Assembly: Anti-racism

The Black Lives Matter movement changed the fabric of Bristol itself in the removal of the statue of Edward Colston (source)

This week I produced a video assembly for students on the theme of anti-racism. Over the course of lockdown, the killing of George Floyd and the subsequent surge of support for the Black Lives Matter movement has caused all of us – myself included – to examine this issue afresh. There is no doubt that racism is a deep and systemic problem in our country and our society. Centuries of discrimination, based on lies, have left us with an enormous legacy of injustice to overturn. It’s a big, difficult problem – there are no easy answers. But I am hopeful and determined that we can be part of the solution, and must start right here in the Academy. Because we know that racism is out there in our country, and in our community – and that is why we need to fight it here in our Academy.

In my assembly, I started by explaining to all students exactly where we stand on this issue, and what is and is not acceptable here at Churchill. What follows here is the script I used for my assembly.

Everyone is welcome

Firstly, everybody is welcome here at Churchill. No matter the colour of our skin, the language we speak at home, where our families come from, our religious beliefs, our cultural background, or where we have lived before: we are all members of this community, students and staff together, and we are all welcome here. Nobody – and I mean nobody – has the right to make anyone feel upset, discriminated against or excluded from this community for any reason. If you make somebody feel upset because of the colour of their skin, the language they speak at home, where their families come from, their religious beliefs, their cultural background, or where they have lived before – that is racist behaviour, pure and simple, and it has no place in our Academy. It simply must not happen.

No excuses

I need to make their completely clear to every single student in the Academy – there are no excuses for racist behaviour in our school.

  • “I didn’t know that word was racist” – doesn’t matter. Don’t use the words if you don’t know what they mean.
  • “But they’re my friend – it was just a bit of banter” – doesn’t matter. Racist behaviour is racist behaviour, whether between the best of friends of the worst of enemies. It has no place here.
  • “I didn’t mean to upset anyone.” – doesn’t matter. Racist behaviour is racist behaviour. It has no place here.
  • “I just wasn’t thinking.” – that’s not good enough. Engage your brain before you engage your mouth. You must take responsibility for your actions.
  • “I was only joking.” – doesn’t matter. The systematic oppression of entire groups is not something you can joke about. Racist behaviour is racist behaviour. It has no place here.
  • “I’m really sorry, I’ll apologise.” – good, I’m glad – that’s the right thing to do. It will help, but it won’t undo what you’ve done and you will still face a serious consequence.

I need to be completely clear – there is never any excuse for racist behaviour in our community. It will not be tolerated.

Be the change you want to see in the world

(Source)

As a community, we must all work together to solve this problem. It is you, the young people in the school, who will go on to build a more inclusive, more tolerant, society. But it is not enough for us all to just not be racist- we must all be actively anti-racist. If your friend is saying or doing something that makes you uncomfortable, if they are expressing opinions which are not okay – call them out on it. Tell them “that’s not okay…you can’t say that.” Tell a member of staff what you have seen or heard – you are not grassing up your friend, you are helping to build a better, more inclusive, more welcoming school. Our first Academy value is kindness. We have to live that value if we are going to solve this problem. And it starts with you – each and every one of you. I know I can rely on you all to do the right thing. So let’s start today.

You can view the assembly below

Practising penalties with Harry Kane

Wembley

Wembley Stadium, Saturday 7th September 2019

Last Saturday, I was lucky enough to head down to Wembley Stadium for England’s European Championship qualifier against Bulgaria. It was my first time at Wembley watching football (although I did go last year to watch Taylor Swift) and I was very excited! Our seats were right at the top of the stadium, just left of the halfway line – we had a great view of the whole pitch.

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Harry Kane scoring a penalty against Bulgaria, 7th September 2019

The atmosphere was electric. There were over 80,000 people at the match and the noise was incredible! I even managed to capture a video of Harry Kane tucking away his second penalty to complete his hat-trick:

After the match, I was interested to read what Gareth Southgate had to say about Harry Kane’s penalties:

“We stood and watched him take penalties for about 20 minutes yesterday. When you watch the process he goes through, he gives himself every chance of succeeding by that deliberate practice…he’s an incredible example.
“When he gets his moment, he has an outstanding mindset and, technically, he’s a top finisher…but I go back to the fact that’s hours and hours of practice and if you talk to some of the other forwards in the squad, they would talk to you about how big an impression that has had on them.”

