represents.

Unsurprisingly, Paul received a lot of backlash, as did YouTube for their lack of response in regards to the video itself. This whole situation has restarted a discussion into Japanese suicide rates, both online and in mainstream media sources such as the BBC.

In the discussions surrounding the problem, I fear that little has been said in the UK about the cultural attitudes in Japan towards suicide, and how drastically they conflict with the historical beliefs entrenched in our own culture.

In Christianity, suicide is seen as one of the ultimate sins- to kill oneself is to play God, to decide when a soul should leave the Earth, and breaks one of the 10 Commandments (‘Thou shall not murder’). Historically, those victim to suicide were forbidden from having a Christian funeral or burial, and it was believed that their souls would have no access to heaven. As a result of this, it makes sense that in Christian countries suicide is frowned upon. We in the West view the high suicide rate in Japan, and other East-Asian countries, through our own cultural understanding; while in actual fact, the problem should be seen within the context of the cultural and historical setting of the countries themselves.

In Japan, the history of the samurai plays a large role in attitudes towards suicide. The samurai (military nobility) had monopoly over early Japan, and they lived by the code of ‘Bushido’- moral values emphasising honour. One of the core values of Bushido was that of ‘seppuku’- should a samurai lose in battle or bring dishonour to his family or shogun (feudal lord), he must kill himself by slitting open his stomach with his own sword in order to regain his- and his family’s – honour in death. Due to the prominent role the samurai played in Japanese society, this idea of killing oneself to regain honour seeped into all aspects of society, thanks to personal and familial honour being a central part of Japanese values, even today.

More recently, this warrior attitude to death can be seen in the famous World War II ‘kamikaze’ pilots- pilots who purposefully crashed their planes, killing themselves and destroying their targets (usually Allied ships). These pilots were typically young, and motivated by the prospect of bringing honour to their family and Emperor in death. During the war, 3,682 kamikaze pilots died, spurred on by the samurai code of Bushido.

In modern day, suicide is seen by many in Japan as taking responsibility. Suicide rates in Japan soared after the 2008 financial crash, reaching their highest at the end of the 2011 economic year. Current statistics say around 30,000 Japanese people of all ages commit suicide each year, as opposed to 6,600 per year in the UK.  Increasing numbers of Japan’s aging population (those over 65) are turning to suicide to relieve their family of the burden of caring for them. Some cases even say of unemployed men killing themselves to enable their family to claim their life insurance, in contrast to the UK where suicide prevents life insurance being from claimed. Regardless of the end of the samurai era and the Second World War, the ingrained mentality of honour drives thousands of people in Japan to end their own lives, motivated not only by desperation, but also the desire to do the right thing.

If anything can be taken away from this, it is to view stories and events from the cultural context within which they occur. While suicide is a tragic occurrence regardless of the country/culture in which it happens, social pressures and upbringing can – whether we are aware of it or not – influence a person’s actions. If this lesson can be carried forward to different cultures and stories, we will find ourselves in a world far more understanding and less judgemental than our current one.

Follow History Twitter: @History_WHS

Suicide hotlines:

  • PAPYRUS: support for teenagers and young adults who are feeling suicidal – 0800 068 41 41

Further reading:

Mindful revision: how to make the best of the revision period

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As mock exams start, Suzanne East, our Mindfulness Lead, looks at how we can manage the pressures of examination revision to achieve our best and stay healthy.

As the Christmas holidays approached and the festivities were beginning to get into full swing, I wished my Y11 tutor group Merry Christmas and asked how they were planning on spending the holiday period; “revision”, they groaned in reply. In their eyes was written the despair at the prospect of sitting alone in garret-like bedrooms struggling with never-ending lists of dates whilst the sounds of forbidden parties drifted up to torment them.

Faced with this, I sought ways to encourage them, and found that mindful practise offered some practical suggestions. So here are my top five tips on how to survive revision, especially revision during the holiday period, in a most mindful way!

  1. Acceptance

At the end of the day, it is what it is and you will not feel any happier by constantly thinking of other things you could be doing. Being constantly updated on the fun that others are having will not help, so put the device away and get on with it!

  1. Focus

Mindful practice encourages you to bring the focus of your attention back to a chosen point, perhaps the breath. We all get distracted but we can improve our attention with regular practice – a vital skill in completing any task! Remember to be kind (you will not be able to focus all the time) but notice the drifting away of attention and gently bring it back to the job in hand.

  1. Self-awareness

Away from the routines of school this is a time when students may be alone for long periods and need to take responsibility for their own care. Mindful practice encourages paying attention to yourself, how are you feeling physically, mentally and emotionally. By getting to know yourself you can make sure you stop and eat when hungry, get some exercise when sluggish and meet up with friends when feeling lonely.

  1. Savouring the good

It is easy to let revision seep into all aspects of the day. Even when not actually doing revision it can hijack your thoughts; regretting not doing more or dreading going back.  Mindfulness practice teaches how to be fully in the moment, so if you are doing some revision, pay attention and do it, but equally when you are having a break really have a break. Immerse yourself in a long soak in the bath, enjoy chatting with your friends when you meet up for coffee, savour that chocolate and get out and be in the world that is buzzing away with life all around you.

  1. Kindness

Remember mocks are a practice run. Things will not always go to plan, and this is almost certainly true of revision plans. Mindful practice encourages students to explore areas of difficulty and to accept that life can make you feel sad, angry and frustrated. No one likes to feel like this, but these are feelings we cannot escape from. Get to know them and learn how you can move forward, being as kind and supportive to yourself as you would to a good friend.

Of course, none of the above come easily.  Regular practice is essential in building mindful habits, but the rewards can be quite life changing, especially when the going gets tough.

Follow @DHPastoralWHS for regular Pastoral updates at Wimbledon High.