The black dot in the white square

When I was training to teach, one of the techniques I was taught was to remember the black dot in the white square. In teacher training terms, the black dot represented the disruptive, naughty or badly behaved student in the class. When you look at the class, the temptation for the teacher is to focus on that badly behaved student, and not spend enough time and attention on the white square, which represents all the other well-behaved, hard-working, positive students in the room. Of course, poor behaviour needs to be dealt with, but it’s far better to reinforce and celebrate the vast majority of students who are doing exactly what they should. Far better to be emphasising the positives by saying “thank you for listening, well done for being ready to learn, thank you for putting your hand up and waiting,” than to be constantly nagging at the negatives.

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The black dot in the white square: our attention is drawn to the negative (the black dot) at the expense of recognising the positive (the white square). Image via TeacherHead

I have used this technique throughout my teaching, always seeking to accentuate the positive and ensure that those who are doing the right thing get more attention and time than those who are doing the wrong thing. It’s not always easy, but it’s always worth it.

More recently, I have been thinking about the tendency to focus on the black dot and forget the white square beyond teaching. When something goes wrong, it’s easy and tempting to fixate on that blemish or blot and see it as the whole story, to feel that everything is bad just because of that one thing that hasn’t gone to plan. At times like these, I remember that was seems like a catastrophe is just a black dot in the white square, and take a step back. I look around at all the many, many things that are going right; the positives, the successes and the promise.

Although that black dot is still there, still frustrating, still upsetting, it is in perspective – it isn’t the whole story. One problem, or even a series of them, doesn’t define the whole; there is always something to celebrate.

Remembrance 2018: #ThankYou100

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Remembrance Day is always special, but this year’s is unusually significant in that it marks 100 years since the end of the First World War. The two minutes’ silence is always a profoundly moving experience, in which we reflect on our connections to those who made sacrifices so that we could live in freedom today.

Lt. Jim Hildrew, Royal Navy, c. 1941

On November 11th, I always think about my Grandfather, an officer in the Royal Navy during the Second World War, who served in the Arctic convoys and captained a minesweeper, before working on the Pluto programme to supply fuel to the beaches on D Day. After the war he returned to teaching as Headmaster of Grasmere school, where he worked until retirement. Sacrifice is not always about death. We remember the fallen but also those who were – and still are – prepared to risk their lives to defend our society. We can learn a lot from their individual sacrifice for the collective good.

For this year’s #100years remembrance, I was impressed by this tribute from England’s men’s and women’s football teams to the sacrifices made by footballers during and after the First World War:

Just as we honour those who gave their lives, the sacrifices made by others in other ways are also significant, and just as worthy of remembrance.

Finally, each Remembrance Day, I reach for poetry. There are great works by Sassoon, Owen, McCrae, and countless other war poets, but in recent years I have always come back to Mametz Wood by Owen Sheers. This poem is so resonant and powerful in its description of the uncovering of the remnants of the battle of the Somme in peacetime as farmers plough. Sheers has spoken eloquently of the inspiration for the poem as he visited the site:

Walking over that same ground, now a ploughed field, 85 years later I was struck by how remnants of the battle – strips of barbed wire, shells, fragments of bone, were still rising to the surface. It was as if the earth under my feet that was now being peacefully tilled for food could not help but remember its violent past and the lives that had sunk away into it. Entering the wood, a ‘memory’ of the battle was still evident there too. Although there was a thick undergrowth of trailing ivy and brambles, it undulated through deep shell holes. My knowledge of what had caused those holes in the ground and of what had happened among those trees stood in strange juxtaposition to the summer calmness of the wood itself; the dappled sunlight, the scent of wild garlic, the birdsong filtering down from the higher branches.

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As we remember the Great War it is our duty to reach back into the collective memory of our violent past, to thank those who came before us for their sacrifice, and hope with all our hearts for a peaceful future.

Mametz Wood
by Owen Sheers

For years afterwards the farmers found them –
the wasted young, turning up under their plough blades
as they tended the land back into itself.

