Family - a sense of belonging

The Head's Study, Senior School, Nursery and Prep School, Boarding

Being fearless is so much easier when we have the support of family and the confidence of belonging.”
Kate Reynolds, Head - Royal High School Bath

Fresh from the joyously happy boarders’ Christmas supper last night and still uplifted by the wonderful Christmas Extravaganza concert the night before, our end of term thoughts turn to family and the importance of belonging. Earlier in the term we enjoyed our Infant’s winter performance at The Egg theatre and our Year 4 Entertains was a wonderful throwback to the 1980’s. Whilst busy celebrating the festive period as a school we are also conscious of planning forward for holidays with family and friends. Both are key to our sense of belonging.

Belonging, the closest antonym to loneliness, is proving more important than ever as we have been buffeted through a series of seminal shifts. A chance conversation at breakfast this morning over EHIC cards reminded me that we are no longer part of the EU. The Black Lives Matters movement heightened awareness that all lives matter and that diversity is our strength but that we must all feel we belong. Cop26’s pledge by 151 countries to slash emissions by 2030 is essential if we are to respond as a global family to our global crisis.

This term at Royal High School our key focus threading through the 13 weeks since we returned has been family: the RHSB family; the GDST family; working closely with you as parents has been integral to our closeness as a family and community. In September we welcomed 84 new students and 10 new staff to the school. Since then, they have settled into their different family groups in the Prep and Senior school be that in classes, tutor groups, clubs and activities, boarding, catering, housekeeping, the Bursary.

However, being part of a family does not equate automatically to belonging. There is a wealth of research showing how crucial belonging is to our self-esteem and mental wellbeing. We crave interactions with others in the same region of our brains that we crave food. We experience social exclusion in the same region of our brain as physical pain. Two years of physical distance and disruption caused by the pandemic makes belonging more critical than ever.

Students are now citing back to me our mantra of ‘say yes to everything’ but the challenge remains of ensuring this is lived out, particularly for those girls who are more shy or introverted than others. We have been encouraging our Year 11 to plan their Sixth Form experience now, not just deciding whether to study A Levels or the IB but to commit to their enrichment and extra-curricular in their final two years of school-based education. These years go in a flash and sharing dreams and pledges, talking about and planning what they want to achieve are a step closer to ensuring they are happening. So too from all the other year groups at Royal High School Bath.

So, I would encourage you this Christmas to talk to your daughters about their sense of belonging at Royal High, to acknowledge that we can all feel at times that we do not belong but that we can do something about this. Talk about embracing groups, consciously deciding to be part of a club or activity with a common sense of purpose. Remind your daughters of the importance of just being themselves, being open and vulnerable as well as being empathetic to others. And encourage their super-power of active listening: asking questions of others and listening closely to their responses.

Next term we shift our focus to the second strand of our vision – fearless. We want to support all our students to seize every opportunity and help them understand that the best learning often comes after failure. We want to encourage them to be who and what they want to be. We want to celebrate our boarding students for the skills, courage, and determination they demonstrate living away from home, particularly during a pandemic; and we want to encourage risk taking and the ability to pivot situations to see the opportunities open to a positive mindset. Being fearless is so much easier when we have the support of family and the confidence of belonging.