Welcome back assembly: make your effort count

My welcome back assembly this week was delivered as a YouTube video, rather than live in the Academy hall, due to the ongoing COVID-19 restrictions. And that is – inevitably – how I opened my assembly: going through the COVID protocols for the month of January with a run-through of the rules about face coverings; expectations around twice-weekly testing; an explanation of the teacher’s role in balancing the need for good ventilation with a comfortable working temperature in winter; and an update on what we know about vaccinations for 12-15 and 16-18 year olds.

Once this reminder was out of the way, I wanted to focus my assembly on the importance of effort in learning. At Churchill, we have outlined the six things we know make the biggest difference to learning.

The six things that make the biggest difference to learning

These six things are grounded in educational research, and our experience and data shows that students who show these behaviours in learning are the most successful in terms of their progress and outcomes. And there, right at the top of the list, is determined and consistent effort.

But what does effort look like? Back in pre-pandemic times, we worked hard to describe what our expectations of student effort were. The result of this work was the launch of our effort grades system in September 2020 – which you can read about on this blog here, or on the Academy website here.

Our effort grades system sets up the expectation that all students will make at least “Good” effort. Anything less than “Good” isn’t enough – so it is graded “Insufficient” or “Poor.” It’s really important that our students know what teachers are looking for when we say we are looking for “good effort,” so we have set it out really clearly in their planners – and in my assembly!

Good effort

We have deliberately tried to write the descriptors for our effort grades as things that teachers can see the students doing in their classes, so that it makes it clear for the students how to show the teachers that they are trying their best. And those students who really push themselves can show that they are putting in excellent effort:

The effort grades that students achieve in their reports three times a year are really important to us at Churchill. We count students’ effort grades towards the House Cup: every Good and Excellent grade adds points to the House total! We also track them carefully to see how students are improving their effort, so we can congratulate them. Alternatively, if their effort is declining, we will try to understand the cause of this and offer support or challenge to them so they can bring it back up. But, vitally, the only one who can control the effort that a student puts in is the student themselves: they must take responsibility for the investment they make in their learning.

In my assembly, I talked about two students whose effort grades were tracked through Year 9, 10 and 11, and how they did in their GCSE exams (these examples were from before the pandemic, when exams still took place). The percentages shown are the students’ average effort grade score across all their subjects.

Student A started Year 9 with below average effort grades, but worked really hard to improve them. Despite a small dip in the middle of Year 11, this student got better and better over time – and this investment paid off. The student made, on average, 1.3 grades more progress than similar students nationally in their GCSEs. The difference: the effort they put in.

Student B tells a different story. They started Year 9 roughly where student A finished Year 11 in terms of effort, but gradually declined across the three years. The result of putting less and less effort in each time: the student performed, on average, one and a half grades less well across their GCSEs than similar students nationally.

We see this played out time and time again across the students we teach. In class, all students are taught the same lesson, but they don’t all learn the material equally well. There are lots of factors in the mix to explain why that is, but the single biggest differentiator is the effort that the students put in. That is why, at Churchill, we put such an emphasis on effort grades – and it is why, at the start of 2022, I used my assembly to remind students of why if matters, and what we expect.

You can see the assembly below:

Getting your results

Whenever you get results back from a test, an assessment, or a piece of work, there are two competing priorities at work in your mind. On the one hand, you want to feel good. You want to feel proud of what you have achieved. You want your teacher, or whoever has assessed the work, to have recognised the effort you have put in and what you have achieved.

On the other hand, you want to learn. You want to know how to improve so that you can get even better next time. Your eye is instantly drawn to the questions you got wrong, to the notes in the margin, which tell you that you’re not quite there…yet.

It would be great to turn in the perfect piece of work, to get it back 100% correct, with full marks and a shiny gold star on it. That would feel amazing. But, as I tell students and their families when they join the Academy in Year 7, if you’re getting everything right then you’re not learning anything. The chances are the work wasn’t challenging enough: it just gave you an opportunity to show things that you already knew, or to practise skills you had already mastered. That has its place – but the real learning happens when you’re grappling with material you haven’t quite nailed down yet, or attempting a really difficult problem that you haven’t quite grasped…yet.

