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Going Against the Flow

Resilience and determination

by Claire Law

Suitable for Whole School (Sec)


To use the resilience of Atlantic salmon to consider how we can face challenges.

Preparation and materials

  • You will need the PowerPoint slides that accompany this assembly (Going Against the Flow) and the means to display them.
  • You will also need the YouTube video ‘Salmon jumping Shrewsbury Weir’ and the means to display it during the assembly. It is 2.48 minutes long and is available at:


  1. Have Slide 1 showing as the students enter the room.

    Welcome the students to the assembly.

  2. Show Slide 2.

    Ask the students, ‘Can anyone identify the creature that we see here?’

    Listen to a range of responses.

  3. Explain that this is an Atlantic salmon. They are found in the Atlantic Ocean and in rivers that flow into it, including this stream in the Scottish Highlands.

  4. Atlantic salmon provide an amazing example of determination and resilience. They spend most of their life at sea, but make an epic journey back to the river or stream where they hatched so that they can breed there. They use their sense of smell to find their particular breeding ground. Then, new fish hatch from the spawn and the life cycle continues.

  5. Show Slide 3.

    Young salmon will spend at least a year in their home river before migrating to the sea, where they grow into adults. Some spend only a year in the sea before returning to their home river, whereas others stay there for two or more years

  6. Show Slide 4.

    This adult salmon has travelled all the way from its feeding ground near western Greenland and is heading to its home river in the Scottish Highlands to spawn. That’s a journey of over 1,000 miles

  7. Not only do salmon travel a long way, they also need to swim upstream to reach their home river. Salmon can be spotted jumping over weirs and waterfalls to get to their destination. In fact, they have been known to leap vertical obstacles more than 3 metres tall!

  8. Let’s watch some Atlantic salmon performing their amazing upstream swimming, jumping out of the water to clear the weir. They’ve travelled all the way from the Atlantic Ocean to a river in Shropshire. They’re making their way to a lake in Wales, close to Snowdonia.

  9. Do you see why we might describe Atlantic salmon as resilient and determined? In swimming against the flow of the river, they have to work hard to keep going, even though the water puts pressure on them. They need to find the strength to do the opposite of what is happening around them.

Time for reflection

The concept of going against the flow and swimming upstream is a helpful metaphor for life. There will have been times when we have felt that life was difficult, when we have had to work hard to keep going and reach our goals. Perhaps we have felt the pressure to stop or give in, or even just go with the flow and take the easy option.

We use the phrase ‘going against the flow’ to describe people who take a stand in life. They show that they don’t agree with something, even if lots of other people seem to accept it. They stay true to their values and make efforts to challenge oppression and injustice.

Show Slide 5.

Doctor Martin Luther King was someone who went against the flow. In the USA of the 1950s and 1960s, he challenged the racist beliefs and practices that were especially prevalent in the Southern States. To do so, King needed to be resilient and determined, as if he were swimming upstream against a wave of criticism. In the end, speaking out cost him his life: in 1968, King was assassinated because he chose to criticize publicly the racism that he saw around him.

Show Slide 6.

Another example of someone who stood against the majority was Irena Sendler, a Polish social worker who believed that all people were equal and important. When Germany invaded Poland in 1939, Sendler began a secret mission to supply food, medicine and money to Jewish people in need. This was illegal under the Nazi regime, so she was risking her life.

As time went on, Sendler took further steps to swim against the tide of Nazism. Dressed as a nurse, she repeatedly visited the Warsaw Ghetto, where hundreds of Jewish people were dying, and helped children to escape. She is credited with personally saving the lives of 2,500 children, hiding some in wheelbarrows full of clothes or food.

However, in 1943, the Nazis worked out what Sendler was up to and arrested her. They tortured and interrogated her repeatedly, but she refused to divulge any names. Finally, they sentenced her to death, but her friends bribed the guards to let her go. Sendler spent the rest of the war in hiding; she died in 2008.

Show Slide 7.

Someone else who challenged the majority view was Jesus. He went against the flow and spoke out many times against the things that he considered to be wrong, including how the poor and the sick were treated. Many of the religious authorities at the time believed that the poor and the sick were sinners, and should be avoided at all costs. Jesus challenged this idea, and was outspoken in his views that God’s love was for all people, regardless of their wealth or health.

In Luke’s Gospel, Jesus says, ‘When you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame and the blind, and you will be blessed. Although they cannot repay you, you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.’ (Luke 14.13-14)

With his words and actions, Jesus challenged the ideas of the time and demonstrated care and compassion to those in need.

Let’s take a moment to consider the areas of our lives where we face challenge. Let’s focus particularly on times when we feel like we are going against the flow. Let’s reflect on the challenge to stay true to our own beliefs and values when others around us disagree or are living differently.

Pause to allow time for thought.

Let’s take a moment to consider what helps us to keep going, stand firm and remain true to what is important to us.

Pause to allow time for thought.

Dear God,
We’ve considered how amazingly resilient and determined Atlantic salmon are.
They are a strong example of what swimming against the flow looks like.
Thank you for providing great examples of people who have gone against the flow themselves.
Thank you that they all share a common desire to do and say the right thing, even if that means challenging the views of others.
There are times in our own lives when we have the chance to be different,
Times when we have the chance to go against the flow.
We pray for the strength and determination to keep going when our own principles, values and beliefs are at stake.
Please help us especially to challenge injustice and prejudice when we see them happening around us.

Publication date: May 2022   (Vol.24 No.5)    Published by SPCK, London, UK.
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