It's been extracurricular activity (ECA) sign-up week for us here. A chaotic and challenging administration exercise that, however you do it, always ends up with emails from parents, endless questions to answer and many amends on spreadsheets.
It’s all worth it, though: the buzz it brings is fantastic and it represents a welcome return to normality.
What’s more, extracurricular activities give us an opportunity to link the academic, pastoral and co-curricular strands of our curriculums together and, in turn, provide additional opportunities to grow our pupils holistically.
And this is an important consideration. In our school, we have nine strands that guide this holistic focus that we see as fundamental to pupils’ wider growth: collaboration, leadership, communication, confidence, resilience, engagement, decision making, recall of knowledge, creativity.
Extracurricular activities to boost pupils' holistic development
To develop this within our extracurricular activity programme, we have put the attributes of leadership, decision making, communication and collaboration at the heart of what we offer. Here’s how we are doing it:
We have adopted student leadership across a range of pastoral and co-curricular activities, but particularly in our sport and physical extracurricular activities, where we look to give pupils the opportunities to show leadership in action.
This is not just about selecting “captains” but organisers, coaches and administrators and, with our older pupils, coordinators.
This means we have designed activities that encourage pupils to take ownership of an activity and lead those around them.
This might be the kit person, who checks everything is ready for the session; the administrator, who takes registers and organises groups; the coach, who runs warm-ups or group practice; or a secretary, who makes posters and does marketing for your club.
2. Decision making
How our pupils react to situations and respond is a key part of our extracurricular activities now. We have looked to move away from just a game plan into scenario-based activities.
For example, we pose the following situation: you have two minutes to go in a game of basketball, you are two baskets down and the opposition have the ball, what can you do to win the game?
Then we watch and see how they plan, make a decision regarding strategy and then see how it plays out. We watch for them adapting to the changing situation and how quickly and effectively they can make decisions on the fly.
This can work in other activities, too. For example, in areas such as drama and music, we may pose questions over running orders, staging or choreography, and give pupils ownership over the decisions.
PE teachers have whistles because when 30 children start shouting at each other in excitement, it's quite hard to be heard.
As such during game situations, we look for those pupils with really effective communication and then get them to “teach” the others in their group how they do it.
In sports activities, we run sessions where we limit the amount of communication the pupils do and then discuss whether it improves or hinders their effectiveness. In other words, can they succeed when they are silent? And can they achieve when they are all shouting? Which is best?
We then discuss what good effective communication is and then try and replicate those ideas in practical situations.
Pupils work better when they are challenged to work in different ways.
Working in groups is a fact of adult life and the more we encourage this then the more prepared pupils will be.
We look for the pupils who always work together and ask them to be as effective when they are put in a different grouping.
We spot the natural leaders and followers and ask ourselves, why are they standing out?
Collaboration is key in most team sports but we now try to get our pupils to think about how they can collaborate in other areas, too: arts, drama, music are all really good opportunities for collaboration.
As a result, our school production and music concerts are really student-led and our teachers are offering opportunities to collaborate to the pupils.
Of course, none of this is to the detriment of the other benefit extracurricular activities offer – having fun and engaging with new experiences – but it’s about working to ensure that whatever pupils are doing during school time is helping them to grow and become the best they can be in everything they do.
Philip Mathe is director of sport at Brighton College Al Ain in the UAE