Researcher Dylan Wiliam calls these two types of response to feedback “ego-involved” and “task-involved.” When you get your work back, or receive some feedback, your ego is always involved. This is the part of your brain that wants to preserve your wellbeing. It wants you to feel good about yourself. It wants you to think you’re brilliant. The problem with this is that it gets in the way of learning. It means you will be afraid to try difficult and challenging tasks, in case you fail: it protects you from the damage to your self-esteem that failure can dish out.

In the other side, a “task-involved” response means that your first reaction when getting your work back is not to react emotionally, not to act to preserve your wellbeing, but instead to think. A task-involved approach means that you are analytical in response to your feedback, and focused overwhelmingly on the learning you can gain from it. Of course, you are interested in what you did well: it’s important to recognise the progress you have made, the hard work that’s paid off, and the knowledge and skills that you have secured. But you are also focused on the room for improvement: the silly mistakes you’ve made, the ideas you hadn’t quite grasped yet, the bits of knowledge you had misunderstood or not expressed clearly enough. And – crucially – you are focused on what you are going to do about it. How you are going to avoid the same mistakes next time. The bits of the course you are going to go back over. How you are going to improve.

It’s impossible to divorce the emotional “ego-involved” response altogether. It’s natural to feel disappointed if a mark isn’t as high as you wanted, or if you made a silly mistake that dropped you from one grade to the next. That’s normal! But, at Churchill, we work really hard to help our students to manage their emotional responses to feedback, and focus as rapidly as possible on the learning that comes from it. Because the only point in doing school work at all is to learn from it!

Over the coming days, our Year 11 students are getting their mock exam results back. There is a lot of emotion tied up in these results for our students, especially with the additional pressure that the pandemic has placed on mocks after two years of cancelled public exams. But the most important thing for our Year 11 students – and for any students, at any stage, getting a piece of work or an assessment back – is to focus on the learning. What did I do well, and how can I improve? What does this assessment tell me about where I am in my progress in this subject? And what do I need to do to make sure that I continue to get better?

The grade or mark you get on an assessment only matters twice in school: in your actual GCSE exams in Year 11, and in your actual A-level exams in the Sixth Form. At every other point in school, the grade or mark is not the most important thing: it’s what you learn from it.

The best books I have read in 2021

A couple of years ago I started to keep a list in my phone of all the books I read each year. It’s great to look back over them and take stock of what I’ve been reading!

In 2020 I only managed ten books. In my defence there was a lot going on that year and I didn’t really get my normal holidays due to the pandemic! I’d also note that one of the ten was A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara, which was 720 pages long and took me ages. It was worth it though, as I explain in my books I read in 2020 post last year.

This year I have managed 21 books, so I’m feeling quite proud of myself! If you’re looking for a recommendation, here are my favourites (in no particular order!)

The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes

By Suzanne Collins

Suitable for Year 8+

I love the Hunger Games books, and Suzanne Collins revisited the world of Panem for this prequel following the early life of Coriolanus Snow – the President Snow of Katniss Everdeen’s story – in the early years of the Hunger Games. As well as adding additional colour and detail to the world of the books – including the origin of the “Hanging Tree” folk song – I found this a gripping and exciting tale, with lots of twists and turns.

A Skinful of Shadows

By Frances Hardinge

Suitable for Year 7+

I think Frances Hardinge is my current favourite young adult author. I read The Lie Tree last year and Deeplight this year as well, but A Skinful of Shadows was really terrific. Set in the English Civil War, it mixes historical fiction with some supernatural fantasy as the twelve-year-old narrator, a girl called Makepeace, discovers that she has inherited a paranormal gift from her family – the ability to host the ghostly spirits of the dead within her. This discovery leads her on a breathtaking adventure – part espionage thriller, part gothic horror – that had me hooked throughout.

Piranesi

By Susanna Clarke

Suitable for Year 9+

Every now and again you come across a book of such audacious originality that you marvel at how boundless the human imagination really is. This was one such book. The concept of this story is so unexpected that I find it astonishing that anyone could ever have dreamt it up! Piranesi, the narrator, lives in a strange house with many rooms and levels, which also hosts an ocean. He is surrounded by statues, and he is alone except for the occasional visits of someone known only as The Other. As Piranesi explores, he begins to suspect that the world he knows is not all that it appears to be…to say any more would be to spoil the story. If you read it, prepare to have your mind blown!

