Summer Time

We certainly know how to finish on a high here at Churchill! This week has seen four excellent Celebration of Success events held at the Academy. These events are a great way to finish the year, recognising the achievements of students who have excelled in particular subjects or as members of their tutor groups throughout the year. At each event, I read out the following quotation:

“If you are going to achieve excellence in big things, you develop the habit in little things. Excellence is not an exception – it’s an attitude.”

Colin Powell

This is the key to sustaining success. The students who received certificates as part of Celebration of Success – 1080 of them! – all demonstrated this. They were getting the little things right, day in day out, all the time. Turning up for school, on time, in the correct uniform. Listening carefully. Applying themselves. Working hard. Doing their best. Looking out for others. Caring. Smiling. Helping. Not just occasionally – but all the time. These “little things” build up an attitude and approach which contributes to bigger things, recognised in the awards handed out at Celebration of Success: the formation of an attitude which will contribute to excellence not just at school, but beyond.

Of course, not everyone wins awards at Celebration of Success, and not everyone has these habits of excellence. But they can be learned – and they can be deliberate acts. I was particularly struck by one tutor’s citation for their Tutee of the Year. The tutor said that, in the first few years of school, the student and the tutor hadn’t “clicked” and they hadn’t particularly impressed one another. But the tutee developed these habits of excellence, getting the little things right all the time, and the tutor saw this build up and recognised that this was someone deserving of recognition. It was one of the most gratifying handshakes of the week – celebrating the success of someone who had changed – and done so consciously – to ensure success.

In the midst of this celebration of success, it was serendipitous that our rescheduled Sports Day  also took place. And what a day! It was great that families were able to join us on the field to celebrate success in the sporting arena. The atmosphere was full of fun and enjoyment, and the Houses as fiercely competitive as ever. Despite a strong surge from Stuart, especially in the lower years, Tudor romped home as comfortable victors. I loved the whole day! There is a gallery of photos on the school website and on Facebook, and a few of my favourites are included below.

Before we break up for the summer, we say goodbye to some excellent colleagues who are leaving the Academy this year. In particular, I would like to pay tribute to Chris George, who has been at Churchill for over 20 years. I have personally found his wise counsel and listening ear invaluable since I started in January, and I know many colleagues who have been here a lot longer than me will say the same. I wish him well in his well-earned retirement.

Sports Day Selection (14)

Chris George: Chief Timekeeper

I wish all of you a restful, happy summer holiday!

See you in September!

Activities Week 2016

What a week! It’s been my absolute pleasure (and privilege!) this week to get out and about visiting as many activities as possible. Over the week I’ve popped into Age of Mythology, Be a Film Critic, Candle Making, Magic – the gathering, Crazy Crafters, Cupcake Creations, Day of Sports, Decoupage, Got to Dance, Jewellery Making, Stop-Motion Lego Animation, Fireworks Animation, Music For All, Photoshop Masterclass, Project Catwalk, Paintball, Go Karting, Golf, Bristol City Tour and Coaching, Skiing and Snowboarding, Bag and Wallet Making, Journalist for a day, Book Making, FIFA tournament, and more..and I’ve missed several because there are only so many hours in the day! I even managed to visit some of our Year 10 students on work experience. Whilst my travel budget didn’t extend to Iceland, Austria, Belgium, France, Cornwall, Cardiff, the Forest of Dean or the Harry Potter Studio Tour, I’ve enjoyed the photographs that have been sent back and Facebook, Twitter and Instagram have been buzzing throughout the week.

Activities Week is a great chance for students to try something different. I have seen them learning practical skills like jam making, product design or putting. I’ve seen them gaining cultural knowledge from visiting galleries, museums and our European neighbours. I’ve seen them broadening their curriculum knowledge from History in Belgium, Geography in Iceland, Art and Science in Bristol. I’ve seen their teamwork and resilience improve from problem-solving, and as they push themselves out of their comfort zones into new environments. I’ve seen students taking the opportunity to spend a whole day in the specialism they love – dance, textiles, programming, sport and so on – to get the maximum enjoyment out of their passions. And I’ve seen the working relationships between students and staff continue to strengthen and grow as they experience learning in a different context.

