Principal’s Round-up – 7th May 2021

Most of us are adept at seeing the big picture, but not always the detail. Caught up in the hectic pace of life, we often feel compelled to immediately distinguish what is important from what is not. The assessment is an easy one to make when we are mired in the daily grind – everything relating to task-oriented success seems significant, and everything else seems comparatively trivial. But some of what is most precious in this life cannot be measured in data, charts and formal evaluations. The truly noteworthy and influential events in our lives are often marred by hurried actions in the haste to achieve. One of those is finding time for people. To focus on the big picture alone gives permission for the cries of the wounded to be minimised, silenced and missed.

The importance of people as human beings should never be forgotten and it only takes some small action to remember. Most importantly in this is the consideration that we are all only parts of a whole, not a significant individual with influence. So, I would like to express my thanks to Hazel, Jonathan, Caleb, Kelli, Linda, Sue, Angela, Lynda, Tracey and Clare and her team for the efforts they made to assist with the preparation for the Trust wide leadership conference this week. While I was busy organising the content, they quietly just got on with making it look, feel and sound special for us. The pride in their school was evident and their work demonstrated just how great a team we are. It was humbling. I was reminded as ever that while we might think we are so capable, we can achieve so much more together than trying to act alone.

This attitude of course has its roots in the Co-operative Movement. A much more satisfying and edifying world to inhabit than the competitive and market-driven approach where to win is everything, and to serve is considered weak. That was the theme of the opening of the first day of the four day Trust conference. In my brief address, before we called upon the collective wisdom of the cooperative schools network, I reflected upon my belief
that to enact and energise cooperation effectively we need to consider three things in depth :

How to manage change – with a focus on outstanding communication and feedback. Every voice matters in a cooperative.
Understanding people – with a need to actively remove barriers in order to unleash creativity and confidence.
Recognising capacity building as an essential skill – investing in people who liberate and develop others, rather than in those who exist to measure, rank, oppress and punish

By focusing in these areas we can develop talents from any part in the Trust to realise the dividend that we have defined. We will also be actively future proofing our schools by enacting the vision of the International Co-operative Alliance and building upon the values and principles that will guide our decision making. Educational understanding is getting too concentrated, is being abused; is threatening democracy; is preserving a pattern of power and privilege that serves the needs of those who enjoy it but is not good for others. This is real, it is brutal and it is wrong. The power rests in this organisation with the collective – the people- not lone voices. We act, as Tony Benn proposed, as a sign-post for outstanding achievement. We do not behave as a weather-vane, changing direction at the whim of every DfE announcement and ‘expert’ opinion. We will develop our own destiny, and not wait to be instructed.

Of course this means that we have to be courageous to go our own way for a bit. It will be hard, but it is essential that we undertake the good work, not the bad work, to allow everyone in the organisation to flourish. By enacting the value of solidarity we never have to feel lost in the challenges ahead. The courage will be found in the power of ‘us’ It is in our gift and we can start today.

Principal’s Round-up – 23rd April 2021

In sorting out my office last week to give Tristan more room, I came across a feedback summary from a conference I ran for the Schools Co-operative Society some 10 years ago. Here are some of the comments from participants: 

“I feel transformed by the cooperative network we formed”

“The passion of all the contributions has inspired me to make better use of the cooperative values”

 “Now I feel our school is ‘here’, not ‘out there’”

 “I lost my separate identity and felt being part of the very large energy of people”

 “I feel that I have come back to life—like a second chance”

“I imbibed the philosophy of cooperation, and am better for it”

I could have written each of these statements myself today. They describe my feelings after successfully reconnecting ourselves within the family of cooperative schools and Trusts across the country. It has been an absolute delight to meet with like-minded colleagues who are inspired by the cooperative movement and understand its transformative effect in education. It is what cooperation can do to all of us if we fully embrace its possibilities and challenges.

A misconception often perpetuated by those who really do not understand, is that cooperation is inextricably linked to low standards and ‘woolly’ thinking. This often makes my blood pressure rise, because nothing could be further from the truth. Cooperation is sharp, requires effort and is values driven. Committing to live up to these values requires the highest of standards with a recognition that we work for the benefit of all. Cooperation laces us with liberty: the values allow us to be better versions of ourselves and free us from the constraints of oppressive, neoliberal assumptions about schools and schooling. However, embracing the values comes with an expectation of participation, not mere compliance. It is up to each one of us to decide whether we wish to be part of a powerful collective cooperative conscience or not. And just like when we choose what to eat, who to keep company with, and whether to turn right or left when we leave our home everyday, choosing to say yes to this is a decision that can only be realised when you take action to make that choice a reality. 

In our staff rooms we have many competent colleagues who do a damned good job and who have accepted the professional obligation to improve their practice through cooperative processes. But there are times when momentum can be lost. Occasionally in our lives it seems our bodies are running on empty. We are not sick, nor are we necessarily pushing ourselves to the limit. Rather, the energy we typically enjoy has mysteriously dissipated, leaving only fatigue. Many people grow accustomed to feeling this way because they do not feel as included as they should be. We have put great effort into ensuring that those we serve are included and understand diversity. I do not believe we do enough to ensure those that serve feel that same degree of inclusion. Both Wendy and Nick are starting to undertake focussed research into improving this situation. We need to do better. 

