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.

Laying the foundations

On Tuesday of this week I was invited down to the construction site where work is progressing on our new Science and Technology building. It was an important day as the contractors were using a 39 metre boom to lay down 243 cubic metres of concrete in a single slab to form the base of the building. It was quite an operation: the concrete arrived in a series of mixer wagons (30 in all during the day); it was transferred into an on-site hopper, which pumped the concrete along the boom and out into the site. One operator used a remote control to move the boom around whilst his team directed the flow of concrete into the steel mesh framework. A second pump made sure no air bubbles were trapped, whilst behind them a final contractor used a beam screeder to ensure a completely flat surface. It was amazing to watch! Over the course of twelve hours, the complete base of the building was laid out in one piece. Pipework is left to connect up the plumbing, and there are bolts sticking up from the foundation piles where the steel frame for the walls will be anchored.

As I watched this work taking place, it occurred to me that, eventually, none of this will be visible. The building will rise up, completely covering it; the ground floor materials will be mounted on top of this concrete. And yet, although none of it will be visible, it is this solid foundation which will hold the whole thing together.

As a school, we aim to provide the solid foundations and the framework upon which young people can build their futures. It’s vital to get this right. Gaps or errors in the process would be like air bubbles left in the concrete: they could weaken the whole structure. That’s why we work so hard to ensure that all our students make the most of every day, every lesson that they can.

Eventually, all the work done in school will become invisible, covered by the progress and achievements of the young people themselves as they build their own futures. But it will always be there: a firm, smooth, solid base anchoring them securely and allowing them to rise up. What a privilege it is to be a part of that process.

 

How families can support learning

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Welcome back to another new school year! Our students have made an excellent start and they are ready to learn and raring to go. This year we are taking our next steps in developing the learning culture at the Academy, focusing on students taking responsibility for their own learning, progress, attitude and behaviour. As part of this, there are three key strategies families can use to support students’ learning at home.

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  1. Praise the process, not the product

Research shows that praising children for their intelligence – “you’re so clever!”, “wow, you’re so great at Maths!” – can actually harm their motivation by making them believe that they should find the work easy. Instead, when your children get great results or do well, try something like: “that’s great – can you tell me how you did it?” This is more helpful as it will provoke a conversation around strategies, techniques and approaches, showing that your interest is not so much in the product as the process. Instead of saying “you’re so good at English/Art/Science” and so on, try “you’ve really pushed yourself on this project – it’s great to see you working so hard at it.” Instead of “you’re so clever/brilliant/wonderful,” try “I’m so proud of the way you’ve put your time and energy into this,” or “we’re so happy to see that you persevered with this – it was worth all that effort, wasn’t it?”

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  1. Embrace struggle

We have an instinct to rush to praise when children “get” something quickly or produce perfect work first time. However, if students find something quick and easy to grasp, the likelihood is that they either knew it (or something very like it) already, or that the level of challenge was too low. Try asking your children after they get home: “what did you find difficult today?” Praise children when they struggle, because that shows that they’re trying, pushing themselves to do something difficult. That’s the attitude we encourage. Seek out challenging tasks for your children to do, and challenging texts for them to read, to reinforce the message that we give in school: if you’re finding it easy, you’re not learning anything. If you’re struggling, you’re learning.

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  1. Use the power of “yet”

“Yet” can help when students fail, or when they are in the midst of the struggle to master a new and challenging concept. “I can’t do it,” or “I’ll never get it,” or “I’ve never been able to do this,” can be turned around with “…yet.” Learning is a process, and students are always on an upward curve. If they can’t do it today, they’ll have to try again tomorrow, perhaps coming at it from a different angle or using a different strategy. As Thomas Edison famously said: “Our greatest weakness lies in giving up. The most certain way to succeed is always to try just one more time.” If you struggled with Maths or languages or spelling at school, by all means share that struggle with your children, but share it with the determination that they will be able to conquer it if they apply themselves and get the help and support they need – giving up is not an option.

I’d like to thank our families for all the support you give to Churchill’s students and to the Academy as a whole. We couldn’t do it without you!

What I believe about education

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Over the past couple of months we have been doing some deep thinking at the Academy about our purpose, our beliefs, and our values. There will be more to follow on this blog about the conclusion of that work, but this week I thought I would share with you some of what I have come to believe about education.

1. Learning

I believe that we should learn at all times, and at all costs.

2. Growth

I believe that we can all improve through effort, deliberate practice, the right attitude and an effective approach.

3. Attitude

I believe that we should build the best attitudes and behaviours for learning to enable achievement.

4. Wellbeing

I believe that achievement, progress and success bring well being and should not cost us our well being.

5. Opportunity

I believe that through taking part and making the most of the opportunities presented to you, you make the most of yourself.