Many schools have stopped offering Activities Weeks. They are time-consuming to organise as the Academy has to risk assess all of the activities, arrange the options, sort transport, and liaise with all the providers. The week requires a lot from staff, with a huge commitment of time and energy to take students on these amazing experiences at the end of a long and tiring year. But having seen the enjoyment and the benefits that everyone gains from it, I’m very glad that Churchill still has its Activities Week – memories have been made! Now to start planning 2017…

I will finish this week’s blog with a heartfelt thanks  to all the staff who organised and ran activities both directly and behind the scenes. Thanks especially to Marilyn Cadman, who is the glue that holds the week together! And thanks of course to our wonderful students for their excellent behaviour and enthusiastic participation throughout the week. Here are a few of those memories – find more on the website and via the social media channels!

Balls

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Year 11 letting their hair down

I hope you will forgive the title of this week’s blog. If you’ve found it in your heart to forgive that, then I hope you’ll also forgive this next sentence.

I’ve been to two fantastic balls in the past fortnight.

Sun's out – we're ready! #bollywoodball

A photo posted by Churchill Academy & Sixth Form (@churchillacademy) on

Of course, I am talking about the Year 11 Ball here at the Academy, and the Year 13 Ball in Bristol the following week. These great events have got me thinking about the spirit of celebration and what I’ve learnt about Churchill over the past fortnight.

Firstly, I’ve heard some people bemoaning the “Americanisation” of our culture as proms have taken hold across the land. I’m not one of them: I love them! And, it has to be said, Churchill’s are something special. In particular, I love the fact that the Year 11 Ball is held here at the Academy, transformed this year into an Aladdin’s Cave of Bollywood-inspired delights. I love the fact that the whole community turns out to watch the arrivals, cheering and applauding as each new spectacular mode of transport rolls around the coach loop. And I love the fact that our Year 11 demonstrate all the creativity and originality that are the hallmarks of this school in their choices of vehicle, from sports cars to scooters, tractors to trailers, motorbikes, golf buggies, wheelbarrows, camper vans and Land Rovers… And I love the fact that the students waltz, tango, and salsa together under the expert direction of our dance teachers before unleashing their own moves on the dancefloor!

What I loved more than that last week, though, was the joy on their faces and the mood of the celebration. There was genuine happiness that the exams they’d worked so hard towards were finally over, and the summer was opening up invitingly ahead of them. But there was also real warmth and affection for the school and its teachers who had helped them along the way. There were hugs and thank yous, and I think in each of them a sense that, even though many of them would be returning to us in the Sixth Form, their time as a full year group was over and that, from September, a new chapter was beginning.

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Table prepared for the Sixth Form Ball

What, then, of the celebrations for the students two years older? Well, the glamour was still very much in evidence and, if anything, turned up a notch in our Year 13 Ball…and I can certainly vouch for the enthusiasm and energy with which they celebrated! These students too are stepping into a new chapter, beyond the Academy for good. I wished them well as they prepared for that next vital step. It also struck me how many teachers came to celebrate with them, showing the real affection and respect between the staff and students at the Academy. Or the fact that the teachers were in need of a good night out too!

So should schools – places of learning and education – really be expending time and energy in organising parties? Absolutely. They celebrate the warmth of the relationships between students and staff, they bring people together to mark these mileposts on our journey together, and they give us all the chance to relax and let our hair down after all that hard work. And the students deserve it!

Strategic Priorities for Churchill

When I took up post as Headteacher, the Governors gave me 100 days to look at, listen to and learn about the Academy in order to plan the next steps. As part of that process I met students, staff, Governors, families, and representatives from the local community. I summarised all this in my post What Have I Learned? at the end of March.

Since then I have been working hard with my colleagues to plan for the future of the Academy. We already have an outstanding Ofsted report, a track record of success, skilful and dedicated staff, and hardworking and motivated students. What next?

The answer was to get down to the basics of what we need to do to ensure that the Churchill formula is sustainable, and that being a truly great school runs deep into every aspect of our practice. So, first of all, what is it all for?

