Making your your students want to drink.

IMG_0260Many years ago, as I was embarking on my teaching career, I spent a significant amount of my life emersed in the world of horses. My unexpected arrival into the horse world resulted from meeting my now wife, the proud owner of two horses. The early days were spent mainly sweeping up and mucking out (and observing from a safe distance!), before being promoted to Assistant Groom and then then finally being taught how to ride by my wife.

In a very short period of time, I fell in love with horses; connecting with such an amazing animal is a special experience.

I went to see a demonstration from a man called Monty Roberts (The man who listens to horses) on a wet winters night, sat in a cold barn in the south of England. This experience literally changed my life. A bold statement perhaps, but that night shaped my ethos in education and more broadly with how I approach relationships with humans and animals alike.

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Shifting a culture of attainment to one of progress…in 5 minutes! 

It was another fresh January day, the sun was shining, the temperature close to freezing and students were passing the time during their lunch break. 

As I approached a group of KS 3 students on my lunch time walkabout, they looked as though they could have done with some direction and purpose. As I engaged in conversation with the group, a student reminded me of a chat we had earlier in the year about Parkour. I hope to one day create a Parkour club, but need to ensure I have the capacity to consistently commit to the students each week.

I set down a couple of tokens (used to reward positive behaviours around the school) marking set distances from a low wall that we were standing next to. I demonstrated a simple precision jump  for them from the first level, landing on top of the brick work with control and balance on the balls of my feet. A few students then had a go with varying degrees of success, but there were many that were reluctant to make any attempt. Continue reading

Looking back…

…at posts as far back as 2011, there is evidence of changing the way I teach to promote Growth Mindsets in students (although I may not have specifically used the term back then).

I have been having a look at the archives, in readiness for a CPD session for the PE staff of Academies within the Cabot Learning Federation. I am co-coordinating this termly event as part of my Specialist Leader in Education work.

A range of posts include:

Comfort – Stretch – Panic from December 5th, 2011

A range of thoughts/posts considering Setting in PE from March 2012
I recall writing these early in the morning (5:00am) and early evening (5:00pm), on my phone, whilst turning out and bringing in my horse from the paddock/stable. In particular Part 5, talks about setting by Personal Skills.

This incident from a Waboba / water polo lesson called Man Down, a post from a swimming lesson called I don’t want him in our group and the follow up to both of these. All posted in November / December 2011.

One final post on a tipping point, occurring in November 2011.
On reflection, this behaviour is now an embedded culture; a culture that I am immensely proud of.

Magic moment – engaging the disengaged

Since the birth of BCA (September 2012), we have faced the significant challenge of engaging the disengaged in the PE department.

In the last 14 months, our roll has increased by 30% in Years 9, 10 and 11. Many of these students have arrived with a negative outlook on PE, resulting from the experience they had at their previous school. Many of these students have told me on arrival that they are not sporty and they dislike PE.
If a young person hears something enough times, they are likely to believe it. Our challenge is to make them believe our message – every student is good at PE and they can enjoy it. It takes some students longer than others to believe us.

Last Friday, two KS 4 students that previously “hated PE and aren’t sporty” walked past me with a set of keys to the storeroom, to collect equipment for their pre-school stay and play session as part of project phoenix. They were in full kit and taking ownership of their session by wanting to choose their own equipment in planning for the group of 20 pre schoolers.

This was a far cry from not bringing in kit and refusing to engage in anyway during lessons.
A magic moment with no elite athletes in sight.

Rebuilding with a foundation stone of why – Guest Post – Helen Tatlock

Here is another reflection from a CLF ITT trainee, following their day at BCA last week.

You can read more posts from Helen Tatlock (@MissTatlock) on her Blog.

Thanks for the post Helen.

Rebuilding with a foundation stone of why

During our teacher training we have been encouraged that in education we should always ‘start with the why’.  At no point have I seen this in greater evidence than on Friday.

Like its pervasive Phoenix logo, Bath Community Academy is rising from the ashes of the falling roll, special measures and closure of the school which once stood on its site. At the heart of its rebirth is ‘why’: starting again, under inspirational new leadership, they started with a question of what their particular purpose was, and crafted their new academy with that purpose in mind.
For this reason, it is truly heart warming to stand in its corridors, classrooms and many centres of physical pursuit and see students getting what they need from their education.  And, I’m sorry Mr. Gove, but, in this instance and at this particular moment at least, what these students need is not knowledge but aspiration, self-belief and a chance to feel successful (having very recently lived through the failure of their previous school).  The staff are brave enough to let students figure things out for themselves, and to provide every opportunity they can for students to achieve. Through this the students are re-engaging with education and acquiring the will to make a positive contribution to their communities. 