This acceptance that we are always trying to improve our culture is important. Dr Sam Sims, research advisor at the Teacher Development Trust suggests that it is a culture of improvement that plays a major part in developing and retaining great staff. He explains that one aspect of school culture that gets a lot of attention in the education press is workload. This is not surprising given that teachers in England work around one day per week longer than the OECD average. But he has identified a puzzle. Some research finds that workload is related to job satisfaction, stress and retention. While other research does not. A leading theory of workplace motivation and burnout suggest that the type of workload really matters. Hours spent on tasks seen as a distraction from teaching and learning (‘job demands’) have a negative effect. Hours spent on tasks that help teachers improve (‘job resources’) have a positive impact. Consistent with findings from qualitative research, marking, planning and admin all show a clear negative association with work-related stress and wellbeing. If anything, marking comes out worst.

What about tasks that might be considered ‘job resources’? The research shows the relationship is flipped entirely. Holding other workload constant, extra hours spent on professional development or collaborative working are associated with an improvement in work-related stress and wellbeing. This research will direct some decision making around pedagogy and methods to further transform our professional development model. Phil will provide some guidance on this over the next few weeks. We will be looking at replacing ‘bad work’ with ‘good work’.

The ideas I have written about above will be the focus for the next staff voice meeting. Working together is so much better than working apart and provides us with joy and energy in our work. It is one of the many things that make me proud of Tavistock College.

Principal’s Round-up – 26th March 2021

Imagine what a different world we would live in if we all worked together towards a common good. With all that takes place in our professional lives, it can be easy to overlook the fact that we are part of something bigger – a collective. Sometimes, when we are confused, resisting inevitable change or just tired, we naturally focus on short term tangible gains for ourselves without worrying about consequences. Other times, we may discard the planned change because it seems like “hard work”. If that is how you are feeling, I would encourage you to look again at our values, especially solidarity. When you know you are serving a greater cause, there is little room for fear and doubt. And we are serving a greater cause. No one should be left behind. 

With this in mind, I was delighted to be able to share the details with you about our future within Dartmoor Multi Academy Trust. It feels that we have a once in a lifetime opportunity to embrace all that is good for young people, our staff and community to move forward together. It is an exciting time and one we should all feel privileged to be part of. Our new ways of working, and the new roles we have established, are already enabling a positive impact to be made.  As a connected and cooperative Trust we can support young people by working together in everyone’s interest; we are less isolated, have a wealth of career and professional development opportunities …and more than that, we have now created that sense of togetherness that we aimed for the first time round, and missed the mark. Our parents now have a potential network to take the lead in their children’s educational experiences; our teachers, through Learning and Teaching Co-operatives and communities of practice can take control of their own pedagogical constructions; our support staff have a greater role in the running of our schools; and we have leaders who can really embed the values that are so challenging but important to us. Tavistock College is already benefiting greatly in exciting, essential, and multi-dimensional ways and the chances seem endless. So, to enable me to work across the Trust along with other talented colleagues, Tristan is stepping into a new Associate Principal role. I know you will support him, trust him and be guided by him over the next few weeks to work with him in the same way you work with me. 

During the time that our asymptomatic testing tent was in operation, I was rightly proud of the work we were undertaking and of everyone involved. Whilst it is certainly helpful to have the hardcourts back in action, there is a strange sense of loss now it has been removed. As I watched it being taken away I felt a little sad. It took me a while to realise why .Over the last 12 weeks the tent operation has presented an interesting leadership study on the cooperative values in practice. All of these values were, on a daily basis, exemplified and met by those who worked, cleaned, reported, organised and undertook voluntary tasks. There is much that can be transferred into our work. In the tent, we saw no shirking of responsibility, complaint or complacency. Instead we saw a great deal of support, understanding and compassion, and of course, outstanding leadership from Nick. 

The progress made this term especially with the relational policy must now emulate the same behaviours we saw in the tent. As we reflect upon our actions, seeing through the eyes of each other is critically important . Children are not there for our convenience to be taught: they are in our school for everyone, no matter what your role, to become good versions of themselves. For that they need outstanding role models. The very best leaders and teachers in Tavistock College understand this and make good choices every day. The best teachers understand their role in motivating and engaging young people, and maintain the highest expectations. The very best do not lose these approaches in a desire to simply turn up expecting all children to behave in the same way to their subject offer. If we accept our role in shaping learning, we must constantly explore our students’ thinking to interpret their behaviours.  This does not mean at all that low standards are acceptable. Our job, collectively and incrementally, day by day, is to make sure they succeed by actively teaching and modelling our values and investing in building relationships. 

As we are in the 125th year of ICA  I continue to be inspired and strengthened by the movement and the possibilities it affords us in schools. I was privileged to link back into the Cooperative Schools Network this week and look forward to drawing upon this as we take our cooperative identity forward. Much of the influence of the cooperative movement affects the choices we make and the behaviours we choose. Influence by Cooperative Group published employee behaviours, I have included below some guidance and expectation for our work together.

Principal’s Round-up – 12th March 2021

The full return to school by all of our students has been something to be proud of. As would be expected at Tavistock College, all colleagues have pulled together to ensure that the carefully crafted LFT plan and relational policy have been implemented without too much difficulty. We have quickly been able to adapt to immediate needs without any major complication. Thank you to everyone who has made this happen. The small, incremental and, seemingly, trivial actions have all added up to one massively positive school to be in right now. 

