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How do I look? – Headmaster’s Blog – Tuesday 9th January 2018

January 9, 2018
Looking at your phone

How do I look?

There was a piece on the News recently from the Children’s Commissioner for England, Anne Longfield, urging social media companies, parents and teachers to do more to help young people who grow up ‘chasing likes’. Anne Longfield said that social media is exposing children to ‘significant risks emotionally’, with a particular ‘cliff edge’ as they transition from junior to secondary school. She had commissioned a report, (published January 2018) called Life in Likes, which states that children become increasingly anxious about their online image as they head into their teens.

Whilst this report is not necessarily revealing something new, it does keep a critical area of young people’s development to the fore. It resonated for me with a book I have been reading (somewhat later than intended in the year) for Advent: Tim Chester’s The One True Gift. He writes:

We live in an age in which we constantly worry about how other people perceive us. “How do I look?” is one of our culture’s catchphrases. And no wonder. A couple of generations ago your identity was pretty much handed to you at birth. The chances were you would do the job your parents did and live in the area in which they lived. Today, social mobility means most of us have the freedom to invent and reinvent ourselves.

It can be a great blessing to have this freedom and to be able to explore and then seize new opportunities. However, it can also bring an increased level of anxiety: if my identity is down to me, then I can end up evaluating my performance time and time again. With social media it is magnified from ‘how do I look to the people in this room…in my work place…at school?’ to ‘how do I look to the online world?’ I desperately want them to give me the ‘thumbs up’ and to ‘like’ my posting, my picture and my persona.

I hesitate to ‘preach’ but I can’t help but quote from the apostle Paul in his letter to the Philippians (chapter 2). His advice, it seems to me, applies to us all whatever our faith position:

Philippians 2: 3-4

True humility is not found by pretending we are worse than we really are – something we self-deprecating British seem to ‘enjoy’ – but in how we think about others. As Chester writes: When you meet a humble person, you don’t come away thinking, “What a humble person”. You come away thinking, “That person was really interested in me”.

So, perhaps the next time we ask ourselves the question, “How do I look?” perhaps we shall find an answer in looking away from ourselves and in valuing others more highly.

Here’s hoping I can do this next time I look in the mirror – or on social media!

Alastair Reid (Headmaster)

We tweet from @BallardSchool

Ballard School is an independent, private co-educational school in New Milton, Hampshire, providing an outstanding level of education for nursery to GCSE. With small class sizes and proven academic excellence, we strive to nurture the academic potential of all students. Learn more about our academic programmes, pastoral care, facilities and school ethos by visiting our website or by requesting a prospectus here.

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Less is more? – Headmaster’s Blog – 3 January 2018

January 3, 2018
less is more image

Less is more?

A Happy New Year to the readers (reader?) of this blog! I trust you have had a festive break with some refreshments with family and friends.

Festive sort-out?

I returned home yesterday after a week away and decided to look for something ‘in a box somewhere’ in my garage. After a good hour and a half I found what I was seeking (an old teaching file) but in the process waded through an incredible amount of ‘stuff’. Why on earth have I kept all those history books from university days, those teaching notes from the early 1980s and all those video cassettes from yesteryear? I accept that I am a bit of a hoarder (I prefer to say that as an historian I’m interested in sifting through the past and everything has a value) but there has to come a limit.

Post-Christmas analysis

These thoughts of excess and surplus are, I suppose, natural at Christmas time when most of us will no doubt receive many more presents than we really need or want. (As a teacher I am extremely grateful to all those pupils who have kindly given me cards but, I suspect, I won’t have the stomach – literally – for the many boxes of Belgian chocolates which were generously given to me and so I hope my colleagues in the staff room will enjoy sharing them over the next few months / year!) On a different scale, but similarly thought-provoking, I read recently that 200,000 books are published annually in the UK. The Times literary editor, Robbie Millen, has written an exasperated piece asking people to kindly stop sending books to him as he was overwhelmed. Apparently, with so many books clamouring for our attention, it’s much easier to award them ‘nervous little pats on the head rather than to separate wheat from chaff’ (as DJ Taylor has written in the I newspaper). Moreover, there were 821 films on release in the UK in 2016 (equating to 16 per week) and so surely way beyond the capacity of mere mortals, let along film critics, to assimilate, evaluate (or even enjoy)!

