A Little Bit of Kindness Can Change Everything….

This week, our whole school community learnt about kindness.  But, we really learnt..we learnt how we really can impact people’s lives with small acts of kindness, how kindness ripples, and the more we do for people, the more they will do for others.

So, this is the story.

In school we talk a lot about Random Acts of Kindness – or ARKs- Acts of Random Kindness, however you know them by.  At the start of this term, as staff we had Will Hussey, from the Art of Brilliance come in to talk about positive mindsets and the 2% mentality.  On the second day, we had Mark Russell, also from the Art of Brilliance, in to talk to the children.  Before he left, he set them a Random Acts of Kindness challenge to see who could perform one every day.  He would return in three weeks time to hand out prizes to those who shone above and beyond.

During those three weeks, we continued to talk about ARKs and in collective worship, I showed videos highlighting the impact that these little acts of kindness can have.  I talked about them, the children and staff listened, but I didn’t feel the ‘buzz’ that it should bring. You know, that feeling in school, that something new is taking hold and everyone is talking about it?  Well, it just wasn’t there…

Then a couple of weeks ago, I had a parent stop me to ask if I’d seen the YouTube video of the twins who film their experience of randomly handing out presents to people on the street.  She sent me the link and had written….”let’s make this work!” I instantly replied, “Yes, let’s do this!”  And so it began….

We randomly selected two pupils from year 5 and two pupils from year 6.  With bouquets and book tokens in our hands, the pupils, the mum with the initial idea, and teaching assistant (who later created our amazing movie) set out in the minibus to randomly choose the recipients of our presents.  The experience was amazing, for us as adults and for the children.  To see what happened you can go to our school website and watch it under the most recent headteacher’s blog.

We showed this video to the whole school on Friday afternoon.  People were in tears and when it finished everyone gave an enormous round of applause.  You could finally feel the impact…the idea was finally taking root.

But, what I really want to get to is the response from our recipients.  I had tweets of thanks, e-mails and letters from family members of the chosen as well as from them, themselves.

To finish on Friday, I read this handwritten letter…..my voice wavering and my eyes misting over…

Dear Mrs Barton and Children,

I had the most wonderful and totally unexpected experience today when I became the recipient of your experiment, “Random Acts of Kindness.”  I must thank you, the staff and children of your school for this day.  I was helping my daughter and my two grandchildren with a few tasks and we were just returning to the car park when we met.

Since returning home, I have thought about kindness.  I do consider myself a kind person, but his has made me realise that I could do more and I will.  In the hustle and bustle of life, it is perhaps too easy to overlook such acts beyond the immediate family.  I shall remember this act of kindness always as one of those unexpected, yet treasured moments.  I am an avid reader, but I think I shall choose a special book and annotate it to consolidate this memory.

For you, A and E, I hope that you gained something as well.  The pleasure of being kind, seeing another person’s happiness allows us to touch lives.  Your school is obviously wonderful!  I’m sure that academic standards are high and that you all work very hard.  However, there is more to live than tables and spellings and I am sure that happiness is the most important.

Thank you, Mrs Barton and all your staff for facilitating this.  Your girls have set a fine example and, as a family we will double our efforts to achieve your standard!

May I wish you all success in your studies and great happiness in your lives.

With great appreciation,

J.P.

You could hear a pin drop…

This is what it is all about.  We made an impact…our experiment worked and now we are planning our next Random Acts of Kindness.  We have already talked about how we can make this a termly event. So, for the answer to the question that has been thrown around lately…yes, you can teach happiness.

Kindness matters and it does make a difference.

Go spread ripples of happiness and watch the effect it has…

#ShineOn!

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21 Days to form new habits? Starting 2017 the way we mean to go on!

They say that it takes 21 days (based on what Maxwell Maltz suggested) to form new habits, though new research from UCL states that the new magic time period is 66 days, but either way, in the grand scheme of things, forming new habits does not take very long.

So, with this nugget of information, my goal is to form new habits (or continue old habits) but to purposefully stick with them until into the first week of March, to give them the best chance of becoming part of my routine.

