I’ve enjoyed the great weather, warm evenings and sunshine that the summer months have delivered. Living in the New Forest, I have seized the opportunity to attempt to improve my own physical fitness through a daily running or cycling regime. It’s been amazing watching the changing environment adapt naturally to seasonal demands, from the coconut aroma of bright yellow gorse through to the emergence of green ferns now standing at head height. The bright purple of the heathland heathers and the newly born animals grazing on grassy plains. As I jog through worn forest trails or cycle along little-known back roads, I am always on the lookout for the trip hazards that seem to constantly catch me out, the loose gravel, potholes waiting for repair, or the tree roots pushing through the paths. It’s only after you experience a few falls that you start to be a little more aware of potential dangers.
Yesterday I met up with some good friends and their 14-year-old son, Archie. As with many youngsters he is returning to school with a certain amount of trepidation, having been at home for such a long period of time and uncertain about what the return will look and feel like. What’s worrying him most of all is the extra pressure that he may be put under to “catch up.” How much progress has he made during lockdown and the summer break compared to his peers? To what extent have positive learning habits slipped? Has he fallen behind? It’s the same unknowns that are facing teachers and headteachers in schools worldwide as they start to come to grips with uncertainty. What are the attainment gaps going to be now and how do we close them? …Beware the trip hazards.
What Archie needs now is a great deal of care, support and positive encouragement. It would be so easy to stigmatise him, and thousands of others, by creating a negative mindset fuelled by, “catch up classes” or “extra support.” He doesn’t need to be sent to a special room that other pupils see as a room for, ”the not very clever.” These can so easily be learning potholes and roots by many students, who may now experience learning challenges. This is the time to concentrate efforts on a fitness to learn. Getting back into great learning habits that build a positive mindset rather than the opposite. Now we should concentrate on building confidence through developing pupils’ understanding of how to learn as well as what to learn. Now is the time to help pupils develop their independence, creativity and collaborative skills so that they can see the rewards of their efforts, maintain a positive self-esteem and flourish, not just for the next few months but for a lifetime of learning.
Last week my two sons came for a run with me and we set out on a ten-mile trail. They are both super fit and accomplished marathon runners, so you can imagine my concerns about not being able to keep up or holding them back. I need not have worried. Firstly, they didn’t know the trail, whereas I did, (and without me they’d be lost!), but secondly, they were so supportive and encouraging. We ran together through the woods, across plains, through small streams and amongst ferns and heathers. All of the time they were commentating on the natural beauty of the route and how well I was doing. What made the difference to me was that I felt they genuinely meant it and were not patronising me in any way. We finished together congratulating each other and checking pace, pulse rates and recovery times. My new personal best time on that day has now become my target to beat. I hope Archie continues to be encouraged to set his new P.B for learning and that it too, helps him set his own targets for improved progress.