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Headmaster’s Blog

Pop quiz: what links hymn number 353 (New English Hymnal), hymn number 358 (Ancient and Modern) and Psalm 46?  The answer?  Stillness.  In these we sing of the ‘still small voice of calm’, we ask others to ‘be still, for the presence of the Lord is moving in this place’, and we are comforted by the words ‘be still, and know that I am God’. As the term revs up to full speed, as the days get busier and as our collective agendas become fuller, ‘stillness’ is perhaps something which drops to the bottom of the list and which we do away with until the holiday kicks in. And yet this idea of stillness, of calm, of quiet, is absolutely fundamental to our goal as a School; to work with families to help our pupils acquire the right habits for life.

I often say to prospective parents as we walk around the School that I consider it important that children have stillness in their day. Nowadays (though perhaps it has always been the case?) Schools need to work hard to manufacture that stillness: to carve out periods of quiet and stillness in a child’s day.  That’s a task on which home and School need to work together. And it’s not easy. What seems a fairly simple and unobtrusive ideology flies in the face of ‘the internet shouting factory’ and the seemingly-inextinguishable bright lights of a ‘do now, get now, respond now’ culture.

That idea of manufacturing stillness, though, is really a key task if we seek to instill life habits and positive mental health in the young people that we jointly care for.  Giving children the opportunity and the wherewithal to be still, to be quiet, to be at-ease with silence – and crucially, to be comfortable with and by themselves – is an absolute must in our promotion of emotional wellbeing.

We are hugely fortunate to be able to be in and around the Cathedral each and every day, and to be able to make use of its inspiring and tranquil spaces to seek out this stillness and this calm. The Prep School meets daily in the Chapter House or the Cathedral Quire, and the Pre-Prep join us for our services in either the Quire or the Nave.  We have pupils who bring their Christian faith to these gatherings and others who attach no religious significance whatsoever.  That is if course fine: I passionately believe that, religious significance or no, there is a spirituality to be found in collective stillness. Sitting together, singing together, reflecting together, and being silent together – there’s a spirituality and a wholeness to be found there, along with a sense of gentleness and a sense of purpose which has helped shape the culture of our School for some 900 years.

It is, I think, this focus on stillness which has given rise to a recent initiative from our Chaplain, Mrs Fitzpatrick.  ECS Prayer Space has been running in the latter part of this week, and is a wonderful addition to the School’s focus on wellbeing and mindfulness. I visited with my French class on Thursday, and I hope that as many of you as were able dropped in to experience for yourselves the extraordinary array of mindfulness activities that Mrs Fitzpatrick had laid on for the children. From the Peace Tent, to the prayer post-it station, the reflection table, the self-modeling area and the paper plate washing line, here was a genuinely peaceful environment in which stillness, reflection, mindfulness and meditation was l’ordre du jour. Elizabeth’s skill in enabling an excitable group of Year 7s to reach a state of calm and genuine stillness – without even a hint of early teenage cynicism – was a very great thing indeed: a moment of stillness expertly manufactured.

We rolled out our Wellbeing Agenda in September 2017 with the introduction of our Upper Years programme of Emotional Wellbeing, Digital Wellbeing and Health and Wellbeing: this latest addition to our provision of wellbeing and mindfulness opportunities helps to make ECS a place where children really can ‘be still’, and where that ‘still small voice of calm’ gets its chance to be heard.

25 January 2019
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