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.

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!

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.

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.”

Feeling proud

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The “proud baby” meme: one of my favourites!

Pride is a tricky concept. In Christianity, Pride is one of the seven deadly sins, thought by many to be the original and most serious of all. It is characterised as the excessive admiration of the personal image or self; in other words, thinking that you’re better than everybody else, or better than you actually are. Pride underpins the tragic flaw of hubris in many dramatic heroes. Pride comes before a fall, the saying goes; it is something to be avoided, something to be ashamed of.

More recently, though, the term has shifted in its meaning. Pride is no longer something to be ashamed of; instead, it has gathered positive connotations. The Pride festivals which celebrate the LGBTQ+ community are fantastic demonstrations of societies which are inclusive and accepting of diversity. Feeling proud of what you’ve achieved is no longer something to be ashamed of – provided we stay grounded and humble, we should be proud of ourselves. It seems that the idea of “Pride” more generally has been reclaimed from its negative associations to be more positive – a feeling of rightful satisfaction at a job well done.

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Gareth Southgate

Like many of you, I felt really proud of the England team at Russia 2018. The last time an England men’s football team reached the semi-final of a World Cup, I was at secondary school myself, in Year 10. I hope our current Year 10s don’t have to wait as long as I have for this to happen again! It’s been a long time since a national men’s football side has been so successful (although the women’s team finished third in the 2015 World Cup!), and Gareth Southgate’s words after the extra-time defeat to Croatia really resonated with me:

“I’m remarkably proud of a group of players who have really advanced, and no one could have given any more. The way they’ve represented their country has been exemplary. I couldn’t be prouder of what they’ve done.”

I think it was the combination of rightful pride with genuine humility that got me. Southgate’s words resonated because he articulated the way that I feel about the students at Churchill. I’m so proud of the progress they’ve made this year, the progress that we’ve made at the Academy. I’m proud of those students that have put their all into their studies, their school work, and the wider activities that make up school life. I’m proud of the way they represent the Academy, acting as ambassadors for Churchill in their time here and when they are out on trips, visits and activities. I couldn’t be prouder of what they’ve done.

In my assembly I shared some of the proud moments from the year. I cannot possibly capture all of them, but just a few of them are pictured below.

Churchill is a school full of children with boundless promise and potential. They have a expert, dedicated and caring staff team around them, backed by a supportive community of family and friends. The young people in those pictures – and the hundreds beyond them! – are grasping  the opportunities in front of them with both hands, and growing in knowledge, skills, character and confidence every day. What the pictures capture for me is a happy school. Looking back at the year gone by, I think I have every right to feel unashamedly proud of what we’ve done this year – and, at the same time, excited to think that next year will be even better.

I wish you all a restful summer holiday. See you in September!

Activities Week 2018

We’ve reached the end of another great activities week! It’s been a privilege to visit activities and take in the huge range on offer to our students, from the creative to the technical, practical, theoretical and physical, here at the Academy, out in the local community, or further afield. Our Year 10 students have been completing their week-long work experience placements, whilst residential trips this year have included the surf trip to Cornwall, a stay in London, the History trip to Belgium, the Gospel Choir Tour to Austria, the Spanish trip to Barcelona, and the Geography trip to the Azores. The Duke of Edinburgh Silver expedition went to Dartmoor, and the Gold expedition left today for Snowdonia!

The aim of Activities Week is to provide students with experiences beyond the classroom which enrich and extend their education. We know that the taught curriculum – the lessons the students have day in day out through the year – is the core of our work, but we also know that this broader offer is a vital part of our mission as a school. The activities build skills such as teamwork, problem solving, creativity, leadership, confidence and positivity. Past students often tell us that the memories made on Activities Week are those that stay with them the longest, and we’re proud to provide these opportunities for students.

Below are just a few pictures from Activities Week 2018. We don’t have all the pictures back from the foreign trips yet – they will be added to the gallery on the Academy website when we get them!