The Aims of Churchill Academy & Sixth Form

The aims of the Academy are laid out by the Governors, and they are linked to our four core values. They are:

  • Care: To provide outstanding care to safeguard all members of the Academy and secure their well-being
  • Inspire: To provide outstanding teaching and opportunities for development for all members of the Academy
  • Challenge: To set ambitious goals for achievement, progress and behaviour for all members of the Academy
  • Achieve: To secure outstanding academic results and celebrate the wider achievements of all members of the Academy

Everything we do at the Academy is dedicated to achieving those aims. Underneath them, I wanted to put some detail into the priorities we now have as we move beyond our Outstanding status to become a truly great school.

The Priorities of Churchill Academy & Sixth Form

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The Strategic Priorities for the Academy

Each of these four priorities will govern our planning over the coming years. Achieving these priorities will unlock the potential of students at the Academy to achieve the very best outcomes from their learning. You can find the details of the plan in our Strategic Priorities document, and I have summarised the key points below.

Care: to promote the welfare of students and staff

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Care

This priority is fundamental to the success of learning at Churchill. Students are only prepared to take risks with their learning and push themselves forward if they feel safe, secure and cared for. Staff who are similarly cared for, nurtured and given the opportunities to grow will continue to give of their best, day in, day out.

Within the priority of Care, we aim to provide access to personalised pathways through the curriculum, and access to appropriate support, whilst promoting welfare. This means building on the strong foundation of the House system to provide first-rate pastoral care, and combining that with access to tailored academic support. It also means ensuring that the Academy continues to feel like a family, with a sense of belonging and enjoyment which comes from celebrating success in all its forms. Above all, it means remembering that every member of the Academy, student or staff, is an individual, and that we must, in the words of Daniel Pink, “treat people as people” in everything we do.

Read more about Care in our Strategic Priorities document.

Inspire: to develop the very best practice in teaching, learning and leadership

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Inspire

Teaching and learning is our core business. We already have exceptional practice across the Academy, so my priority is to ensure that exceptional becomes the norm. This involves learning from others, sharing our own best practice, and developing a culture of innovation in teaching and learning. Above all, though, it means empowering students to lead their own learning. Our teachers will always teach well, but only the students themselves can learn. Ensuring that they understand how to learn effectively, that they have a hunger for learning, and that they take responsibility for their own progress and development, is vital.

Read more about Inspire in our Strategic Priorities document.

Challenge: to develop a growth mindset across the Academy, so that learners embrace challenges, persist in the face of setbacks, and see effort as the path to success

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Challenge

“Learners” in this priority refers equally to students and staff, and the growth mindset approach means that we all share a belief that intelligence and ability are not fixed, but can grow and develop with effort, practice and determination. I have outlined growth mindset ideas on this blog before, in How to grow your brainYou can learn anything, and The power of praise (amongst others!). What it means in practice is that learners focus on the process of learning, over and above the final product. They see each lesson, each task, each event, as an opportunity to learn, and continue to seek challenges to help them grow. You can hear and see some of the research behind growth mindset, and the implications for schools, in the video below:

Committing to this approach will ensure that attending Churchill Academy will embed positive learning behaviours for life. It won’t be easy – but that’s why we hold “Challenge” as one of our core values!

Read more about Challenge in our Strategic Priorities document.

Achieve: to set consistently high expectations so that all learners achieve exceptional personal and academic outcomes.

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Achieve

This priority came out of the discussion: what is school for? Is it just about exam results? Or is it about more than that? I felt very strongly from my discussions with staff, students, families and governors that Churchill’s strength lies in the balance it strikes between academic outcomes – exam results – and the broader personal outcomes that ensure our students become good citizens with character, resilience and a set of skills valued by employers.

Academically, our aim is simple: year on year we want students at Churchill to do better here than they would have done in any other school. We want them to make more progress and achieve more than similar students do elsewhere. When families choose to send their children to Churchill I want them to know they are getting the best possible chance of success.