And that’s it: five beliefs about education that we are using to shape the Academy’s values, vision and approach. Keep reading The Headteacher’s Blog to find out more about how we are implementing those beliefs across the school.

 

Smarter Spaces: colour for learning

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As you will have seen from our newsletter, our new Business Studies and Computing building is nearing completion. As part of this project, we have been working with Smarter Spaces, an education project arm of Dulux, to design the colour scheme for the building’s interior.

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Smarter Spaces aims to help teachers and children thrive by enabling schools to design building environments to support better teaching and learning. Central to the approach is that teachers and children are involved in design, so they take more pride in their school.

Our students, with the help of Mr Smith and Mrs Foster from the Academy and Yusuf Alharrari  from Smarter Spaces, have been working on the design brief for the interior of the new building since July 2016. The rest of this blog has been written with their help to show you what they’ve done!

The Smarter Spaces Project (by the Smarter Spaces Team)

We came up with the following objectives:

  • We needed to understand what colours had to feature in the new building so it still fitted into the rest of the school
  • We needed to work with Dulux’s Colour Advisor to create two colour schemes
  • We needed to vote on which colour scheme we wanted to use
  • We needed to work together to select what colours to go in what rooms

Factors to consider

  • Needs to fit into the feel of the school
  • The new build will be Tudor House, so Tudor’s red needs to feature in the building
  • We needed to choose colours that would go with the red and with each other
  • It needs to be easy to maintain
  • This is our legacy – what we design now will be passed down to students who come to Churchill for years to come.

We then met with a colour consultant from Smarter Spaces to work on a design that fitted the brief.

Tudor Red

We decided to make the interior doors Tudor red, so that the building had a clear house identity. We also made the trim grey, which is easy to maintain and matches the outside of the Hall.

Red and Grey

The “Teaching Wall”

Inside the classrooms, our Colour Advisor explained that research has shown that the “teaching wall” (where the screen and whiteboard are situated) should be a bright colour, so that attention is drawn to it. The other walls, meanwhile, should be a neutral colour. We also learned that walls should be painted in a single block colour so they are easy to maintain and so that they don’t distract attention from learning.

Choosing a colour palette

Following our brief, the Colour Advisor came up with sets of colours which would work with the red doors and grey trim. Option 1 was bright and exciting, because we told Dulux we wanted our school to be bright and energetic.

Option 1a

Option 2 was fresh and vibrant, because our school is in the countryside and surrounded by nature.

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We voted – and Option 1 won (just)!

 Choosing the colours for the rooms

Once we had chosen the colour palette, we had to select which paint would be used for the teaching wall in each room. We used the architect’s floor plans to work this out.

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Smarter Spaces then helped us to create a visualisation of what this might look like when the building was finished:

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We presented our work to the Senior Teachers at the school – and they loved it! We can’t wait to see it in reality when the new building opens this summer.

Thank yous

As an Academy we are very grateful to Smarter Spaces for working with us, and for donating the paint to the project as part of the deal! They have been fantastic partners to work with and they have helped us to understand the design process, the importance and impact of colour, and to create a legacy for future generations of Churchill students.

Prepared by the Smarter Spaces Team:

  • Molly Ebdon (WRO)
  • Courtney Evans (SNM)
  • James Goodyear-Evans (TPOC)
  • Alfie Laws (WVP)
  • Rowan Vine (HFH)
  • Charlotte Wilkinson (TMR)
  • Charlee Beach (HLCB)
  • Paige Evans (TMB)
  • Katie Ward (SASH)
  • Mr Smith
  • Mrs Foster
  • Yusuf Alharrari from Smarter Spaces

Thank you!

A letter to your younger self

Here at Churchill, we spend a lot of time with students asking them to think about their attitude and approach to learning. The aim of this reflection and work is for the students to refine their behaviours so they are the most effective learners possible. As part of this process, one teacher asked their Year 11 Economics class to reflect on what they’d learnt over the past year, especially from the mock exams they had completed before Christmas. The teacher asked the group to write a letter to a year 10 student, or to themselves a year ago, giving them the benefit of their additional year’s wisdom.

This is one student’s response:

“To a year 10 student

Here are a few tips I would suggest to a younger me I guess:

Firstly, recap what you learn during lessons at the end of the week or sub-topic.  In particular in unit 2 keep reminding yourself of fiscal, monetary and supply-side policies because that’s what I struggled with the most.

Secondly, don’t stop trying to improve your skills in answering questions.  In years 9 and 10 I was working at a solid F grade and I no longer tried because I thought it was hopeless, but at the start of year 11 and over the summer I did a lot of revision and just got my mock back with a B (1 off an A) which shows if you work hard you are able to improve.

Lastly, don’t stress about the information during lessons if you don’t get it, because you can put in extra time another time.”