The value added is already evident to see – the transformation in energy and ethos after only a little over one academic year is staggering.  The trajectory of this newly opened academy, only 14 months ago, must mean outstanding is the only destination for this school and its incredible staff & students.

Teaching Beyond the Subject – Guest Post – Luke Rudge (CLF ITT)

As part of my SLE role, I organised and ran a day for the CLF ITT cohort of First Direct Trainee teachers.

The focus was on the holistic development and pastoral care of children. This tied in nicely with our whole academy ethos.

The day was made up of several sessions with various staff as well as being immersed into a Year 11 #realpe lesson and BCA’s Project Phoenix enrichement programme.

Here are some reflections from Luke Rudge (@linguisticluke) who is completing his Placement A with us.

You can read other posts reflecting on his learning on his Blog.

Thanks Luke.

Teaching Beyond the Subject

It’s not very often that I get reminded of the times in my life that I’d much rather forget. Sure, I get those moments where I remember doing something completely embarrassing and wishing that the ground would open up beneath me, just as we all do (…or at least, I hope that we all do), but this week has made me reflect heavily upon a few key points in my education, and my reasoning for wanting to become a teacher in the first place…

Once again, I felt lucky enough to have my topic for the week (Pastoral Aspects of Teaching) complement my location for observation days – an academy where, just over a year ago, there were threats of closure, significant behavioural issues and a pupil roll so small that many primary schools could outnumber them, with a catchment area of one of the most deprived areas of the UK. While this seemed like my greatest challenge so far, the knowledge I gained – and the opinion of the academy as a whole – were much different to that which I was expecting.

To jump on a bandwagon and call someone, somewhere or something “awful,” “under-performing” or “risky” epitomises the experiences this academy has endured. In a “Don’t knock it until you’ve tried it” way, it seems as though the past of the academy continues to haunt its present unfairly. The community structures, language employed, and overall ethos of the academy shows a phoenix that is rising rapidly (which is pretty useful symbolically as the phoenix is incorporated into the logos!) from what was a dire situation. Use of vertical teaching, as opposed to traditional horizontal structures, a behavioural system that focusses on the “self” rather than just the “mind,” and continuity and clarity between staff ensure that all students are taught not just to pass a test, but to make their way after school into whatever they’d like to do.

This holistic approach is employed in a microcosmic fashion into lesson planning. Lesson objectives and outcomes can be the typical “Learn x nouns” or “Understand the difference between imperfect and preterite tenses,” but in a PE lesson (volleyball) I took part in today, the outcomes related to teamwork, communication, and just being a well-rounded person. There was no relation to any volleyball-specific rules or techniques; it just seemed implicit that improvement in the sport would come from being a good team player.

As a bit of background, I am pretty bad with sport. This is not only due to a duff knee, but mostly relating to an experience back when I did PE at Secondary School. In the “Let’s play rugby in the freezing cold without any instructions” method of playing, I was unable to score, let alone get a grasp of what to do. The teacher – feared by most – found the best way to motivate me was to pick me up by the front of my collar and shout at me, with all but a centimetre between our faces, to “get better.” From that moment, I loathed PE, so when I was told we would be doing PE today, I was not only out of my comfort zone, but I was mentally sprinting away from it as fast as my dodgy-knee would allow me.

But, the approach taken by the students and staff at the academy had me wanting to learn and to do more. I was shocked by my willingness to play and, at the end of the session, my desire to keep going and to improve. It was the ethos of community and team-spirit that did this, and where the point of this post comes in – If an ethos this strong and all-encompassing can make me want to continue doing PE, then there are methods at play that I must certainly make use of in my own lessons. While knowledge is a key factor in schooling, it must never, ever be forgotten that a child comes to school to prepare for life after school, and it is our duty to teach the whole child.

How easily I can incorporate this approach into an MFL lesson remains to be seen. Perhaps teamwork can be incorporated in a group translation, or peer reinforcement via a conversation group? Right now, I can’t see my students running around a sports hall, but then, I don’t know what invigorates them just yet. Maybe watch this space for the début of the MFL-volleyball technique…?!

And with that, my initial Uni and CPD block is complete! Now it’s time to dive head-first into my placement A and start trying to amass all of this superb information I’ve been given into a working model; to become a teacher of today, and not one where fear is the teachers’ ally.

Wet play – learning to compete

I started off intending this to be a short post written on my mobile. As you will see, it turned into something a little more significant than that. I had even thought a tweet could have summarised the key learning! Just goes to show how blogging can support reflection and deepen learning.

Thanks to @creatortim (one of Create Development’s lead consultants), I have embedded this video that ties in nicely to this post. Good spot and thanks for the suggestion Tim.

Every Friday afternoon since September, I have taken a group of young leaders into local Infant and Primary schools to lead sport sessions based around our academy values of respect, friendship and excellence.
Over 40 students from KS3 & KS4  have had this opportunity, gaining between 6 and 12 hours leadership experience each.