More broadly, it is about balancing that academic success with opportunities in the performing arts, sports, outdoor education, student leadership, community activities, volunteering and participation  which will broaden and deepen students’ skills, understanding of citizenship, and sense of belonging. Within all these activities, curricular and extra-curricular, we expect consistently excellent attitudes and behaviour for learning, to embed those approaches in everything we do.

Read more about Achieve in our Strategic Priorities document.

Sustainability: the Academy will ensure sustainability in achieving these priorities.

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Sustainability – investing in the future

These are challenging times for all public services. Demands on our limited resources continue to increase. Our final priority is based on prudent and effective deployment of those resources so they have the maximum impact on learning, reducing waste, and ensuring that whatever we do is sustainable over the longer term. It means valuing the work/life balance of our staff and ensuring that they have the time, energy, expertise and resources they need to do the best job they possibly can. It means exploring collaborations with other schools to share resources where we can. It means redeveloping our site, buildings and grounds so that they are environmentally friendly, efficient, and fit for 21st century learning. And it means building an approach which is not a flash-in-the-pan but which can be sustained over the years to come.

Read more about Sustainability in our Strategic Priorities document.

Achieving our priorities

These priorities are the aspirations of our Academy over the years to come. We are already planning what we are going to do to change, develop and improve our work to move ourselves towards achieving them. It’s an exciting time! We can’t wait to get started…

What happens on an Inset Day?

Inset stands for “in-service training”, and all schools have had five inset days each year since they were introduced in 1988. Schools close to students on inset days, but staff attend. Sometimes they can seem a bit mysterious to families and to students, so I thought in my blog this week I’d try to explain what actually happens on these days when the students are away!

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Inset days are designed to provide compulsory training time for teaching staff so that we can continue to improve our practice, keep up to date with changes in education, and ensure that we have appropriate training to deal with the challenges of our job. Here at Churchill, we often involve our support staff in training too, so that all staff have the knowledge and skills they need to do their job to the best of their ability. We supplement our inset days with on-the-job training and provide a range of opportunities throughout the year for all staff to learn, develop and improve, but the inset days give us a real opportunity to get everyone together and spend an extended period of time working on priority issues for the Academy.

Let’s take this coming Monday (27th June) for example. There are five different strands of training happening on the day.

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Whole staff briefing: Strategic Planning

As a new Headteacher I’ve been busy working on the long-term plan for Churchill following the outstanding Ofsted achieved last summer. I’ll be sharing the plan on this blog towards the end of term, but I’ll start the day by briefing staff about our priorities and how we can all work together to achieve them first thing in the morning.

Safeguarding Training

All staff have to be trained to keep children safe in education – it’s the most fundamentally important part of our job. Because it’s so important, we “refresh” this training at least every two years to ensure that all our staff have the latest guidelines and procedures clearly in mind, and know exactly what to do if there are any concerns about children’s safety. This “refresher” training will be taking place for staff who are due to have this additional training.

Workshop to Raise Awareness of Prevent (WRAP) Training

Prevent Strategy

Prevent is the Government’s strategy to counteract the threat of extremism in our society. As a school we have a duty to uphold and enact the Prevent strategy and ensure that all staff are aware of what to look out for and what to do to ensure that we respond to the ideological challenge of terrorism and the threat we face from those who promote it, and to prevent people from being drawn into extremism and terrorism. All staff are required to undertake training in these aspects of the Prevent strategy and we will be providing opportunities on our inset day for this to happen at Churchill.

Pastoral development

Staff will meet in their House teams on this inset day to review and plan the work that needs to be done over the rest of this term, and in preparation for September. This includes planning the Celebration of Success events, ensuring that everything is in place to provide a smooth transition for our new Year 7 students and their families, to look at mentoring for students within the Houses, and to take time to work on particular priorities within each House. At the same time, the Sixth Form pastoral team will be meeting to plan the specialist tutor programme for next year, and ensure that the best opportunities are in place for our new Sixth Form cohort starting in September.

