“When you look at the dark side…”

“When you look at the dark side, careful you must be. For the dark side looks back.”

Yoda

Ever since my Latin teacher introduced the closely related rhetorical devices the antimetabole and the chiasmus I’ve had them confused. Initially we were taught about Socrates’ “eat to live, not live to eat” and once you have seen one, you’ll see them everywhere (for the rhetoric enthusiasts that one is an antimetabole). Arguably the most famous antimetabole uttered appeared in a Presidential inaugural address, JFK’s memorable “ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country”. That other rhetorician president, Barack Obama used them too but not in either of his inaugural speeches. Imagine my delight when I spotted one in President Biden’s speech on Wednesday. And it was a cracker… “Let us not lead by the example of our power, but by the power of our example. See, I told you it was a good one.

Whilst President Biden’s words at first gave me a degree of satisfaction (nothing better than a nice rhetorical flourish), upon reflection they have made me think carefully about my example (soul searching – less enjoyable). Related to this was another story in the news this week. Whilst it wasn’t as prominent as the inauguration, a report was published by academics from Oxford and Birmingham Universities regarding teenage moods. It seems that adolescent moods are contagious and bad moods appear to be more potent. Teenagers, in particular, see their moods become more like those they spend time with. Therefore, perhaps more than ever, we need to consider student well-being and take teenage sulks a little more seriously than we are sometimes wont to do. Bad moods can spread. I am not a teenager, but as an adult who has contact with young people, I do think I have something of a responsibility to set an example when it comes to addressing mental health. I’ve written before saying that we are fortunate in that we are not yet confining; our young people can still study and meet together. They can take exercise and enjoy some time out of doors. We should count our blessings but while looking on the bright side we should acknowledge that there is well founded anxiety too. So, I’ve decided to stop “doom scrolling”, the compulsion that I have to keep checking the infection figures and predicting new and ever more apocalyptic scenarios. If I’m going to lead by the power of my example, then I’ve got to treat the information rationally and carefully. When I am asked if we are going to lock down, I will say we may well be, but I know that my colleagues are ready to deliver remote school and ensure that we continue to learn, to see things with greater clarity and develop our skills despite the challenge. This isn’t blind optimism or empty words, it is knowledge based on hard evidence, a reason for us to feel confident and positive. That must be a mood lifter. As a community we have a responsibility to each other to remain positive and to look for the good in this situation. If we don’t, then we’ll all feel the worse for it. Scientists tell us it is true, so true it must be.

If you choose to use the antimetabole or its close relative the chiasmus it makes you sound just a little like Yoda, and he under-stood that we need to be careful when we choose to look negatively rather than positively.

Nicholas Hammond

Headmaster

www.britishschool.fr

Control the controllables

Having grown up in the UK, my picture of January is of short wet days and long dark nights. As a consequence, I’ve never really thought too highly of New Year’s Resolutions having to be made at a time when we (I’m assuming that you feel the same way) are all at something of a low ebb. I suppose it is different in Australia where sunny optimism would find a warm and glowing home. I will have to check with our Antipodean community. This year it is perhaps difficult or perhaps even a little dangerous to look too far ahead.

The Stockdale Paradox was made popular by a number of business writers in the early 2000s and was based on the reminiscences of James Stockdale who spent many years in a prisoner of war camp. Stockdale explained that when faced with a difficult situation hope can be a dangerous thing. He counselled that “You must never confuse faith that you will prevail in the end — which you can never afford to lose — with the discipline to confront the most brutal facts of your current reality, whatever they might be.”

This year has seen its fair share of awfulness already and there is the small matter of COVID. On Monday morning a young man lost his life in a bicycle accident on one of the roads around our school, we have pupils who are missing school due to COVID and are unwell, there is uncertainty over exams, and we have to accept the possibility that there will be a further lockdown. We can’t do what we want to, activities are curtailed, travel is limited, and our horizons are being drawn in. Many people are concerned about what the rest of the year will bring and rightly so, for we have been warned that there is likely to be more to endure before we see the back of this particular challenge.

I suspect that I’ve written before of my interest in the wisdom of the ancients. Once upon a time I thought I was a Stoic, I’m less sure of that now but we might well be wise to consider what Epictetus wrote of the process of well, getting on with getting on: “What, then, is to be done? To make the best of what is in our power, and take the rest as it naturally happens.”