In my assemblies this week, I picked up on Southgate’s message: Harry Kane is a talented striker, but his accuracy from the spot is no accident. He prepared and practised so that, when his moment came, he was ready to deliver. It is this which sets such a good example to England’s younger players and, I hope to Churchill Academy & Sixth Form students. No matter what your ability is, careful and deliberate practice is the key to unlocking that ability and ensuring that you are ready to deliver when you get your moment – whether that be a Maths test, a dance performance, a race, your next English lesson, or an international football match. Preparation and practice mean everything.

Footnote

Muric

My assembly message was rather undermined when Kane had a penalty saved by Nottingham Forest’s Aro Muric  in the 5-3 thriller against Kosovo on Tuesday night – but still, he’s a pretty good striker! I guess the goalkeeper had been preparing and practising too…

Assembly: what does a feminist look like?

At Churchill, our vision is “to set no limits on what we can achieve.” Sometimes those limits can come from with ourselves – the nagging self-doubt that says “I’m not clever enough,” or “I’m not brave enough,” or “I can’t.” We work hard with our students to build their confidence so that they can talk back to those limiting voices.

GM Phrases

However, some of those limits can also come from outside, and some of them are invisible. I am a feminist because I can see that gender stereotypes and traditional roles act as limits that can prevent young people – boys and girls – from achieving their true potential.

For me, feminism means believing that men and women should have equal rights and opportunities. It means believing that nobody – male or female – should be unfairly advantaged or disadvantaged by their gender. I have always been a feminist, but I have been particularly energised by the He For She initiative launched by Emma Watson at the United Nations in 2014. This initiative invites men to commit to gender equality, and provides tools to enable them to do so.

No more advertising stereotypes?

My assembly this week was sparked by the new rule which came into force this month from the Advertising Standards Authority. The ASA will no longer permit any advertising in the the UK which includes “gender stereotypes that are likely to cause harm, or serious or widespread offence.” That means that offensive stereotypes like these from the 1950s and 1970s will be outlawed altogether:

Although adverts like these are now things of the past, it would be wrong to assume that stereotypes are not passed on to children – often very young children – through the clothes they wear or the toys they play with.

Clothing with messaging like this includes a “drip, drip” effect which says that boys should be tough, heroic, physical, messy, and clever, whilst girls should be sensitive, secondary, pretty, and stupid.

Gendered toys and books are similar. Boys can be “brilliant,” but girls can only be “beautiful.” Girls can do chemistry and build towers of blocks – but only if it’s pink and includes gossip.

These stereotypes trap both boys and girls in limiting gender roles. It can lead to assumptions about which paths are, and are not, open to you in the future, as this video shows:

Girls can’t be heroes?

There is a well-known trope in cinema called “the Smurfette Principle.” This principle is based on the small blue cartoon characters, all of whom were male, except for a single blonde Smurfette. The Smurfette Principle says that, in movies where a group of characters goes on a quest to fix a problem, you are only allowed one female as part of the group – despite the population being 50/50! There are lots of films which follow this sexist principle:

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There has been much progress on this front in more recent times. In my assembly, I talked about the Avengers franchise as an example. In the first Avengers film, Black Widow was the only female hero, a lonely Smurfette. However, in the recent Avengers: Endgame (*spoilers ahead!*), Black Widow was joined by Captain Marvel, Nebula, Okoye, Wasp, Scarlet Witch, Mantis, Shuri, Pepper Potts and Valkyrie  to form an all-female team in the battle against Thanos. Star Wars too has seen progress, with Daisy Ridley’s Rey providing a strong, brave female hero in the franchise. Such representation provides important role models to girls: you can be heroes too.

Boys don’t try?