Reflecting on 2016

2016 was a year of massive change.  Just look at the world of politics and…but we know all too well about these stories, we’ve all lived them, watched them on our television screens or heard them on the radio during our daily commutes.  Let’s not revisit these…let’s just pray that 2017 becomes a time of hope and peace…

For us in our school, this past year has had more change than any other previous years.  Most of these changes occurred as a result of the opportunity that ‘life without levels’ provided us with.  We are now teaching with ‘purpose’ – teaching for learning – adapting and planning according to daily assessments, teaching for what the pupils need.  Just this in itself has been the most massive shift in thinking for everyone.  Everything we have been moving towards has been questioned and researched to ensure that what we are doing is best for our children.  When things haven’t worked out, we try something new by reflecting, evaluating and adapting.  This is key to everything we do in school and already I know that this is something that needs to remain high priority as we move into 2017.

With all of these changes, I have been overtly aware and conscious of the workload that is added as a result of ‘change’ and while many of the changes in our policies and practice have been specifically designed to reduce workload, just ‘change’ in itself has caused more angst than I could have expected. This has been surprising and concerning as every decision we make, we consciously put the child at the heart while thinking about its impact on the wellbeing of all.

Major Lessons Learnt? That ‘change’, no matter what it is, even when it is to the benefit of all, causes people concern and worry, whether rightly or wrongly, and this must be considered and addressed.

Further, that no matter what,  always do what you know is right.  In education, this means that you will need to have heapings of bravery and courage.  You will be questioned, you will be judged, you will have people against you.  But, as I’ve always said, if children are at the heart of every decision, you cannot go far wrong.  Decisions may be challenged, but in the end they will reap dividends.

Personally, 2016 was a year of growth and progression.  I have been given so many opportunities this year for networking, being involved in research and sharing the journey our school has taken with others.

My family continues to grow closer each day, my daughter is a strong, resilient and wonderful young woman who amazes me with her attitude and spirit.  It is this mindset that I know will allow her to overcome any obstacle that comes her way.  My son, is a young gentleman, who always puts others before him.  His manners and ability to focus with such patience astounds me daily (an example of this was the hours it took him to finally crack the Rubik’s Cube…..months, days, hours….but he did it!).  I truly could not be blessed with more amazing children.  My husband, continues to support me with every new venture I set out on.  He is always the one to keep pushing me and giving me the confidence to continue to set and achieve new goals.  I absolutely could not do what I do without him behind me.

Moving into 2017 

“Enjoy the little things,for one day you many look back and realise they were the big things” ~Robert Brault~ quoted in: 

The Habits I Need to Form (In no particular order): 

