Those who read my vision document right to the end may have noticed a fleeting reference to a unicycle in the last line. The story of Alice ended with her learning to ride a unicycle and making an appearance at the Brighton Fringe. This is not as random as it sounds. I added it as a reminder to myself. It’s not simply because I’ve always felt there is something circuslike about Brighton – I had been at Brighton Girls less than a month when I found myself hanging from a circus silk during wellbeing week. Nor is it linked to the fact that in every discussion I’ve had about sustainable travel, I have suggested we launch an electric unicycle scheme for staff – what better way to ride the zeitgeist? It’s there as a prompt, a symbol of three things that I feel are vital to creating a happy working environment: confidence, safety, and balance – the same three ingredients needed for success on a unicycle. You will have heard me mention confidence many times, so I won’t repeat myself here, except to point out that an individual’s confidence depends on them feeling safe and secure in their environment; you have received countless communications about safety (both physical and psychological) in the past year, as we have navigated our way through the pandemic; but the notion of balance may be a new one. Here are my thoughts on the importance of balance:
Life often feels like walking along a tightrope – now, perhaps, more than ever. This week, the notion of balance has cropped up time and again. How do we strike the balance between adhering to strict health & safety guidelines during this second lockdown, while adopting a business-as-usual approach? Should the staff mindfulness session go ahead even though it is not an “essential” activity? Is it essential? It could well be. During Mrs Watson’s Year 10 assembly on Remembrance, the girls were challenged to find the balance between reflecting on the past and looking to the future – how might we change things for the better? But we have ended the week demonstrating what is arguably the most important balance of all in term of our happiness and wellbeing: the balance between work and play.
While there has been a real sense of industry and reflection this week, with Armistice Day and the US election prompting weighty intellectual debate – like the one I had with Year 8 on Tuesday as we explored the historic achievement of Karmala Harris alongside the offensive, racist views tweeted by 82-year-old peer, Lord Kilclooney, just two days later – we have ended the week with the much-awaited Book Day – the Brighton Girls tradition that knows no bounds and sees students and staff in the Senior school dressing up as a literary character (I have spent the day with a pine marten sitting on my shoulder – I will leave you to guess my character). This highlight of the school calendar is taken very seriously – we are serious about having fun, and serious about the need to balance work and play. As I write this, we have raised £834 for Children in Need. Another great Brighton Girls team effort!
For many of us, the notion of ‘work-life balance’ was quite literally brought home to us during lockdown, where we saw a fusion of two worlds. We are keen to reflect on what we have learnt, and the need to balance work and play is something we are factoring into our plans for Brighton Girls. We have what our landscape architect described this week as a “once in a lifetime opportunity to unlock the potential” of our existing spaces. So the question is this: how can we create the ideal conditions for a happy working environment? How can we strike the right balance?
One of the many highlights of my week was meeting Year 12 students Molly and Cluny, who came to discuss plans for the new Sixth Form space. I was delighted when they started talking about the importance of play. Yes, they would like a quiet study area and a social space, but they would also like a space for exploring, creating, making and “playing”. In Molly’s words: “This school is bonkers; we want to reflect that”. They are on to something. Research suggests that play (defined as being a “spontaneous activity that is joyful, having the absence of consequences and the removal of constraint”) is good for our wellbeing; it helps us relax, while simultaneously boosting our productivity. Furthermore, studies of the world’s most successful and innovative companies have highlighted four important areas in the workplace: spaces that stimulate, spaces for reflection, spaces for collaboration, and spaces for play.
There will be opportunities for parents to be involved the discussions around our indoor and outdoor spaces over the coming months – thank you to those who have already been in touch. In the meantime, I hope that your daughters are adjusting to the idea of change in the school.
As Einstein reportedly said, “Life is like riding a bicycle (or did he say “unicycle”?). To keep your balance, you must keep moving”.