There has certainly been a buzz of excitement about the place. The conversations with staff demonstrate how much we have missed each other, and, of course, the young people in our care. Jo Neill said to me the other day  “It’s not that we haven’t all been working, it’s that we have not been working together that has made me tired”. We now have an opportunity to put this right, and bring alive our exceptional ethos once again. In taking the time to talk to students this week, I know that they are understanding of the need to maintain the health and safety controls, and are supportive of what you are all doing for them. Whilst the return to their academic and vocational studies is high on the agenda, the minds of most of my Student Voice group are full of socialisation, their friends, their families and their worries. Tutors have time to manage conversations over the next two weeks to allow for powerful discussions around social needs alongside the tutor programme. It is a wholly human trait to want to re-connect, and we should not shut opportunities down.

All of this is really about seeing life through the eyes of others. We already know that what a teacher thinks is happening in the minds of their students, and what is actually happening in the minds of their students may be two very different things. The teacher may think that everyone is on the same page, with the same understanding of what has been explained, but the truth is very different. Part of the art of teaching is to try and get everyone to see what is inside their own head, so that everyone can then think about the same thing together. What happens in the classroom after all, is a  communal act, and it should be highly dialogic. If we want to be able to work together in a classroom and get to the point where there is meaningful discussion, we have to begin by making sure that people have the knowledge to enter that dialogue. That is why recent professional development has intentionally revisited retrieval, modelling, chunking, scaffolding and ‘just in time’ feedback. The return to face to face learning, therefore, will continue to require ongoing attention in these areas. 

We are still in transition. As in all things in life that change, one thing does not just end and another begin. Life is a collage of beginnings and endings that run together like still-wet paint. Yet before we can begin any new phase in the life of the school, we must sometimes first achieve closure to the current stage we are in. That is because many of life’s experiences call for closure. Often, we cannot see the significance of an event or importance of a lesson until we have considered the changes that we might make, for example in recognition of the lockdown. It is this sense of completion that frees us to open the door to new beginnings. There are plenty of new practices and systems that we can now reflect upon and decide which actions to now put our efforts into. If we pay attention to the values that we have built this school upon we will not go far wrong. They are, after all, expectations about our behaviours and relationships, not words on the wall.

Despite the all-absorbing return plan, we still found time this week to promote International Women’s Day. It is important to recognise that when we choose to consider issues of equity and equality that we are not acting in a way that promotes only lip service. Students will never forgive us for that. To be specific, it is not acceptable to pose for a picture with your hand raised, and then engage in ‘banter’ about feminism. Feminism is not an ‘anti-male’ stance. To quote G D Anderson (founder of the Cova Project) “Feminism isn’t about making women strong. Women are already strong. It’s about changing the way the world perceives that strength.” 

Whilst we accept that all people have their own way of being in the world, there must always be an expectation that our behaviour around issues of equality and equity will never be to the detriment of others. In other words, it must be authentic. We grow up in different environments, affected by a unique range of influences. The preferences, values, and beliefs we embrace are frequently related intimately to our origins. Additionally, the need to individualise our experiences is instinctive, as doing so enables us to cope when we must face challenges on our own. Consequently, each of us has developed a perspective that is uniquely ours. Interacting peacefully and constructively with people from all walks of life is a matter of first understanding where they are coming from, accepting it and then championing the changes in ourselves. Then we can adjust our expectations so that we avoid making undue assumptions and judgements about what they are about.  When there are barriers keeping us from connecting with someone else, it is possible to think of questions you can ask them to gain a more thorough understanding of their point of view. We may discover that in addition to the differences in perspective dividing us, we are subject to insecurities and other personal issues that influence our way of seeing the world. It is likely that we will never fully grasp the myriad complexities embodied by humanity, but we can go a long way toward encouraging mutually satisfying relations by reaching out to others in the spirit of sympathetic comprehension.  I believe that this is exactly what we must do as we move forward.

Principal’s Round-up – 21st February 2021

The ‘roadmap out of lockdown’ schools announcement made by the Prime Minister on 22 February came as no surprise. We have been anticipating, and planning for, the return of students to full time learning for a few weeks. Assuming that the data provided about our health and safety is accurate, I certainly support the full opening of schools from 8 March. No matter how hard teachers have worked at providing remote learning, nothing can replace the face to face interaction between teachers and students, and students with students. Certainly not in a highly dialogic school like ours. Returning to school is vital for children’s education, and their wellbeing. Time out of school is detrimental for children’s cognitive, social and academic development, particularly for those who are disadvantaged. Yesterday I circulated to you all the opening plan strategy documents and the updated generic risk assessment for Tavistock College. Please take some time to read these. There are significant changes to the September opening plan, and it is incumbent upon everyone to follow the risk assessments that are in place.

Young people will not, of course, just slot back into classrooms and learn en mass easily. The return in September showed us that. We know from evidence provided by the NHS and our health support services that the decline in mental health amongst 14-18 year olds has been more dramatic during this lockdown than in the previous ones. School closure will have contributed to that. The work in bringing our students back, therefore, must be thoughtful and empathetic. The ethos we promote together will matter because students are returning to a very different set of expectations than they have been used to in recent weeks. The opening plan asks you to consider how you will behave and what you will do to support this transition. We have to operate as one team.

From my perspective, the action of seeking to understand before we act is at the core of this. Listening matters, and students want us to take into account the struggles and successes they have had over lockdown with remote provision. That is what our student voice meetings were largely about last half term. In addition, we have responsibility to support parents with the transition back to school. We have developed some superb strategies to effect this during lockdown, and we will grow them going forward. I do not want to lose momentum in this important area.