  1. Always starting with the right attitude!  So, I just got feedback on this – when asked to describe me, most people would probably say that I was always smiling, enthusiastic and always up for a new challenge.  This is who I am and I truly believe that approaching life in this way always makes everything better.  It’s also being sure to stay focused on the positives when everything isn’t going your way.  As headteacher, it can sometimes be difficult  to offload – there are always situations you need to talk about, often these are situations you don’t want to discuss with other colleagues .  However, it is crucial to have someone else to talk to.  This is where the Twitter community has been amazing.  People like @@ottleyoconnor have coached me or offered advice on difficult issues that have arisen.  Being connected to so many people and different communities has provided  endless support and motivation.  Therefore, leading to:
  2. Connecting with others for support, coaching and laughter!  I have mentioned the reasons for this above, but this also means taking time out to connect with colleagues outside of school just for fun.  Two instances – I don’t dance, or didn’t think I did, until I was ‘forced’ onto the dance floor at the annual conference by another headteacher I work with in our partnership.  We ended up having a competition on who could achieve the most steps by the end of the night.  I then went out to dinner with this same headteacher just the other month and had a wonderful evening out.  She and I laughed and laughed – two hours later, we realised the wait staff were waiting for us to vacate our table!  Usually, I am so tired, that ‘going out’ is often viewed as a chore – but I realise that for my own wellbeing, it is necessary and so much fun!
  3. Switching Off.  As a family we already can be pretty good at this.  But, I want to focus on switching off all electronics in the evenings.  Coming home, putting the phone down and spending evenings with quality conversations, learning, reading, and old-fashioned fun. The same with the weekends – having specified ‘electronic’ time periods and using the rest of the time to spend ‘face to face’ with the family.
  4. Reading More. I don’t want to commit to the 52 book reading challenge, but hope that I will achieve it.  There are so many books that need reading!  Andy Cope @beingbrilliant introduced me to a new word: Tsundoko (Japanese): The constant act of buying books but never having time to read them – this year I hope to make the time.  A challenge I would love to be able to achieve is to read the entire Bible in a year.  I’ll let you know in next year’s blog how I got on with this!
  5.  Exercise and Healthy Eating. I didn’t limit myself to running this time.  Whatever it is, I just want to move.  Whether it be dancing, playing football, basketball, following along with @BettyRockerShow, (or running!) I just want to get my heart pumping on a ‘consistent’ basis.  This alongside a more ‘balanced’ diet – mainly eating at regular intervals during the day – not just when I get home.
  6. Taking time to be still.  I tend to rush around, moving from one thing to another in a whirlwind of activity until the evening when I finally get a moment to sit down.  Of course, what ends up happening, is I am then overwhelmed with exhaustion.  Some days, I go from meeting to meeting, lesson to lesson, and the list goes on, and I just don’t take a moment to breathe.  This is all down to me, I don’t make the time to pause and to just be still.  No one else is causing me to be like this, even in the flurry of activity that primary school brings with it, there should always be moments to reflect.  Therefore, I need to schedule meetings with time between them and at times that suit me.  I just need to slow down.
  7. Reflecting and Evaluating.  This brings me back to my checklist (which stemmed from my husband years ago) – but taking a few minutes every morning to write my checklist for my day.  Not doing this, has a noticeable effect.  At the end of each day, and at intervals throughout the day, then taking that ‘moment to be still’ to reflect and evaluate on priorities and ways forward.  This is essential.
  8. Enjoying Life’s ‘Little Things’ – Like the quote by Brault suggests above, I want to just enjoy the simple pleasures that life gives us every day.  We can’t slow life down, but we can make time to ‘enjoy’ life more.  We become so engrossed in ‘what’ we are doing, that we often don’t take time to look around us to #notice the details.
  9. Lead with Integrity, Honesty and Moral Purpose.  Finally, to always be a leader, both at home for my children and at work, who steadfastly models Christian values, integrity, honesty and a moral purpose.

Roll On, 2017!

#ShineOn!

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What I Know Now…Always Start With The Children…

As with all things in school, after careful evaluation and assessment of where we are now, our Assessment for Learning policy has adapted yet again.  Last year was a year of incredible change.  I think this goes for the majority of schools.  Life after levels, meant for many, rethinking systems, policies and overhauling the whole understanding of teaching for learning.

Some schools jumped into purchasing tracking systems that seemed to offer everything, but really offered levels in disguise.   Without levels, everything changed.  Suddenly progress became even more heightened than it already was and ‘proving’ progress became central to assessment.  Many schools bought into packages of suites of ‘progress’ tests, standardised tests, and the list goes on and on, just to ‘prove’ the progress of their pupils. I wouldn’t be honest, if I didn’t say how tempting all of this was, especially as we had no other assessment system in place.  I completely understand why schools did this, especially with the external pressures that schools face on a continual basis.

Thanks to the #LearningFirst movement led by Dame Alison Peacock, with strong voices like Jamie Pembroke leading arguments regarding assessment, we decided to be brave.  Instead of jumping into anything, we reflected, we thought, we evaluated, we debated, and we questioned everything that we did in school.  This literally has meant turning everything inside out, starting with the children (which is always the way to do it!) and focusing on teaching for learning.