It’s important to recognise that feminism is about equality for both genders. It’s not just about girls being held back by sexist stereotypes – boys are trapped too. Across England in 2018, 23.7% of girls achieved top grades (7-9) at GCSE, whereas only 17.2% of boys achieved those grades. This 6.5% gap was even larger at GCSE grades 9-4 (the old A*-C): 71.4% of girls achieved this threshold, whereas only 62.3% of boys did the same, a gap of 9.1%. One theory – a persuasive one – suggests that this is the result of traditional, stereotyped gender roles in the classroom. Girls are expected to work hard, complete homework, put their hands up, and behave well. It’s what girls do. For boys to show this behaviour – which we know leads to higher academic achievement – they need to break out of stereotypical “boy” behaviour. This can be hard to do, but if we are going to prevent gender roles from limiting potential, we need to enable both boys and girls to transcend those traditional roles. Boys have to try too.

emma watson

We do not want our girls trapped in a passive, timid cage where they do not have equality and cannot step up to their potential. We do not want our boys trapped in a narrow definition of masculinity where talking about feelings, showing sensitivity or vulnerability are seen as weaknesses. This is a mentally unhealthy situation to be in. Suicide is the biggest killer of men between the ages of 20-49; it kills more men than road accidents, more than cancer, more than heart disease. If we don’t start unpicking this, we will be facing a significant problem. Men are imprisoned by their gender stereotypes too.

What does a feminist look like?

So what does a feminist look like? Well, it looks like anyone who is committed to breaking down the barriers that trap boys and girls, men and women, into outdated gender roles that unfairly advantage or disadvantage one over the other. It looks like Benedict Cumberbatch, Harry Styles, or President Obama, as well as Emma Watson, Caitlin Moran, or Taylor Swift. As Barack Obama said, in a 2016 speech:

“We need to keep changing the attitude that raises our girls to be demure and our boys to be assertive, that criticises our daughters for speaking out and our sons for shedding a tear.”

At Churchill we are committed to being a school where our boys can be strong and sensitive, and our girls can be sensitive and strong, so that we can truly set no limits on what we can achieve.

Assembly: marginal gains and resolutions

CRH Marginal Gains Assembly

In this week’s assembly, I’ve been talking about marginal gains and resolutions. I started with the picture above: many students had a go at guessing what these objects were! The answer is that these are ‘bum warmers’, used to warm the muscles of Olympic cyclists before a race. The extra warmth means the cyclists can start one hundredth of a second faster than their opponents.

These curious devices are one example of the British cycling team’s approach to the “aggregation of marginal gains.” This approach means making tiny improvements in lots of different areas, adding up to a big overall effect. Other examples include the the cyclists always taking their own pillows and bedding with them when they travel, to reduce the chance of picking up an infection which might interfere with their training. The team tweak every aspect of the bikes, the cyclists’ equipment and clothing, their diet, sleep, schedule and training regime to try and eke out an extra 1% of performance.

CRH Marginal Gains Assembly

It’s an approach which seems to have worked. In the four Olympic Games between 1992 and 2004, the cycling team managed to win eight medals; following the adoption of the marginal gains approach, the team won 41 medals across Beijing 2008, London 2012 and Rio 2016.

Marginal gains in school

I want us all to think about what marginal gains we could make in school. What small changes could we make to our approach which, sustained and added up over time, could result in a big improvement?

clock

One change could be in making the most of the time we have. Spending five minutes of a lesson off task – daydreaming, chatting to a friend, looking out of the window – doesn’t seem like too much of a problem. But adding it up over a year can result in a lot of lost time…

  • We have five lessons every day for 190 school days in a year
  • That’s 5 x 190 = 950 lessons per year
  • Five minutes wasted in every lesson is 5 x 950 = 4,750 minutes
  • 4,750 minutes is just over 79 hours
  • That’s over THREE WHOLE DAYS of learning lost per year, just from five minutes in each lesson (three days, seven hours and ten minutes, for precision fans).

Ensuring we attend every lesson punctually, and staying focused when we are there, is a marginal gain we can all make that could add up to a big overall effect over time.

Making a resolution

newyearsday

New Year’s resolutions are notoriously hard to keep. This can be because they are too ambitious. But the advantage of resolving to make a marginal gain is that it involves a small change – or perhaps a number of them! Making resolutions to stay focused, to ensure that all equipment for school is prepared the night before, to avoid distractions, or to be more punctual to every lesson…these are not impossible goals to set ourselves, but added up they could make a significant difference.

