Junior Heads Blog Archive | Portsmouth High School

It is important not to protect our children entirely from failure

The Winter Olympics have captivated me over the last two weeks and, if it were possible, I am looking forward to our school ski trip even more than before. The margins between success and failure are so small and this has made me think about how we prepare our children as educators and parents.

A stark example of high and low emotion is that of Elise Christie, the outstanding British short track speed skater. In the Olympics of 2014 she crashed or was disqualified in all her races, leading to abuse on social media and even death threats. At the time she wanted to give up on racing entirely and was in a very dark place. She gradually worked her way out of her slump and used the disappointment as a catalyst to become even stronger. This culminated in her astonishing victories at the World Championships where she swept all before her.


On to the Olympics this year she was surely destined for greatness and to complete her tale of ‘if at first you don’t succeed, try and try again’. But as I am sure you will have seen her races were as disastrous as those of four years ago, leaving her shattered emotionally and injured. But this time the nation has leapt to support her example of fortitude and she has had nothing but praise for her efforts. Will she give up now? I do not think so and we may even see her in another four years.

It is important that our children are not protected entirely from failure. We discuss this a great deal at the junior school and will always espouse it as a way of succeeding in the future. They need to be aware that life will not always work in the way that they want it to and that this need not be something to hold them back. How we react to disappointment is a mark of our strength.

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Developing courageous young women at PHS will make a difference to the future

There has been much discussion at the junior school over the last two weeks regarding equality and women’s suffrage.

It began with the release of the video which accompanied the rebranding of the GDST. There were several comments in the film about liberating the potential of girls and the part the GDST has played in educating girls to be independent in an age of prejudice towards women. I found myself in an intriguing conversation with Year 6 where I asked if they thought that that we had finally reached a point where men and women were equal. Not one of them believes that we have. This was a view that needed to be explored further. The explanations that were given staggered me in their maturity and rationality of thought; they were not simply

repeating the views of others. One cited television companies where a man and a woman might be sitting next to each other but paid a different amount. Another that women might not be employed due to the fact that she might be having a baby, or that she is not welcomed back into the workplace on level terms when returning from maternity leave. There were several other pertinent points to add into the debate.

With this and the hundred year anniversary of the first women to gain the vote the girls have had much to consider. It is right that they challenge the status quo and from an early age. By developing courageous women we do our part at PHS to make a difference to the future.

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Junior explorers will apply their thinking skills across the curriculum and beyond…

On Monday morning I spoke to the girls about the fact that some people may feel down at this time of year. The exhilaration of Christmas has been and gone, our resolutions are beginning to wane and the weather is cold and wet.

Despite this it was not a doom and gloom assembly, the main theme being one of hope. As a school we are looking forward with enthusiasm to the year ahead and there are lots of exciting things to look forward to.

A new outdoor classroom is being installed in our forest school area in February. Our gardens continue to be developed and this will add another element to an already successful part of the school. It will be a circular structure without walls to offer shelter and shade without losing the feeling of being outside. There will be a hole in the roof for smoke from the fire and it will be built from a seasoned wood that will not rot in the damp weather. The teachers are all looking forward to making use of the space. I would like to

thank the whole school community including parents, PSA and alumnae for their generous contribution towards this project. Extended outdoor learning is just part of a new junior school initiative this year. The PHS Explorers programme will be a focus for all children regardless of age. Staff have been working hard to develop ways of integrating the theme into the curriculum. Our vision is to have a junior school where intellectual curiosity is further developed and where girls enjoy learning through a range of opportunities both inside and outside the classroom. We will ensure that the girls in our school are explorers using thinking skills that apply across the curriculum and beyond into sport, music and drama.

Future updates will expand on how this will be implemented. The programme will build upon our strengths and develop further the opportunities we have here at Dovercourt.

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‘Experts’ combine to create the unique offer at Portsmouth High Junior School

In 2007 Carol Dweck used research findings to espouse an approach to learning based around growth and fixed mindsets. This has become an important piece of work in the educational landscape and is used by many to combat children as passive recipients.

I am always cautious of using the work of one particular ‘expert’ when developing the school experience. A range of carefully selected methods allows us at Portsmouth High Junior School to have a unique offer. Our Dovercourt curriculum takes the best of expertise across the country and beyond alongside that of the GDST network. There is a huge amount of experience within the building itself, a fact that was abundantly clear on Tuesday during a lively staff

meeting where we were discussing an upcoming new initiative. I will be sharing more about that in the weeks to come. Despite this there are several areas of Dweck’s research that fit naturally with the way we do things at the junior school. We naturally praise effort rather than achievement on its own, using growth mindset language to encourage the girls to take risks and embrace failure. We want the girls to have a safe environment to make mistakes so that they can learn from them. There is a focus on resilience at the school and the willingness to struggle in order to succeed. All these methodologies come together to help the girls to become the confident, independent individuals that they are.

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Discuss eSafety boundaries with your children

eSafety has been high on our agenda at the junior school this week. The NSPCC led a parent workshop on Thursday in addition to introducing the children to their wider work.

In the evening Miss Lucy Moffit and I conducted our own session on the topic so that parents who were not available during the day had an opportunity to discuss this important issue. Both occasions highlighted the concern that is prevalent around our school about a generation that is growing up from birth in a technological and social media driven age.

I agree wholeheartedly with Mrs Prescott’s article in the Telegraph that describes her concerns over the latest move by Facebook to bring out a product targeted at six to eleven year olds. I find it difficult enough to resist the demands of apps and games, a temptation that must be increased tenfold for our children. I know in my own household

individuals have to be gently removed from their devices when they do not realise just how long they have been attached to them. The greatest message I would like to repeat is that parents discuss boundaries with their children. Draconian rules create tension and only lead to driving activity underground. We want the girls to be talking to us about their activity online and in games, not hiding it because they are breaking a rule or think they are letting us down.

There is one limit I would enforce; do not allow mobile phones or tablets to be kept in bedrooms overnight. At school when we discuss this with the children they talk about being kept awake by notifications and their fear of missing out, resulting in a constant need to check. Take the temptation away and they will be healthier and happier.

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What does Christmas mean?

Earlier this week I spoke to the girls about Christmas and what it meant to them and their families. We discussed the giving and receiving of gifts and the implications of this tradition. I was interested to hear that the girls were sensible in their wishes for presents and that they were conscious of others who might not be as fortunate as them this year.

As the conversation moved on I asked them to consider the people in and around their home and how the Christmas period might transpire for them. I asked if pressure is applied to parents to do things in a certain way and whether they are helpful around the home during what can be a stressful time for adults. Our girls provided me with some thoughtful answers and proved that they can empathise, even when faced by the magic of the festive break.

It has been an extremely busy week here at the junior school with a myriad of different events and activities. There have been choir recitals, a Christmas lunch with a visit from Father Christmas, the pantomime at the Groundlings Theatre, the Pre-Prep Nativity, Christmas parties, a Christmas jumper day for the Warrior house charity and involvement in the carol service at the cathedral this morning. My thanks once again go to the PSA who help to make many of these things possible.

We are now looking forward to the New Year and I would like to encourage junior parents and children to watch the school musical, Beauty and the Beast, at the senior school. The performances are on Thursday 15 and Friday 16 March and the tickets will sell out quickly. Contact reception for more details.

I would like to wish everyone a very happy Christmas and a prosperous New Year.

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