Wellbeing, after all, is everyone’s responsibility. If we get what is written in the opening plan right, we will not simply be surviving a difficult and sudden return to full time face to face teaching, rather we will be thriving and improving in every area. I made my expectations very clear to Heads of Faculty yesterday, and I am sure you will be able to discuss these at your faculty development time next week. The determination to rebuild our cooperative approach is non-negotiable, but how you get here is in your gift.

Of course, as human beings, we cannot help but be subject to our preferences. We do, though, have control over the manner in which these manifest themselves in our professional behaviours. Every idea we hold dear is an expression of either support or opposition, and it is our perspective that determines whether we are for something or against it. Now, more than ever is a time to be positive. We can direct our energy and intentions into activities that promote wellbeing (and kindness) rather than using our resources to speak out in opposition to troublesome behaviours and attitudes. On the surface, these appear to be two interchangeable methods of expressing one virtue, yet being ‘for’ something is a vastly more potent means of inspiring change because it carries with it the power of constructive intent.

Recent examples of this include the work we have started (thanks to Chloe Carrubba) for International Womens Day and for the LGBTQ history month (thanks to Nick Read and Neil Hosking). Both have been celebrated in this school. When you support a cause, whether your support is active or passive, you contribute to the optimism that fuels all affirmative change. Optimistic thoughts energise people, giving them hope and inspiring them to work diligently on behalf of what they believe in. Being ‘for’ something creates a positive shift in attitude, which means that neither you nor those who share your vision will have any trouble believing that transformation on a grand scale is indeed possible. To be ‘against’ something is typically easy, as you need only speak out in opposition to it. Standing up for something is often more challenging, because you may be introducing an idea to people that may scare them profoundly.

Throughout our lives we are often told that the actions of one person will seldom have a measurable impact on the world. Yet your willingness to stand up for what you believe in instead of decrying what you oppose can turn the tides of fate. The thoughts you project when you choose to adopt a positive perspective will provide you with a means to actively promote your values and, eventually, foster lasting change. That is why I nurture, uphold and promote the values of the International Co-operative Alliance. We have the chance to transform our school over the next few weeks by being positive, constructive and malleable to the needs of others. Cooperation gives us the capacity to bend without breaking, as well as a continual willingness to change or be changed in order to accommodate new circumstances. This enables us to take advantage of opportunities that a more rigid and determined approach would miss out on.

Thank you all for your work so far this term. We are about to launch ourselves forward into a new, not old, phase of our work. Let’s do this together, and enjoy the experience.

Have a lovely weekend

Principal’s Round-up – 5th February 2021

Here’s a thought. We are currently, inadvertently, all part of a forced unofficial social experiment:  the impact of online activity on the brain. Any role in school is hugely demanding at the moment and of course we all feel the pressure of being squashed between the responsibilities to the DfE and to colleagues, families and children. But one emerging issue we have not really spoken about openly is the ‘brain haze’ that occurs on an almost daily basis for those spending extended periods of time in online meetings and lessons. The human brain has high neuroplasticity, especially when we are pre-25, but for older (more mature?) people like me, ‘Zoom-fatigue’ is now a diagnosed condition. Our brains simply do not like extended online activity. It is much more mentally challenging. Research by Microsoft in National Geographic this week demonstrates that brainwave patterns associated with stress and over-work rise by up to 16 times when working in online meetings when compared to working with others in person. The same must apply to online teaching and learning. The limit to concentration in adults is believed to be 30-40 minutes, and it is recommended that we need a 30 minute break every 2 hours at least. That is quite challenging. 

 

Think back to the old ways of working and appreciate them. Humans are normally communicating even when they are quiet, and use dozens of non verbal cues to maintain connections with others. These cues  are much easier for our brains, and, due to the highly evolved social interaction skills we have, they are largely innate. We have become adapted to a mechanism known as continuous partial attention. This is when we use non-intense stimuli to ‘rest’ in cycles, naturally choosing alternative inputs to guide our understanding of ideas being communicated. Now online meetings, lessons and other activities require the brain to function from intense sustained attention to words and static images as stimuli . Multi person screens magnify this problem as the challenge to the brain’s central vision forces it to decode many people at once.  It is somewhat of a relief to me to learn that the drop out of information that happens to me is not, in fact, something that I should get cross about, but my brain simply being overwhelmed by external stimuli it is unfamiliar with.

 

This knowledge is compelling. We will stick with the reduced remote lesson length I introduced a few weeks back and I now consider the decision to introduce the midweek break on Wednesday mornings to be essential. The rather flippant (I hope) remark made to me about Ofsted’s potential view on this, received one of my short, to the point answers. If we do not pay attention to the impact of extensive online communication on our brains, we will be accelerating the mental health crisis that is already lapping at our feet. And it starts with interrupted sleep patterns. So, if this chimes, do something about it now. 

 

Supporting Mental Health must remain high on the agenda. Below Barbara Manning summarises her view on the work we have undertaken.  

 

“This week is Children’s Mental Health Week. Never was such a week more necessary and never has it been so tricky to try and provide meaningful and authentic support with so many of our children and young people working remotely and being locked down. However, with my RS teacher hat on I am aware that pride is regarded as a sin, so forgive me colleagues for I shall sin….

