Welcome back assembly: kindness

In this week’s “welcome back” assembly, I focused on one of the the Academy’s three core values – and the value for this term – kindness. Before, that I paid tribute to His Royal Highness the Duke of Edinburgh, who died over the Easter holidays.

The Duke of Edinburgh Award Scheme, started by Prince Phillip in 1956 (the same year that our school was founded), has made a significant difference to countless young people at our school and beyond. The scheme’s focus on young people improving themselves by developing a skill, and helping their communities through volunteering, is an excellent match for our own purpose – to inspire and enable young people to make a positive difference. We thank His Royal Highness for founding and promoting the Award Scheme named for him, and we commit to continuing the scheme in his name as part of his legacy.

Kindness

My assembly urged our students to think about kindness in three ways:

  1. Be kind to others
  2. Be kind to the environment
  3. Be kind to yourself

Be kind to others

Being kind to others is a foundation stone of our Academy culture. We expect everyone in our Academy community to treat one another with kindness. We recognise that nobody is perfect, and that sometimes we all make mistakes – but that when this happens, putting things right is an essential part of our learning and growth.

In the assembly, I spoke about how a single act of kindness has a ripple effect, improving life at the Academy for countless others. A kind word, helping somebody out when they are having difficulties, or noticing when somebody else is struggling, can all help make somebody else’s day better. And when they have a better day, they are more likely themselves to offer a kind word to somebody else in turn. By this method, the wave of positivity ripples out across the Academy community – and beyond.

Of course, the opposite is also true. Unkind words and deeds damage the culture of our Academy by making somebody else’s day worse. That person’s negative experience can also ripple out as they may pass the negativity on to others. This is something we are all keen to avoid, and this is why I urged all our students through the assembly to think about the impact of their words and deeds on other people – and to think before they speak or act.

Finally, I spoke about the importance of making sure that everybody felt welcome, felt included, and felt that they belonged at Churchill Academy & Sixth Form. We have seen issues in wider society over this past year with discrimination and prejudice. We are determined that Churchill will remain an inclusive, welcoming community. It is everybody’s responsibility to ensure that we go out of our way to ensure that this happens, and that everyone “belongs” – no matter their background, where they come from, the colour of their skin, their gender or sexual identity or orientation, their family or who they are. These values of tolerance and inclusion are sacred to us at Churchill.

Be kind to the environment

We are lucky at Churchill to have a wide open, rural site, with lots of green spaces. Over the past couple of years we have made a significant investment in continuing to improve this, with our rooves now covered in solar panels, beautiful planting surrounding the central Broadwalk path in the middle of our site, and new trees and saplings planted all around the entire length of the new perimeter fence. Just this week, our students were out working with the Woodland Trust to plant saplings around the site.

It is essential that we all look after the beautiful environment. This includes reducing our waste, caring for our surroundings, and putting all of our litter in the bins. I saw the news coverage of public spaces over Easter as lockdown eased, with many members of the public leaving beautiful green spaces strewn with litter and debris. We will not tolerate that at Churchill – and we hope to instil good habits in our young people so that they will look after the environment beyond our Academy, as well as within it.

Be kind to yourself

Finally, I urged all our students to be kind to themselves. This past year has been tough on everyone, but children and young people especially have seen unprecedented disruption to education and society. They now face an uncertain future as society sets about recovering from the pandemic.

In this context, it is especially important that our students look after themselves. This does not mean lowering our expectations, our our standards – students must continue to push themselves to be the very best that they can be. But it does mean being honest with themselves, with us, and with each other about what is possible at this moment in time, and what is realistic. It means developing and maintaining healthy lifestyles in terms of diet, exercise, work and sleep. It means talking about problems when they arise, and not letting them fester.

It is natural and normal to feel uncertain and frightened, especially when looking around at the world as it is today. But, as Taylor Swift herself said, living a “fearless” life does not mean that we have no fear. It means that we acknowledge what is frightening in the world around us, and we succeed in it anyway.

Duke of Edinburgh Award Scheme

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We are really proud at Churchill to be an officially licensed organisation to deliver the Duke of Edinburgh Award Scheme. The DofE gives young people a structure and framework to contribute to the community through voluntary work, whilst improving skills and developing confidence, commitment, resilience and teamwork. As I wrote in last week’s blog, I believe that through taking part and making the most of the opportunities presented to you, you make the most of yourself. The DofE  is a fantastic opportunity and I am glad to say that many of our students grasp the opportunity with both hands!

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Successful Duke of Edinburgh award students in March 2017

 

In 2015-16, 71 students successfully completed their Bronze Award, alongside 9 Silver and 1 Gold. In 2016-17 that figure rose to 97 Bronze Awards, 17 Silver and 3 Gold. This year there are close to 100 students on the Bronze Award register, and almost all of them completed their assessed expedition in the searing heat of the weekend of 16th to 19th June. Their determination to succeed was fantastic, walking ten miles a day over the two days with a full pack in the blazing sun. Equally fantastic was the feedback from the official assessors: “It is probably the best Bronze expedition I have worked on from organisation, information provided to me, structure, fantastic kids, great staff to work with and food!”