Perhaps ‘less is more’?

‘Less is more’ for the environment as well it seems

I expect that most of us who have seen some of the harrowing images from Blue Planet 2 will agree that where plastic is concerned, less is indeed more – more sea creatures and, in time, more health for humans, too. A simple walk around our local woodlands or seashore, even a glance in the roadside ditch, reveals extensive amounts of waste and litter. (Can anyone understand the mentality behind those who apparently throw away tin cans and coffee cups with thoughtless abandon?) Less is more beauty and, again, greater health to the planet.

DJ Taylor, in the aforementioned newspaper, comments on a further concern:

…the more stuff becomes available the more the overall quality of things on offer starts to sink…the greater the volume of stuff brought before our eyes the less able we are to discriminate between good and bad, to work out what we really want to watch, read or listen to and establish whether it shapes up.

New Year’s resolution

Taylor’s advice for a New Year resolution is that we buy less of everything as we may then enjoy what’s left more. This seems to me to be a sound approach but I hope it’s not simply for what it might do for ourselves but also for others. One present I particularly appreciated this year was from a parent: a donation made (in place of a ‘thing’) in the school’s name to ‘Oxfam unwrapped’ to help pay for a child’s education in a developing part of the world.

Here ‘more’ will in fact be ‘more and not less’!”

Alastair Reid (Headmaster)

 

What do you wish for?

December 19, 2017
Ballard Wishmas tree 2017

What do you wish for?

Term has just concluded for us with another magnificent and uplifting Carol Service at Christchurch Priory. Our concluding anthem, a firm favourite, was John Rutter’s ‘I wish you Christmas’. This song speaks of snow, music, friends, loved ones and blessings – a certain amount of nostalgia but also comforting, lyrical and, yes, a blessing to sing and to hear.

Now I am back at school and taking down our annual ‘Wishmas Tree’ and reading the comments written on the Christmas labels and placed on the tree’s branches. Pupils and staff are encouraged to place here wishes, prayers and comments as a means of reflecting on the present and the future. In previous years we have had our crop of requests for particular types of Christmas present, for a boyfriend or girlfriend and for a loved one just departed. This year the mood seems to have changed somewhat.

The most common theme amongst the ‘wishes’ was for peace in the world and the absence of war. This one is typical:

I wish all people were kind and that poor people have a safe place to live. And that there was no war.

Another one picked up on the concern for the poor with;

I wish for people to have love, food, drink, electricity and a home.

In our final assemblies this term we have spent time encouraging a practical response in this winter time to those in need near to home (such as through the New Forest Basics’ Bank) and also those on the continent suffering as refugees (such as ‘Clothes for Calais’ which a staff member and his wife are journeying to support). This seems to have inspired this ‘wish’ on our tree: I hope we can all develop an ‘attitude of gratitude’ this Christmas and always.

 

There were a couple of ‘one off’ wishes. The first was no doubt inspired by the latest BBC ‘Blue Planet’:

I wish there will be no plastic in the sea.

The other, much to my amusement (not quite knowing how to take this one in the year of my retirement):

I hope for a wonderful new Head Teacher.

(It’s probably best not to dwell on this comment as it might be a critique of the present incumbent!)

And so, as we go into the Christmas season, what do you wish for as 2018 starts to appear on the horizon? Here’s my wish from the final verse of Rutter’s song:

I wish you music, I wish you song;

I wish you harmony your whole life long

The warmth of memories that long remain

I wish you Christmas, a merry Christmas,

And may God bless you till we all meet again.

Alastair Reid (Headmaster)

We tweet from @BallardSchool

Ballard School is an independent, private co-educational school in New Milton, Hampshire, providing an outstanding level of education for nursery to GCSE. With small class sizes and proven academic excellence, we strive to nurture the academic potential of all students. Learn more about our academic programmes, pastoral care, facilities and school ethos by visiting our website or by requesting a prospectus here.

