Each year, our pastoral team and Sixth Form welfare captains put together a wellness week– a chance for us all to reflect on how to take proactive steps towards healthy and fulfilling lives. This term, they introduced a wonderful ‘care bear’ scheme. Everyone, myself included, was assigned an anonymous buddy to deliver random acts of kindness. My own care bear thoughtfully organised a fantastic series of postcards, featuring ‘nice places to run’ as well as hidden clues for the location of a secret gift, appealing to my love of detective series. My dog Max is a regular and rather popular fixture at wellness week and is always so well cared for. So much so, that we recently canvassed opinion on getting our own, more permanent school dog. We were overwhelmed by the positive feedback and subsequently look forward to welcoming our new canine friend to the school community after half term. She may well need her own page in the school’s Strategic Vision…
There have been so many other examples of what a kind and caring community South Hampstead is: last term’s whole school walk raised £16,000 for Care International (who help girls to overcome inequality and fulfil their potential); the girls at Giving Joy lunchtime clubs who make craft items to support young carers; the Sixth Formers who speak to younger pupils about their experiences of mental health issues; the fantastic work of the Spear volunteers… I went to the annual fundraiser last week and was so impressed to see so many South Hampstead parents there and proud that we were mentioned as one of the key supporters of the charity. We look forward to hosting their next celebration evening on Tuesday 11th June.
This pervasive culture of compassion is partly a result of how we ‘teach’ kindness at South Hampstead – both implicitly and explicitly. Form times, assemblies and PSHE lessons for younger pupils focus on developing friendships – Making New Friends; Avoiding Cliques and Unkind Behaviour; Mobile Phone etiquette – that’s the stuff about how the girls should treat each other. But the other critical strand, of course, is how we inform them and enable them to interact with the world beyond South Hampstead – people whose lives look very different from many of theirs. At various points we teach students about the plight of refugees and asylum seekers; tackling discrimination and protected characteristics; and how to recognise the signs of mental ill health in friends and family.
The Speaker Series in the Upper Sixth is designed to open students’ minds to people from different walks of life. They hear from explorers who have travelled to different countries, people who have broken gender barriers and taboos, people who have powerful stories to tell about failure and redemption, and people who have endured almost unimaginable suffering. Above all it is about hearing the stories of other human beings. This is also an important focus of so many of our school assemblies. All these activities and initiatives are underpinned by the values that matter most to us: Thoughtfulness, Open-heartedness, Respect, Courage and Honesty.
Finally, we champion reading. Reading novels is important not just for developing literacy skills but for instilling empathy too. Getting inside the minds of other characters; reading about human joy and suffering; learning about other places and periods of history. Kindness is partly about learning to break out of our echo chamber – putting ourselves in someone else’s shoes. So if your daughters were wondering what they might do over half-term, here’s another very good reason for them to pick up a book. I wish you all a lovely break.