Hamnet

By Maggie O’Farrell

Suitable for Year 10+

In another breathtaking act of imagination, Maggie O’Farrell tells the story of the life and early death of Hamnet, William Shakespeare’s son. We know from the historical record that Hamnet was a twin, and that he died aged 11. Scholars have long imagined that Shakespeare’s grief for his lost son inspired the play Hamlet, written a few years later. O’Farrell takes these ideas and spins them into an enthralling tale, where Shakespeare himself is really a fringe character, who is never mentioned by name. This is, rather, the tale of his wife, Agnes, who is brought to vivid life in simply stunning prose. An unforgettable read.

A Promised Land

By Barack Obama

Suitable for Year 9+

In this first part of his autobiography, President Obama takes us through his early life, his education, his entry into politics and into his first term in the White House. It is a long read, but all the more fascinating for it. As well as giving the inside view on what happened, Obama explains the rationale for decisions he made – good and bad – and the consequences and responsibilities he carried as a result. What I found most touching was his discussion of balancing his career with his responsibilities as a husband and father: having read Michelle Obama’s book Becoming a couple of years ago, it was fascinating to see her husband’s perspective on the same events and issues. The book concludes with an account of the mission to eliminate Osama bin Laden, the man responsible for the 9/11 attacks: you can feel the tension in every word on the page. I can’t wait for part two!

An American Marriage

By Tayari Jones

Suitable for Year 11+

This was the first book I read in 2021, and I loved it so much I went on to read the author’s first book, Silver Sparrow, in the summer. The novel tells the story of a young black couple, Celestial and Roy, in the southern United States. Their marriage is placed under pressure when Roy is arrested and convicted for a crime Celestial knows he did not commit. The unravelling of the consequences of this fateful event is brilliantly told, and the novel explores the complexity of racial tensions in America throughout. Tayari Jones is an astonishing writer – Silver Sparrow is just as good.

Anything is possible

by Gareth Southgate

Suitable for Year 7+

I was caught up in football fever this summer as England looked like they might just win something! Although that didn’t quite go to plan, Gareth Southgate’s calm, positive leadership of the England setup as been an inspiration. In this book – aimed at children – he uses his own life story to pass on messages about how to achieve your goals (not just in the footballing sense!) with wisdom, good sense, and practical advice. I gave a copy to each of our new House Captains this year to help them in their leadership roles – they said they liked it too! Highly recommended, whether you’re into football or not.

To The Lighthouse

by Virginia Woolf

Suitable for Year 9+

I last read To The Lighthouse when I was at university, as part of my degree. I was reminded of it when it was the subject of an episode of the Literate podcast, reviewing the New York Public Library’s books of the 20th century, and picked it up to remind myself why it was so special. I wasn’t disappointed. It’s a book in which very little happens: in the first section, the Ramsay family and their house guests spend the afternoon and evening together at their holiday home; in the short middle section, “Time Passes”, taking in the First World War and the changes to the family; and in the final section, several of the characters return to the holiday house to complete the long-promised but not-completed journey to the lighthouse off the coast. It doesn’t sound like much, but Virginia Woolf uses it to explore the depths of human relationships, the nature of art, and our perceptions of one another. Her writing is simply astonishing.

As you can tell, I love talking about books, so if you’ve read one of the books on this year’s favourites list, please tell me what you thought of it in the comments below. I’m also open to recommendations for my “to read” pile, which is currently substantial but not endless!

Prioritising: Eisenhower and Eating Frogs

We are all busy. We have many things competing for our attention all the time. In this week’s blog, I want to introduce you to the techniques that I use to help me to prioritise all the things I have to do. They really work!

The Eisenhower Matrix

The Eisenhower Matrix or Grid. It’s often drawn in a different configuration, but I always think of it this way, like a graph!

The idea is simple. You make a simple grid with four quadrants, as in the image above, and you place the tasks on your to do list in one of the four quadrants according to how urgent, and how important, they are.

