Dulce et Forte
“Hello, Mr Cook, do you remember me?”, beamed a familiar, friendly face, as the confident young man strode towards me and eagerly shook my hand in a local restaurant. I was delighted to recognise a former Croft pupil who I had taught in a previous school, some 16 years ago. We shared tales of our experiences and I was delighted to hear that he was now embarking on a teaching career.
Our conversation was swiftly interrupted by the same scenario, but this time, by a pupil who had left The Croft in Year 6 and who had just finished their first year at university, who joined in our reminiscing. Unbelievably, a third former pupil of The Croft from some 10 years ago also approached me; so the four of us were chatting, catching up on the years in between. It was most surreal, but I gained a lot of satisfaction and pleasure in seeing how these young pupils had grown and matured and become successful in their individual ways.
It is interesting to see people still having connections with The Croft and we are delighted that there are second and third generation families who attend. Their experience testifies that the high educational standard has stood the test of time from the school’s beginnings in 1933 by the founder, Miss M G Phillips, and which has evolved into an enriching curriculum and multi-faceted extra-curricular programme in the 21st century.
Thousands of pupils have benefited from this extraordinary heritage. Many of our current Year 6 pupils have spent 9 fruitful years here, growing physically and mentally, to become strong, confident, happy young people. They started their learning journey with solid foundations and their roots are now spreading into secondary education, university and beyond. We wish our Year 6 girls and boys all the very best for the next chapter of their education – they are prepared and ready for the next stage.
In September, our first cohort of 2 year olds, as the newly named Little Crofters ‘Caterpillars’, will begin their 9-year learning journey. They will be nurtured to develop into ‘Butterflies’ the following year, from which they will be ready to launch fully into the brilliant world of education. Our Caterpillars join us as sweet, inquisitive children and, in time, will leave as strong, well-educated, well-rounded individuals.
Miss Phillips had the wisdom and foresight to create the school motto, dulce et forte – meaning sweet and strong - which our pupils continue to wear with pride on their maroon blazers today. Her words know no bounds and are as applicable now as they were 83 years ago. The ethos of dulce et forte ingrains a balance and resilience in pupils to catapult them to success with a combination of social graces and inner strength.
Success presents itself in many guises, of course, and everyone can celebrate one form or another, be it academia, sporting, artistic, music or anything else that is your personal triumph. So, if you should see me around town in a few years’ time, please do say ‘hello’ - I’d love to hear your successes, however big or small, sweet or strong!
Mum's the word
The world recently celebrated Shakespeare’s 400th anniversary of his death, and we owe it to the bard and other authors for our love of reading and the splendour of words. The phrase, ‘mum’s the word’, is derived from Shakespeare’s play, Henry VI, and many modern-day phrases and words were penned by the bard – you can’t have “too much of a good thing”! (As You Like It).
2016 also celebrates the birthdays of Beatrix Potter 150 years ago, and Roald Dahl 100 years ago. Her Majesty the Queen marked her 90th birthday with many celebrations across the UK. The nation was respectfully joyful and thankful to someone who took the words in her vows to her very core to become the monarch for life.
Even Leicester City, the underdog with the remarkable rise to glory in the Premier League, turned its fortune around with fighting words of inspiration and encouragement from their manager who listened to the team and played to their individual strengths.
We celebrate many things in life, such as the aforementioned, as well as birthdays, weddings, anniversaries, passing exams, and winning a school match, etc which all encompass our desire to congratulate and be happy for the person bestowed with their good fortune whether marked as an annual event or a special one-off.
However, quite often it’s the smaller things which, at the time, don’t seem to be out of the ordinary, but, in hindsight, we realise how fondly those moments are cherished. I especially deeply cherish reading to my children when they were younger, as I also affectionately remember the close bonds and tenderness I experienced with my parents when they read to me in my formative years. Reading, especially fathers, to children, exerts a magnetism whereby the child is entranced in a colourful world powered by their imagination, fuelled by your voice and animations. These precious moments should be celebrated, as so much is garnered in ways beyond measure.
Children love being read to and wholeheartedly absorb the reader’s enthusiasm and words, and the earlier they start, the better. Many studies confirm numerous benefits to the child such as a stronger relationship with the parent, better communication skills, mastery of language, more logical thinking skills, enhanced concentration and discipline, and the knowledge that reading is fun. These attributes also contribute to their love of reading which remains with the child as they grow up and permeate positively throughout all aspects of life.
Reading is a huge part of The Croft throughout all year groups. In addition to general reading within the classroom, pupils read aloud to an adult, Year 6 pupils read excerpts from the Bible during assembly, House Captains read out their match reports to their peers after lunch, and pupils enjoy Library lessons in one of our two extensive libraries where all types of reading is encouraged in a relaxed manner. The Croft also regularly participates in the national Read for my School competition.
Shakespeare’s contemporary, Ben Jonson, anticipated his dazzling future when he declared in the preface to the First Folio, “He was not of an age, but for all time!” In the same vein, let’s celebrate our love of reading for the next generation – so mums - and dads - please pass on the word!
Outside the Box
Outside my window, in the relative safety of a niche by the farmhouse wall, I recently saw a squirrel furtively eating its morsel of food, delighting in being able to do so, undisturbed by fellow squirrels or foe. It was so close, I could see its tiny paws nimbly rotating and raising the food to its mouth. A happy and triumphant squirrel indeed!
The squirrel could have just eaten its food where it found it, on the open lawn, but had the good foresight to find a safe haven. Whilst this example is quite simplistic, it really does pay to think a little further, to challenge challenges, and to find an alternate way around potential problems.
Getting from the proverbial A to B in all aspects of life can be far more enriching if we free our imaginations to consider another route other than the mundane. At The Croft, the School is sometimes affectionately described as the quirky Croft, because we rather like to do some things differently.