This message – “if you work hard you are able to improve” – is the cornerstone of the growth mindset approach we are working hard to cultivate at Churchill. It’s fantastic to hear this is paying off for this particular student. I hope that others take heart from their advice and take the same approach!

What advice – if you could! – would you give to your younger self?

How to Revise #1: Retrieval Practice

This is the first post in a series looking at the most effective ways to revise, based on the work of The Learning Scientists. The Learning Scientists are cognitive psychologists who want to make scientific research on learning more accessible to students and teachers. Their aim is to motivate students to study and increase the use of effective study and teaching strategies that are backed by research. I’ve met Yana Weinstein PhD at an education conference in Southampton last week – she’s the real deal!

Retrieval Practice: what is it?

Retrieval practice is when you make your brain recall information from memory, and then do something with that information.

Retrieval Practice: why?

By forcing your brain to recall information from memory, it strengthens the connection in the long term memory and makes it easier to remember it next time. Failure to retrieve information also helps. If you can’t remember an important piece of information, fact or idea, it tells you that you need to re-learn it carefully so you can retrieve it next time.

Retrieval Practice: how do I do it?

 

Flashcards are particularly useful. Write a concept or keyword on one side, and the definition on the reverse. Alternatively, write a question on one side, and the answer on the other. Look at the front and remember the information on the reverse. Don’t be tempted to flip the card – if you do, you’re just reading the information, not recalling it from memory, and this isn’t helping with retrieval.

Retrieval Practice: next steps

Testing yourself is difficult! Don’t worry if you find it hard. The struggle is actually making the connections in your brain more secure. Follow the advice above and it will get easier – but if you cheat and look at the answers, you aren’t securing those connections to your memory.

It’s also vital to check that you’ve recalled information correctly, otherwise you might be cementing incorrect definitions and ideas into your memory!

Retrieval Practice: watch the video

In this video, the Learning Scientists explain about retrieval practice:

 

Happy revising!

The hare and the tortoise

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A school year is a marathon, not a sprint: it’s important to pace ourselves. It reminds me of the story of the hare and the tortoise. The hare sets off at a terrific pace, relying on its natural talent – speed – to get it through. Initially, it pays off and the hare sprints ahead. However, it can’t maintain the pace over time, and ends up asleep under a tree. The tortoise understands that consistent, steady effort, applied over time, will bring its rewards. Because that level of effort can be sustained, the tortoise overhauls the sleeping hare and finishes ahead.

“The moment we believe that success is determined by an ingrained level of ability, we will be brittle in the face of adversity.”

Josh Waitzkin

Everyone at Churchill – staff and student – needs to put in constant and consistent effort in every lesson, every day. That way we can all stay on top of our work and make sure we haven’t got an impossible mountain to climb at the end of term or the end of the year. But it also means that we can sustain that level of effort over time, and make trying hard our default behaviour. Relying on our natural talents to get us through – coasting – may get us a certain distance, but there will come a time when it isn’t enough. Then, if we aren’t used to trying, we won’t have the reserves to make it count.

Another key element to making sure we have the energy to maintain our effort over time, is to ensure we build in relaxation time. We can’t work all the time, and time to unwind and de-stress is vital! It’s also essential that we eat and sleep well, so that we are charged up and ready for the hard work of learning during the school week.

Pace yourself – and keep going!

 

 

Bright Spots September 2016

Every day I walk the corridors of the Academy and pop into classrooms and lessons as I go. This week I thought I would share with you some of the things I’ve seen on my travels!

  • In Art, students practising single-line drawing and honing their observational drawing by creating panoramic sketches
  • In Business Studies Year 9 were exploring the factors of production, needs and wants, and e-commerce solutions
  • In Catering, there was some delicious tomato soup on the boil – the smell was fantastic!
  • In Dance, BTEC students working with professional dancer Emma Duffill from the TidalWave Dance company to develop their work in a contemporary style, adding their own choreography to a planned sequence
  • In Drama, students working on the concept of metamorphosis and presenting devised pieces showing transformations, whilst other Year 8 students were beginning preparations for their mask work.

  • In Geography one class of students were securing their knowledge of key features in glaciated landscapes – striations, cirques, glacial horns, arêtes, trim lines, U-shaped valleys, roches moutonnées, overdeepenings and hanging valleys – whilst another was exploring the human geography of Jamaica in their case study work. There was even time to model coastal features!