Jingling all the way…to support others

December 12, 2017
Ballard attend Lymington Santa Dash 2017

Jingling all the way…to support others

In a recent RS assessment for Y8 there was a question as follows:

Name a charity or organisation that works to help those suffering around the world.

I was amazed – perhaps humbled would be a better word – to see some responses which named ‘Ballard School’ as just such a charity. Some answers were: ‘Ballard’s Kenya charity’ whilst others wrote, ‘the charity we support at school for the shoeboxes’ or ‘where we are helping the hurricane-damaged families’.

Charity and Ballard – Autumn Term 2017

This is clearly a season of ‘jingle bells’ (not least in the snow-wracked parts of the UK) and last week we had our Christmas jumper home clothes’ day with reindeers and wacky lights and bells much in evidence.

Ballard Christmas jumper day 2017

The ‘jingling’ I had in mind, however, were the coins (and notes) given so generously by pupils and families over the course of this term. One Y5 pupil gave all of her pocket money to support the Honeypot charity (assisting young carers) whilst on a Ballard Family scale we have seen unprecedented levels of giving towards good causes at home and overseas:

Charity hurricane Irma Flood fundraising

  • the post-Hurricane Irma appeal for the Caribbean
  • the Poppy Appeal at Remembrance
  • over 130 Christmas shoe boxes for Samaritan’s Purse
  • Christmas Shoe boxes 2017
  • The New Forest Basics’ Bank at Harvest time
  • Our four House charities underway
  • ‘Clothes for Calais’ going out this holiday with staff members
  • presents for needy children donated at the Carol Service
  • Movember for men’s mental health (supported by moustache-growing colleagues);
  • the ‘Santa Dash’ – and the ‘light a life service’ – for Oakhaven Hospice;
  • and, of course, our own ‘Kenya 2019’, to name but the principal ones supported.

 

It was also super to see a photo in the local ‘paper of three of our parents and their on-going generous support for Naomi House & JacksPlace.

I simply want to say ‘thank you’ to everyone for giving so generously. We probably remember the 2011 John Lewis advert (‘The Long Wait’) of the child who can’t wait for Christmas day – in order to give his parents their present. It’s true so say that ‘it’s in giving that we receive’ and there’s never a more pertinent time to do just that!

Happy Christmas everyone – thanks for your generosity – and continue keep putting others first into the New Year!

Every blessing for 2018,

Alastair Reid (Headmaster)

We tweet from @BallardSchool

Ballard School is an independent, private co-educational school in New Milton, Hampshire, providing an outstanding level of education for nursery to GCSE. With small class sizes and proven academic excellence, we strive to nurture the academic potential of all students. Learn more about our academic programmes, pastoral care, facilities and school ethos by visiting our website or by requesting a prospectus here.

Girls will be girls and boys will be boys? – Headmaster’s Blog – Wednesday 29 November 2017

November 29, 2017
Girls will be girls and boys will be boys

Girls will be girls and boys will be boys?

‘Gender neutral’ focus

At the recent Girls’ School Association’s annual conference, a former Department for Education mental health advisor, Natasha Devon, urged teachers to consider using ‘gender neutral’ language. This would mean they would stop using ‘girls’ or ‘ladies’ when addressing the young people and, instead, use the terms ‘pupils’, ‘students’ or, simply, ‘people’. Ms Devon suggested that it may not be helpful to keep reminding pupils of their gender in a learning environment. (Sadly, Ms Devon has now faced online abuse and death threats since making these remarks.)

Cheryl Giovanni, chief executive of the Girls’ Day School Trust, has now tried to deflect such criticism by saying there ‘are much bigger issues for us to be debating in a way that actually help move society forwards.’ She told the Telegraph: ‘Gender inequality is one, gender pay gap is another, under-representation of women in most professions, under-representation of girls taking STEM subjects.’ For me, this is where the main ‘battleground’ lies.

