Assembly: Grit and Flow

As the students came into the hall for my assembly this week, they were treated to a video of violin virtuoso Itzhak Perlman performing Antonio Bazzini’s La Ronde des Lutins (the dance of the goblins). He makes this fiendishly difficult piece of music, full of extended passages of rapid double stops, artificial harmonics and left-hand pizzicati seem easy! This astonishing performance establishes the concept of “flow” at pretty much its zenith.


Flow is being able to do something well. So well, it seems almost effortless. Perlman manages to make this most challenging of pieces in the classical violin repertoire seem like a breeze, remaining seated, flourishing his bow, enjoying the performance.

My second illustration of "flow"

An illustration of “flow”

How, then, should we go about achieving this state of flow? Counter-intuitively, to achieve this apparently frictionless and smooth process, we first need to apply “grit” to give us traction.


Psychologist Angela Duckworth has spent her career studying the quality of “grit” and how it contributes to higher achievement. She says:

We define grit as perseverance and passion for long-term goals. Grit entails working strenuously toward challenges, maintaining effort and interest over years despite failure, adversity, and plateaus in progress. The gritty individual approaches achievement as a marathon; his or her advantage is stamina. Whereas disappointment or boredom signals to others that it is time to change trajectory and cut losses, the gritty individual stays the course.

“Grit” is perseverance; hard work and effort sustained over time. This grit will give the learner purchase on the slippery surface of the learning in just the same way as we grit an icy road to allow traffic to flow freely.

Grit means putting the hours in. Putting in the time. Putting in the effort. Repeating something until you know you can do it well. Itzhak Perlman says (here) that repetition is the key to successful practice – again and again and again. Slowly. He does give a warning though – there is such a thing as too much practice. I’m sure the students will breathe a sigh of relief, until they hear that his idea of “too much” is anything more than five hours of the same thing in one sitting. Now that is grit.

My challenge to the students is to aspire to “flow” in all their learning by applying “grit” in their lessons and at home. I spoke to them about the importance of deliberate practice – not just “doing work” but thinking about the knowledge and skills they are applying to the task and how they will use the process to improve.

I started the assembly with Perlman playing La Ronde des Lutins – the dance of the goblins. I finish with another example of La Ronde, this time from the masters of “flow” FC Barcelona:

This training ground exercise is the perfect mesh of grit and flow – deliberate practice demonstrated by those who demonstrate mastery. And enjoy it.

You can view my assembly Prezi here.


Student voice: how we learn

Over the course of this year, I am visiting all the tutor groups in the school. In my visits I am asking the students for their views and advice on different aspects of our provision at the Academy. Between September and December I asked students to reflect on two questions:

  1. What makes good teaching?
  2. What makes good learning?

Tutor groups responded in lots of different ways. Some groups put together presentations, others worked in small groups on the questions, whilst others involved me in a whole-group discussion. What they all had in common was lots of brilliant ideas about the topic!

At the end of the process I had visited nineteen tutor groups and heard  the views of around 450 students. In January, I gathered together all their thoughts and ideas. They had told me what helped them the most from their teachers, and they had come up with lots of excellent suggestions for how they could best help themselves to be effective learners. Below, you can see the fruits of their labours:

This poster has been shared with all teachers and tutor groups this term, and many have been discussing it in their tutor time sessions and team meetings to help everyone improve and maintain the highest standards of both teaching and learning in school. It’s been a really valuable process to take time out to reflect on what it is that makes for successful teaching and learning, and to keep our focus squarely on our main task.

What was also lovely was to hear the students suggesting the names of teachers who they thought were doing a brilliant job in supporting them and helping them to learn. I took great pleasure in writing to every teacher whose name was mentioned – over fifty of them! – to thank them, on behalf of the students, for the great work they do every day at the Academy.

This term students are helping me with feedback on what makes excellent behaviour in lessons and at social time, and how we can work together to make things even better. I’ll report back after Easter!

Churchill at 60: the first day of school

Sixty years ago this week, on 14th January 1957, the first students and members of staff started in the brand new Churchill Secondary Modern School. The school later became Churchill Community School and, more recently, Churchill Academy & Sixth Form. The 14th January 1957 is recorded by hand as the first entry in the School Log Book, which was passed to me as I took up post at Headteacher a year ago.  Click on the pictures below to read the log book – the “Administrative Memorandum” is especially interesting! – and see below for a transcript of the first entry.


