I’m on my way back from one of the best overseas trips of my life, to the British Embassy School in Ankara, Turkey. So, what made it so good?
First, the excellent organisation and preparation by the school, led by ace school librarian, Ann Kardas, with the time-table organised by the Head of Middle School. Ann looked after me so kindly
but in a way that allowed me space: I don’t want to be taken out or entertained and Ann made sure I had peace after each session to get ready for the next one. They’d put together a programme which looked pretty hard work, with nine hour-plus sessions over three days, with the extra complications of my seeing three year groups five times, and one year group twice, in different combinations and for different topics which all needed to tie together into one coherent learning progression. With each year group coming to the topics in a different order, this gave me quite a headache of preparation! It went better than I could have hoped.
I signed their library wall with a message. It felt worryingly good to write on a wall…
Second, the welcoming, relaxed staff and school environment. It was calmer than most larger schools I go to – partly because it was smaller, with only 69 pupils across the four year groups I worked with. An interesting observation: normally after a day in which I’d done three high-octane sessions of over an hour, with me “on show and performing” for every minute, I’d have been wiped. But at the end of each of these three days, I wasn’t. Tired, yes, but not wiped.
That was interesting in terms of what I talk about re stress being exhausting, especially the stress for an introvert in a people-situation: walking through corridors of noise and chaos and people puts any human on a state of high alert but a noisy, people-filled environment brings extra energy loss for introverts. I really felt the benefit of a quieter atmosphere. And so, I argue, would the more introvert students and staff.
Third, very comfortable accommodation. The luxury hotel made a huge difference to how I could sleep and relax, which added to my energy and made me work better and feel better.
Linked to that, I also flew Business Class. (I paid for the upgrade, which wasn’t as much as you might think and I was being well paid by the school.) I chose this because it makes an enormous difference to my energy levels. It also cuts costs because I don’t have to buy any food, which I’d have charged to the school otherwise. If I’m speaking at a conference, the conference would always pay for Business Class flights because otherwise it’s just too exhausting and the organisers know the difference an easy journey makes. Also, it’s much easier to cope with some stress if you have a holiday at the end of it but this is work. I work during the flight and in the airport and we all know how hard/impossible that is on most economy flights.
Finally and mostly, the kids! I was talking mostly to year 7, 8 and 9, with a couple of sessions with Year 6. They were all delightful: bright, funny, sweet, friendly, interested and totally engaged. Some younger ones were quiet and big-eyed with awe; others were just bright-eyed with interest and desire to learn. And that is priceless! I also noticed the facial expressions of the Year 8 and 9s change quickly from doubt to engagement and interest.
The topics of my talks were:
- How your brain works and how to make it work better
- How to live healthily with screens
- What reading for pleasure does to you
- How to understand and manage stress
- FLOURISH and your brain
I also talked to a huge turnout of parents.
The students learnt how their brains learn and how to make them learn better; about confirmation bias; about the biology of stress and the real reasons why reading for pleasure is so good; why and how to get better sleep; and all about my favourite subject: brain bandwidth. I LOVED how they took that on board and often in subsequent sessions I’d ask “do you know why XXX happens?” and they’d say “because Y uses more brain bandwidth so there’s less left for Z.” They GOT it so well.
I gave the school some free books, and some extras for prizes, and each student a couple of signed cards and a signed Reading for Pleasure sticker. At the end of the final session, which was to all four year groups, I read a poem I’d written for them the previous night.
Thank you so much to the British Embassy School, Ankara. May your brains flourish wonderfully throughout your lives!