Epictetus – Greek Stoic Philosopher

Translated into the language of the everyday I think that what both William Stockdale and Epictetus are saying is: wear your bicycle helmet when riding to school; drive carefully and slowly near school; make the best use of each day that you have with both your friends and those who teach you; wear your mask for the good of the community as well as yourself, wash your hands and take time to appreciate what we have rather than what we are missing.

“Stuff” will undoubtedly occur this term. Some of it will be expected, some will be welcome, and some will be a right pain. We can’t afford to slip into the January blues of which I wrote, we should look to celebrate each day that we have at school remembering that many do not have this enormous privilege of education. Taking time to do the basics (however boring) might mean that we will enjoy this for longer. That is, perhaps, something to look forward to.

Nicholas Hammond

Headmaster

www.britishschool.fr

“For now the time of gifts is gone”

“For now the time of gifts is gone”

Twelfth Night, Louis MacNeice

So, 2020 the year to forget. The year to write off as being the one where the virus hit or the one where we had to stay at home. A year that we are probably keen to put behind us before we move on to something new, something safer, something better. But before we do, and like any conscientious pupil we need to review our work. What if anything has this mostly dreadful experience taught us? What will we do differently when we put the face coverings away and stop squirting gel on our hands at every possible opportunity?

One thing that may well be worth remembering is that no matter what the challenges, our young people have vaulted over the obstacles in their path. No public exams – no problem, I will just keep on learning as if there were.

Disrupted learning – no problem, I will embrace learning remotely. We’ve seen determination and independence and grit in the manner that many have approached the difficult times. We’ve seen compassion and kindness when we were all back in school.

Whilst I don’t think lockdown will have convinced everyone that being at school is best, I won’t forget the sheer delight on children’s faces when they were able to return to school and see their friends. School as an institution is important, there is a good deal that can be done virtually but being together (albeit socially distanced) is better than being online. This element of life in school should never be underestimated.

Appreciation is also something that has been valued. I know that colleagues have appreciated supportive messages from parents about what is going well. I think we have seen greater levels of appreciation for our catering staff and maintenance team. Without our cleaners then we’d simply not have been able to open. We appreciate it when you trust us with your children, and we will certainly appreciate handing them back to you on Wednesday afternoon!

Desperate times allow us to focus on new ways of seeing the world. Confined to a kilometre around a house or apartment and trips and fixtures being suspended leads to a real mentality of appreciating the smaller things in life, the things that surround us. A trip to the bakery is a major highlight, the chance to see our beautiful campus moving from spring to summer to autumn to winter… inspiring. Having the chance to spend time with other people – we’ve perhaps learned that there may well be things that we can appreciate beyond the material.

But what is the most important lesson learnt? Perhaps, we are a little more patient than before. From “you are on mute” to “I’ll have to take a little longer to get to my lesson,” I wonder if we might have become a little more patient than we once were. I hope so, for there is every chance we will need this patience in the coming months. Science has made great strides forward, but we are not quite out of the woods yet. Time will tell.

And above all this was a year in which we have had to give thanks, a time to be grateful. As a school community much has been achieved. It has been a time of sadness but also a time of gifts. And that is perhaps a seasonally appropriate place to call a halt to this extraordinary year.
Have a wonderful holiday.

Nicholas Hammond

Headmaster

www.britishschool.fr

Tales of The Unexpected

It has been said before that every day at school is different. This week would certainly confirm this. We’ve had every type of weather as long as the range considered is damp, windy and miserable to a fairly sunny afternoon (thankfully no extremes). Christmas decorations are starting to spring up in unexpected places and my study was the subject of an unplanned feline invasion by a local neighbour.

There is a feeling that the COVID situation is getting better, indeed clinical trials suggest that the vaccine will be rolled out in many countries very soon. I had not expected that to happen until after Christmas. We are fortunate to have such low absence rates at present, they are far lower than this time last year – not what we might expect in this particular context.

