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Teaching pupils to develop resilience through the production of their own fragrance

Posted on: 15 Feb 2019
Posted by: Edward Roberts

Edward Roberts, assistant head at University College School Hampstead, discusses his school's partnership programme with local state pupils, which has seen them develop a business project to enhance pupils' resilience.

With the recent snow flurries across the UK, the glorious summer of 2018 now seems a lifetime ago. For many, however, the memory of Gareth Southgate’s England team reaching the semi-finals of the World Cup is still fresh in the memory. Not since 1990 had England progressed to the last four at this tournament. Gazza’s tears in Italy will never be forgotten but, in thirty years’ time, what will I remember about the latest challenge by the Three Lions to match the success of 1966? Harry Kane’s golden boot? A long-overdue win on penalties? Photos of players riding inflatable unicorns in swimming pools? I am a fanatical football fan, but strangely I can remember little about the matches last summer. Instead, my overriding memory is of a post-match interview with Gareth Southgate. I lost count of how many times he referred to his team’s resilience. With his calm, measured manner and his crisp three piece-suit he reminded me more of a deputy head leading a staff INSET on learning habits and less like the manager of the England football team.


Should I have been surprised by the repetition of the word “resilience”? It is certainly not a new term in educational circles. Martin Seligman, who some consider to be the father of positive psychology, has spent much of the last 40 years researching how to help people respond to both positive and negative events. How can an apparent failure be turned into a success and how can people better understand how a “success” has been achieved? Seligman and his colleagues at UPenn have developed a series of courses called the Penn Resilience Program. These aim to help develop cognitive and emotional fitness, strength of character and stronger relationships. Mental agility, optimism and learning how to control one’s thoughts, emotions and behaviours in the face of obstacles and challenges are all essential in helping to achieve success in life, learning or football.


Yet teaching resilience is at the heart of what every teacher does on a day-to-day basis. Whether the lesson is carried out in a classroom, laboratory, drama studio or on a sports field, developing greater resilience in our students is paramount. Teachers devote hours to planning suitably stretching activities which are designed to further a pupil’s understanding of a concept or skill whilst at the same time allowing them to develop greater “stickability”.


At University College School in Hampstead, resilience is one of our four Learning Values. Relationships, resourcefulness and responsibility make up the quartet, and we have endeavoured to use aspects of our partnership programme to help both pupils at UCS and our partnership schools, in further developing their resilience. A recent initiative brought Year 10 pupils from UCS together with pupils from Westminster Academy in an entrepreneurial challenge - The Next Big Scent. The pupils worked in groups over a three-month period to design and market a new fragrance, and the project finished with each group delivering a 15 minute pitch to a panel of “Dragons Den”-type judges at the offices of Estee Lauder in London. The judges were stunned by the quality of presentations and the creativity that the pupils had shown in both the creation of the products and their approaches to selling them. Over the previous three months, the pupils had met together on a weekly basis with teachers from both schools, but specific guidance was also given by Azzi Glasser, a highly-regarded perfumer and creator of the luxury fragrance brand The Perfumer’s Story. Each group contained pupils from each school, and throughout they were given the opportunity and guidance to develop their communication skills and aspects of team work. Azzi delivered key lessons in marketing but, as one would expect, the design process was not always a smooth journey. At times, the pupils had to show resilience to enable them to handle the inevitable setbacks which they experienced along the way and, whilst the presentations were all a roaring success, on reflection, the pupils recognised that they had learnt most from dealing with setbacks during this three-month journey.


The offices of Estee Lauder were a very different setting from the Spartak stadium in Moscow where the England players stepped up to take their penalties on 3rd July. But, when these groups of 15-year-olds presented their concepts to leading members of industry, no one could doubt the strength of character they showed. Most of them were extremely nervous but by focusing on the positives and by trusting in each other and in their ideas, they showed and further developed the resilience that will be vital to them both at school and in later life.

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About Edward Roberts

Edward Roberts is assistant head at University College School Hampstead.