What will your New Year’s resolution be?

CRH Marginal Gains Assembly

 

Thanks to Keith Neville for the inspiration for this assembly.

Assembly: Value

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Take a look at the two coins above. They look so different! One, minted in 1988, is tarnished and dull. It’s marked around the edges with the impacts of thousands of other coins in hundreds of pockets, tills, machines and moneyboxes. The 2010 coin is shiny and bright, and the Queen’s profile looks markedly different. Yet both coins have the same value – they are worth exactly the same. The age, condition, and the year they were made makes no difference to what they are worth.

Slide3

These two coins look similar to the pennies. One is old and tarnished, the other shiny and new. But they do not have the same value. Despite the fact that they have the words “one pound” written on the front, the coin on the left is worthless, no longer legal tender, and only the coin on the right is worth £1 now.

Looking at these coins causes me to reflect on how we assign value to things. It seems clear that things are only worth what we agree together they are worth. If we agree, as a society, that one object is worth £1 and another is worthless, then that is the value that these objects have.

In the case of the coins, the condition of the object has no bearing on its value. However, with some other objects this is not the case.

Slide4

In the case of the two guitars above, we have an unusual situation. The brand new guitar on the left is worth much less than the one on the right, despite the fact that the one on the right has been on fire, has a melted scratchplate, and had a broken neck which had to be replaced. That’s because the guitar on the right was set on fire and smashed up by Jimi Hendrix at the 1967 Monterey Pop Festival; it’s appalling condition is a testament to its place in the history of rock’n’roll.

This is not normally the case. As shown above, the value of the £120,000 Ferrari is not increased after it has been driven into a lamppost. In fact, more usually, we need to care for and look after the things we value so that they remain in good condition for us to enjoy.

Over the two years of my Headship to date, I have written three times to the Education and Skills Funding Agency to argue that the students of Churchill Academy and Sixth Form deserve a better learning environment. Twice the ESFA have agreed with the arguments we have presented – we are waiting to hear about the third! – and that is why we have the Alan Turing Building, complete with brand new IT facilities, and the new Science and Technology building under construction. That is why we are renovating and refurbishing classroom and improving the computer equipment across the site. These project all have a significant value – not just the financial resource required to put them in place, but the value they add to the learning experience for our students.

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We are lucky to learn and work in a beautiful, rural school site, with excellent and improving facilities. It is essential that we all work together to look after this place, ensuring that it is litter-free and kept in an excellent condition.

 

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Our values at Churchill determine all of our actions, and there have been many great examples of students demonstrating those values since we launched them in September. Maintaining those excellent habits will ensure that we all continue to contribute positively to the community we are building together.

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Year 7 Learning Groups: Humanities Heroes

There’s a long tradition of naming our Key Stage 3 Learning Groups at Churchill around a particular theme. The current Year 8 groups are named after endangered or at-risk species: Panda, Turtle, Lion, Jaguar, Leopard, Tiger, Gorilla, Rhino, and Polar Bear. There’s a great display in the ground floor Science corridor giving more details about these animals, and the work of the World Wildlife Fund to help protect them.

It’s the turn of the Humanities Faculty this year, so the learning groups in Year 7 have been named after British heroes from the fields of History, Geography, and Philosophy and Ethics. Hence we have 7Brunel, 7Seacole, 7Anscombe, 7Attenborough, 7Fiennes, 7Kingsley, 7Davison, 7Locke and 7Hume being taught right across the Academy! This week Mrs Amer, Director of Humanities, has been telling the students more about these Humanities heroes in assemblies. So here’s a run-down of who the learning groups are named after…

Brunel

IKBrunelChains

Isambard Kingdom Brunel (1806-1859) was named as one of the greatest Britons in a BBC poll. A famous engineer, he spent much of his life in Bristol where he designed the Great Western Railway, Temple Meads Station, the SS Great Britain, and the Clifton Suspension Bridge amongst many more achievements.