A trip around the Junior School will bring treats at each turn and lots of Christmas music being made in preparation for the forthcoming online events. After all the gloom of this term, what an unexpected treat to hear these notes of joy. Some wonderful artworks too. There will be some marvellous Christmas cards arriving soon and did I mention the warm afterglow from last week’s maths week? – who knew it could be such fun! One parent wrote in to tell us that his daughter seemed to have passed a mini MBA. The Senior School is similarly musically rich with various classes, ensembles and choirs just tuning up in preparation for broadcasts and videos. A trip down the stairs from my office means a quick glimpse into a TV studio with poetry being read and assembly pieces filmed ready for Monday assembly or concerts later in the term. I even bumped into the Senior School talent show today, normally presented on the last day it will be shared in a socially distanced manner this year. Whilst I may not have expected to see the talent show, the level of performance skill was no surprise.

Not unexpected but certainly met with perhaps more energy than anticipated: it has been Assessment Week in the Senior School. Well done to all who have sat tests, timed essays, or had their grey matter challenged at a time when there is a significant temptation to wind down. Heartening also to see shoeboxes wrapped in shiny paper containing presents for other people not expecting a great deal this Christmas steadily growing in number, I think there were 150 in the Senior School library today. Thank you to all who have contributed to the Love in a Box appeal, donations can be made until Tuesday morning of next week.

I’m not sure what the Senior School bee colonies made of the hirsute and appropriately ventilated gathering to celebrate Movember at the start of the week… I do know that the delicious hot chocolate was an unexpected break time reward for those who grew, drew, or simply did that most important thing of all: contributed. A massive amount raised, so hats off to those who organized. We don’t normally anticipate being ranked up here with the corporate giants when it comes to matters financial but in our sponsorship of ‘taches it seems we have as much clout as Microsoft and Google.

There are eight school days left this term. As tiredness grows it is perhaps more important than ever that we make the most of treats and unexpected events that will be enjoyed. Whilst there is much in 2020 that we will choose to forget, this special time of the school year will be no less memorable albeit in a slightly different form.

Nicholas Hammond

Headmaster

www.britishschool.fr

“Hope is the thing with feathers…”

“Hope is the thing with feathers that perches in the soul…”

Emily Dickinson

A little under three weeks to go until the end of term and some good news from the President. It seems that all the hard work and self-control that has been in evidence from our pupils has not been in vain. Reasons for optimism are starting to show themselves. As I wrote last week, we have been impressed with both the rate and progress of pupils’ academic endeavours, something of which they can feel proud indeed. Now we can look forward to doing some of the things that we really enjoy outside of lessons, including a limited amount of outdoor sport. Pent up steam will undoubtedly be discharged.

So as from Monday pupils will be able to spend a little more time playing organised or supervised team sports outside, but other change will be slow to emerge. I’m sure that everyone will make the most of the easing of restrictions around being out of doors and the lure of retail therapy may well prove a long overdue distraction for others; face coverings will be more important than ever.

The end of term will see a further lifting of restrictions but not so early that it will benefit us as a school. Happily increasing options for the Christmas break will benefit families who have spent time apart. Sadly, many will still face the stress of separation. At a time which is difficult for a good proportion of our community it has been

extremely heartening to see our pupils thinking of others through the Love in a Box Scheme. These gifts will bring happiness, a commodity in short supply this year.

One of the most difficult aspects of this entire situation is that our year groups have not been able to mix as they normally would. Our school is a relatively small school and one of its strengths is that pupils of different ages have the opportunity to mix, valuable learning can take place though these interactions and that has been something missing over the last few weeks with bubbles, distancing and varying degrees of separation. Collaborative learning has also been a once normal element of school life that has to be restricted. Perhaps when the New Year arrives, we will once more be able to learn by working together, perform as groups and learn from each other.

All positive so far and whilst I don’t wish to rain on any parades (particularly at this time of Thanksgiving) I hope you will forgive a word of caution. I’m not an epidemiologist, I’m an historian. I don’t know about virus spread patterns but I can see that after periods of greater interaction infections rates tend to rise, and to that end I would ask expectations to be managed about what restrictions we will face in January. The New Year can often bring that feeling of “here we go again”, next year perhaps more so than most.

In the meantime, we can do some more of what we have become so good at – enjoying what we can do, living for today and making the most of what we have. There has been plenty of this at the BSP this week.