Toward the end of Term 4, I received a call saying that the weather is going to be bad, so don’t come over, unless you are willing to lead a classroom based lesson. Having always been one for taking on a challenge, I decided to go for it.

Four hours later, I found myself in a classroom with 31 Year 5 students and 14 of my own leaders.
With the windows misting up, I embarked on my mission to provide a valuable learning experience for everyone in the room.

I used ideas from Create Development’s learn to compete resource. My aim was to give every student as many experiences of winning and losing in increasingly competitive circumstances and take on different roles within those situations. We used rock, paper, scissors as the activity – an activity that is largely based on luck, which allows all students equal chance of success and also appropriate for allowing a high volum of games to be played.

We split the classroom into four zones (which I later named).  If a pupil won a best of three game match, they moved into the next zone along, find a new opponent, shake hands and play again. Winners move to next zone, losers back to previous zone.

The focus was on playing lots of games against different people, winning lots, losing lots and learning how conduct themselves in a respectful manner (win or lose). At first, my leaders supervised each zone, having been instructed to allow the Year 5 children space to organise and self regulate their own matches. This reflects the change in my own ethos, whereby I spend far less of my time instructing, allowing students to take much more of an active role in their development.

Later, my leaders played against the Year 5’s. A great opportunity for my leaders to model the values of being a good competitor (win or lose) and also for the Year 5’s to experience competing against someone four years senior to them.

Interestingly, as soon as I named the zones (premier league, championship, league 1, league 2), the competitors automatically assumed it was best to be in the premier league and we had a situation where 75% of the group were in the top two zones, with about half the group in the premier league itself. By the law of averages, there should have been an equal distribution among all the zones.

This told me a few things about young people and competition. Firstly, often it is more important to ‘win’ in order to look good and feel better about yourself, even if it means being dishonest to yourself and to your competitors. It also confirms my belief that children need to be educated about how to compete and as an educator, not just expect them to be able to compete properly with no guidance on how to. This differs from the current Government’s approach of thinking that by just putting children in more competitive team environments, it will lead to them being better competitors (as they cheat their way to a hollow ‘win at all costs’ victory, as opposed to aiming to be the best you can be and in doing so increase ones chances of success).

I mentioned at the top of this post about Create Development’s competition spectrum (learn to compete, compete to learn  #L2C). Following this resource, the first level of competition is to learn how to set personal bests and then develop the personal skills (including confidence and resilience) in order to try and beat that best. Essentially competing against yourself. Once an ethos of being honest with oneself and being motivated to be the best one can be, a child is well prepared to compete against others.

The honesty and drive to be the best has to be maintained at every stage. If not, the competitor must return to competing against themselves, to rebuild the fundamental skills of competing, before then returning to competing against others. The Year 5’s working their way to the premier league, clearly were not ready to compete against others fairly.

Towards the end of the lesson, each zone played a knock-out competition to establish a zone champion. Once defeated, a pupil had to support the person they lost to and anyone that beat them in subsequent rounds. This ensured that everyone stayed involved in the competition in some way. It appeared to me that each of the zone champions were not used to being a winner in sport competitions. Certainly not the children to be first picked if the children pick their own teams (does anyone actually still do that?).

As each zone got behind their champion, they competed in two semi finals (obviously!). I asked the losing zone finalist to nominate two pupils to be coach/motivator to their champion, two to make up a song/chant, 2two to think up a dance/haka for the zone to perform before the best of five games match, and finally, a crucial role… someone to support the zone champion if they lost.

Despite being out of the competition as a competitor, every pupil was still involved in some way. Those less sporty, all of a sudden felt like they were the most important people in the room with crucial roles to play.
We all know what it is like to watch your national team lose in a major competition. It’s the same with any other team you emotionally invest in. By structuring the competition in the way that I did, it gave everyone a reason to care about their team and the individuals within it. Losing isn’t a comfortable experience, but one we must all learn to deal with. Despite it not being themselves who lose, experiencing defeat as a supporter or squad member can still be valuable experience.

The final saw two Year 5’s playing in a best of seven game match, with the rest of the class split supporting their respective champions. The atmosphere was electric. Every child engaged. A magic moment happened at the end of the match, during the scenes of celebration, as the losing finalist struggled through the crowds who were swamping the winner, in order to shake their hand and say well done.

There was time for on last competition… A best of nine game match with the Year 5 champion, versus one of my leaders. The Year 5’s reigned supreme and my Year 9’s perfectly modelled the values of grace and dignity in defeat. You couldn’t have written a better ending.

With the class going wild, late on a Friday afternoon, we said our goodbyes and left the poor teacher with a class full of highly charged, ecstatic children. Oops, sorry about that.

That’s a lot of learning for just one hour of wet play.