When I started my career, or at least earlier on (in the last century), Every Child Mattered, we had SEAL. Every local authority championed Healthy Schools and we all strived to get the badges, plaques and logos. Then along came Thrive ……The strategies came and went, as did the funding, but I have seldom met a fellow professional who did not care about the children and young people in their daily charge. This is a school that cares from ground up and from top to toe. I see this every day.  It is awe inspiring.

Tavistock College has made huge strides towards our goal and vision of being a mental health hub of excellence for our entire community. We have enlisted as a Pioneer School with the Anna Freud Centre and we are a member of the Anna Freud Schools in Mind network. We are fortunate to have well- being and mental health principles, policy and strategy in place. We regularly revisit the checklist for emotionally healthy schools. Work is currently ongoing to accredit what we already do by means of a formal Well Being Award and student voice will be critical to this endeavour. Our eye is very rarely off the proverbial ball. In addition, our website has a dedicated area packed with mental health information, resources and signposting for learners and parents.

However, my first big fat sin; absolute unfettered pride in abundance at the work Neil Hosking has been doing historically and in lockdown to keep Living Life To The Full (LLTTF) at the forefront of the provision for our students. For those of you who are unfamiliar with LLTTF it is a cognitive behaviour therapy-based approach to promoting resilience and self-help responses in those who are struggling with anxiety. Ideally, LLTTF is a peer led programme and Neil spent significant time pre-lockdown training his mental health ambassadors. If you have looked at the website recently, you may have seen the brand-new Tavistock College mental health logo designed by the Year 7 students who were about to embark on the LLTTF journey with Neil? Alas, lockdown did strike and in a magnificent response Neil has developed an online offer with a suite of podcasts now available through the aforementioned mental health area of the college website. These are just as relevant to adults as they are to our learners so do please visit the website and contact Neil if you would like more information. I now commit the sin of envy because there was nothing of this nature, let alone quality, available when I was at school with Einstein and Cleopatra a very, very long time ago.

It should not have escaped anyone’s attention that we are currently hosting our third psycho social role emerging placement for two Plymouth University trainee Occupational Therapists (OTs). Kayla and Kristel are with us for a total of twelve weeks on what is currently a unique placement locally. Their remit is to leave us a legacy of well being for both staff and students. Currently amongst other things they are working independently and with Neil to make a live and recorded mindfulness offer to all members of the community. The student offer is under development for release imminently, the live staff offer is now available.  If you work at Tavistock College, you can engage in some mindfulness with Kayla from 9:45am to 10:15am on Tuesday and/or Thursday during the period 02 Feb to 25 Feb 2021. The link, should you be able to attend and want to find out more about mindfulness and self-care is; meet.google.com/mbk-wvbk-ggs  

You are all doing a brilliant job of safeguarding our learners during this strange and challenging time. THANK YOU. Please keep doing what you are doing because this also fills me with great pride and gratitude. Our Well Being Practitioner on site from Monday to Thursday is Clair Thomas, and she is able to take referrals in respect of any young person whose social emotional and/or mental health is foundering. https://drive.google.com/drive/folders/163a_LLn8wmYKNjqcgtuH2lipgix4KOr-).  Finally we have Mental Health First Aid (inclusive of bespoke bereavement support for the young people) in place for children, young people and adults. The posters around the college identify these colleagues and all contact is confidential as is any approach you make to APL Health or Talk Works https://www.talkworks.dpt.nhs.uk/

At the risk of appearing greedy or gluttonous, I cannot write about our mental health provision without mentioning the raft of quality solution focused mentoring that goes on both formally and informally. Despite lockdown, Trudi Massey and her team at Catalyst are still able to support our students as is Vicki Lloyd another of our partners, from the Youth Café. Similarly, Young Devon, Kooth, Chat Health (School Nurse led text message-based support), Young Minds, NSPCC, CAMHS and many other partner agencies are still there and adapting their offers to be COVID compliant. We also have Sarah Hallett and Kieran Williams onsite doing exceptional behaviour support work alongside Jill Hodge who offers Attachment Based Mentoring to some of our must vulnerable learners.  I have seen every day from CPOMS how much informal well being mentoring tutors are offering through their lockdown contact with students. I am truly humbled. You are amazing! 

I referred earlier to emotionally healthy schools. No school can be truly emotionally and mentally healthy unless appropriate relationships prevail. Are we a trauma informed school? No! Not yet. Will we be? Yes! We have a duty to the children and the community we serve to ensure that social capital is being created and reinvested at every opportunity and this comes through relationships.  I would go as far as to suggest that relationships are everything! (Challenges on postcards please, it might be the nearest some of us get to a holiday this decade). Research shows clearly and compellingly that proactive intervention is more efficient and cost effective than reactive approaches. “Learning to be and learning to live together is as critical as academic learning to know and to do”. (Sue Roffey).

Well-being begins with WE, not me. With this in mind the senior team will be starting to plan for the roll out of our relational policy and practice with trauma informed approaches at the core. This will integrate Boxall profiling, attachment-based mentoring, HumanUtopia Heroes, the graduated response and a host of other things that we currently do engage with but in a more strategic and holistic manner. It will be a challenge but, bring it on!”

 

In the chaotic times we operate in, it is amazing to me that anyone has time to go the extra mile. However, to end on a positive note, I was delighted to learn that two students have managed via online lessons and a couple of in school session to take a LAMDA qualification. Tom Gourd in Y12 has received Grade 7 in Acting (Merit) and Talisker Pearson (Y8) has gained a Grade 4 (Distinction) in Reading for Performance.