  • Quadrant 1 – urgent and important: DO NOW. Items in the top right corner of the grid are the most important and the most urgent. They need to be done right away and they cannot wait. The aim is to work smart to make sure as few things as possible end up in this quadrant, by doing them in plenty of time so they don’t become urgent. But sometimes, stuff happens, and it needs to be dealt with right away!
  • Quadrant 2 – important but not urgent: WORK IN THIS ZONE. This is where I try to spend most of my time. Here, you are dealing with things that are important, but not yet urgent. Spending time in this zone should prevent things moving into quadrant 1 where you get panicky as the deadline approaches. It’s also really satisfying to know that you are spending your time on the stuff that matters.
  • Quadrant 3- urgent but not important: GET RID. This is stuff that needs to be done but you don’t really want to spend time in this quadrant. Get this stuff done as quickly as possible – or, if you are lucky enough to have someone else around, get them to do it for you!
  • Quadrant 4 – not important and not urgent: DON’T BOTHER. If it’s not important, and it’s not urgent, don’t bother! Just be careful that the thing you’re not bothering with now won’t actually become important later – otherwise, it might suddenly pop up in quadrant 1 and send you into a panic!

When I first came across the Eisenhower Matrix, it was in a work context. I have used it ever since to help me prioritise my work as a teacher, a school leader, and as a Headteacher. It’s become so ingrained in my mind that I have found it also spills over into other parts of my life as well! Sometimes, the most important thing to do is spend time with your family, or go for a walk, or to take some exercise. Prioritising those things alongside work is essential for my own wellbeing. Over time, I think I have got better at weighing up which I need to prioritise and when – but nobody’s perfect and we’re learning all the time.

Which leads me to my second technique.

Eat the biggest frog first

“If it’s your job to eat a frog, it’s best to do it first thing in the morning. And if it’s your job to eat two frogs, it’s best to eat the biggest one first.”

Mark Twain

I first came across this quotation from a colleague Headteacher, who shared it with at an event she was leading. It really stuck! What Mark Twain was saying is that, sometimes, we have unpleasant things to do. Things that we don’t want to do, but unfortunately we have to. In those situations, it’s best to get them out of the way as soon as possible. And, given the choice of two things you could be doing, it’s best to get the most difficult and horrible one out of the way first.

I’ll be honest, I don’t always follow this advice. Sometimes, like anyone, I’ll put off that difficult and horrible job and tick off a few simpler and easier ones first. But I know I’m delaying the inevitable and that, sooner or later, I’m going to have to eat that frog. So, wherever possible, I try to follow Mark Twain’s advice and get on with that difficult, horrible job first. Get it done, get it out of the way, and after that everything else seems like plain sailing.

But don’t actually eat a frog. It’s a metaphor. You knew that, right?

Getting your priorities straight

I have found that these two simple techniques really help me keep my priorities straight, and make sure that the important work of running a school gets done. Students could apply these techniques to their school work and home life priorities; maybe even some of the grown-up readers of the Headteacher’s Blog might find them useful too? Let me know if you did – or let me know how you prioritise and make sure you get stuff done. We’re always learning!

Getting to grips with Google Classroom

Since the start of this academic year, we have moved all our homework and online learning on to Google Classroom. This is a hugely powerful platform for teachers and for students.

For students

Mr Hart helpfully prepared this “student guide to Google Classroom” earlier in the year to help our students get to grips with the system:

As well as Google Classroom, all students have access to a Google Drive with the full suite of apps: Docs for word processing, Sheets for spreadsheets, Slides for presentations, and a wealth of other apps integrated into the Google Suite.

Google Classroom also has a superb app, available for both iOS and Android for smartphones and tablet devices. This means that students don’t need to have a laptop (although Classroom works well on those too!) Work can be accessed online, completed on paper, and a photograph uploaded if necessary, all from a single device like a mobile phone.

For teachers

Google Classroom is fantastic for teachers. It enables teachers to set work, mark it online, and return it, all within the online Classroom. Alternatively, work can be set for completion and physically handing in. Behind the scenes, Google Classroom also enables teacher to keep track of marks, and communicate with students about their work.

Teachers can create assignments and add in all the necessary resources for students to work on. This can include a Google Meet if students are self-isolating. Students receive a notification when there is a new assignment and are able to “hand in” the assignment in on Classroom. Classroom sends a notification out to students once the homework is graded, so students can review grades and feedback.