Extended Project Qualification (EPQ) Training

We are extending our provision of the Extended Project Qualification (EPQ) in Year 12 next year, so we are using our inset day to work in partnership with Backwell School to make sure that all staff involved in delivering the EPQ are properly trained by the exam board. We’re really looking forward to the opportunities that EPQ will give our Sixth Formers and we want to make sure we get it right!

Transition Drama Day

At the same time as all this training, our performing arts students and staff will be working hard with our new Year 7 intake on the famous “drama day” ahead of the transition day on Tuesday. There will be lots of fun, learning and confidence building going on! Watch the website for a full report…

Phew!

As you can see, it’s going to be a busy day! It’s a great opportunity to make sure that all our staff have the best and most up-to-date training to care for and deliver the best possible education to the students at the Academy. And, for our staff at least, it’s definitely not a day off!

Practice makes perfect

I love a good trick shot, and these trick shots captured by five-year-old Riley Dashwoood are very cool. The over-the-shoulder-DVD-into-the-tray is particularly impressive! What I love about the video description, however, is that it outlines how the shots were achieved. “Trick shot kid = persistence,” it says, followed by the attempts: 

How to get a trick shot (source)

When edited together into a cute 30 second montage, the trick shots look amazing! But below the line, we see that it took a long long time to get that montage together. Throwing a toothbrush over your shoulder 136 times? No wonder she looks happy when it finally goes in! 

Needless to say, Riley has spawned many imitators. This week I enjoyed this viral video as it popped up on my Twitter feed. Niall Brady was attempting to do a trick shot where he throws a spoon over his shoulder into a mug on the kitchen side. He made one attempt every day. It took him nearly a year:

There was certainly a big grin on my face as Niall enjoyed his moment of triumph, but I couldn’t help wondering – how many attempts would it take him to do it again? And how much practice would it take until he could do it consistently, time after time, almost without fail?

The fact is, if we want to get really good at something it’s not useful just to do it over and over again. Simple repetition does not necessarily help us to become experts. Take a tennis serve, a golf swing, or musical scales: if you’re using bad technique, practising them over and over again will only embed the bad habits and make them harder to break. What matters is the focus of that practice – the focus on developing the technique, on improving it, on making it better and better each time; the focus on what is called “high leverage practice” which makes an impact on performance. 

There are some great examples of this in sport. Take David Beckham, practising free kicks again and again on the training ground so he can deliver when it counts on the pitch: 

Although, watching that back, it’s amazing how many free kicks England got in that game – and how many he missed! 

Alternatively, take this incredible catch in the NFL in America from another Beckham – Odell Beckham Jr: 

The commentator says “you have to be kidding me! That is impossible. That is impossible.” And it does seem superhuman – until you realise that Odell Beckham Jr., like his English namesake, spends hours on the training pitch perfecting exactly that kind of catch, so he can do it seemingly with ease when it counts on the pitch. 

What we see here it that it isn’t about a one-off fluke, but careful deliberate practice which enables talent to shine when the moment arises. If you asked Niall Brady to throw a spoon over his shoulder into a cup on demand, he’d probably fail. Throw an American football at Odell Beckham Jr., however, and he’d probably catch it, even with one hand tied behind his back. 

The same principle is applied to the inspiring GiveIt100 site, which invites people to share a short video every day as they practice a new skill for 100 days. There are some great examples on the site, including this one of a guitarist: 

My final “practice makes perfect” video shows Jonny Wilkinson practising “stress kicks” in the south of France. “It’s very important,” Jonny says, “to make it more difficult…in training than it ever could be in a game.” That way, he’s ready in stressful situations, in the heat of the moment, to deliver crucial kicks – because he’s trained for it. 

We can apply the same principle to all of our learning. If we’re going to get really good at things, it’s not enough just to turn up to school every day and sit in the classroom, going through the motions, coasting along. That’s the equivalent of throwing a spoon over your shoulder every day for a year. You might get lucky once or twice, but you haven’t really mastered anything. But if you apply yourself every day, focus your practice, push and challenge yourself to do better…when the whistle blows for the big game, you’ll be ready. 