 

Please try to rest this weekend. It is essential.

 

Sarah

Principal’s Round-up – 8th January 2021

When I started writing this it was Wednesday. Seems a lifetime ago. I had to give up a couple of times and start all over again, such is the rapidity of the changing expectation on schools. It is anticipated that we will adapt and change to the Government’s instructions because they seem to be incapable of not only making their mind up and sticking to a course of action, but lack the ability to pre-publish back up plans that would help us understand what is expected of us. Nevertheless, you, as ever, have risen to the challenge, stumbled a bit, got your heads round things as the true professionals you are and stepped up. We do this because we care deeply about our communities, parents and, of course, our students. Their success is our motivation. Just reflecting on the last five days, we have 

  1. Returned to school expecting to be teaching year groups that never materialised
  2. Implemented a new lockdown RA
  3. Moved learning online 
  4. Re-devised remote learning when we found our plans were not working 
  5. Increased the expectations to 5 hours of remote teaching a day.
  6. Hosted exams
  7. Cancelled said exams
  8. Delivered food parcels to disadvantaged families (it takes about 4 hours)
  9. Set up and trained colleagues to run the lateral flow testing station 
  10. Taken part in testing
  11. Been teaching over 100 students in school
  12. Absorbed the frustration of justifiably anxious parents and students
  13. Read 5 different DfE updates, some published late at night for implementation the next day.
  14. Listened to a SOS who thought it was appropriate to threaten an over stretched profession with ofsted. 

That was this week. Who knows what will happen next?!

 

There are reasons that we do not break under this pressure. One of them is the sense of solidarity that is created when, faced with a challenge, your colleagues can offer. This is one of the advantages of working in school, side by side. Another is an ability to not take criticism personally and to be prepared to change direction. Finally,  developing an understanding of what it means to be resilient during periods of change. 

 

I will use one example. Sadly, a colleague had a conversation with me earlier, when after producing an excellent resource, was the victim of intense criticism from a parent. Her words were ‘I am made to feel like a failure’. Of course, I know that she is far from a failure and the comments were simply a reflection of the parent’s extreme anxiety and frustration with the national lockdown. 

 

The word failure puts forward a very simplistic way of thinking that allows for only two possibilities: failure or success. Few things in the universe are black and white, yet much of our language reads as if they are. The word failure signifies a paradigm in which all subtlety is lost. When we regard something we have done, or ourselves, as a failure, we lose our ability to see the truth, which is no doubt considerably more complex. In addition, we hurt ourselves. All you have to do is speak or read the word failure and see how it makes you feel.  

 

At some point, the word may not have been so loaded with the weight of negativity, and it simply referred to something that did not go according to plan. Unfortunately, in our culture it is often used very negatively, such as when a person is labelled a failure, even though it is impossible for something as vast and subtle as a human being to be reduced in such a way. It also acts as a deterrent, scaring us from taking risks for fear of failure. It has somehow come to represent the worst possible outcome. Failure is a word so burdened with fearful and unconscious energy that we can all benefit from consciously examining our use of it, because the language we use influences the way we think and feel.  

 

Next time you feel like a failure or fear failure, know that you are under the influence of an outmoded way of perceiving the world. When the word failure comes up, it’s a call for us to apply a more enlightened consciousness to the matter at hand. When you are consciously aware of the word and its baggage you will not fall victim to its darkness. In your own use of language, you may choose to stop using the word failure altogether. This might encourage you to articulate more clearly the truth of the situation, opening your mind to subtleties and possibilities the word failure would never have allowed. 

 

I will end with just one word. Thank you. For everything you have adapted to, cried over, and stood up for. I am humbled by your resilience and power. We have a school, and a profession, to be proud of.

Principal’s Round-up – 27th November 2020

I am not altogether sure where I have found the time to write this week. After 32 years working in schools I can honestly say I cannot remember a more complicated and changeable week! Whilst challenges are exciting, I am aware that colleagues are almost on their knees with the increased workload of setting remote learning activities alongside their normal teaching load. I also know that there are increasing problems with complex behaviours being exhibited by students, and this is causing additional stress. I am listening. I am doing my best to improve the conditions in which we work. From 7th December there will be changes to the organisation of the school day that will enable a great deal more ownership of personal spaces and faculty areas will return. Whilst compromises will have to be made around corridor supervision, we can strengthen the covid-secure arrangements whilst at the same time also reduce workload. The standards that we were all proud of have been dented somewhat, not least by sheer professional exhaustion and the abundance of supply teachers who do not know the students and their families well. The new arrangements will help us restore the ‘gold standard’ by continuing to support each other. 

I know that your efforts are worth it. They are essential. I watch with dismay the broadcasts almost daily that send ill-conceived messages about tenuous scientific advancements and misleading information. If it were not for the outstanding education that our students receive in Science, Humanities and English we would be developing a new generation of poorly informed citizens who are prepared to believe all that they are told. The quality we see in this school’s curriculum is the precursor to the kind of work we need to inspire the next generation. The approach we take in teaching children about the efficacy of information, and developing the ability to gain knowledge and problem solve is more important than ever. Our co-operative approach is promoting social learning that is crafting citizens of the future who hopefully will make a better job of running things than my generation. 