Of course, the week wouldn’t happen without the dedication and commitment of all the staff, and the students who also commit themselves fully to their experience. Special mention must go to Miss Thorne in the finance office, and to Mrs Cadman who coordinates the whole week. Thank you!

Summer Term: Succession

I love the summer term – it’s a time when the Academy community really comes together to celebrate what we have here at Churchill. We’ve seen that over recent weeks with our Sports Day, the Year 11 and Year 13 Balls, and the Music Festival which ran on Tuesday and Wednesday of this week. At the same time, we look forward to the future as we begin the process of thinking about succession into the new academic year.

New Leaders

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Academy House Captains 2018

It’s been my privilege over the last week to begin to work with the new House Captains for 2018-19. These students were selected by Heads of House from the mound of strong applications received. The House Captains have a vital role within their house, supporting the Heads of House in ensuring things run smoothly and that students are well looked after. Together, the House Captains also form the Student Leadership Team at the Academy, and will meet regularly with me in dialogue about the progress the Academy is making, things that are going well and things that we can improve. This year’s House Captains have made an excellent start, ensuring that Sports Day was the huge success it was, and running our transition events for the new Year 7 with kindness, care and calm. I look forward to the year ahead with these students.

New Year 7

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This week we have had two days with the new Year 7 who start in September 2018. The Transition Day on Tuesday saw our new intake work really hard to demonstrate the Academy’s values of kindness, curiosity and determination. They impressed the staff, and the other students, with their approach to their learning and their life at Churchill. I have a very good feeling about this year group, and I am sure they will be an asset to the Academy as they join us in September.

New Sixth Formers

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Our Sixth Formers enjoying the summer sunshine

On Thursday we had our induction day for our new Sixth Form students. Many of  our own Year 11 were joined by a strong group of students who have applied to join us from other schools. Students spend the day with us on an orientation programme, having initial lessons in each of their chosen subjects and learning about the expectations, people and processes of the Sixth Form. Again, the students impressed us with their “ready to learn” attitude and Mr Morgan and his team are really looking forward to welcoming them into the Sixth Form.

New Staff

It’s also been fantastic over recent weeks to welcome new staff to the Academy – some who have already started and more who will be joining us in September. We have new teachers in English, Maths, PE, Science, Geography, and History starting next year. Although we are in the midst of a well-publicised shortage of teachers nationally, I’ve been really impressed by the calibre of teaching staff applicants to join our team. I am proud to confirm Churchill is fully staffed with expert subject specialists in every department for September, and I look forward to the future with great excitement about what we can accomplish together.

Transforming the learning environment

Over the past fortnight students have been getting used to a new and improved learning environment in the English department. Over the past year our site team have been working tirelessly, room-by-room, to renovate and refurbish all the classrooms in Hanover, where English is based. Over the Easter break, new carpet was laid in all classrooms and the upstairs corridor. It’s made an amazing difference!

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Before…

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…during…

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…and after

What was once an echoing tiled space is now a quiet, padded corridor. Whereas once the slightest shift of a chair was accompanied by an ear-splitting shriek of metal on tile, now students can focus on their learning without distraction. The clutter of old resources has been removed in favour of neat storage, and classroom displays are now focused on key learning points for English classes.

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The classroom design uses the same template as the Alan Turing Building, based on the Smarter Spaces research and work conducted by our students last year. The “teaching wall” is painted in a bright accent colour, to draw attention to the front of the room. The other walls are in a neutral colour, free from distractions, so that focus remains where it should be – on the learning.

Corridors are now clean and uncluttered. Hard-to-maintain displays have been removed in favour of large, robust photography. The time teachers would have spent on preparing, putting up and maintaining displays can now be spent more effectively on lessons and working with students.

We now have two buildings – the Alan Turing Building and Hanover – in this new internal design. The Athene Donald Building will make a third, and over the coming years we will also roll out the design to Windsor, Stuart and beyond. The future is bright!

We have only been able to achieve these great results thanks to the amazing efforts of our site team, who have completed this work with minimal disruption and a great end result. I’d like to thank them personally for all the work they have done – and continue to do – to transform the environment for learning for our students.