Happy practising!
In case you were wondering: 

The next steps: 2016 leavers

The last day of Term 5 is always an emotional one. It’s a day of goodbyes as leavers take their next steps. Year 11 step out of main school, and Year 13 step beyond school for good. Of course, it’s au revoir not goodbye, because students will be back in after the half term break for revision and exams, and most of Year 11 will be rejoining us in the Sixth Form anyway, but it still feels like an ending. This blog is for you: the leavers of 2016.

As a new Headteacher joining the Academy in January, I’ve only had a few months to get to know you. Oddly, it’s those in the “leavers'” years that I feel I know the best! I’ve been made to feel very welcome by you at the top of the school, and you’ve been happy to share your experiences with me. You have spent five or seven years at Churchill and have a really good perspective on the things that have made your time at the Academy successful, fulfilling and enjoyable – as well as the niggles and gripes that go into the “areas for development” category! Your approach to study, and your pride in your school, have made you excellent role models to the other students, and given me an idea about what it is possible to achieve at Churchill.

A few moments with the senior students of 2016

 

Being a secondary school teacher is a huge privilege. You come to us, aged 11, as children; you leave us, aged 18, as adults. We have the honour of shepherding you through the tricky terrain of the teen age as you wrestle with your changing bodies, burgeoning independence, and emotions felt more keenly and powerfully than at any other time in life. In partnership with your families we help you to understand the world around you fully and in depth. Your sense of justice and fairness, your passionately held principles, your refusal to accept that “it’s just the way things are” is inspiring. You challenge us as we challenge you, of course, but in all of you there’s the turning point when you realise that we’re all on the same side and that, actually, we can achieve much more working together than we do in opposition. Equally, your humour, warmth and wit as you realise that your teachers and parents are human too – fallible, flawed, and not always in possession of all the answers – keeps a smile on our faces every day.

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What message should you be leaving Churchill with? I think it’s the words of Albus Dumbledore that say it best: “it is our choices that show us what we truly are, far more than our abilities.”We are all born with different abilities, different predispositions, different advantages and disadvantages in life. But these are not limiting factors. We are not bound by our circumstances.  We can choose to make the most of the situations we find ourselves in, choose to take chances and opportunities when we have them, choose to take on the difficult challenge or the easy option. It is these choices that define us all. I hope that Churchill has provided you with the knowledge and skills to make the best choices, so you can be what you truly are and deserve to be.

Good luck in all you do in the future to the Churchill Leavers of 2016!

A day at the Palace

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When an invitation like this arrives, you don’t have to think twice!

On Monday 16th May, I had the incredible privilege of travelling down to London for a special Duke of Edinburgh Gold Award Presentation event in the gardens at Buckingham Palace. What a day!

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Buckingham Palace, May 16th 2016

The sun shone down as Mr Tinker (Churchill Academy’s DofE Manager) and I walked up to – and through! – the famous wrought-iron gates of the Palace. It felt very strange to be on the other side, walking past the famous Coldstream Guards in their sentry boxes and round the side to the gardens. Only official photography was allowed inside the gardens, and we weren’t allowed even to get our phones out. I can understand why, and it did make me experience the whole thing “in the moment” rather than through a screen, but the gardens and the Palace were so spectacular that they were just made for Instagram! It’d’ve been a bit of a giveaway that I’d broken the rules, though, so I was very good and kept my phone well away.

Once we’d arrived in the gardens, all the North Somerset and South Gloucestershire LOs (DofE Licensed Organisations)  were gathered together in a reception group. There were hundreds and hundreds of people there from all over the country, all looking incredibly smart and glamorous. Two separate jazz big bands competed from each end of the field, and two of the biggest marquees I’d ever seen were lined up with tea urns and row upon row of shortbread biscuits. I can safely report they were delicious!

