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Headmaster’s Blog

In Headmaster’s Morning Worship Assembly this week we spoke about arachibutyrophobia. As you will all know, arachibutyrophobia is the fear of peanut butter sticking to the roof of one’s mouth. An odd topic on which to address the School in the serenity of the Cathedral Quire, perhaps, but one which served as a platform for the ensuing discussion about awareness – as well as to boost the pupils’ armoury of essential everyday vocabulary.

The preceding Thursday (24th January) had been National Peanut Butter Day in the US. You will be reassured to learn that we promoted our British Values through a democratic vote on a contentious topic: smooth or crunchy (it was about 52% to 48% in favour of smooth – Year 8s are already campaigning for a second People’s Vote, arguing that not all pupils fully understood the benefits of a crunchy texture: we are considering Marmite as a backstop to ease the negotiations over Boarders’ breakfast – but it’s proving to be a ‘love it or hate it’ kind of a policy).  The following day, the 25th, had been Australia Day, and on the 27th (Sunday) the Cathedral had held its Holocaust Memorial commemoration. Why these ‘awareness days’, we asked ourselves? Why is our calendar peppered with these special dates?

We agreed that the three most recent days were helpful examples of how awareness days could serve three purposes: to draw attention, to celebrate, and to commemorate. These days lend us an extra little focus and cause us to reflect upon the subject matter, be it flippant or of historic importance. They provide us with an opportunity – a reason – for our minds to be drawn towards a certain topic, and a chance to think very carefully about the significance and importance of national and international events.

In the case of Holocaust Memorial Day it would perhaps give rise to (age-appropriate) conversations and learning at School and at home, and encourage reflection and a depth of thinking on the history as well as on the impact on the present day. In the case of Australia Day, we are presented with the opportunity to celebrate another country and its culture and customs, and of course to seek the wisdom of our teachers and colleagues from Adelaide: Miss Wurst and Mr Egarr. And in the case of National Peanut Butter Day, we got to discuss a cool word and take a vote on the key strategic issues of the day.

The notion of ‘awareness’ is a really important one in schools. ECS pupils are all encouraged to be aware of three things in particular: ourselves, others, and our surroundings. How do we feel? What makes us tick and what upsets us? What are our triggers? What are we proud of? How can we improve in other areas? Do we have a fixed mindset or a growth mindset? Who loves us? Where do we feel safe and valued? What defines our identity: what makes us us? As for others: what is our impact on those around us? How are other people feeling? How can we tell? How can we help others through what we say and do? If we behave badly in a lesson, what’s the impact on the rest of the class? If we make a joke at someone’s expense, how might they feel about it? If they laugh along does that mean they find it funny? Who might deserve a thank you – or a sorry?  Are we considerate of members of the public? And in terms of our surroundings: are we taking care of our environment? Is there litter in the playground? What are the big news stories in our area? What’s happening across the country? Do we behave in the same way in the Cathedral as we do in the playground? Should we? Why? Why not?

I asked the pupils how aware they are on a daily basis. What is the name, for example, of the courtyard outside the front of School where they wait to be collected every day? What colour are the monkey bars in the playground? What do we see through the ancient arched window on the way to the Evans building? How many canvases are on the wall of the Chantry front hall? What colour tie was Mr Baurance wearing that day (he had stood with me at the Golden Gates and greeted every member of the School as they arrived)? There was a smattering of hands for each answer – not bad for 8.55 on a Monday morning, but certainly room for greater awareness all round.

Appropriate awareness of self, of others, and of what’s going on around us is absolutely key to positive mental health and wellbeing, and to the core requirements of being an engaged member of a thriving community – and to the skills branded by employers as being highly desirable: emotional intelligence, social intelligence, empathy, compassion and resilience. I am proud of, and grateful for, the joined-up work that goes on between School and Home to recognise and promote these ‘awarenesses’: we are, after all, working together to help our pupils acquire the right habits for life.

1 February 2019
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