Despite the challenges of this week, we must not lose sight of the success stories that remind us why we remain committed to our profession. My father encouraged me to always walk looking up at the world, and not at my feet!  We were congratulated by the LA this week for our low EHE numbers. I understand that we are the lowest in Devon. This shows the confidence parents have in us, which has been built over time by dedicated colleagues who understand the importance of building relationships with families. Another measure of confidence is the high attendance exhibited by the student body and the engagement with the period 6 catch up teaching. These are things we should be proud of. 

I learnt with pride that Y8 students,Molly Hunt and Rebecca Boyd, have been selected for the Devon U14 hockey team. Y13 student, Joe Crosher has just received a distinction grade in Performing Repertoire for his CTec.  His grade was unique and very well deserved  especially as he completed most of the unit over Google Meet during lockdown. Joe’s talent, skill, work ethic and resilience resulted in some fantastic performance work but also a deep understanding of the theory behind the work of Bob Dylan, Bertolt Brecht and the genre of Political Theatre……if you happen to have not heard The Ballad of Bristol  (in particular) please encourage Joe to share with you!

It is this kind of resilience and innovation that we should remember from these stories. Sometimes I feel we spend a disproportionate amount of time focussing on delving around in reasons and explanations for confusion and problems rather than taking a stance of hope and positivity. Overthinking and over-discussing can drag us down. Focusing on resilience takes us forward. It is almost as if this is an old fashioned term, but we need it more than ever. Resilience is what gives people the psychological strength to cope with stress and hardship. It is the mental reservoir of strength that people are able to call on in times of need to carry them through without falling apart. Resilience is at the very heart of well being. It is about recognising that you have to fight a battle more than once in order to win it.

We also need each other. The way everyone responded to the days we were sending students home because of the confirmed Covid cases was heartwarming. People came together with no fuss or complaint. Things went smoothly because we truly lived up to our values that day. The high levels of anxiety were mitigated by the sense of togetherness that is a part of this school.

So when I reflect on the week, I can convey messages of hope, as well as difficulty . I value greatly the people that bring solutions rather than problems. This is a measure of resilience and the courage to act. 

I hope you all have time to recharge over the weekend. I shall be treating my relative freedoms of Tier 1 next week with some caution. I hope you all do too.

Principal’s Round-up – 13th November 2020

This week saw us commemorate Armistice Day with a very reduced remembrance event, unlike in previous years. With poppies up and down the country and moving and lavish displays on some buildings, we are all aware that in November the nation marks the gruesome wars that have scarred our past and present. Last Sunday, over 3000 bells rang out across the United Kingdom with half muffled tolls… the sound of a slow march to help us remember those who lost their lives. The act of remembrance is important in schools and should always be embraced. It sometimes seems to me that war is still too easy a thing to talk about. Luckily most people do not experience war outside of what we see on the news or in films. Few people actually share a collective memory of the 20th century wars. To many they can seem nationalistic and romantic, promoting the idea of the good guys versus the bad guys. War is really much more complex than this. Whilst we remember those who bravely gave their lives in conflict, we must also remember everyone else who is affected. The words ‘lest we forget’ may ring hollow when we see how war continues and holds us in its grip in so many places. We really have yet to learn the lessons from the fallen. In modern war we hear stories of collateral damage and loss of assets – actually, these are power stations, schools, hospitals, roads and homes. People’s loss of loved ones – children and parents. 1000s of lives are still being lost as victims of modern warfare. People are making perilous journeys across land and sea to protect their families, to flee from famine and persecution. We no longer speak of terror in the trenches but continue to experience inhumane conditions everywhere. War de-humanises people. What fools we are to make war a computer game for our children and to allow it to be glorified on social media. In remembrance, we commit to making the world a better place. Wars do not start with someone deciding to bomb a country. They start with actions and words. Words are some of the most powerful weapons we have. Words can be used to create conflict, unrest and hate. Or they can be used for good, for creating peace and conciliation. Messages for us all.

The first teaching and learning review this year was also a very different event, relying on work scrutiny and remote learning checks, student voice and parental feedback. There were strengths and areas that need acceleration, not last in the area of feedback that has suffered due to the nature of teacher movement around the site. However, a review can only really dictate the ‘bottom line’. I understand that teaching is a very personal business and so one student might rate you and another might hate you. It is idiosyncratic, subjective and it is all about personalities and getting the best fit. Being effective is elastic but relationship-effects between teachers and students play a huge part However, getting a consensus on what being a good or effective teacher is can be extremely hard and we cannot rely on Ofsted inspectors, what Sarah’s mum says, or the twitterings of social media.

There is no formula, but there are some pointers in the research showing us what traits or approaches are most likely to be effective. The research that is out there on effective teaching tends to mix together what effective teaching looks like and what qualities an effective teacher has. Barak Rosenshine’s (2012) Principles of Instruction have certainly got a lot of attention in recent years .His work largely underpins our Teaching and Learning policy. He presents 10 research-based principles from cognitive science, studies of master teachers and the research on cognitive support to help students learn complex tasks. His research focused on learning instruction, teacher performance, and achievement. Working with Norma Furst, he identified five characteristics of teacher behaviour which have served as a framework for research on teacher performance. These are: clarity of exposition, enthusiasm, task orientation, varied approaches, and opportunities to learn. The 10 principles are all based around the model of explicit instruction:

  1. Begin a lesson with a short review of previous learning.
  2. Present new material in small steps with student practice after each step.
  3. Ask a large number of questions and check the responses of all students.
  4. Provide models.
  5. Guide students’ practice.
  6. Check for student understanding.
  7. Obtain a high success rate.
  8. Provide scaffolds for difficult tasks.
  9. Require and monitor independent practice.
  10. Engage students in weekly and monthly review.