Teachers can also share learning resources, reading materials, videos, links, and handouts. This allows students to refer to them at any time, or collaborate with their classmates on learning. Resources and assignments are saved in date order in the Classroom Stream, so students can always go back to revise what’s been covered.

Teachers can also send announcements to the whole class, which students receive via email. They also see these announcements when they log in to Classroom, through a web browser or Classroom’s mobile app, available on iOS and Android.

Students can message teachers directly with questions and/or comments on assignments and announcements in the classroom stream. Students can also collaborate with each other for team assignments by working on shared projects in Docs, Sheets, and Slides at the same time as each other.

For parents and families

Parents and families cannot log in to Google Classroom. Instead, you can opt in to get an email summary of your child’s work in Classroom, which includes information about upcoming assignments, missing work, class activities and projects.

We have found the best way to use the Guardian Summaries is to go through them with your children. It can be especially helpful if your child has the Classroom app with them on their phone, tablet or other device, so you can see what’s happening.

Ask them about the work they’ve completed: what did they find interesting about it? Ask them to explain some of it to you: if you understand their explanation, that’s a good indication that they’ve learned it well!

Discuss work with deadlines coming up with them too. Have they got a clear plan for the week ahead? When are they going to complete each piece of homework? Encourage them to ask questions if they aren’t sure, using the Classroom Stream, email or messaging aspect of the Classroom. This builds their independence and encourages students to take responsibility for their own learning. At the same time, make sure their messages and emails to staff have the appropriate tone: “Dear Mr / Mrs / Miss…” is a good way to start, and a “thank you” is always welcome!

For work that is flagged as “missing” or “overdue” in your Guardian Summary, it’s worth checking that your children have clicked the “hand in” button for all their tasks. It’s easy to forget to click the “hand in” button on Google Classroom when students are handing in work on paper in the classroom! If work has not been completed, encourage your children to catch up, and to discuss any missing work with their teachers. We understand that, in these difficult times, sometimes deadline extensions are necessary – but we do expect all work to be completed.

As ever with any new system, we are learning all the time. All staff have had additional training this term, and we are all exploring the many features that Google Classroom has to offer. We’re sure we’re only just getting started!

Attitude to Learning: Effort Grades

At Churchill, we believe a student’s attitude to learning is the biggest determining factor in the progress they will make with us. All students, no matter what their ability or level of attainment, can demonstrate attitudes to learning which will maximise their chances of success.

Attitudes to Learning: where we were

Over the past few years, we have graded attitudes to learning as either Highly Motivated, Engaged, Passive or Disengaged, using the grid you can see here. During the last academic year, we reviewed this system. There were many positives: the focus on attitude to learning was a good one, and the system allowed us to track improvements or declines in attitudes to learning over time. The descriptors we were using were grounded in actual behaviours that students should show, and teachers could observe.

However, students told us that there were too many descriptors: it was really hard to pick out just what to work on next from the large array of criteria. This also meant that attitude to learning grades were quite blunt instruments: they were a “best fit” chosen from a wide range of possible behaviours. Finally, many parents found the headings imprecise: what does “passive” mean? The Academy thinks being passive is not good enough – but this did not necessarily carry across for all students or parents.

As a result, Directors of Faculty and Heads of House worked with Senior Leaders to redevelop the attitude to learning system. The aim was to come up with something simpler and easier to apply and understand, but which would still allow us to track improvements or declines in student attitudes over time. At the same time, we wanted to “raise the bar” in terms of our expectations of students’ approaches to their learning.

Introducing: Effort Grades

The result of this review is our new Effort Grades system. At each reporting point (three times per year), students will receive an effort grade from each subject. They will receive one of four grades: Excellent, Good, Insufficient, or Poor. The system is explained in the student planner on pages 13 and 14. There is also a dedicated page on our website which explains the effort grade system and, earlier this term, I prepared a video assembly for all the students to watch:

Effort Grades Assembly: September 2020

Excellent Effort

Excellent effort means being committed to getting the most out of all learning opportunities available. It is what all students should aim for. A student making excellent effort:

  • Excellent participation in the lesson at all times, and is fully engaged;
  • Actively seeks and responds to feedback on how to improve the quality of their work;
  • Shows great determination and views setbacks and mistakes as opportunities to learn and grow;
  • Manages their time and work efficiently and is an excellent role model who is highly disciplined;
  • Uses their initiative in a range of situations without always having to be told what to do;
  • Shows dedication and enthusiasm for learning at all times.