Since I started as headteacher, our focus has been on our ‘Purple Learners’, inspired by Diana Pardoe author of Towards Successful Learning.  Crucial to this is teaching children how to be independent learners.  As much of the research states, teaching children to understand how they can be the most effective learners, how to be independent while giving them the tools and strategies necessary to achieve success, actually raises pupil achievement.  In fact, it is suggested, that pupils who are keenly aware of how to be the most effective learners, actually do better in tests (Claxton et al, 2011, Lucas et al, 2013, Hattie, 2012, Pardoe, 2009, 2005).

So, subject leaders set to work on creating a curriculum based assessment (no different to most) that teachers were asked to plan and assess from.  As part of this, all formal (external) testing was removed, to ensure that teachers were assessing on a day to day basis – assessing what the children knew and where they needed to move next.  Inherent was ensuring that assessment reflected Sadler’s (1989) model , that children know where they are now, where they are aiming to get to, and crucially how to close the gap between the two (cited in Black and Wiliam).

I didn’t realise what a massive shift in teaching and learning this was going to be and I often questioned our approach.  All year, I never had the ‘data’ that I normally would have had in previous years…loads of data, whose validity could be called into question, and most often was based on an end of term summative test.

In place of this, pupil progress meetings were set up every six weeks, with follow ups often happening every three weeks on focus children, those who were not on track, or those who were not making the progress that teachers thought they should be making.

To cut a very long story short, these pupil discussions were crucial in understanding what was going on in the classrooms.   As we were doing them so often, they took a lot of time, and it was clear that teachers were still getting used to a completely new way of planning, assessing and understanding of learning.  We were all on a very steep learning curve.  But everyone persisted.  The governors continued to have faith…the support from everyone was phenomenal – working together as a team is crucial to the success of anything in school.

At the end of the year, considering we did not base any assessments throughout the year on summative testing or standardised scores, every writing and reading book for every year group was moderated in trios.  This was time consuming, but again vital to the process.

Many other processes were involved, but I could go on and on…so, moving onto this year.  Again, we have reflected on the process, evaluated what went well and how things might need to change.  This is what we have learnt.

Everything must start with the pupils.

My aim is to interview every child across the school.  Not my normal pupil discussions that I do regularly anyways, but deep conversations about learning and the progress that they think they are making.  Mirroring what we are doing in our maths lessons, I’m asking the children to ‘prove’ their learning and their progress to me.

Why did we never do this before?  So simple…and I’m sure there are other schools out there doing exactly the same thing.

I have only just completed these conversations in year 6.  But I can tell you, personally, along with all of the children, I have learnt so much.  Talking to the pupils teaches you about everything that takes place in the classroom on a day to day basis.  By talking to every child and asking the same questions, quickly identifies areas of outstanding practice and possible next steps.  I have been able to clearly identify children and the progress they have made.  They have talked me through every book, their maths, science, history, geography, handwriting and even their free writing books.  The children’s excitement is evident in the way they tried to teach me, such as when explaining the way the heart worked, or how diagramming grammar helped them to understand different word types.  The enthusiasm, the energy, the passion…it was evident.  This is what learning is all about.

It has been time consuming, but every minute has been so worth it.  Already I can tell this will have a massive, positive impact.

So now…I will be able to come to our termly pupil progress meetings with such rich and actionable information.  Further, sharing this information with teachers, I can already see, will have so much more impact than the usual one-off observation.  When it comes from the children, we always take things to heart.  We always want to do better for every child in our classrooms.

This is what matters.

I can’t wait to see what new things are gleaned, when every child is asked to ‘prove’ their learning to me.

#LearningFirst

I will keep you updated….

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My Leaving Words for the Class of 2016…

Every year I have begun writing something new for our year 6 Leaver’s Service.  What I write usually has a theme that runs through it which has been prevalent throughout the year during our collective worship sessions.  Key this year has been the idea of being extraordinary.  So here are my final words this year for our class of 2016…..

My Leaving Words for the Class of 2016

Some say to be extraordinary you need to achieve the impossible.

But what is this – this impossible?