A chit of bone, the china plate of a shoulder blade,
the relic of a finger, the blown
and broken bird’s egg of a skull,

all mimicked now in flint, breaking blue in white
across this field where they were told to walk, not run,
towards the wood and its nesting machine guns.

And even now the earth stands sentinel,
reaching back into itself for reminders of what happened
like a wound working a foreign body to the surface of the skin.

This morning, twenty men buried in one long grave,
a broken mosaic of bone linked arm in arm,
their skeletons paused mid dance-macabre

in boots that outlasted them,
their socketed heads tilted back at an angle
and their jaws, those that have them, dropped open.

As if the notes they had sung
have only now, with this unearthing,
slipped from their absent tongues.

(Source)

You’re gonna be remembered for the things that you say and do

This week I watched the joyous production of Bugsy Malone put on by our Year 7 and 8 students.

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It was a terrific show – over seventy of our students were involved on stage across two casts. What was more remarkable is that the show only started rehearsing on 17th September, with the first performance on 23rd October! To put on such a professional performance in such a short space of time, whilst also keeping up with school work and all of the learning in lessons, is a truly staggering achievement.

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Tallulah and her dancers

It was a great team effort – the students worked with and for one another, playing the comic scenes brilliantly but also, in the case of Maria Amaral as Fizzy and Gemma Partridge as Blousey Brown, bringing some touching poignancy to the more emotional moments.

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The big “splurge”

Behind the scenes, our Sixth Formers and some older students from the main school made the show look and sound amazing. The set was designed, built, painted and decorated entirely by students from the Sixth Form’s specialist tutor programme – and it was spectacular. The band sounded great, and the technical crew on sound, lighting and stage management were excellent. The way that our older students supported the younger performers is typical of Churchill’s vertical system and our value of kindness.

Last week I wrote about the vital role of the arts at Churchill. I was left thinking that there couldn’t be a better introduction to that spirit than a show like this! Audiences were also treated to a gallery of A-level Art, Photography and Design work in the foyer, whilst refreshments were provided in aid of the Mend the Gap team’s Kenya expedition.

The final song of the show – “You Give a Little Love” – sums up the spirit of the show:

We could have been anything that we wanted to be

Yes that decision was ours

It’s been decided, we’re weaker divided

Let friendship double up our powers

The final chorus echoed out: “you give a little love and it all comes back to you; you know you’re gonna be remembered for the things that you say and do.” These students have already made such a positive difference at Churchill, and I know they will remember the experience for years to come.

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The cast from night two

Congratulations to all the cast and crew, and special thanks to the dedicated team of staff who made it all happen – especially director and mastermind Miss Bones.

 

 

The importance of creativity

On Wednesday, I was out of school at a conference for school leaders in Taunton. The conference was packed full of information I needed to know: the latest updates on school funding, on exam results, on Ofsted, on Department for Education policy, on teacher recruitment and retention….a lot of information! But, in the middle of the session on exam results, we were shown a chart from a BBC survey on examination entries in 2018. The chart showed the decline in exam entries across the country for arts subjects.

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Photography taken by Year 13 during the 2018 snow

The presenters at the conference told us that exam entries for the Performing Arts fell by 44% in 2018. This is on top of falling numbers historically: in 2015, the Warwick Commission on the Future of Cultural Values, found that between 2003 and 2013 there was a 23% drop in GCSE entries for drama. Research carried out by Sussex University in 2017 warned that “music could face extinction” in secondary schools.

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The cast of Singin’ in the Rain

Of course, it is important for all students to have a secure foundation in academic subjects. Churchill’s core curriculum in our personalised stage (Years 9-11) requires students to take English, Maths, Science, and two more subjects chosen from French, Spanish, History, Geography and Computer Science, because we agree that a core curriculum of academic subjects is the right thing for our students.

But not at the expense of the arts!