Nicholas Hammond

Headmaster

www.britishschool.fr

“It is a narrow mind…”

“It is a narrow mind which cannot look at a subject from various points of view.”

George Eliot

In a recent meeting discussion turned (as it almost inevitably does) to the COVID situation. This term, the School has not been operating as normal, nor indeed has the world outside of the School gates. Our pupils have been working well and have had the opportunity to enjoy something that resembles business as usual but as the term goes on external restrictions are causing frustrations. Seeing the benefits of patience and dealing with frustrations are all challenges for young people and lockdown is certainly testing for them. As a school we are endeavouring to offer not only support but also a necessary release in this challenging situation. A quick sounding of Year 10s in the lunch queue suggests that there will be fewer concerns around lockdown this weekend as the newest version of a well-known video game has been released. They would by their own admission barely surface from their bedrooms this weekend during normal times. I’m not sure that this is what I talk about when extolling the benefits of subject mastery but a recent ISFE-commissioned Ipsos MORI report suggest that these games have a positive effect with 30% of players saying video games have helped them feel happier, less anxious and less isolated and 29% of players claim that video games had a positive impact on their mental health during lockdown, especially those who play multi-player games. Perhaps the Year 10s have a point.

It is of course very easy to dwell upon the disruption and restrictions. There aren’t always obvious upsides to this second period of lockdown, a period of time that seems to be more challenging than the first. We are certainly glad to be in school. The rate of infection seems to be falling and there appears to be some optimism about the forthcoming holiday season. Many scientists seem to be certain that they have a vaccine that may very well unlock this conundrum. Who knows, by the summer this all may seem like a distant memory, a period of history soon to be poured over. As for the scars it will undoubtedly leave, many will be affected and will continue to feel the effects of the virus long after the streets are full of people and the shops have opened again.

Back to the meeting. Looking ahead to the coming weeks we discussed how we are going to adapt as many of our usual activities for the last weeks of November and December. Performances will be online, there will be Christmas lunches and talent shows will happen. When we looked back over the term there is one thing that stood out as being out of the ordinary levels of pupils’ academic achievement have surpassed those of other years, perhaps as other distractions have narrowed the focus has sharpened. Our teachers have worked incredibly hard to provide stimulating lessons despite restrictions on group work and other elements of effective learning that are routine here. The pupils have also channelled their energy and we have indeed seen an overall rise in performance. Homework is being done, our libraries are busy, class time is being used effectively and an enthusiasm for learning is obvious. Three weeks or so out from the end of a long term, and under the current conditions that has to be worth a “well done one and all”. So, consider yourself duly praised!

Nicholas Hammond

Headmaster

www.britishschool.fr

“Some are born grateful…”

“Some are born grateful, some achieve gratefulness, and some have gratefulness thrust upon them.”

(Not) William Shakespeare

Whilst there are distinct benefits of a four day week, a quick straw poll of people in Thursday’s lunch queue revealed that it is more difficult to haul oneself out of bed the next day at the normal time for school. It was also clear that having that mid-week breathing space was considered “a good thing”. On balance most people were grateful for having had a bank holiday this week. Many were grateful for having a day on which being grateful was the main purpose of the holiday. The high priest of positive psychology Martin Seligman is big on gratitude. Look closely (he tells us) at those who are grateful, and you will find people that are generally happier. It seems that there are benefits in saying thank you for the giver as well as the receiver.

Our school community is coming to the end of a week of remembrance activities. A time when we do not celebrate war, but we acknowledge the debt we owe others who have died to ensure that we can enjoy the privileges that we most certainly experience. Remembrance this year is per-haps easier than many previous years as we have so much to thank the thousands of people who have chosen to put themselves in harm’s way for the benefit of others. This isn’t a celebration of national fervour, more it is a chance to celebrate the contribution, to feel grateful for the mil-lions of small acts of bravery and courage and selflessness that make human existence slightly better. If you want to gain an understanding of what I’m saying then do, (if you haven’t already) take a few minutes to look at our remembrance film. My thanks to all who contributed by reading and by playing and also to our Communications Team who pulled it all together.

