I teach, therefore I am.
My Grandpa died this Easter and despite it having been expected, I was shocked by the weight of grief. When someone impacts on your life the loss is always hard to imagine. It stopped me in my tracks and for while I wasn’t able to carry on as normal – it froze me. I stopped reading, I couldn’t write and I didn’t know what I was doing or where I was going. The irony was that my Grandpa was all the more missed because of how fully he lived his life, how much he battled adversity and kept on going. It was this knowledge that allowed me to emerge from my frozen state and remember what I was doing.
I’ve been trying to learn from others a lot recently, whether it be books, blogs, schools, departments or individuals. I don’t think there is anything more important in teaching – or in fact life generally – than trying to be better. A lesson that I learnt from my Grandpa was that you never give up on fighting for what you believe in. Something which is so integral to teaching, particularly at the moment when the educational world seems quite divisive and it can be difficult to hold your ground when whatever you believe can be criticised. My Grandpa was a soldier and a politician, he was used to the fight and to being able to get into the fiercest debates with people yet still treat them with grace and kindness. He also believed in his principles and had such conviction that he wasn’t afraid to defend or argue them. In this current landscape, those characteristics have become vital. I think this came from his belief that a good life was made up of hard work, principle, kindness and love, with a good deal of fun added to the mix.
On the day that he passed away, I had visited a school which without doubt shares some of these values. King Solomon Academy in Westminster, has created an ethos based on working together to achieve great success. It was clear from the moment I stepped through the door that this was a school which knew who it was. Even the staff meeting was filled with KSA routines, including clicking fingers to show appreciation and support (sadly not as a beginning of a musical number, which I have to admit my imagination did run wild with for a moment). More seriously these routines contribute to a clear sense of community at school which centres around working hard and a positive attitude with a sense of fun. Students may come in at 7.55am (7.15am for those needing extra tutorials) and not leave until 4.30pm but included in this time is a place for reading, taking part in spelling bees (even getting teachers to compete in assembly); becoming Times Table Rockstars with @MrReddyMaths and earning extra Enrichment time for sports and arts. Hard work is rewarded and encouraged for staff and pupils alike. There is also a sense of the school community as a family, from the use of KSA acronyms and sayings through to lunchtime served in a “family service” where pupils and teachers eat together and serve each other food. This approach to schooling might not work for everyone or every school but the buy in from staff and students demonstrates the importance of having conviction in your ethos – it works for them.
Another reason I had visited the school was to look at the mastery model, used in Maths and consider whether this approach was worth exploring in this new assessment landscape. Again, I was impressed with the level of thought and reflection which staff at the school had invested in this, Bruno Reddy in particular, who has been instrumental in thinking about and designing the Maths assessment system. It’s something which I will come back to when I post on the assessment journey currently underway at my school. Equally thought provoking was a lecture from Kris Boulton on his application of cognitive science to curriculum design, which he has also blogged about here. Attending these sessions and talking with the Deputy Head/Head of English gave me a huge amount of food for thought when it comes to curriculum and assessment, from how research should impact on our work through to specific techniques for teaching aspects such as Grammar. Much of this will end up influencing posts that will come over the next few months as I reflect on this last year’s building of a new department and a new school.
Yet the most striking aspect of this visit and of the other schools I have visited is how integral ethos, and the conviction to defend that ethos, is to the making of a successful school. Not any old ethos of course, but one that centres around the principles of hard work, community and a dedication to providing the best for their pupils. Tough to argue with that.