Good Effort

Good effort means being a responsible and hardworking student who tries their best all of the time. A student making good effort:

  • Shows a good interest in their learning and is attentive and focused;
  • Responds well to feedback and targets and completes work to the expected standard;
  • Shows determination and is willing to persevere when things are difficult;
  • Takes responsibility for their work and is well organised;
  • Willingly does all that is asked of them and sometimes more.

Insufficient Effort

Insufficient effort means that a student is probably doing most of what they are supposed to do but is failing to push themselves or make the most of the opportunities available. A student making insufficient effort:

  • Often participates in lessons and is generally focused and well behaved;
  • May not try hard enough to improve their work after feedback;
  • Is usually well organised but does the minimum that is asked of them and not much more;
  • Might make a Good level of effort some of the time but this is not consistent.

Poor Effort

Poor effort means that a student needs support or intervention to become a more responsible learner. A student making poor effort:

  • Makes little effort to be involved in the lesson and may disrupt the learning of others instead;
  • Fails to act on feedback provided and as a result may not make much progress;
  • Is not interested in being challenged and will give up without really trying;
  • Spends an inadequate amount of time on tasks and may produce poor work as a result;
  • Takes little or no responsibility for their own learning or behaviour;
  • Effort is frequently a cause for concern.

We aim to use our Effort Grades to help students develop their attitude to learning. Effort grades are sent home with each report, and used by tutors to set targets for improvement. Above all, they are there to clearly explain how we expect our students to approach their studies. Because, in the end, it is the students themselves who do the learning – and the more consistent effort they put in, the greater the reward in the end.

Channelling Curiosity

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Curiosity is one of our core values at Churchill. It’s important because when you’re curious about something, you process it deeply, rather than superficially. You also voluntarily spend more time learning about things that spark your curiosity. As a result, you more readily remember what you learn. The desire to find out more about the world we live in, about other people, about the way things work…these are the fuels that feed the fire of education.

Children, adults and most animals have a natural, in-built curiosity. Biologists believe that this instinctive curiosity is a survival mechanism which was selected through evolution, because those animals that were curious and explored their environment were able to identify opportunities and risks in their environment, and were therefore more likely to survive. Clever stuff!

However, curiosity can also be harnessed as a distraction. I fell into this trap this week. Before I sat down to some school work that I needed to do, I thought I would treat myself and watch the latest Taylor Swift video on YouTube. Unfortunately, as the video finished, I noticed the title of a video in the “up next” column to the right: “Taylor Swift reacts to embarrassing footage of herself after laser eye surgery.” It caught my attention, and made me curious enough to click it to see what it was about. As did the next one. And the next one. Half an hour later, I was watching Brie Larson playing a virtual reality lightsabre game with Jimmy Fallon on a late-night American talk show. Entertaining though this was, there was actual work that I should have been doing and I’d actually only wanted to watch the one video…

clickbait

I’m sure many of you have had this same experience, and been sucked in by the clever algorithms that are designed to grab and keep our attention. Like on Netflix, when the episode finishes and you’re just reaching for the remote to switch it off because you know you really need to go to bed, but then just at that moment the next episode starts. Your curiosity is sparked, wondering what happens next…and you sink back onto the sofa with that deadly “I’ll just watch one more episode.”

Why do we fall so easily into the clickbait trap, when we know there’s important work we should be doing? Psychologist Daniel Willingham explains:

Research shows that the trigger for curiosity is our sense that there’s an easy opportunity to learn a lot. That’s a moment-to-moment judgment, which is why curiosity can come and go so quickly.

Furthermore, curiosity is not influenced by long-term learning goals. That’s why, even though I’m a psychologist who loves his work, I still might be bored at a talk on psychology. But Internet content that promises quick and easy information draws my attention even if, after the fact, it doesn’t seem worth my time.

Willingham advises that the best way to avoid the distracting diversion of tempting links is to find stimulating content that’s just as interesting as the stuff designed to keep you occupied on the internet.

