My book: Becoming a growth mindset school

Cover

The front cover

One of my core beliefs as a teacher and as a school leader is that the manner in which we approach learning – our attitude – is the most significant factor in our success. I have written about this subjectrepeatedly on this blog and it is the cornerstone of our approach to learning at Churchill.

At Churchill we believe in the value of:

  • 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

In late 2016, I was approached by educational publishers Routledge to write a book about this approach to teaching and learning. What does the educational research say? How do you go about implementing an attitude-based approach to teaching and learning? And what have I learned from the process?

At first, I was a little daunted, but this is a subject that I love. I am passionate about the ways in which learning can transform young people’s lives, and about how small shifts in attitude and approach can yield big improvements in progress and achievement. I felt like I had something to say, and I hoped that what wrote I could make a difference to other teachers and school leaders and, through them, their students. So I agreed!

Nearly eighteen months and over 75,000 words later, the book is finally here. It’s called Becoming a growth mindset school  and it explores the theories which underpin a growth mindset ethos and lays out how to embed them into the culture of a school. It offers step-by-step guidance for school leaders to help build an approach to teaching and learning that will encourage children to embrace challenge, persist in the face of setbacks, and see effort as the path to mastery. It isn’t about quick fixes or miracle cures, but an evidence-based transformation of the way we think and talk about teaching, leading, and learning. It is a celebration of all we are trying to achieve here at Churchill Academy & Sixth Form through the skill and dedication of our expert staff, the support of our community of families, and the wonderful kindness, curiosity and determination of our fantastic students.

And we’re only just getting started!

Read an adapted extract from the book here.

Becoming a growth mindset school is available from Amazon, Routledge and Waterstones.

Stephen Hawking

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Stephen Hawking, 1942-2018

I was saddened to hear this week of the death of theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking. He is perhaps best known for his book A Brief History of Time, which I first read when I was in the Sixth Form. His work probed the beginning and end of the universe, pushing science and human understanding to the very limits of what it is possible to imagine.

What I remember most about Stephen Hawking, however, was listening to him speak. In 2016 he gave two lectures – the Reith Lectures – on BBC Radio 4.  The lectures were fascinating, exploring the nature of black holes. You can listen to them here. But what really captured me was an answer he gave to an audience question at the end of the second lecture. He was asked: “if you had to offer one piece of advice for future generations of scientists…what would it be?” The answer he gave encapsulates Churchill’s values perfectly:

My advice to young scientists is to be curious, and try to make sense of what you see. We live in a universe governed by rational laws that we can discover and understand. Despite recent triumphs, there are many new and deep mysteries that remain for you to solve. And keep a sense of wonder about our vast and complex universe and what makes it exist. But you also must remember that science and technology are changing our world dramatically, so it’s important to ensure that these changes are heading in the right directions. In a democratic society, this means that everyone needs to have a basic understanding of science to make informed decisions about the future. So communicate plainly what you are trying to do in science, and who knows, you might even end up understanding it yourself.

And finally, Hawking’s message was one of determination:

“Be curious, and however difficult life may seem, there is always something you can do, and succeed at. It matters that you don’t just give up.”

Read more about Stephen Hawking (BBC website)

Singin’ in the Rain – Review

At one point in Saturday’s performance of Singin’ in the Rain, the character Cosmo Brown (Cai Williams/Ricky Parsons) delivered the line: “the show must go on. Come rain, some shine, come sleet, come snow, the show must go on.”  He nearly brought the house down.

Because this was no ordinary performance. Storm Emma and the “Beast from the East” had conspired together to shut down not only Churchill Academy & Sixth Form but much of the United Kingdom. Rehearsals were called off. In the midst of a Red Warning from the Met Office, Thursday evening’s performance was cancelled. Friday was also snowed off. But, with the words of Cosmo Brown ringing in their ears, the intrepid team of Mr Buckley, Mrs Lippe, Mrs Rees and Mr Stuart would not give up. The show – for one performance only – was on.

There had been no time for a technical or a dress rehearsal, and the two casts were combined and meshed together to ensure everyone got their chance on the Playhouse stage. But the cast and crew were so well-rehearsed, so professional, and so single-mindedly determined to put on a show that the audience would never have known it. Props and sets arrived on time, films flickered into life, and the rain fell from the sky right on cue. It was simply stunning.

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The actors adapted brilliantly to their shared stage time. Lucy Taylor and Molly Sprouting shone as Kathy Selden, whilst Melissa Harrold and Cara Crozier-Cole were hilariously grating as the none-too-bright megastar Lina Lamont. Jack Baker and Matt Hogg (R.F. Simpson) sparred with Ricky Parsons and Cai Williams (Cosmo Brown) with impeccable comic timing, supported by a cast as impressive in its depth and breadth as it was in the quality of its performance. But the show revolved around James Duby in the lead as silent-film-turned-musical star Don Lockwood. On stage for almost the whole show, James sang, danced and acted as though he was born to do it, holding the entire audience in the palm of his hand and bringing such energy and verve to the production that you couldn’t help but be carried along with it.

