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Mental Toughness

Blog – Mental Toughness.

Few of us keeping a keen eye on topics of interest within the educational sector have been able to miss the subject of ‘Mental Toughness’ in schools.

Mental toughness as a statement can perhaps alert a parent to think of military like discipline and, coupled with an Independent boarding school backdrop, perhaps even sound alarm bells in the nurturing cortex of those parental minds.

Indeed, we have recently had the pleasure of welcoming back some Old Bredonians who were here at Pull Court in the founding days of Colonel Sharp and Mr Jarrett. During reminiscing tours of the boarding landings and school grounds these gentlemen shared memories of ice cold baths and frosty 6.30 am sprints – all in the jolly frame of ‘character building’.

Thankfully for our youngsters of today, and for their parents’ peace of mind, hot water supplies the showers and frosty runs, which do occur, are at least a good distance from a hearty breakfast and with suitable attire donned.

Pointedly the OB’s (Old Bredonians) reports of comparatively harsh daily schedules were recited with an overall fondness for their time at Bredon School, which included memories of tree-climbing, ball-room dancing, times-tables and stories in front of the fire with buttered toast. These memories do not really evoke images of too hard an educational experience; and that is where we can see the thread of Colonel Sharp’s vision – mental toughness within a nurturing environment.

A vision that is still upheld today at Bredon School, namely through the School’s USPs and expert provision for dyslexia and pastoral care.

It is this juxtaposition that we read about today in the educational press. ‘Soft skills’ are what can make a child at school ‘tough’.

‘Mental toughness is an important life skill that is learned through experimentation and observation of the behaviour and emotions of the people closest to them.’

– Independent Schools Magazine.

Canoeing, Abseiling, Orienteering, Climbing, CCF (Combined Cadet Force), DofE (Duke of Edinburgh Award), Clay Shooting, Archery, Fencing, Horse riding, Cross Country running – whatever the weather, Outdoor swimming and Forest School. – Not to mention the wide range of sports our pupils take part in to a competitive level.

These are all soft skills and it is these activities and more, which are becoming increasingly important to discerning parents looking at schools for their child. Overseas parents such as from Italy, Spain, Nigeria and Mexico are identifying the provision for these soft skills in British Independent schools. They amongst many are hoping for these skills to enhance and develop self-esteem, courage, confidence and particularly leadership qualities in their child.

So what of the child, who like many of their peers before arriving at Bredon, has suffered deflating self-esteem, lack of confidence and a loss in focus as to their abilities? Are they ready to be ‘toughened’ up? What if a child feels daunted by the various tasks ahead of him? Is there a pastoral element to ‘soft skills’ or is it a ‘just get on with it’ approach?

Well, much of the answer to these questions would depend on the particular School. Here at Bredon though, there is a huge pastoral focus on every aspect of a child’s learning experience, and it is definitely in effect outside of the class room as well as inside and on the boarding landings.

Beth Swait, Head of Outdoor Education, notes the benefit of Outdoor activities for children. “The very fact that it (outdoor education) is not assessed allows our pupils a chance to learn without the pressures of ‘failing.’ Achievement is personal; the value is in the experience.”

She goes on to say that “Many pupils who struggle in the classroom often thrive in an outdoor environment; the move from visual and auditory to kinaesthetic learning is a refreshing change for all and notably of benefit to students with Special Educational Needs.

Physical activity is proven to help increase attention, reduce anxiety and develop co-ordination skills…That said, Outdoor Education can also be a great boost to high achievers and …. the experiences are very often some of the most memorable of a pupil’s schooling.”

Come and visit any day during the week and you will probably see students in their wellies and overalls doing various jobs around the School farm. This could include feeding the livestock, hosing out the pig pens, mucking out the cattle barn or driving fence posts into the ground. Guaranteed that you will see smiles, camaraderie and looks of self-achievement on those students’ faces as they go about their chores.

Soon Miss Swait and our Pastoral and well-being support officer, Jeff Wood, will be taking Years 11, 12 and 13 on a mindfulness retreat in the Welsh mountains. During the retreat the students will be asked to partake in various physical and mental exercises and encouraged to use mindful techniques throughout the process.

Jeff says “Mindfulness techniques allow us to become aware of how our minds are really managing the day’s activities and processing our experiences throughout the day.” Jeff continues, “Mindfulness has limitless possibilities in education and can be rolled out for use by students, staff and parents.” –this is already being done to great effect here at Bredon.

As Miss Swait also poignantly observes “Such experiences … allow us to transfer learning experienced outside, to the classroom, and vice versa”.

And in honour of Colonel Sharp’s pioneering efforts to provide a nurturing environment for dyslexic students, we continue to provide an ever developing array of soft skills so that our students really can ‘Come alive and thrive’.

For more information on the recent report on the Mental Toughness in Schools, see https://www.isc.co.uk/media/3856/isc_soft_skills_mental_toughness_report.pdf and http://independentschoolsmagazine.co.uk/issues/2017-feb/february-magazine.html#p=12

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