Don’t expect children to avoid Internet time-wasters on their own.

Do recognize that curiosity can’t be controlled directly, but you can offer more tempting targets. Help kids find them. And model the behavior by creating a similar resource list for yourself.

I think this is helpful advice. But I know that my willpower sometimes isn’t up to it. So, to get my work done, I put my phone in another room. I close every other window and tab on my computer, other than the one I need. And I focus on just the one thing that I’m supposed to do, until it’s done. And then – after I’ve finished my work – I treat myself to that Taylor Swift video. And maybe just one more.

Attitude to learning, and why it matters

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I’ve been sharing my assemblies this week with the wonderful cast of Sweeney Todd, who are preparing for their performances at the Playhouse, Weston-super-Mare, on 26th-28th February (click here for tickets!) Before they steal the show, I have been talking to each house about the importance of attitude to learning, and why it matters.

Attitude to learning is the way we assess and monitor students’ approaches to their studies. The descriptors are used by each teacher to assess students’ attitudes in their classes, and these attitudes are reported home three times a year. We place a great deal of emphasis on attitudes to learning – but why does it matter so much?

example hm report

Over the past three years we have been gathering data on attitudes to learning and comparing it to GCSE progress scores. To do this we convert the attitude to learning grades in each report into a percentage score: all “highly motivated” grades would score 100%, all “disengaged” would score 0%. What we’ve found is that students with average attitude to learning scores over Years 9, 10 and 11 over 80% made an average of three-quarters of a grade better progress than similar students nationally. Students averaging over 90% on attitude to learning made, on average, a whole GCSE grade better progress than similar students nationally.

What I love about this is that everyone can control their attitude to learning. The behaviours listed under “engaged” and “highly motivated” are things that any student can do, if they choose to. It doesn’t matter whether you find learning easy or difficult; if you are getting the top grades or not; or which subjects you enjoy the most: everyone can choose to show that they are engaged or highly motivated in their learning. If students do make those choices, and show consistently good attitudes to learning, they are giving themselves the best possible chance of making exceptional progress. This is the mission for when students return after the half term break: what choices will they make about their attitude to learning?

Climate for Learning

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Over the past four years we have been working hard at Churchill to develop an exceptional climate for learning. The climate for learning consists of the relationships between staff and students; the environment in which learning take place; and the way in which the learning is managed by both staff and students. The climate has been carefully managed through our focus on attitudes to learning, our revised code of conduct, our thoughtful classroom design and investment in our buildings. This year, especially, staff and students have been working to develop metacognition in lessons. This process, best described as “thinking about thinking,” is a common thread with many of our most successful students. Knowing how to improve, responding positively to feedback, and developing a bank of strategies and approaches which work, allows these students to apply themselves more purposefully to their learning. This year, we have been working hard to provide all students with access to these strategies.

I am delighted to announce that our work on developing a positive climate for learning has now been nationally recognised by the Leading Edge programme from the Schools, Students and Teachers Network (SSAT). Leading Edge is a network of high performing schools, and provides accreditation through the Framework for Exceptional Education – a challenging school improvement framework designed to stretch and challenge schools which have already been recognised as high-performing by Ofsted.

This year we applied for “transforming” status in climate for learning under the Framework for Exceptional Education. This is the highest level available, and would show that we were national leaders in the field. We had to demonstrate that, at Churchill:

  • All staff establish excellent working relationships with learners. High levels of trust ensure interactivity and continual learning dialogue, which challenges and extends learners to apply, evaluate and create. Learners respond well to the high level of challenge and expectations in a climate where they have high self-confidence and self-esteem so that they are able to take risks with their learning.
  • Every space has a learning purpose and is inspiring for teachers and learners. The environment ensures learners are able to develop and access the strategies/solutions needed to move on independently of teacher instruction as well as celebrating excellent outcomes.
  • Classroom management is characterised by highly collaborative and respectful relationships; learner interactivity is the norm. Learners routinely reflect on how they learn and undertake this through a wide range of contexts and methods.

Having submitted our evidence, we were then subject to a peer review by visitors from another high performing school within the Leading Edge Network, and moderation by a visiting assessor from the SSAT. The process has taken months, but I am proud to say that this we received confirmation from the SSAT that we had successfully met the standard and been awarded our badge! This makes us one of the leading schools nationally for this area of school improvement.