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The performers at this week’s Young Musician of the Year competition

The creative arts is one of this country’s most thriving industries. We are world leaders in music, drama, theatre, film, media and art – there are strong, viable careers for our young people in the creative industries. If these subjects aren’t offered, we are closing the door on those futures. Even if you don’t go on to work in the arts, studying a creative subject brings with it much needed confidence, empathy, sensitivity, thoughtfulness, and reflection.

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Last year’s Junior Choir in action

What makes me angry is that ensuring all students have a strong academic core curriculum does not mean the arts have to suffer. At Churchill, the arts are thriving. The school is full of music, dance, drama, and art. This year, we have 72 students taking Performing Arts courses in Year 9 – five more than the previous year. We have 41 students taking Music – an increase of more than 30% on two years ago. And as for Art itself, we have 79 students taking Art or Textiles in Year 9 – ten more than the year before. All of those students study core academic subjects too!

It’s such a shame that schools up and down the country are reducing provision in these subjects. As Headteacher of Churchill, I will continue to defend our exceptional arts provision: our children’s creativity depends on it!

Sports Awards 2018

Our annual Sports Award dinner is always a great event, but the 2018 incarnation was, by general agreement, the best yet! 320 students attended the event at Cadbury House Hotel, looking very smart indeed, to be greeted by the Mendip Snowsports Yeti and a host of staff and special guests.

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Guests of honour Tom Stabbins and Pat Lam with Director of PE Mr Hayne

The evening began with a speech from Churchill alumnus Tom Stabbins, who spoke movingly and powerfully about his experiences of school and where that has led him. Following a serious illness diagnosed in Year 8, Tom had part of his leg amputated. He spoke about how sport meant that this change – which could have been disabling – actually enabled him to take on more challenges, including becoming a prominent wheelchair basketball player. Tom is now a keen climber, and is trying out for the GB Paraclimbing squad. You can read more about Tom’s story here. His speech was incredibly inspiring, and many students took the opportunity to talk to him during the rest of the evening about how sport has the power to transform lives.

After a delicious meal, it was the turn of our second special guest, Bristol Bears Head Coach Pat Lam. The former Samoan international spoke about his childhood in New Zealand and the lessons he has learned over a lifetime in rugby – and teaching!

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Pat Lam addressing Sports Awards Evening 2018

Pat’s first lesson was about balance: that keeping school work and extra-curricular activities in balance is vital. Too much on one or the other is harmful. It was reassuring to hear this, as this was exactly the message I gave to Year 11 students and their families at the start of this academic year!

Secondly, Pat shared the four “Ps” that he has used to find success in his personal and professional life:

  • Purpose: having a goal and driving towards that goal is the key to everything else. Don’t let others put you off: if you have a goal, go for it!
  • People: meeting people, working with others, and treating them well is the second key to success. Pat spoke about how each of us has the power – and the responsibility – to intervene when others are not being treated well. His message here really chimed with our value of Kindness. 
  • Perseverance: Pat’s message in the third “P” tied in perfectly with our value of Determination – we all encounter difficulties and barriers, but our response to them is crucial. Every setback is an opportunity to learn and grow – this is a phrase straight out of the Academy’s learning values!
  • Performance: the fourth “P” is the end result – putting in the performance when it matters and doing the very best you can in any given situation.

The rugby star then went on to talk to students about the “Power Train” technique – how your thoughts, words, and actions can either undermine or improve your chances of achieving your dreams. If a team thinks like champions, they will talk like champions, and then they will act like champions – and this gives them a better chance of actually becoming champions. The same is true for every individual.

Pat had the entire room in the palm of his hand, even leading us all in a spontaneous dance routine to finish off!

Our guest of honour then joined me to help Team PE hand out this year’s awards. You can find a full list on the Academy website, but it was a special privilege as ever to hand over the Sportswoman and Sportsman of the Year Award. This year’s deserving winners were Katie Mackay and Stan Irving.