For us, there are no limits,

All ceilings can be broken through; success is what you make of it,

Obstacles only slow us down, so what is this impossible you speak of?

To be extraordinary….

You need to be unique,

Standing apart from the crowd

A diamond amongst the unpolished jewels.

To be extraordinary…

You need to be brave,

Unafraid when challenge stirs,

Poised and ready to speak out for those with no voice.

To be extraordinary…

You need to be a leader

Honesty and integrity at the heart

Even marching alone, when you know,

it is the right thing to do.

Always be honest…

Doing the right thing…

Even when it is the most difficult….

Trust that God will show you the way..

This is extraordinary…

This is you…

To be extraordinary

You need to leave your mark on the world….

 

So I ask you,

What will your mark be?

Will you be extraordinary?

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When will schools learn?

There was a very interesting discussion and debate on the teaching and learning culture in schools and how it impacts on staff morale and wellbeing on @ukedchat tonight.

Discussion came up about how schools expect so much of teachers, but put the pressure on by focusing on attainment and the things that Ofsted require rather than focusing on the things that the children in each school context actually need.  It was clear that those partaking in the discussion were very much in favour of the latter and challenging the ‘status quo’ that Ofsted bring.  Yet, why is it that the feeling from so many is that schools are sapping dry our dynamic teachers and forcing them to abide by ‘standards’ set by external bodies?  When will schools learn?

Continuing my reading tonight in, “The Learning Powered School” I came across the section called, “Learning versus performance cultures” (Claxton,Chambers, Powell, Lucas, p. 37, 2011).  This was perfectly timed.  They ascertain that, “Several recent research papers have found, paradoxically, that pupils do better on their tests when they and their teachers focus on learning rather than on performance and achievement” (Claxton, Chambers,Powell, Lucas, p. 37, 2011).  What a massive claim.

So, the research suggests that if schools focus on learning, achievement and attainment will end up being higher.  What are we doing then?

Why are schools still allowing Ofsted to control every movement and every policy, whereby adversely affecting the outcomes for all?  Surely, if we focus on the learning and ensuring our pupils remain at the heart of our decisions, everything else will fall into place.  Clearly, there are things that Ofsted require to be in place which schools should adhere to – the sensible things.  However, it should not permeate the culture of schools and narrow their focus so much that it impacts on the wellbeing of all involved.

Leaders need to be braver in their stance.  They need to be sure that any policy and practice being implemented is what is right for their children – they then need to be ready to fight for that stance.  I’ll say it again, if children are truly at the heart of policy and practice, you can’t go far wrong.

Claxton, et al, continue to cite other research that proves where teaching children to ‘learn’ will have more impact on achievement then always focusing only on the ‘end result’ (SATS scores may be the case).

The moral then?  “Building students’ confidence in their own capacity to learn turns out (not surprisingly) to boost their examination performance.  On the other hand, several studies have found that narrow pressure for results – ‘achievement pressure’ in the jargon of the trade-is not an effective way of raising results” (Claxton, Chambers, Powell, Lucas, p. 37, 2011). This research took place before  2011 – why are schools still overwhelmingly focused on attainment at the ‘end’?  What will it take for everyone to listen and learn?

Schools need to begin looking at the wider and ‘long-term’ picture…creating children ready to conquer the world that awaits them…giving them the skills to be confident learners when they leave our gates…to become life-long learners, resilient, brave and ready to learn from their mistakes.

 

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The “joy of the struggle”……

“So when parents say – as they often do- ‘I just want my child to be happy’, here is one of the best pieces of advice.  Help them, and get their schools to help them, to discover what it is that they would love to be great at.  Help them discover the ‘joy of the struggle’: the happiness that comes from being rapt in the process, and the quiet pride that comes from making progress on something that matters.  And help them to understand and develop the craft of worthwhile learning – how to make best use of imagination, reasoning, concentration, collaboration, and so on. That is what BLP aims to do”

(Claxton, Chambers, Powell, Lucas, p. 26, 2011).