A 2014 Sutton Trust report, ‘What makes great teaching? (Coe et al, 2014) identifies six common components that constitute good quality teaching. In order of effectiveness, they are:

  1. Pedagogical content knowledge – teachers who have a deep knowledge of their subject (strong evidence of impact on outcomes).
  2. Quality of instruction – effective teaching and assessment methods (strong evidence of impact).
  3. Classroom climate – creating a classroom that encourages students to recognise their self-worth (little evidence of impact).
  4. Classroom management – a teacher’s ability to make use of lesson time and resources (moderate evidence of impact. Resources have the least impact).
  5. Teacher beliefs – why teachers adopt particular practices and the purposes they aim for (some evidence of impact).
  6. Professional behaviours – how teachers reflect on their own development, supporting colleagues, and engaging with parents (some evidence of impact).

When you compare the two reports, it is clear why we focus on cognitive tools rather than behaviourist approaches that pay scant attention to the constructivist nature of learning.

The feedback from the teaching and learning review is ready to be shared in Faculties As in all things, the greatest joy in our work will be achieved not through indulging each other or colluding in excuses and self- pity but through seeking to succeed at the highest level. Tim Brighouse calls us to adopt an attitude of unwarranted optimism. Now is the time to review this approach.

Principal’s Round-up – 23rd October 2020

Well, we made it to half term! We have laughed, cried and held each other up over the last 7 weeks. I have to start with some endings, and that is never easy. Yesterday we had our final ceremony for George Mudge with the planting of his apple tree in the orchard. We have a bench arriving soon and anyone who wants to reflect upon the lessons George taught us can now spend some time doing just that, looking at his favourite view. One of those lessons was the need to be more compassionate in this busy world we inhabit. The care shown to George has been a measure of the man…. I hope that we can all remember to show that to the living. Writing our thoughts in a book of condolence is important. How often do we say those words to the people around us when they are still with us?

As we approach half term, there are some sad and some exciting events taking place. Today we are saying goodbye to a much loved colleague, Sylvia Preece. There is a tribute to her on the next page. Sylvia asked for as little fuss as possible, but 24 years is a long time to serve a school and she deserves a few words at the very least! Sylv has been a remarkable colleague and we will miss her greatly. Victoria Bartlett is leaving us for a short while as she starts her maternity leave. We are sending her off with our very best wishes and look forward to seeing her again soon. There are two long-awaited weddings taking place in the holiday: Hannah Holbourn and Niall Murphy are getting married …but not to each other. Congratulations to both of them.

Working in schools is hard. Sometimes it is very hard. At the moment it is extremely hard. For schools with significant numbers of disadvantaged students (we have 36% of our school community) it is harder still. Occasionally working in schools with its constant and biased media criticism and ill thought-out political interference, it can feel like a battle against all odds. But it’s a battle worth having. And we have done exceptionally well this half term. Teachers, Assistant Teachers and all other staff are the ones who cannot give up: they are the ones who that must pick up the pieces when everyone else has gone. When the budgets of support services are cut, forcing them to retreat, schools are still there. Because they have to be. Even when school budgets are slashed, those that work in schools will not withdraw. Instead we shoulder the burden. To let children down is simply not an option.

We provide the vital calm in society’s storm. Intolerant views and ‘hard line’ doctrines abound at the moment in the public discourse over our work for Black History Month has been felt recently in school. Stridency seems to be in vogue politically, and this filters down through families and in the community. Compromise, subtlety and ambiguity are perceived as weak. Battle lines are being drawn, even in education, between ‘hard’ choices.(‘grammar schools are the only solution to mediocrity’ versus ‘grammar schools represent the return to a totally divided and elitist past’). Ann Mroz describes how, in whichever ‘side’ you are on in these societal hard choices, you are encouraged to ‘gaze in horror; feel the fury; feel the righteousness. It becomes good to know your arguments are not only evidentially right but also morally superior’.

But moral superiority does not entertain doubt. Without doubt, there is reluctant change and precious little improvement. Moral superiority does not seek answers to questions it hasn’t asked. This is all part of our newly intolerant age, and it will not help us mend the holes in our arguments and imperfections. It is against this intolerance we must now rage. The very thing we have worked so hard with young people to put right. We will fail to help them create a better world if we do not encourage them to embrace other peoples’ points of view. And we must do the same. Responses to parental criticism should not be defensive and conversations about impact in teaching rather than efforts made should not be dismissed. Sometimes workload can be reduced by embracing change. Student voice is not to be feared – it is a valuable developmental tool. This week, for example, my student voice group told me how much they value the relationships that they have with staff but that some teachers are slow to respond to disruptive behaviour and that they needed to be stricter over some issues. The two stances are not ‘hard’ opposites of each other – there is some middle ground.

Let us then pursue debate. Let us encourage discussion and opportunities to create. Let us shun the intolerant and closed minded approaches, and reach out to finding middle ground solutions by examining all the evidence. Let us celebrate the compromises that enable everyone to benefit. This is how we will grow as a school, and how we will regain the energy to cope with extremely challenging times in schools.

I hope that you all find the time to rest over half term. We certainly need to recharge our batteries.

Sarah