Firstly, we are unique in that we are a family owned school and our ethos of caring, nurturing and friendliness permeates throughout. Pupils enjoy being in school which impacts positively on their learning – you just have to see their smiling faces every day – hand on heart, this is a great place to be!
The School also boasts unique features such as a Geology Museum crammed full of crystals, rocks, fossils and artefacts; an O gauge model railway; a Science laboratory; two kune kune pigs (who love watching the children play football!); several hens; a conservation area; and Forest School complete with teepee. We also teach Latin to Year 6, and we are one of a few leading schools in the country to teach emotional intelligence, a highly efficient tool to help pupils understand themselves to help them to learn better, academically and socially.
Furthermore, The Croft offers a diverse range of Friday afternoon clubs for pupils in Years 3-6, in addition to the usual extra-curricular provision. These include Girls’ Rugby, Train Club, Boys’ and Girls’ Football, Benchball, Debating, Board Games, Just Do It, Lego, Country Dancing, Music Technology and Knitting. And yes, boys also attend Knitting Club!
Our clubs and facilities provide an open backdrop for children to absorb the notion that something different is something good, quirky or otherwise. Croft pupils begin their learning journey with a sense of delight and wonder, squirrelling away all their experiences and, along the way, embracing the inimitable concept of thinking outside the box.
The Art of Conversation
Day to day family life and family gatherings provide wonderful opportunities for us to talk to each other - a simple and natural practice undertaken by everyone from babbling babies to dear grandparents.
Family life provides the backbone of how we interact with other people, influenced by many factors. Introverts, extroverts, and those in between, learn social interaction and behaviours from all sorts of situations. There are many times I can recall interesting conversations with my own family, and on the odd occasion, some embarrassing ones too!
However, there is a growing trend which I fear may put this age old skill at the back of the queue. The influx of modern technology into our daily lives, whilst necessary, has seen a culture whereby groups of individuals become deeply ensconced in mobile phones or portable devices and they do not look, speak or interact with each other. Often observed in restaurants and social outings, it is a sad sight to see.
I am by no means a technophobe or Luddite when it comes to such devices, and, as a parent, I am fully aware of the challenges that face the modern child and the influences peer groups can have. As in many aspects of life, everything has a place, but in moderation. I have enquired, on a number of occasions, if such devices come with a ‘breathing’ app; such is the frequency that these appear in my teenage son’s hand!
At The Croft, we nurture social skills from Nursery to Year 6. We aim to prepare children for secondary school and the wider world with communication a key skill which is achieved in a number of ways.
We teach pupils basic good manners, social etiquette and respect. We encourage pupils to answer questions in class and contribute to discussions. Pupils read aloud in assemblies, participate in performances and accustom themselves to speaking to an audience. Year 6 Peer Supporters help and support other children in the playground and have to communicate clearly and appropriately. We also maintain the tradition of pupils shaking hands with their teachers to wish them ‘good afternoon’ at the end of the school day.
In addition, Year 6 pupils practise mock interviews with me or the Deputy Headmaster in preparation for their secondary school interviews. Here they learn how to engage physically with good eye contact, positive body language and a firm handshake; how to greet in a friendly, confident manner; and connect with their potential interviewer by talking about relevant subjects with enthusiasm and interest.
Communication skills and confidence can be learnt, so, from shyness to shining, it always pleases me to meet current and former Croft pupils when they greet me or my colleagues in town or out and about. Furthermore, I am always delighted to receive praise from travel companies and airport staff who compliment our pupils on their excellent behaviour when travelling for their ski or French trips, or on other school outings.
We are all ambassadors of The Croft, whether in or out of uniform, and we are proud to represent and talk about our school to everyone who would like to listen - the art of conversation is very much alive in our education!
You can't always get what you want
We tried our very best, but we didn’t win. We practised for hours in earnest, but what is the point if we didn’t win? It’s not fair.
We often hear it’s not the winning that counts, but the taking part, which I firmly believe to be true. For example, the England Rugby World Cup team had one golden aim: to win, as any competitor would. They are the highest in their field, professionals to the end, and yet, they left this year’s World Cup defeated. A little dejected, yes, but what wouldn’t you give to take part? They practised so hard, and their experience of highs and lows gives credence to why they play the game.
Similarly, we can apply the ‘it’s not fair’ philosophy to many circumstances in life, such as not achieving the best exam results, or not getting the prize for a particular category, or not winning a competition, despite our very best efforts.
I might even go so far as to say that even irregular shaped vegetables such as carrots and parsnips are rejected from the pristine specimens on display in supermarkets, as they are not deemed attractive enough to purchase.
To truly conquer our feelings of dejection, we need to put things down to experience, learn from them and carry on – this time, more knowledgeable, more experienced and more determined. For those carrots and parsnips, they will be used in other ways, such as ingredients for soup, or sold to restaurants, or even sold to consumers at a cheaper price.
Having an eye on the prize is certainly a good thing – in school, on X Factor, even on Santa’s Christmas wish list. However, if we don’t get what we want, it’s actually ok - we will try again. Then when we do ultimately succeed, we feel good inside and know anything is possible.
Andy Murray is a great example of dogged determination, winning some competitions and losing many along the way. He quite rightly is ecstatic to have been part of the team that won the Davis Cup, the first win in 79 years for Great Britain. However, his thoughts on effort and achievement ring so true: “I regret maybe not celebrating as much as I should have done after some of my other wins, because now I know how much effort goes into achieving them. You never know when the next one might come - it may never - so we should make the most it.”
In celebrating the festivities over the coming weeks, let’s be grateful for what we receive and be gracious for what we give - and enjoy eating our vegetables, no matter what shape or size!