Mr Tinker and I met up with Churchill’s Gold Award winner Amy Hogarth, before exploring the gardens. We were inspecting the Coxless Crew boat that four brave women rowed across the Pacific, when we noticed a group of people coming out of the Palace itself – the celebrity presenters! Each group had their own celebrity, and Mr Tinker and I had a great time spotting famous faces: chef Ainsley Harriott, Strictly’s Anton du Beke, Marcella actress Anna Friel, both the Weasley twins from Harry Potter (James and Oliver Phelps), rugby players James Haskell and Ben Cohen, Dr Christian Jessen from Embarrassing Bodies, musician turned businessman Levi Roots, explorer Levison Wood, Nick Hewer from the Apprentice, goalkeeper David Seaman, athlete Sally Gunnell, and Canadian Astronaut Chris Hadfield to name but a few. See who you can spot!

DofE Presenters

The celebrity presenters posed for a group shot (source)

Our group received presentations from Gail Emms MBE, mixed doubles badminton World Champion, Commonwealth Champion and Olympic Silver medallist. She was really inspiring, talking to the group about having to dig deep and persevere when playing badminton against Chinese athletes in China – where badminton has the same status as football does here! She also talked about inspiration, citing her Mum (herself an England international footballer) as one who got her into sport by beating her again and again on the badminton court until, aged 12, Gail won. And kept winning… Finally, she talked about ambition and setting yourself goals, describing how she used to visualise herself atop the podium with a gold medal round her neck, and used that as the motivation to keep going when training was tough and times were hard. She was really inspiring!

The presentations followed, with the Gold Award winners rightly the focus of the proceedings. However, as it was the Diamond Anniversary of the DofE, we also received a special plaque in recognition of the Academy’s commitment to running the DofE over twenty years as a licensed organisation. We gave the DofE a copy of our logo in return, which will be displayed alongside all the other LO logos in their offices!

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Our Licensed Organisation plaque – on display in reception soon!

Finally, our group was visited by HRH The Countess of Wessex, who spent time chatting to the Gold Award winners and the Licensed Organisation representatives. She was particularly interested in hearing about DofE Diamond Challenges, part of a one-off initiative to mark the 60th Anniversary of DofE which allows people of all ages to take on a DofE inspired challenge and earn a Diamond Pin. The Countess herself had just announced a 445 mile bike ride from Holyrood to Buckingham Palace as part of her own Diamond Challenge.  Mr Tinker has already completed his Diamond Challenge – a triathlon including an open-water swim! I will be taking to my bike in July for a sportive cycling challenge which includes a rather daunting 850ft climb at one point…you can sponsor me here!

It was an amazing day, but above all it was to mark a particularly good cause. The DofE gives young people a structure and framework to contribute to the community through voluntary work, whilst improving skills and developing confidence, commitment, resilience and teamwork. As we were leaving the Palace, Mr Tinker and I were both saying we wished we’d done DofE when we were at school, but we didn’t have the opportunity. To me, school should be all about opportunity – which is why I’m proud to lead an academy which is licensed to deliver the Duke of Edinburgh’s Award Scheme.

 

The Learning Brain

Our brains are amazing! The average human brain weighs about three pounds, looks like a big grey wrinkly sponge, and generates enough electricity to light a bulb, or even to charge an iPhone.  The brain controls everything from breathing and blinking to our emotions and memories, through firing electrical signals between brain cells – or neurons – across tiny gaps called synapses. We have approximately 100 billion neurons in our brain, all interconnected by synapses. Because each neuron is connected to lots of other neurons, there are approximately 1 quadrillion synapses – that’s 1,000,000,000,000,000 synapses! This is equal to about a half-billion synapses per cubic millimetre. No wonder our brains are so sophisticated!

Despite all that complexity, the video above is a really clear and simple introduction to how our brains work – and how they learn most effectively. There are all sorts of great tips in there to help us all be better learners. Have a watch and see if you can put it into practice!

Assembly: Different

My assembly this week explores the idea that our school is a rich, diverse community, full of unique individuals. We are all different – but our shared values and aims bring us all together. To do this I’ve attempted an acrostic assembly using the word “DIFFERENT” but I’ve played fast and loose with spelling and pronunciation to make it work. Bear with me!

D is for DNA

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What makes us different from one another? We all have our own uniqueness coded into our DNA. Our 46 chromosomes in 23 pairs govern our physical appearance, our predispositions to certain conditions, and our raw abilities. These tiny strands packed into the nuclei of every cell in our body make us different.

