Norwich School Blog

The Head's Address At The Start of The Trinity Term

After a much needed break, The Head addresses pupils in Cathedral as we look forward to the Trinity Term ahead . You can read his address below:

"I hope you have had a good holiday with an appropriate blend of relaxation and revision where appropriate. I offer my own welcome back to school for this term.

For me, there is always a sense of hope and optimism about the start of the Summer Term: days are getting longer, nature is blossoming, the sun is (sometimes) shining and warming us up. Yet in terms of the school year, it is perhaps the most lopsided part, as intense academic focus on examinations and assessments transitions towards creative, sporting and philanthropic opportunities at the end of term before the joyous summer holiday begins.

During this time of relative imbalance, my advice is that you seek to impose your own sense of balance through sustainable routines. You may remember that I referred to the 5 ways to wellbeing in my address at the end of the Lent Term and there is no doubt that these are good ways of establishing a healthy daily routine: Stay active, keep learning, take notice, give to others and connect with friends. I draw particular attention to the importance of physical activity as part of your routine during periods of revision, partly as a break from study, ideally in fresh air, but also to make you physically tired in order to help with good sleep patterns.

However, even with a sensible, repeatable routine, there is no doubt that the coming weeks are not easy to navigate, whether you are preparing for internal assessments or public examinations. I hope you have a way of keeping things in perspective and, on the occasions when things are challenging, have some methods to get you back on track.

I should like to share one such method with you now. It is a breathing exercise and I am sure that others will have talked to you through tutorials, PPD lessons or specialised sessions. I share this with you now because it was recommended to me during a speech over 10 years ago and it remains the exercise which I use when it is helpful for me to slow myself and my thinking down. It is called 7-11 breathing and it does what it says on the tin: you simply breathe in for a count of 7 and breathe out for a count of 11.

  • No need to close your eyes but it might help as you get started, especially if you are worried about being distracted by a neighbour,
  • focus on breathing in through your nose (1,2,3,4,5,6,7)
  • and breathe out through your mouth (1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8,9,10,11).
  • And again in through your nose (1,2,3,4,5,6,7)
  • and out through your mouth (1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8,9,10,11)

Now, there are variations on this: some find different number ratios for inhalation and exhalation helpful, such as 4-7 or 3-5, so let’s just try each of them. As you do so, remember to time the rate of release on the out-breath so that you are not out-of-breath too soon:

  • eyes closed if you wish and
  • breathe in through your nose (1,2,3,4)
  • and breathe out through your mouth (1,2,3,4,5,6,7)
  • and in (1,2,3)
  • and out (1,2,3,4,5).

Please continue to practise whichever number ratio you find more helpful while I talk further about the science behind this practice.

I do not profess to be an expert but my understanding is that our normal fight/flight response dictates what is known as our sympathetic nervous system, characterised by features such as the release of adrenaline and shallow breathing. By contrast, deep and deliberate breathing relates to our parasympathetic nervous system which helps to calm the body down.

In terms of methodology, you will have worked out that the key aspect is that the out-breaths are longer than the in-breaths. Thus, it does not matter too much whether your ratio is 7-11, 4-7, 3-5 or something else. Indeed, further options are available, including box breathing (in for 4, hold for 4, out for 4) and 4-7-8 breathing (in for 4, hold for 7, out for 8). I invite you to experiment to see which rhythm works best for you.

The key point for me is that concentrating on slower, more deliberate breathing helps me to feel a greater sense of control, regardless of the circumstances which have made my heart beat faster and/or (but usually and) made my thoughts start to race. The rugby players among you may have noticed that international teams will often concentrate on their breathing as a group after scoring or conceding a try; I am sure this is as much about resetting mentally as getting their breath back.

Whether it is 7-11 breathing or another variation, do have a think about some deliberate practice to give you a sense of greater control at times of challenge. This will form a helpful tool as part of your balanced, sustainable routine this term. Remember, incorporating physical activity and establishing good sleep patterns will be important, too. The final point is to use the Norwich School community to help: teachers, parents, support staff and, most importantly, your Norwich School friends will all be keen to assist in the coming weeks, so do not isolate yourself; instead, stay in touch with the network around you.

Finally from me, there are lots of reasons for us to sing hymns together here in the Cathedral when we meet in the morning, but the positive effect on our breathing is certainly one; I do not know about you but I find it takes me the first verse to get my breathing organised but I sing better and enjoy the hymn more once I have my breathing under control in later verses. I shall keep my ear out carefully for the quality of the singing shortly…

I hope you all have a good term!"