  • In Health and Social Care Year 10 were starting their unit on verbal communication, analysing the impact of volume, tone, pace, formality, and jargon
  • In History students were looking at the impact of the industrial revolution on child workers, including some horrific eyewitness testimony of Victorian industrial accidents
  • In Languages students were developing their description skills by creating character profiles – only French and Spanish were spoken by staff and students. No English allowed!
  • The LRC have put together a great new display of “dangerous” books

  • In Maths, Year 11 were sharpening up their understanding of indices whilst Year 13 were developing their advanced calculus by using the chain rule to differentiate functions of functions
  • In Music, GCSE students were teaching Year 7 the elements of music theory to secure their own knowledge of pitch, tempo, harmony and notation whilst introducing Year 7 to key concepts. This was amazing!
  • In PE, I saw Year 9 developing their teamwork and netball technique, Year 10 pushing themselves hard in an exercise class, and in a Year 9 theory lesson students were locating muscles and bones which were vulnerable to injury for Olympic athletes. In extra-curricular this week, girls’ football kicked off with a great turnout on Thursday.

  • In RE, Year 10 were exploring the concept of marriage, whilst Year 7 were looking at historical conceptions of God – starting with Ancient Egypt!
  • In Science, Year 12 were working on a calibration practical to analyse the concentration of glucose in urine samples
  • In Technology Year 9 were putting great work into their bug towers, working with tools and crafting their wooden structures with great skill

Nearly 2000 lessons take place every week at the Academy. This is just the tip of the iceberg! But what all these lessons had in common was the purposeful learning taking place. In every room I visited students were focused and engaged, pushing themselves to improve. It’s a privilege to witness.

For October’s Bright Spots I’ll try to take more pictures myself- but make sure you follow our social media to stay up to date!

What happens on an Inset Day?

Inset stands for “in-service training”, and all schools have had five inset days each year since they were introduced in 1988. Schools close to students on inset days, but staff attend. Sometimes they can seem a bit mysterious to families and to students, so I thought in my blog this week I’d try to explain what actually happens on these days when the students are away!

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Inset days are designed to provide compulsory training time for teaching staff so that we can continue to improve our practice, keep up to date with changes in education, and ensure that we have appropriate training to deal with the challenges of our job. Here at Churchill, we often involve our support staff in training too, so that all staff have the knowledge and skills they need to do their job to the best of their ability. We supplement our inset days with on-the-job training and provide a range of opportunities throughout the year for all staff to learn, develop and improve, but the inset days give us a real opportunity to get everyone together and spend an extended period of time working on priority issues for the Academy.

Let’s take this coming Monday (27th June) for example. There are five different strands of training happening on the day.

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Whole staff briefing: Strategic Planning

As a new Headteacher I’ve been busy working on the long-term plan for Churchill following the outstanding Ofsted achieved last summer. I’ll be sharing the plan on this blog towards the end of term, but I’ll start the day by briefing staff about our priorities and how we can all work together to achieve them first thing in the morning.

Safeguarding Training

All staff have to be trained to keep children safe in education – it’s the most fundamentally important part of our job. Because it’s so important, we “refresh” this training at least every two years to ensure that all our staff have the latest guidelines and procedures clearly in mind, and know exactly what to do if there are any concerns about children’s safety. This “refresher” training will be taking place for staff who are due to have this additional training.

Workshop to Raise Awareness of Prevent (WRAP) Training

Prevent Strategy

Prevent is the Government’s strategy to counteract the threat of extremism in our society. As a school we have a duty to uphold and enact the Prevent strategy and ensure that all staff are aware of what to look out for and what to do to ensure that we respond to the ideological challenge of terrorism and the threat we face from those who promote it, and to prevent people from being drawn into extremism and terrorism. All staff are required to undertake training in these aspects of the Prevent strategy and we will be providing opportunities on our inset day for this to happen at Churchill.

Pastoral development

Staff will meet in their House teams on this inset day to review and plan the work that needs to be done over the rest of this term, and in preparation for September. This includes planning the Celebration of Success events, ensuring that everything is in place to provide a smooth transition for our new Year 7 students and their families, to look at mentoring for students within the Houses, and to take time to work on particular priorities within each House. At the same time, the Sixth Form pastoral team will be meeting to plan the specialist tutor programme for next year, and ensure that the best opportunities are in place for our new Sixth Form cohort starting in September.

Extended Project Qualification (EPQ) Training

We are extending our provision of the Extended Project Qualification (EPQ) in Year 12 next year, so we are using our inset day to work in partnership with Backwell School to make sure that all staff involved in delivering the EPQ are properly trained by the exam board. We’re really looking forward to the opportunities that EPQ will give our Sixth Formers and we want to make sure we get it right!

Transition Drama Day

At the same time as all this training, our performing arts students and staff will be working hard with our new Year 7 intake on the famous “drama day” ahead of the transition day on Tuesday. There will be lots of fun, learning and confidence building going on! Watch the website for a full report…

Phew!

As you can see, it’s going to be a busy day! It’s a great opportunity to make sure that all our staff have the best and most up-to-date training to care for and deliver the best possible education to the students at the Academy. And, for our staff at least, it’s definitely not a day off!