The Ballard Family

Ballard Food technology gender

Food technology is a subject taken by both girls and boys

Whilst I am sure we shall continue to use traditional gender-specific terms at Ballard – and also refer to our community as a whole as ‘the Ballard Family’ – I can see that much in this debate is helpful in raising awareness once more about the importance of equality for all irrespective of age or gender. I am delighted to note that there is a difference of only three pupils across the whole school where the numbers of boys and girls are concerned. Whilst not trumpeting it unnecessarily, we do have a transgender policy in school which we have applied positively on two occasions to date and have made appropriate adjustments to facilities, uniform and activities. I am also delighted to note that we regularly ‘buck the norm’ and have girls taking STEM subjects at GCSE and have boys doing Food Technology. (It was interesting to note just this week that author and illustrator Adam Hargreaves had invented a new character for his Mr Men and Little Miss series: Little Miss Inventor – described as a ‘positive role model for girls’.)

Ballard – Sport, Arts, STEM, Life!

Ballard Girls Rugby win

Girls’ rugby at Ballard – a winning team!

Performing Arts has also attracted both sexes at Ballard although dance remains predominantly a girls’ preserve as far as GCSE is concerned – but not when extra-curricular activities are considered. This term’s Upper Prep (Y6-8) production, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, has a girl in a lead role as Willy Wonka (and a boy as Charlie). Girls are now playing rugby here – and one of our lady PE staff is a leading ladies’ rugby coach – and have their first tournament next term. They have been joining the boys in mixed tag rugby teams for many years and recently our girls triumphed in a football festival. Boys have been playing netball and, again, one of our male PE staff coaches netball regularly.

I do hope that this debate over gender remains healthy and positive. We need to get away from ‘name calling’ and focus on equality of opportunity. Men and women, boys and girls, are different – in my understanding this is what God intended – but there is so much each can learn from the other both here in school and in society at large.

Alastair Reid (Headmaster and father of two girls and one boy!)

We tweet from @BallardSchool

Ballard School is an independent, private co-educational school in New Milton, Hampshire, providing an outstanding level of education for nursery to GCSE. With small class sizes and proven academic excellence, we strive to nurture the academic potential of all students. Learn more about our academic programmes, pastoral care, facilities and school ethos by visiting our website or by requesting a prospectus here.

Home, sweet, home? – Headmaster’s Blog – Wednesday 21 November 2017

November 22, 2017
Home Sweet Home Ballard

Home, sweet, home?

My wife and I have recently visited friends in the West Country who have returned to the UK after teaching overseas for 10 years. They are settling into new school posts in a part of the country where they grew up as youngsters and yet are still asking themselves the question,

‘Where is Home?’

This sense of isolation and lack of belonging is not unusual when moving to one part of this country to another, let alone overseas and back. I remember when we moved from Scotland after twelve years, where our three children were born and went to primary school, to England. There was a tangible feeling of grief and homesickness even though we were still living in the UK. Scottish accents were lost quickly so that our children could more easily settle into their new school and we worked hard to make new friends, to get involved in a local church and to familiarise ourselves with the locality.

On being a Third Culture Kid

Our time overseas following five years in England brought its own challenges as we adapted to life in India. Some nine years later we returned to live here in Hampshire and the question posed by our friends in the South West was on our lips, too:

‘Where is Home?’

In India we had become familiar with the TCK (third culture kid) syndrome: children and adults born in one country, bearing a passport to another and then schooled in a third (and perhaps any number of other countries in between). It meant that friendships overseas were intense for a time (and traditions from the ‘old country’ practiced strongly) until families moved on and the grief settled in meaning that the next time we would perhaps ensure our friendships were held more lightly so as to dull the pain of the inevitable time of separation to come.

The solution for this feeling?

There is no easy solution to this sense of not being at home anywhere. Time does help to ‘heal’, of course, and it’s very important to hang on to valuable experiences and training in other cultures and settings. Parochialism in the UK, strange for a nation which has over centuries populated and reached so much of the world, needs challenging. Our West Country friends told us about a Northern Irish colleague who had taught with them overseas for six years. When she went ‘home’ to NI and visited the local Job Centre she was asked where she had been for the past few years. ‘Teaching in India for six years’, she said. The Job Centre official said,

‘Ok, I’ll write here on your form that you’ve done some part-time volunteering previously.’