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Sportsman and Sportswoman of the Year 2018

Above all, though, the depth and breadth of sport and PE at Churchill Academy & Sixth Form was breathtaking. Awards were given for rugby, football, netball, hockey, rounders, cricket, golf, swimming, and athletics, whilst students were inducted into the Hall of Fame for gymnastics, equestrianism, and archery. Team PE also introduced new awards for kindness, curiosity and determination this year.

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Sports Awards 2018

Thanks must go to all the staff who attended and helped, especially Team PE; to our special guests; and above all to the fantastic students who make sport at Churchill such a success. Their participation, effort, and contribution makes it all worthwhile.

Bring on #SAE19!

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FAQ: who was in the Yeti costume?!

 

Teaching: every lesson shapes a life

Every year the Department for Education puts out a video to promote careers in teaching. This year’s is something special: take a couple of minutes to watch it below.

Today, 5th October, is World Teachers’ Day – a day to mark the achievements of the teaching profession and reflect on ways to overcome the challenges the profession faces. I’ve been a teacher for 21 years, and I can honestly say that I love my job. The video captures many of the reasons why.

Teaching is a team sport

The video perfectly captures the fact that so many adults help to shape and guide young people on their journeys, but that they make the choices and decisions for themselves. It shows how the support of a parent at home – proud of the student’s achievements, supportive when things go wrong, and working in partnership with the school – sets the young person on the path to success.

Building the tower of education

The video also shows how education is like a tower of wooden blocks in the game of Jenga. Each layer, each lesson, each year builds on the one before. Some parts of the tower are trickier than others, and when blocks are missing the whole thing can wobble. But with care, patience and a steady hand, the structure can soar to great heights.

The power of belief

When the girl in the video’s confidence is shaken, when things go wrong, it is the adults around her saying and showing that they believe in her that sets her back on track. There is that moment at around 1:05 when she sits down to take an exam, when the teacher’s look says: “You’re on your own now, but I know you can do this.” I have given students that look hundreds – thousands! – of times in my career, when they repay the investment we have made in them through their triumphs and successes, big and small. By believing in them, we can help them to believe in themselves. What a privilege it is to be a teacher.

Thank a teacher

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We have all had teachers who have had an impact and helped to shape our future lives. They may have inspired us; they may have believed in us; they may have been there for us when nobody else was; they may have been the one who never gave up on us. Mine was Mrs Chamberlain, who taught me in primary school, and made me believe that I could learn anything I wanted to. I’ve never looked back! When I qualified as a teacher, I wrote to Mrs Chamberlain to thank her for inspiring me – she had no idea she had made such an impression!

If you’d like to thank a teacher for helping you, you can use the Teaching Awards website to record your thanks. The Teaching Awards will then send that teacher a “Thank You” card on your behalf – completely free of charge.

Get into teaching

Churchill Academy & Sixth Form offers teacher training through University-linked courses and school-centred routes, including Schools Direct. Find out more on the “Train with us” page on the Academy’s website.

If you are interested in a career in teaching, the DfE’s Get Into Teaching site is a good place to start.

Open Evening 2018

I’m really proud of Churchill. Every day I’m happy to go to work, knowing that I’ll be surrounded by such a dedicated and passionate staff team, and our amazing, creative, funny and lovely students. On the days when I’m away from the Academy for meetings, I miss it!

Open Evening is a wonderful opportunity to show other people what I have the privilege of seeing every day. It’s a chance to showcase our wonderful school to children and their families who are interested in coming to Churchill in Year 7. This year, more than ever, there was a real sense of the whole Academy pulling together as one team, students and staff united, so proud of our school.

I was especially proud of Ben and Dulcie who opened the presentation to parents and students, and of Lily, Tiri, David and Mary who finished the presentation off. They spoke confidently and so warmly about their time at Churchill to the packed houses in the Academy Hall. Our student tour guides were also excellent ambassadors for the school, answering questions and making sure that no stone was left unturned. The ever-brilliant Youthful Spirit Gospel Choir gave an uplifting performance too!