We perhaps show our gratitude most effectively in School when we do something for someone else. I was very politely “nobbled” on Thursday by a senior student with a proposal that the Sixth Form come to school in pyjamas or onesies today to raise money for our partner schools in Cambodia. I’m a grumpy Headmaster sometimes and I usually don’t go for fancy dress, but this time I could only say yes to a group of people who have chosen to think of others when they could (with justification) be feeling rather sorry for themselves. At the other end of the School I am grateful to all our younger pupils who have been so good about protecting others by wearing their masks so sensibly. They’ve been stars. Our maintenance team have provided excellent dining booths for the Senior School and our cleaners are working their socks off to make school safe for us. How fortunate we are.

We may well be confined to a 1km ring around our homes, there may well be a pandemic, and we may not know what tomorrow will bring but today I saw children pleased to be in school and doing the normal things that young people do at school – laughing and learning. And the sun came out. It could be so very different. Thank you for making it to the end of this week’s offering. I’m grateful for your patience!

Nicholas Hammond

Headmaster

www.britishschool.fr

Back in the Classroom

Another week, another wave of negative and disturbing headlines. If our young people are to judge the state of the world by the front pages of news websites and newspapers then they would have every reason to feel disheartened and wonder what on earth is going on with the world they are set to inherit.

The restart of term after a half term holiday is always a mix of emotions. Pupils have unwound and need to gear up once more. Our youngest pupils are normally super keen to rejoin friends and continue with the excitement of their learning and the older pupils are looking at a period of the year where serious academic progress has to be made – this half term is the engine room of academic progress. Across the board there is a little bit of self-doubt, some exhilaration, and this year a more significant degree of uncertainty. There is a job to be done both at home and in school to ensure that this feeling is kept in check, that our young people are not only affected by COVID concerns but also the seemingly unstable world in which we live.

It would be nothing short of fantastic to be able to offer a clear prediction of what will happen over the coming six weeks. Sadly, I can no more do this with any degree of accuracy than can our political leaders, distinguished scientists, or eminent statisticians! There are some possible scenarios for us that we need to consider – carry on with everyone onsite, a partial lockdown or a full lockdown. Having just read the tea leaves at the bottom of my morning cuppa, I’d say we are wise to consider the likelihood of a partial lockdown. From my (admittedly) local view of life outside our gates it seems to be fairly normal and as such infections rates could well rise. M. Blanquer has recently mooted split year attendance in the upper secondary years, albeit heavily caveated and very much being left to the school’s judgement. For us, a relatively small school with dispersed optional classes in the upper years, I am not (presently) looking at this as a viable possibility for the BSP. We are at our most effective when we have pupils in class and teachers in front of them. We can take reasonable and proportionate measures to protect, our aim is continuity of learning.

Being in the classroom is the core of what we do. It applies to both our youngest learners and those in Year 13. Alexander Pope said something along the lines of “education is experience understood upon reflection”, the presence of both pupil and teacher in the same space make this process far easier. Charles Handy once said he had seen some ancient graffiti carved on a school desk that simply read “It is the job of the teachers to bring out the genius that is in each pupil.” Not so easy when both pupil and teacher are behind a mask, even more difficult when they are not in the same room. Clearly we will follow the instructions that we are given and we will not knowingly put people at risk, but as far as possible this half term will be about making progress in school, about learning and about finding that academic spark in every one of our pupils. If we can do that amid the turmoil that surrounds us it will have been a successful term indeed.

Nicholas Hammond

Headmaster

www.britishschool.fr

“If my future were determined just by my performance on a standardized test…”

“If my future were determined just by my performance on a standardized test, I wouldn’t be here. I guarantee you that.”

Michelle Obama

The rise in child and youth mental health issues is well chronicled. Recent world events have added to anxiety and frustration for the young in our communities. President Macron commiserated with 20 year olds earlier this week, but I think we should also think about all young people.

