At Newcastle High we’re just surfacing from exam season.  We organise our end of term exams for just that, the end of term.  The timing is planned deliberately so our girls can relax, unwind and have a holiday during the Christmas break.  This is so important for everyone, particularly girls in Years 11 and 13 who will be bracing themselves for their return to school in the New Year and the onslaught of work to do and go over in the run up to GCSE and A levels.

By contrast, many other schools time their exams for the first week back in January to give students a chance to revise over the holidays.   In theory, it might be beneficial to have a couple of extra weeks to study but realistically the lure of a Christmas film, another Quality Street and the demands of festive visits from family and friends all make it extremely tough for young people to drag themselves off to revise.  We’d much rather get the exams over with in December and have the holidays to rest and regroup, that way the girls come back ready to start afresh in the New Year. This is exactly what I am urging everyone to do this Christmas and this season I’m recommending that everyone gets their SHED in order!  I’m not talking about the actual one at the bottom of the garden, but Christmas is a prime time to focus on yourself, and ensure that you get the balance right in your SHED – Sleep, Hydration, Exercise and Diet.

All too often we focus on other people, especially at Christmas, and it is difficult not to feel guilty when we take some time out for ourselves.   But as I’ve said before, in life, we need to learn to adopt the airline policy of applying our own oxygen masks before helping others and not feel bad about it.

As Christmas is a time for giving – give yourself time to do a personal spring clean and clean out your SHED ready for a fresh start in the New Year.

I will be advising the girls that one of the best gifts they can give themselves this Christmas is time to focus on doing things and seeing people who make them happy.  Recognising what these things and, who these people are, is one of the first steps!

It is these intangible and personal gifts of time, people and experiences that will really deliver the greatest chance of happiness in both the short and long term, not those items that can be wrapped and put under the tree.

Flicking through the gift guides from retailers this year I was struck by the preponderance of hi-tech gifts and gadgets that feature in the top ten most- recommended for men, women and children alike.  Shoppers will be clamouring for these latest must-have gadgets which will capture our imaginations temporarily, probably for as long as it takes to download the accompanying App, but then, like the gadgets themselves, will fast become obsolete.  Most new IT and hi-tech developments have built-in obsolescence – designed to be over and done with in a few years, or even months, to be replaced by the latest and more sparkly model. We shouldn’t pin our Christmas hopes and dreams on such items, instead we need to discover new ways to seek happiness, contentment and self-fulfilment.

We’ve spent a lot of time this year and will continue the theme into next of helping the girls develop their emotional intelligence and resilience, to learn to enjoy and live in the moment.  Seeking true self-fulfilment in life will, we all know, only come from this.  It is a theme we keep revisiting and one we all need to learn, to enjoy the journey and to stop focusing solely on the final destination.

In an era when as a school, we employ a counsellor as well as a school nurse and as a society we are dealing with rising levels of depression in adolescence, increasing pressures of exams, work, and life in general, it is imperative that we educate our young people in the broadest range of life skills and SHED management.

This year, writing my Christmas list was easy – all I want for Christmas is to spend more time with my family, friends and the ones I love.  For me, this will be the first step in cleaning out my SHED.

Merry Christmas and a happy and healthy New Year to you all.

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