Such ignorance – even cheek – and just as well that this hard working teacher from an Indian boarding school setting and almost 24/7 commitment has a sense of humour!

Home Sweet Home Ballard

Home IS where the heart is

I suppose what I want to suggest is that it’s very true that ‘home is where the heart is’. For those who have moved countries or counties do indeed leave something of themselves in their previous locality and it’s natural to yearn after those places. There will be a period of feeling lost, even adrift (like on a rowing boat between banks of a river), before landfall is made and, to mix my metaphors, firmer roots established. Be gentle with yourselves if this is what you are going through and, for those receiving the bereft in the new location, also be gentle, accepting and patient of the incomers. Value their experiences – they may need to talk about them repeatedly for a while – whilst directing your new colleagues or neighbours to begin to see what is good, valuable and trustworthy in their new locality. Home is indeed where the heart is – but sometimes the heart needs to catch up with the body and this can take months, even years!

Alastair Reid (Headmaster and TCK)

We tweet from @BallardSchool

Ballard School is an independent, private co-educational school in New Milton, Hampshire, providing an outstanding level of education for nursery to GCSE. With small class sizes and proven academic excellence, we strive to nurture the academic potential of all students. Learn more about our academic programmes, pastoral care, facilities and school ethos by visiting our website or by requesting a prospectus here.

Being sent to Coventry! – Headmaster’s Blog – Wednesday 15 November 2017

November 15, 2017

Being sent to Coventry!

The idiom above must be one of the strangest of English expressions. ‘Mr Google’ explains it has obscure origins – perhaps from the English Civil War where Royalist prisoners were taken to Parliamentarian Coventry or even an expression relating to being hanged from a tree in Henry III’s reign! Whatever its origin, the meaning is usually clear: to send someone to Coventry is to shun them and to refuse to acknowledge their presence.

On being sent to Coventry

I was ‘sent to Coventry’ recently but, I hasten to add, to the city and not to where I was ostracised. I attended the Independent Schools Association (ISA) Autumn conference and went to a fascinating seminar by the charity ‘Winston’s Wish’ which also tackled head on some of our more unhelpful English idioms.

This charity seeks to help young people who have been bereaved. This might be the loss of a loved one (there’s a strange expression – loss to mean death), the effect of someone passing away (here we go again) in their school or locality or even the news of some celebrity who has committed suicide (and once again we use an idiom – ‘committed’ – to soften the blow).

Using euphemisms – updated advice

I had always thought that using euphemisms or idioms when talking with young people – anyone actually – about death was helpful and sensitive. Whilst this might be an approach with an adult, it is not what we should do with children. A young child who has been told that ‘Daddy has gone to heaven’ might reasonably confuse this word and be upset when mummy drives through the county to Cornwall without stopping to see Daddy in Devon.

Whilst this example may seem trite – but does happen – the following expressions are more common and equally misleading, possibly unhelpful.

  • ‘Grandad has died in his sleep’ can raise a fear of going to bed at night.
  • ‘Your Aunt has had a stroke’ can be very confusing: the child may have just stroked a pet…
  • To tell a child that a relative has been ‘lost’ naturally gives rise to the request, ‘Can we go and find him?’

Talking sensitively but directly

So, how should we talk about something as distressing as the death of a loved one without being too blunt? ‘Winston’s Wish’ encourages a sensitive but direct approach:

‘Grandad has died…do you understand what this means? The doctor says he had a heart attack…this doesn’t mean anyone has hit him but, sadly, his heart has stopped working…’

(and so on – slowly, carefully, honestly and with a listening ear).

Idioms and their origins can be interesting but I for one, as I return from being ‘sent’ to Coventry, will endeavour to be more careful if, very sadly, I find myself talking with a young person about someone ‘falling off his perch ‘ (and here I go again!).

Alastair Reid (Headmaster)

We tweet from @BallardSchool

Ballard School is an independent, private co-educational school in New Milton, Hampshire, providing an outstanding level of education for nursery to GCSE. With small class sizes and proven academic excellence, we strive to nurture the academic potential of all students. Learn more about our academic programmes, pastoral care, facilities and school ethos by visiting our website or by requesting a prospectus here.

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