Today I finally watched ‘School Swap – The Class Divide’.  It is a question I have often pondered,- what differences there are between the state and private sector (besides the money) and the impact on the learners.

No matter what school or context we are in, the quote above is so very apt.  Children must become confident in themselves as learners.  They must be given the tools and strategies to succeed in an ever-changing world, where success is defined not by the society we are in, but by them as individuals.  If we as schools can provide them with a ‘toolkit’ for success (so to say), then we can help prepare them for the setbacks, challenges and obstacles that will surely come their way.  They need to be equipped to bounce-back stronger, more resilient, focused and purposeful to persevere and try again.  The moment they give up, is the moment that we, as schools, need to think what more we could have instilled in them to want to endure and be fortitudinous.

I love the idea of the ‘joy of the struggle’.  How often have we seen our pupils suddenly light up with the realisation that they have finally conquered a skill they had been working on for what ‘seemed like ages’?  The discussion that can be had with pupils after this happens is even more enlightening.  They do explain the ‘process’ as challenging, yes, but exciting.  Exhilaration is apparent in this process-the concentration that is applied to keep trying, to keep practicing and then to  finally get it right.  It is the excitement of the challenge and  ‘error making’ that we need to embed in our children – allowing them the confidence and safety to make mistakes and then to learn from them, apply them and try it all again.

I think we sometimes don’t let this ‘struggle’ go on for long enough…we often give answers away too easily.

Correct answers and praise that come with little effort may hinder our children’s future ‘learning’ more than we know or understand.

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Teaching children ‘how’ to learn….

I have begun reading, “The Learning Powered School” by Guy Claxton, Maryl Chambers, Graham Powell and Bill Lucas.  As you can probably tell, I’m doing a lot of reading and researching around ‘learning’.

Learning is central and core to everything that we do as a school – but yet, are we actually teaching children ‘how’ to learn?  Our aim is to create children who become ‘life long’ learners, ready for the transition to secondary school (from primary) and to become confident, resilient, tenacious 21st century citizens who make a positive contribution to society.  We should be teaching children ‘how to learn’, how to be independent, how to seek out knowledge and find answers to their questions.  Not only that, but we should be ingraining in our pupils the desire to succeed, reaching goals that they set themselves and knowing how and what to do to achieve the steps to attain these targets.  We should teach them how to make mistakes with resilience, fortitude and ‘bounce-back-ability’, how hard work, practice and effort pays off and that failure only comes when we stop trying.  These values have to become a part of the fabric of the school, part of the language, the environment, the structure and processes that everyone takes part in.

After reading chapter 1 of ‘The Learning Powered School’ it seems that what we have begun establishing in our school, resonates closely with what this book and its research is about.

At the start they establish that, “students who are more confident of their own learning ability learn faster and learn better.  They concentrate more, think harder and find learning more enjoyable” (p. 2, 2011).  Further, mirroring the vision for our pupils at school, “Schools need to be educating for life-long learning.  Pupils need to have learnt to be tenacious and resourceful, imaginative and logical, self-disciplined and self aware, collaborative and inquisitive” (p. 2, 2011).

They explain that there are ‘5 Core Beliefs’ about ‘Building Learning Power’.  Preparing children for the tests of life, building up a spirit of resourcefulness and resilience within pupils, building up their confidence to succeed and navigate in an ever-changing world, that intelligence is changeable and not fixed and finally that Building Learning Power will be challenging, achievable and essential (p. 2-3, 2011).

Again, much like what Hattie says about learning, it seems very common sense.  So why aren’t all schools on board?  We need to forget (or at least not make it ‘the’ priority) about attainment and league tables, but focus on the children and their learning.  But herein likes the problem…for this to happen, schools need to be brave and go against the status quo.  If ‘learning’  is at the centre of everything, we can’t go far wrong; everything else will fall into place.

Surely, teaching children how to ‘learn’, helping instill key learning traits and equipping them with an understanding of what effective learning looks like, will be key to successful schools?

How do you ‘teach’ children how to learn in your school?

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