Our peer reviewer said:

“the research and thought that has gone into the new buildings has led to the development of some outstanding learning environments with a sense of coherence and consistency, and the use of limited display space has focused students’ learning, as well as reducing unnecessary staff workload.
There is a clear communication of ethos, which again supports the goal of consistency across the school.
Students’ behaviour was very good in all lessons visited. All students were focused on their work, and showed enthusiasm in lessons; many were confident to contribute, showing a climate of trust.
I was impressed with the very obvious prioritising of student well-being and support. Staff morale has been greatly boosted. Staff workload is being positively impacted. The whole-school focus on learning behaviours will make students enjoy being at school even more.”

Our SSAT moderator said:

“Planning has been under-pinned by a vision of learning that recognises that expectations about behaviour for learning are grounded in challenge and aspiration in the classroom and this has ensured that all staff recognise that fostering effective learning behaviour is the responsibility of all staff. There is a strong community ‘buy in’ because staff and students have contributed to both planning and evidence gathering. As a consequence transactions with students focus on positive communication. This ‘buy in’ is evident in the ethos of classrooms. Work was purposeful with a strong sense of teacher student partnership. Assessment practice aids students in identifying how they can improve thus promoting engagement and aspiration. On- going work in profiling attitude to learning reinforces the positive and supports a more evidenced approach to intervention.”

It is fantastic that visitors to Churchill recognise the highly effective culture that we are building at the Academy. All the staff and students at Churchill contribute to developing this climate for learning: they deserve to feel as proud as I do that our hard work has been recognised in this way.

Holocaust Memorial Day

The Holocaust (The Shoah in Hebrew) was the attempt by the Nazis and their collaborators to murder all the Jews in Europe. The Nazi Party persecuted Jews throughout their time in power, victimising them and whipping up hatred based on their anti-semitic beliefs. After the invasion of Poland in 1939, Nazis forced Jews to live in confined areas called “ghettos,” in squalid and unsanitary conditions.

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Jews being held at gunpoint by Nazi SS troops in a Warsaw ghetto in 1943

Jews were subject to further persecution, removal of rights, forced labour and violence as the Nazis swept across Europe and Russia. In 1941, emboldened by their progress, the Nazis began a programme of systematic murder of Europe’s Jews. Death squads called Einsatzgruppen swept Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union, killing Jews by firing squad. By the end of 1941 the first extermination camp, Chelmno in Poland, had been established. These camps, including Auschwitz, Treblinka, and others,  enabled the Nazis to commit mass murder throughout the rest of the Second World War.

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Jews on the selection ramp at Auschwitz II, c. May 1944. Women and children are lined up on one side, men on the other, waiting for the SS to determine who was fit for work. About 20 percent at Auschwitz were selected for work and the rest gassed

By the end of the Holocaust, six million Jewish men, women and children had been murdered in ghettos, mass-shootings, in concentration camps and extermination camps.

 

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Churchill students visiting Auschwitz to learn about the Holocaust during Activities Week 2019

I find the idea of the Holocaust unbearable. The fact that human beings – actual people – could be so inhuman in the treatment of others, is shocking. I will never forget my own visit to the Dachau Concentration Camp memorial site. I went when I was in Year 12, on a German exchange, with my German host family. The father of the family openly wept as we walked through the memorial, confronted by horrific images of the atrocities committed there, by Germans, just a generation before. I remember thinking at the time that the lessons learned from the horrors of the Holocaust must never be forgotten.

This year marks the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz. In recognition of this event, Holocaust Memorial Day on Monday used the theme of “Stand Together.” In the years leading up to the Holocaust, Nazi policies and propaganda deliberately encouraged divisions within German society – urging ‘Aryan’ Germans to keep themselves separate from their Jewish neighbours. The Holocaust was enabled by ordinary citizens not standing together with those people targeted and singled out as “others.” We can – and we must – do better.

Today there is increasing division in communities across the UK and the world. Now more than ever, we need to stand together with others in our communities in order to stop division and the spread of hostility in our society, because the horrors of the Holocaust can never be allowed to happen again.

 

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