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!

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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

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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

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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.