This week the UK government announced its plans for GCSEs and A level. The Scottish Government also made its plans public. In Scotland one set of exams, the National 5s have been replaced with school assessment tasks and teacher assessed grade information. The situation in England is slightly different with exams being delayed and optionality being introduced in some subjects. I should explain, optionality is not whether or not you take the exam, it is an opportunity to take parts of an exam. Many politicians and some headteachers have welcomed the approach and believe that exams provide the best and fairest means of assessing competence in a subject. I am not so sure. Exams have a place and I do believe that we should check that once learned something can be done. It is important for skills to be embedded and competence regularly checked, I’m not sure you have to sit in a hall in the summertime to do this. As a pupil I liked exams. I had a good short-term memory (now I can’t find my glasses in the morning so I’m very pleased not to be taking exams), I could write quickly, and I enjoyed argument. They worked for me, but quite frankly my competence in exams bears little relation to my ability to teach. The coursework that existed in previous incarnations of the exam system is not the answer. Such exercises turned into another form of academic high stakes poker. More stress, more anxiety. Some cope, others do not. Of course, much of the pressure placed on young people to “do well in exams” is that grades provide universities and employers with a handy measure of something (an ability to do well in exams?). It is inescapable that school league tables mean that exams have become an area to be gamed in what is an increasingly marketized area of society – after all a school with great exam results must be a good school. Perhaps mental health statistics should be issued alongside the other league tables, measuring on one facet of school performance is a lopsided way to judge value.

Exams, tests and quizzes all have their place. Classwork is valuable but rarely formally acknowledged. We should be looking to measure progress as much as an ability to perform at an endpoint. Sometimes we have to work alone and under pressure. Collaborative working is equally as valuable. Failing constructively is perhaps the best way to prepare our pupils for the future. I’m just not so sure that trusting in the exam and the exam alone is a sensible way to understand the competencies, skills, talents and achievements of our young people.

Before the summer there will be modification to what has been proposed. I rather hope that those who pull the levers of policy change will take this once in a lifetime opportunity to change for the better. In a time of crisis and turmoil how good would it be to produce something of which we can be proud?

Nicholas Hammond

Headmaster

www.britishschool.fr

“It is the combination of reasonable talent…”

“It is the combination of reasonable talent and the ability to keep going in the face of defeat that leads to success.”

Martin Seligman

One of the perks of my job is that I move between the Senior School and Junior School campuses. How lucky I am to experience the riverbank (albeit briefly) and the shrub lined, bird filled access road up the side of the Junior School. This morning, in the fine drizzle I saw the tiniest of snails on the large green lamp post by the back gate. If the snail was endeavouring to reach the top of the lamp, then I thought he was being just a fraction optimistic.

In educational literature there has been an awful lot written about grit and determination in recent years. Authors such as Paul Tough and Angela Duckworth have written extensively on the topics and in doing so have had bestsellers on their hands. Another subject that is also mentioned from time to time is that of optimism covered admirably by writers like Martin Seligman. The current school year has thrown up so many questions and interruptions that we could very well be forgiven for looking ahead with a real lack of cheer for the future, for chucking away any pretence at grit and giving up on determination. We could all be snowflakes… parts of the media would have us believe that our young people already are. That is not what I see.

This morning I had the great pleasure of reading one of my favourite books to Nursery. When I say I read it; I was only allowed to after I had answered two important questions. Thus, having admitted to a favourite colour and identified my favourite flavour of ice cream we made a start on The Gruffalo. If you ever want a definition of optimism and confidence that life is most definitely being lived to the full you will find it in our Nursery class and perhaps in The Gruffalo we find a useful example of how to negotiate the coming weeks and months. The central figure of the mouse shows all of the other animals of the wood that whilst caution is a very good thing, we need to be careful of how far we allow that caution to define our actions. The mouse remains optimistic despite the danger being faced. When put in a difficult situation the mouse finds a way around the threat. Ultimately the mouse remains safe because of his sensible precautions and a thoughtful approach to the peril faced.

Today’s Junior School assembly dealt with determination and endeavour, two of our school values. Mr. Potter talked about crossing bridges. We have some rickety old dangerous bridges that we have to cross and we have others that feel far safer. These two values will serve us well as this long term continues. Back in Nursery I saw the fantastic work that has been done creating butterflies from coffee filter papers by the children. Bright symbols of optimism in this world. This is a difficult time for our young people, many of them remain optimistic despite the threat of many activities they enjoy being curtailed, their resilience is inspiring.

Nicholas Hammond

Headmaster

www.britishschool.fr