Well done to all the students who have taken on the DofE challenge this year. To all those who are thinking about doing it in the future – what are you waiting for? And finally, thank you to all the staff who give up their time and energy to help make DofE run so successfully at Churchill, especially Mr Madeline and our DofE coordinator Mr Tinker.

A day at the Palace

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When an invitation like this arrives, you don’t have to think twice!

On Monday 16th May, I had the incredible privilege of travelling down to London for a special Duke of Edinburgh Gold Award Presentation event in the gardens at Buckingham Palace. What a day!

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Buckingham Palace, May 16th 2016

The sun shone down as Mr Tinker (Churchill Academy’s DofE Manager) and I walked up to – and through! – the famous wrought-iron gates of the Palace. It felt very strange to be on the other side, walking past the famous Coldstream Guards in their sentry boxes and round the side to the gardens. Only official photography was allowed inside the gardens, and we weren’t allowed even to get our phones out. I can understand why, and it did make me experience the whole thing “in the moment” rather than through a screen, but the gardens and the Palace were so spectacular that they were just made for Instagram! It’d’ve been a bit of a giveaway that I’d broken the rules, though, so I was very good and kept my phone well away.

Once we’d arrived in the gardens, all the North Somerset and South Gloucestershire LOs (DofE Licensed Organisations)  were gathered together in a reception group. There were hundreds and hundreds of people there from all over the country, all looking incredibly smart and glamorous. Two separate jazz big bands competed from each end of the field, and two of the biggest marquees I’d ever seen were lined up with tea urns and row upon row of shortbread biscuits. I can safely report they were delicious!

Mr Tinker and I met up with Churchill’s Gold Award winner Amy Hogarth, before exploring the gardens. We were inspecting the Coxless Crew boat that four brave women rowed across the Pacific, when we noticed a group of people coming out of the Palace itself – the celebrity presenters! Each group had their own celebrity, and Mr Tinker and I had a great time spotting famous faces: chef Ainsley Harriott, Strictly’s Anton du Beke, Marcella actress Anna Friel, both the Weasley twins from Harry Potter (James and Oliver Phelps), rugby players James Haskell and Ben Cohen, Dr Christian Jessen from Embarrassing Bodies, musician turned businessman Levi Roots, explorer Levison Wood, Nick Hewer from the Apprentice, goalkeeper David Seaman, athlete Sally Gunnell, and Canadian Astronaut Chris Hadfield to name but a few. See who you can spot!

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The celebrity presenters posed for a group shot (source)

Our group received presentations from Gail Emms MBE, mixed doubles badminton World Champion, Commonwealth Champion and Olympic Silver medallist. She was really inspiring, talking to the group about having to dig deep and persevere when playing badminton against Chinese athletes in China – where badminton has the same status as football does here! She also talked about inspiration, citing her Mum (herself an England international footballer) as one who got her into sport by beating her again and again on the badminton court until, aged 12, Gail won. And kept winning… Finally, she talked about ambition and setting yourself goals, describing how she used to visualise herself atop the podium with a gold medal round her neck, and used that as the motivation to keep going when training was tough and times were hard. She was really inspiring!

The presentations followed, with the Gold Award winners rightly the focus of the proceedings. However, as it was the Diamond Anniversary of the DofE, we also received a special plaque in recognition of the Academy’s commitment to running the DofE over twenty years as a licensed organisation. We gave the DofE a copy of our logo in return, which will be displayed alongside all the other LO logos in their offices!

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Our Licensed Organisation plaque – on display in reception soon!

Finally, our group was visited by HRH The Countess of Wessex, who spent time chatting to the Gold Award winners and the Licensed Organisation representatives. She was particularly interested in hearing about DofE Diamond Challenges, part of a one-off initiative to mark the 60th Anniversary of DofE which allows people of all ages to take on a DofE inspired challenge and earn a Diamond Pin. The Countess herself had just announced a 445 mile bike ride from Holyrood to Buckingham Palace as part of her own Diamond Challenge.  Mr Tinker has already completed his Diamond Challenge – a triathlon including an open-water swim! I will be taking to my bike in July for a sportive cycling challenge which includes a rather daunting 850ft climb at one point…you can sponsor me here!

It was an amazing day, but above all it was to mark a particularly good cause. The DofE gives young people a structure and framework to contribute to the community through voluntary work, whilst improving skills and developing confidence, commitment, resilience and teamwork. As we were leaving the Palace, Mr Tinker and I were both saying we wished we’d done DofE when we were at school, but we didn’t have the opportunity. To me, school should be all about opportunity – which is why I’m proud to lead an academy which is licensed to deliver the Duke of Edinburgh’s Award Scheme.