I is for Eye colour (sort of!)

 

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Our eye colour is one of the features coded into our DNA. Retinal patterns at the back of our eyes are as unique as fingerprints, and on the surface our irises are also unique. Some have brown eyes, some have blue.

FF and E are for a FFamous Experiment

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Jane Elliott, a famous educational researcher and teacher from the USA, conducted the Brown Eyes Blue Eyes experiment . She told a class of primary aged children that research had shown that brown-eyed children were cognitively superior and that they would have extra free time, self-directed learning and more privileges than the other children. Blue-eyed children, she told them, had been found to be inferior and would have no play-time; they would have intensive tuition to catch them up. Elliott’s aim was to simulate the prejudices that had endured in the United States around skin colour; she was prompted to conduct the exercise following the assassination of Martin Luther King. The exercise saw the children react in a variety of ways, and showed that it is not difficult to create division and prejudice if you focus attention on our differences.

R is for civil Rights and anti-Racism

segregation

Segregation by arbitrary differences is a very real part of our history, and we must learn the lessons of past mistakes

Of course, Elliott’s model in simulating this kind of division based on arbitrary physical characteristics was very real. Elliott herself had been inspired by the assassination of Dr Martin Luther King in his struggle against the oppression of black Americans in the Civil Rights movement, and by the oppression of the Jews in Nazi Germany through the Holocaust. Being told that, because someone was different, they were somehow less than you, led to extreme prejudice, hatred and violence which took generations to overcome. Our purpose in working with young people is to  learn to work together with others, no matter how diverse our backgrounds, and to reaffirm the human truth that we are all of equal value.

E is for Equality

equals

Let’s look carefully at the equals sign. Why was this sign chosen to represent “equality” – the notion that what comes before is of the same value as what comes afterwards? Both the bars are the same shape and length, but they are not identical. One is higher than the other. The are similar, but different – they are equal. Equality is not about being the same as everyone else, it is about having the same opportunities and being treated fairly by others.

N is for Now the science bit…

In this Physics experiment, the scientist sets off five metronomes at different tempos and at different times. They tick along in cacophonous chaos, independent of one another. But, when he lifts the plank onto two drinks cans, their momentum is transferred through the base and they synchronise. This shows that we don’t all have to be the same. We can tick along in our own rhythms but, if the circumstances and conditions are right, we can all beat as one. In my assembly I may have used the phrase “if we can balance the plank of our school on the coke cans of equality, we can all tick along together”. It’s important that we work together to make our community inclusive. We don’t want to make everybody the same – we value the differences between us – but we want to make sure that the conditions are right at Churchill so that difference is respected, accepted, and celebrated.

T is for To conclude…

Sophia Bailey-Klugh wrote a beautifully touching letter to President Barack Obama in November 2012 as he stood for re-election.  As the daughter of a gay couple, she thanked him for supporting same-sex marriage. She then asked for advice on how to respond to those who saw such a thing as “gross and weird.”

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Obama’s tear-jerkingly brilliant reply is worth reproducing here:

Dear Sophia,

Thank you for writing me such a thoughtful letter about your family. Reading it made me proud to be your president and even more hopeful about the future of our nation.

In America, no two families look the same. We celebrate this diversity. And we recognize that whether you have two dads or one mom what matters above all is the love we show one another. You are very fortunate to have two parents who care deeply for you. They are lucky to have such an exceptional daughter in you.

Our differences unite us. You and I are blessed to live in a country where we are born equal no matter what we look like on the outside, where we grow up, or who our parents are. A good rule is to treat others the way you hope they will treat you. Remind your friends at school about this rule if they say something that hurts your feelings.

Thanks again for taking the time to write to me. I’m honored to have your support and inspired by your compassion. I’m sorry I couldn’t make it to dinner, but I’ll be sure to tell Sasha and Malia you say hello.

You can get the text of both letters from the fabulous Letters of Note blog.

I finish on Obama’s wonderful phrase: “even though we are all different, we all have the right to be treated equally. Far from separating us, our differences unite us.”

Get the Prezi here.