January 14th, 1957

The first Headmaster, Reginald J. Dennis B.Sc., took up duty to-day, together with the following members of staff.

  1. Mr J. Simmonds – Deputy Headmaster
  2. Miss G.A. Ford B.Sc.
  3. Mrs Young
  4. Mrs King – a supply teacher, filling a vacant post.

First year secondary school children, together with a few second year children, were absorbed from the following primary schools: Banwell, Winscombe, Wrington and Blagdon. They were disposed in the following classes:

  • IF – 32
  • IK – 33
  • IY – 32
  • II – 27
  • Total – 124

As the building was unfinished, it was only possible to make use of four rooms on the second floor. The back door of the building had to be used as work was still in progress at the front entrance.

The kitchens were not ready for occupation and hence school dinner was brought to the school in containers from the central kitchen at Yatton.

The Chairman of the Governors, Lt. Colonel Lee, D.S.O., visited the school this morning. He said that he had come to wish the staff and school a happy and successful life in this new building.

It sounds like an exciting time, bringing together children from the local community into a brand new secondary school in a brand new building. It’s fantastic to think that, although the world is very different now, we are continuing the work that they started sixty years ago.


To mark our Diamond Jubilee, we have created a special “Churchill at 60” page on our website. We will be updating the page with photographs from the school’s history, information about events, and memories from the sixty years that there has been a school on this site.

If you have, or if you know anybody that has, any photographs or memories from the early days of the school, we’d love to hear from you! Please contact the school on with the subject line “Churchill at 60“.

I will be including guest posts from the Log Book over the coming months as we prepare for the 60th Anniversary of the school’s official opening in September. Watch this space!

My first year at Churchill


I started at Churchill a year ago – and what a year it’s been! One of the first things I wanted to do as Headteacher was develop communication between home and school. To help with this, we relaunched the newsletter, redesigned the website, and I started this blog. Here are some of the highlights that have been captured in the Headteacher’s Blog over this first year in charge…

Taking stock and planning

I spent the first few months at Churchill looking, listening and learning around and about the Academy. In March, I gathered my thoughts in What have I learned?. This process led to the planning of the Strategic Priorities for Churchill – our blueprint for the way ahead over the coming years.


How we learn

I have published a series of posts on learning and on developing a growth mindset, including You Can Learn Anything and How to Grow Your Brain. I also showed this really interesting video to families on my meet the Headteacher evenings. It describes some really interesting findings from research into the way in which praise can change students’ attitudes to learning and achievement. Take another look:

How to revise

I’ve also used this blog to help students preparing for exams. I started with How to revise: techniques that work, and I’m now part way through a series of How to revise posts on the six most effective revision techniques from cognitive science research. So far, I’ve outlined retrieval practice, spaced practice and elaboration. Make sure you follow the blog this year for the final three posts in this series!

Performing Arts

In January, I attended the Churchill Music! Young Musician of the Year competition, prompting me to write about The Power of Music  This year’s event is just around the corner, and I’m looking forward to it very much! It was also a production year and I had the chance to review West Side Story – I’m still  in awe of the brilliant show that the students and staff put on. The year was rounded off by the fantastic Christmas Concert which inspired me to write about how much I love the Junior Choir!


The amazing West Side Story cast on the Playhouse stage


I’ve taken a few assemblies during the year! I love stitching together quite diverse examples into topics for my assemblies. For example, my assembly on Concentration featured coloured balls, an optical illusion, a cat gif and the dog from the Disney/Pixar film Up; my assembly on being Different featured metronomes, coke cans, Barack Obama and DNA. In Think Before You Speak I used a YouTuber, a tube of toothpaste, some ridiculous safety equipment and a poem by Emily Dickinson. I was relatively restrained before Christmas in discussing The 1960s as I talked about President Kennedy, the moon landings and an incredible mathematician called Katherine Johnson.




A rowing sprint competition against the GB champion wasn’t in the job description…

There has been so much to enjoy this year! From Activities Week, through Sports Day, the Year 11 and Year 13 Balls, right up to Christmas at Churchill – and it’s all still to come again this year! I even got to go to a day out at Buckingham Palace

I can honestly say I’ve looked forward to coming into work every single day of the year. It’s a privilege to work with such polite and hardworking young people and such dedicated and expert staff. Here’s to many more years – and weekly blogs! – to come.