Hume

Allan Ramsay, David Hume, 1711 - 1776. Historian and philosopher

David Hume (1711-1776) was a Scottish philosopher and historian, best known for developing the system known as empiricism. He argued that all human knowledge is based on experiences; he also investigated the concept of miracles and put forward opposing scientific arguments.

Kingsley

Mary_Kingsley_West_African_Studies

Mary Kingsley (1862-1900) was an explorer. At a time when it was unheard of for women travel alone, Kingsley explored central and west Africa. Her work was vital in helping Europeans understand African cultures and the effects of the British Empire. Kingsley also took an important stand against slavery.

Davison

Emily_Wilding_Davison

Emily Wilding Davison (1872-1913) was a suffragette who campaigned for votes for women. She was arrested nine times for her protests, went on hunger strike seven times, and was force-fed in prison forty-five times. She died after being hit by King George V’s horse at the 1913 Epsom Derby when she walked onto the track during the race to protest for votes for women. Women were finally given the vote in 1918.

Locke

JohnLocke

John Locke (1632-1704) was a philosopher who is known as the “Father of Liberalism.” One of the earliest empiricists, he was one of the first thinkers to define the self as a continuity of consciousness. He was also a believer in the importance of proof: for Locke, ideas had to be capable of being tested repeatedly, and nothing was exempt from being disproven. Locke was also born in Wrington!

Fiennes

Ranulph_Fiennes_2014

Sir Ranulph Fiennes (1944- ) is an explorer and writer. He was the first person to visit the North and South Poles by surface means, and the first to cross the continent of Antarctica on foot. In 2009, at the age of 65, he became the oldest person to reach the summit of Mount Everest.

Seacole

Seacole_photo

Mary Seacole (1805-1881) was born in Jamaica. She was born mixed race, to a Scottish father and a free Jamaican mother. She overcame Victorian racial prejudice to serve as an outstanding nurse during the Crimean War and was named as the greatest black Briton in a 2004 BBC poll.

Anscombe

anscombe

Elizabeth Anscombe (1919-2001) was Professor of Philosophy at both Oxford and Cambridge. Her greatest work focused on the ideas of intention, action, and practical reason. Well known for being outspoken and opinionated, when accosted by a mugger in the street she told her attacker that it was ‘no way to treat a stranger’ – they stopped and talked instead.

Attenborough

david-attenborough

Sir David Attenborough (1926- ), the well-known broadcaster and naturalist, has done more perhaps than any living person to raise awareness of animal, plant and marine life on Earth, and the impact of human activity on the environment. Attenborough’s appetite for discovery demonstrated our core value of curiosity; he famously said:

“I just wish the world was twice as big and half of it was still unexplored.”

His most recent project, Blue Planet II, is currently being shown on BBC1.

We hope that naming our learning groups after such significant individuals will help raise awareness of their contribution to History, Geography, and Philosophy and Ethics and broaden our students’ understanding of these figures. What will we name our groups next year? Leave a comment with your suggestions!

Assembly: Kindness

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A lovely thing happened the other weekend. I was working in my office at home, when a paper aeroplane came soaring through the air to land nearby. Written on one wing were the words “open this”. Intrigued, I unfolded the aeroplane to find a lovely message from my six-year-old son.

IMG_0411

“Dear Daddy I love you love from Joseph”

I asked what I had done to deserve this wonderful gift, but there was no reason. My son had just decided to do something kind – and it made my day. It got me thinking about kindness, and what motivates us to do something nice for somebody else.

Of course, there might be selfish motivations. People might do nice things because they think there’s something in it for them. It might help their reputation and social standing, or there might be a financial reward in it for them. Or there might be a sudden emergency and instinct could kick in to help someone in danger…

All of these are completely understandable motives for doing something kind and nice for other people. But what we see in the video clip was that, as one person came to help, so did more and more, until everyone on the train and platform was united in trying to help the single passenger in distress. This domino effect is powerful, and it can happen more slowly and subtly than in the emergency situation we saw on the station platform in Australia.

There are global movements like Random Acts of Kindness and Pay It Forward which are founded on the idea that if each of us acts kindly towards another person for no other reason than that it’s a nice thing – the right thing – to do, it has the cumulative effect of making the world better for all of us. And this is not a new idea!