Next week we have our Open Mornings when we will showcase the Academy on a normal working day. We can’t wait! All the details are on the Academy website.

Making a good start

I am writing this blog post on Wednesday 19th September, exactly two weeks (or one complete timetable cycle) since the start of the school year. I can confidently say: “we’ve made a good start.”

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Since the start of term teachers have awarded 8530 reward points, set against 482 points for concerns. This ratio of nearly 18 to 1 rewards over concerns shows that our students have begun the year in the right frame of mind, with the right attitude, and they are setting themselves up on the path to success.

That’s not to say that everything is perfect! As ever with the start of term, there have been some issues to resolve and some teething troubles. Some students have had to adjust their behaviour or their uniform, and we as staff have had to make some adjustments to put a few things right. This is a really important process: nobody can get everything right all of the time, but when things aren’t right we are committed to sorting them out. This is what we ask of our students, and it is only right that we lead by example.

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A good start is just that: a beginning. Now that we are through the first two weeks, students have been to every class and lesson, and met all their teachers. The novelty of a new school year has worn away. What matters now is settling into the routine and rhythm of the Academy, maintaining the high standards set at at the start. That means continuing to show those learning behaviours which we know give students the best chance of success in their studies:

  • Determined and consistent effort
  • A hunger to learn new things
  • Challenging ourselves to go beyond what is comfortable
  • Viewing setbacks and mistakes as opportunities to learn and grow
  • Seeking and responding to feedback
  • Encouraging others to succeed

And, even if you haven’t made a good start, it’s important to never give up. The video below shows the 1972 Olympic 800m final, featuring American athlete Dave Wottle (in the white hat). He made a slow start, falling way behind the field made up of the finest runners in the world. But he kept trying, and he never gave up. What happened next went down in Olympic history. We could all do with a bit of Dave Wottle’s determination:

Celebrating success

This Wednesday was our annual Presentation Evening. This fantastic event is the partner to our end-of-year Celebration of Success evenings, with the focus on those students who have excelled in their GCSE and A-level exam results over the summer. However, we recognise that school is about more than just the examination results that young people achieve, so it is also vital that we award prizes for service to the community, for progress and improvement, for compassion, for resilience, and above all for excellent and improved attitudes to learning over the course of the last year.

This year’s guest of honour was the wonderful Stefanie Martini. Stefanie was a student at Churchill from 2002 to 2009, leaving us to pursue an Art Foundation course, before applying to RADA to pursue acting. From there, Stefanie landed a role as Mary Thorne in Julian Fellowes’ Doctor Thorne for ITV, as well as the mysterious Lady Ev in the NBC fantasy series Emerald City, set in the world of the Wizard of Oz. She is perhaps best known for playing the role of a young Jane Tennison in Prime Suspect 1973, showing us the origins as a probationary police officer of the iconic Detective Inspector Tennison that Dame Helen Mirren brought to ITV in the 1990s. Her latest film, Hurricane, tells the story of Squadron 303, a group of Polish airmen who fought with the RAF in the Battle of Britain, fighting both prejudice on the ground as well as the Luftwaffe in the air. It is in cinemas now!

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Prize winners with Stefanie Martini, 12th September 2018

Stefanie spoke about her time at Churchill, and how it shaped the character that she has become. She explained how, when she fell behind with school work, she was supported and pushed to get back on track, and how failing to get the part she wanted in the school musical made her a better actress. There was a thread of steely determination running through her speech: despite being rejected seven times in one year from drama schools, she kept going – and in the next year, she was accepted to four different drama schools at once. Her message of self-belief, strength of character and the importance of pushing yourself out of your comfort zone in order to move forward was hugely inspiring to the young people (and the adults!) at the event.

It’s great to have alumni back at Churchill to speak to this year’s prize-winners. Not only does it show our current and only-just-left students what is possible with a Churchill education, but it is also a great opportunity to celebrate the success of students who – although they have left – always remain part of our school community.