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This was a show packed with song and dance. From the chaotic comic choreography of “Make ‘Em Laugh” to the huge production number “Broadway Melody,” the dancing was exceptional. Singing was of the highest quality, whilst the pit band, conducted by Mr Spencer, would have held their own in any professional theatre. The melodramatic silent movies (and, later, the talking pictures) shot and edited by Will Maitland-Round had the audience in stitches for all the right reasons. And the unseen technical crew, running the props, costumes, set, lighting, sound and special effects for the first time ever, made the production look incredible and flow as smoothly as it could possibly have done.

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You might have expected the show to be tinged with disappointment, as it hadn’t turned out the way that everyone would have wanted it to. But actually, inside the theatre, the cast, crew and audience were united in a joyous celebration, as if the show had got onto the stage through the force of sheer willpower alone. We went home through the melting snow, singing the songs, and privileged to have been part of such a special, memorable performance.

Thank you to everyone involved – students, staff, and families – for making Singin’ in the Rain not only possible, but wonderful.

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Read this review on the Academy website here.

All photography by Neil Phillips – visit his website here.

Closing for a snow day

Deciding on whether the Academy should be open or closed in the event of adverse weather is one of those decisions which rests solely with me, the Headteacher. This week I have had to make that decision, and I thought it might be helpful to blog about how and why it was made.

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Snow falling at Churchill

Closing the school is highly disruptive. It gets in the way of lessons and learning, but also all of the events, meetings, interviews, activities and discussions that have been planned, often well in advance. We have nearly 1500 students, so the decision to close has an impact on hundreds and hundreds of families across our communities. It is not a decision I can take lightly. Whatever I decide will please some and frustrate others.

This week’s cold weather and snowfall was no surprise. The “beast from the east” was well-advertised. I received twice-daily updates from the delegated services team, providing risk analysis based on the changing weather forecast from the Met Office. North Somerset Council re-published their advice about what to do in case of closure. Senior staff at the Academy ran through the procedures and processes in case we had to close- although we hoped we wouldn’t have to.

The question I ask myself in this situation is: “is it safe to open the school?”

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Year 13 Photography students took the opportunity to get some snow shots on Thursday morning

Most of our students travel to school on buses, many from rural communities. Our staff – nearly 150 adults – travel in from across the region. Would it be safe for students and staff to travel? If staff are unable to get into school, will I have enough adults to ensure that students are properly supervised and have access to the high-quality teaching to which they are accustomed and entitled? Will the site be safe?

By Wednesday it became clear that the snow was coming. The Met Office shifted their Amber warning to early afternoon on Thursday. The Chief Forecaster’s assessment read:

Widespread snow is expected to develop through Thursday afternoon and evening, accompanied by strong easterly winds, leading to drifting of lying snow in places. Around 10-20 cm is likely to fall quite widely, with the potential for up to 50 cm over parts of Dartmoor and Exmoor. As less cold air follows from the south, there is a chance of snow turning to freezing rain in places, with widespread icy stretches forming making driving conditions dangerous. The warning has been updated to reflect the growing confidence of a severe spell of weather.

I consulted during the day with my senior team, primary Headteachers in the Churchill cluster, and local secondary Headteachers. By early evening, it was clear that the worst of the weather was forecast for the afternoon of the next day – Thursday. Our usual closing time – 3:20pm – was right in the middle of the heaviest forecast snowfall and high winds were predicted to make the air temperature of -4°C feel like -12°C. The morning looked okay, however – cold, with strong winds, but snow not forecast to start falling until later on.

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Photo credit: A-level photography students

Rather than put off a decision until the morning, I thought that families and students deserved as much notice as possible so that they could make arrangements. I sent emails to key senior staff, spoke on the phone to one of our site team, organised contact with the bus companies and consulted the Chair of Governors. I then notified all staff via email of the plan for the next day. At 8pm on Wednesday we notified families that we would be open in the morning, but closing early at 1:10pm. I decided that this was the best compromise: we could still get four lessons worth of learning done, but students and staff should be able to get home safely.

Why not close for the whole day? Because there was a chance to get some meaningful learning done, and closure has to be a last resort. Why not stay open for the whole day? Because, in my judgment, the risks of staying open at that point outweighed the benefits.

In the end, school closure is a judgment call. This week, I had to make that call – and I did so, as with all my decisions, in the best interests of the students and the staff of the Academy. Whilst I’m sure not everyone will agree with me, I hope you at least understand my reasoning.

Stay safe, stay warm and – if you can – enjoy the snow.

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