200px-marcus_aurelius_metropolitan_museum

Marcus Aurelius

Marcus Aurelius was Roman Emperor from 161 to 180 AD, and a renowned philosopher in the Stoic school. In his book Meditations, he lays out his guide to self-improvement, including in the twelfth book this simple advice:

If it’s not right, don’t do it

If it’s not true, don’t say it.

This is a great maxim to live by; indeed, if we all stuck to that rule, our world would certainly be a better one. The only thing I take issue with in Marcus Aurelius’ advice is the note of prohibition, of telling us what not to do. I would revise it to:

If it’s right, do it.

If it’s true, say it.

But of course, truth always needs to be tempered with kindness. And, before we act or speak, we need to think carefully about our actions and words.

thinkbeforeyouspeak

This came through to me most powerfully this year when I heard the tragic story of Megan Evans. 14-year-old Megan, from Milford Haven was found dead on February 7. She had been the victim of online bullying, which her mother Nicola Harteveld believes drove her to take her own life.

Megan-Evans

Megan Evans

“Megan was bright, vivacious, happy, hugely popular, sporty, confident, outgoing, fiercely independent, just a normal, happy go lucky teenager,” Ms Harteveld told Phillip Schofield and This Morning co-host Holly Willoughby, when she appeared on the show in February.

When Megan started to be inundated with bullying messages on Snapchat, she kept it to herself. Her mother said: “We’re all distraught, and angry because no one noticed anything different with her.”

The final message she received read “Why don’t you kill yourself?”

Megan replied saying: “Ok.”

The fact that somebody in Megan’s life chose to express cruelty and unkindness had the most tragic and devastating consequences. Her family and her friends – and the young person who sent that final message – will be living with the consequences of that for the rest of their lives.

However, it doesn’t have to be that way. In 2007, Jonny Benjamin, aged just 20, was diagnosed with a mental illness, schizophrenia, and hospitalised. Desperate, and unable to understand his condition or see any way out, on January 14th 2008 he walked out of hospital in London and on to Waterloo Bridge, intending to throw himself off into the icy waters below. Hundreds of Londoners were walking across the bridge on their way to work. How many of them saw what was happening? How many walked on? We don’t know. But we do know that one man stopped and spoke to Jonny. He offered to buy him a cup of coffee, and he said words which changed Jonny’s life. He said: “you can get through this. You can get better.”  Up until that moment, nobody had told Jonny that getting better was a possibility. And, in that moment, Jonny himself stepped back from the brink. After twenty five minutes of talking, he came down. The police took him away. And the stranger went on his way to work.

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Jonny Benjamin

Jonny went on to control his condition with medication and treatment, and became a campaigner for mental health, raising awareness of the condition so that other sufferers have people to tell them “you can get through this; you can get better.” In 2014 he ran a campaign to find the stranger on the bridge who stopped and helped him six years earlier, using social media to track him down. He found him. He is a man called Neil Laybourn, who said this:

“In truth, it could have been anyone who stopped that day. It could have been the person behind me, but this time it was me.”

Neil’s kindness saved Jonny’s life, and Jonny’s life has gone on to save countless others through his campaigning work. He couldn’t have known that at the moment he chose to stop and help; in that moment, he was just doing the right thing because it was the right thing to do.

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When we do something nice for no reason, everybody benefits. We feel better; we make somebody else’s life better too. At school this week – and from now on – make sure that you choose kindness. Do something nice for somebody else. Help one another. Not because there’s anything in it for you, but because when you do something kind, you’ve made school a nicer place for someone else to be. And if it’s a nicer place for someone else, it’ll be nicer for you too. So when you choose kindness, everybody benefits.

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You can take a “Be Kind” pledge on the This Morning website here, and view some more “kindness” videos below:

 

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

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.

Grit

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.

 

Assembly: The 1960s

This year marks the Diamond Jubilee of Churchill Academy, which opened its doors as Churchill Community School in January 1957. To mark this anniversary, we are having an assembly in each term looking back on the decades that the school has existed. This term, it’s been my job to look back on the 1960s.

sixties-collage

The Sixties: what a decade

When looking at this amazing decade, I could have chosen from such a wide range of events, movements, and people – I was spoilt for choice! But for me, the iconic image of the 1960s comes from the end of the decade.