Of course, a prize-giving ceremony can only have one prize winner in each category. Even though we gave out 139 prizes at this year’s Presentation Evening, there are hundreds, even thousands, of achievements, triumphs and successes that we don’t have a prize for, that don’t get their picture in the paper or their name in the newsletter. What I hope, however, is that we do recognise and celebrate those successes, however small, whenever and wherever we find them – because nobody ever tires of being told “well done.”

Why are we here?

It’s great to be back for a new year at Churchill! In my start-of-term assembly for each of the Houses, I outlined some practical priorities: some of the key changes to the Academy site which will be taking place this year, and reminders about our expectations of behaviour and conduct.

At the start of the year, however, my most important priority was to take a longer and wider view, and to remind all students why were are here, and what we are trying to achieve together at Churchill.

Our purpose: to inspire and enable young people to make a positive difference

 

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Churchill students working with young people at Rigoma Primary and Secondary School in Kenya, summer 2018 (source)

Our purpose at Churchill is “to inspire and enable young people to make a positive difference.” This can be at a personal level: we can all make a positive difference to ourselves, through the work we do to improve our knowledge, skills and character every day. We can also make a positive difference to others, through helping them when they are finding things difficult and making their experience of school better.

On a wider scale, we can all make a positive difference to the Academy community. This can be in simple, practical ways like keeping the site neat and tidy, but also in less obvious ways by contributing to our positive atmosphere: behaving kindly and respectfully; being ready and eager to learn; and supporting and encouraging one another in our efforts to improve.

Looking up still further, we know that all our young people can make a positive difference in the wider world, both during their time as students here but also after they have left us. Our hope is that, because of the education they have had here, Churchill students will go on to make the world a better place. This is a lofty ambition – but it is what motivates and guides us in the work we do every day.

Our vision: to set no limits on what we can achieve

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Sports Day 2018

Our vision at Churchill is “to set no limits on what we can achieve.” Limits can be external, with other people telling you that “you’ll never be able to do X,” or “you’re only capable of Y.” We strive to avoid this kind of talk at Churchill, recognising that it is impossible to know someone’s true potential, and that effort and application make it far more likely that we will achieve our goals.

The limits we set ourselves can be far more challenging. We all have a voice inside ourselves that says “it’s too hard,” or “I’ll never be able to do it,” or “I can’t.” At Churchill we try hard to find an inner voice to talk back in, so that we can find a way to overcome those barriers we can set ourselves.

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Our values: kindness, curiosity, determination

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Our three values are based on the character strengths that underpin our vision and our purpose. Developing kindness, curiosity and determination will help us all to reach our goals. Each value reflects a different aspect of our character: kindness is a strength of the heart; curiosity is a strength of the mind; determination is a strength of the will.

Kindness

At Churchill, we are kind to one another. This means that we are considerate and generous every day, caring for one another and doing everything we can to make sure everybody else has a good day at school. Kindness reinforces our shared sense of community; it builds trust and respect; and it ensures that we take our social responsibilities seriously.

“A single act of kindness throws out roots in all directions, and the roots spring up and make new trees.” (Amelia Earhart)

Curiosity

At Churchill, we are constantly curious and hungry for new learning. We value enquiring minds and a spirit of exploration. The desire to know or learn something new motivates us to try our hardest in everything we do.

“The mind is not a vessel to be filled, but a fire to be kindled” (Plutarch)

Determination

At Churchill, we are persistent and relentless in the pursuit of our goals – both academic and personal. This determination to keep going when learning is difficult, and to come back and try again when we struggle, helps us to succeed.

“Our greatest weakness lies in giving up. The most certain way to succeed is always to try just one more time.” (Thomas Edison)

It is the interplay between our values, our vision and our purpose that enable us to achieve success. I’m looking forward, this year, to taking further strides towards our shared goals. As Henry Ford said, “if everyone is moving forward together, success takes care of itself.”