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Buzz Aldrin walking on the surface of the moon in 1969 (Source: NASA)

The moon landings still represent the zenith of human scientific achievement. I have written before about the so-called “moonshot thinking” of President Kennedy who, in September 1962, gave a speech at Rice Stadium where he said that America would put a man on the moon before the end of the decade. He said:

“We choose to go to the moon. We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win.”

We have a lot to learn from Kennedy’s ambition, from his choice to take on the difficult task because it is worth it, and because trying to achieve it will make us better.

However, my assembly does not  focus on John F. Kennedy, Neil Armstrong, or Buzz Aldrin, but another hero of the space programme – and one you may not have heard as much about. That hero is Katherine Johnson.

katherine_johnson_at_nasa_in_1966

Katherine G. Johnson at NASA in 1966 (source)

Johnson was born in 1918, in Greenbrier County, West Virginia. She showed an early interest in mathematics:

“I counted everything. I counted the steps to the road, the steps up to church, the number of dishes and silverware I washed … anything that could be counted, I did.”

However, Greenbrier County did not offer schooling for black students past the eighth grade, the equivalent of our Year 9. Johnson, however, knew that she was going to be a mathematician, so her family split their time between Greenbrier County and Kanawha County, where Katherine could attend High School. In 1938, Johnson became the first African American woman to attend the graduate school at West Virginia University, following the United States Supreme Court ruling which  allowed for the integration of different races in American education.

Joined NASA in 1953 when it was still called NACA, the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics. At first she worked in a pool of technical women performing math calculations, known as “computors”. Katherine has referred to the women in the pool as virtual “computers who wore skirts.” But her skill with analytic geometry meant that she was soon working  on the all-male flight team. While the racial and gender barriers were always there, Katherine says she ignored them.

What was it that made her so successful? She remembers quite clearly her experience at the time. “The women did what they were told to do,” she explained. “They didn’t ask questions or take the task any further. I asked questions; I wanted to know why. They got used to me asking questions and being the only woman there.”

mercury-trajectory

Original profile of the 1959 Mercury Mission to put the first American in space (source)

She calculated the trajectory for the space flight of Alan Shepard, the first American in space, in 1959. She also calculated the launch window for his 1961 Mercury mission. In 1962, when NASA used electronic computers for the first time to calculate John Glenn’s orbit around Earth, officials called on her to verify the computer’s numbers because Glenn asked for her personally and refused to fly unless Katherine verified the calculations. She calculated the trajectory for the 1969 Apollo 11 flight to the Moon, and worked out how to get the astronauts on Apollo 13 safely back to Earth when they called back to say “Houston, we have a problem.” She went on to work on the space shuttle programme, and she did preliminary work on the trajectory for a manned mission to Mars before her retirement in 1986. Last November, at the age of 98, she was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by Barack Obama for her contribution to space flight, civil rights and gender equality.

Katherine Johnson is a truly inspirational figure, undaunted by the fact that she was born into a world which was prejudiced against both her gender and her skin colour. She new that she had something to offer, and she was assertive enough to make sure she was heard. We can all benefit from her advice: “I was always around people who were learning something. I liked to learn. You learn if you want to. So you’ve got to want to learn.”

Finally, now, they’re making a film about her:

Remembrance

Mr Hildrew’s blog for Remembrance Day.

Teaching: Leading Learning

Remembrance Day in school is one of those moments which make you realise what an important job we do, and what a privileged position teachers are in. It’s always the day of the year when Iwantto be teaching period 3; I’m disappointed if I have a non-contact session. It’a an honour to share the silence with young people as we reflect, separately but together, on our individual and collective experience of loss and sacrifice. There are few other occasions where I’m so intensely aware of what Graham Nuthall calls the different worlds of the classroom. On the surface we all experience an identical minutebetween the bells, but in our private inner worlds each person has an unknown and unique journey.

SourceSource I always preface the silence with my classes with a little about why Remembrance Day is particularly important to me. I tell them about my Grandfather, an…

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