Monday, 28 July 2014

Risk takers

"Looking for educators, coaches, athletes that have taken huge risks with their career, lifestyle etc please get in touch ASAP. Anyone?!"

I can answer on all three of the roles listed, which makes me wonder if I have a wreckless personality!

As an athlete - I used to be a footballer for two age groups, because I was quite good at it. At 14, I sustained a back injury at school and everything was over before it had really begun. One day, after a year of intense physio and chiropractic intervention, I was watching my school team play - the one I'd ended up coaching and been asked to manage, and they were losing. Some of my old 'proper footballing team mates' were in the opposition and my team were asking if I could play. I was under instruction not to do anything but gentle running, so football was out of the question but I agreed to go in goal with a bit of gentle prodding from the PE teacher. No harm would come to me because people were banned from the area, no contact would be made. All was well until my friend struck a shot that really should have gone in, but my reflex action was to save it with my leg as if controlling it; my groin ligaments went with such a sharp pain that I didn't even cry. I just couldn't walk properly. Again. That seemingly harmless risk put me back to square one, back to physio and more importantly, cemented my foray into coaching instead of playing.

As a coach - I never intended to be a coach, it just happened. When I first got the back injury, I was very very miserable and starting to not really care about anything, so the coaches from my old club invited me back to coach the younger ones. At first I refused. However, I later started out by mirroring/buddy coaching the lead and then took a separate group. Within months, I was coaching for clubs beyond my own and being asked to start up their girls teams as well as attending meetings about developing the sport. In the run up to my GCSE's, I had to say to 2 of the 5 clubs asking for me that "my Mum says I have to spend some time concentrating on school". At 16, I was offered a place in a well-known football academy without a trial but turned it down and instead stayed at school to attempt 6th form. I barely managed a year at 6th form! I wasn't committed or respectful of what I was being taught and was generally a pain. I've never been so disinterested in learning! I wrote nothing but my name and the title on the English exam, scoring a U, yet it was meant to be my top subject, alongside sport. I was (or am? does it disappear?) 'talented' in both.
 I continued coaching and at 18, was working at it professionally but didn't enjoy the job or feel I was learning. A previous week, a company had e-mailed out of the blue asking if I knew any coaches that might be interested in working the summer in their boys residential academy and I'd replied to say I'd keep an ear out, then thought nothing of it. After a particularly disillusioning day the following week, I decided not to commit to the summer with the current job and to try our the 'spammers'. The train to Sussex had gone one stop (it wasn't even out of London!) when I phoned my Mum, begging her to come and pick me up because the enormity of the risk had suddenly hit me, but she pretty much refused unless I was really, really desperate! So I stayed on the train, started the job and had the best coaching days of my life, keeping a long-term relationship with the company. Two years later, I designed a girls football academy for them. The train experience underpinned every future risk I took when my confidence wavered, until Nepal.

As a teacher - I wasn't ready to teach when I finished my PGCE in July 2012. I knew how to do it, I could be technically good at it but something wasn't right. When compared to coaching, teaching was a mechanism, not a that point. I wasn't comfortable with it and this came across in interviews and general conversation. In fact, I had no real interest in education during my PGCE except to do what I thought was 'good teaching'. I tick-listed and didn't push my boundaries - I didn't take any risks!
 By August 2012, I'd made my mind up teaching wasn't for me. It was a wasted year, I didn't want to do it and having no idea what to do, I booked a flight to Nepal, then looked Nepal up on the map to see where it was. I was between teaching monks in Nepal or doing a martial arts academy in China, but the martial arts had cold showers whereas Nepal promised luke warm ones, so my decision was made.
 For me, Nepal was like a no-mans land. In fact, all of us who were there were seeking space to work out something, even if we didn't realise it. I found a creative teacher inside me, a responsible teacher, an enthusiastic teacher who enjoyed learning with the children. With a lack of resources such as paper and technology I was free from teaching in a ticklisted way. I came home early after getting progressively ill - most likely pneumonia - and after drifting for a few weeks, took on long-term supply because I wanted to see different schools. I lived in a hotel for my first job, Leamington for my second, Aylesbury for my 3rd and now Oxford for my 4th...but the 4th is permanent.

The 4th job is actually the same as the first, where we began the Culture Chat Project, from which I then began writing about it, then began writing about other things for various sites and magazines, before having a crack at presenting and research too. Without that time in Nepal, I'd have done none of these things. Without the original back injury, I wouldn't have been spurned on to try anything different. Not all risks I've taken worked out, but some have been life-changing. This is what sport develops; risk involves failure. You have to fail, but that failure informs your next attempt until you work out what's needed for success.

Tuesday, 22 July 2014

The Forgotten 'to-do list'

The Forgotten ‘to-do list’

1. Start writing letters again; handwriting carries an intimacy that a computer can’t emulate, and graphology is a dying skill. Try to make it legible.

2. Spend time with those that matter (stop spending time with those that don’t?).

3. Finish all the books that I’ve  attempted to read this year.

4. Remain disciplined in gym enthusiasm. Keep the wise words of manager Eddie in mind when expecting the body to be the way it once was; I am a baby again, learning to walk from scratch.

5. Paint nails at least once a month.
6. Go and see the stars. It’s been a while. Space is one of the most inspiring things in life and costs nothing. Remember they are not “the blue things in the sky” as I once thought they were before V led me into a field with promises of The Milky Way.
* Make wishes on shooting ones.

7. Watch the 3 box-sets I haven’t watched, despite having them for months.

8. Try harder not to be shy, especially when meeting strangers outside the usual group (no need to be startled, I am not a rabbit).  

9. Have the Spanish themed party and book a ticket to Seville if it’s affordable.

10. Write a poem and paint/draw a picture.

11. Don’t drink coffee right before bed. Insomnia’s a beast!

Monday, 26 May 2014

Original Growth Mindset article

Grendon Underwood Combined School is a special, happy, thriving school which nestles along the main street of the rural village, Grendon Underwood in Buckinghamshire. From the outside it looks relatively quaint and quiet but don’t be deceived; inside is a hive of collaborative, reflective activity! As soon as you enter through the doors you feel an energy about the place and are greeted warmly not only by office staff, but also the Head Teacher and any other passing staff that happen to be in the vicinity. It is fair to say the atmosphere here is different.
As a Grendon employee I am bound to say positive things about our school but I assure you nobody is forcing me to write this! Since being judged RI in October 2012 we have been on an action-packed, enthusiastic and challenging journey to improve and ensure that we not only deliver educational excellence to our children but also develop them as rounded individuals that are prepared for success. Read on to learn more about how this is achieved…

At Grendon, we believe in leadership. Everyone is a leader with a vital part to play, not only in our school’s success but also their own. Our dedicated and committed team of staff and governors are here for one reason and one reason only; to better the outcomes of each unique child who attends GUCS. They are the important people who are treasured, valued and respected (it is their school after all!).

Headteacher since January 2013, Pippa Brand-Benee told Eduzine “At Grendon our philosophy of education is based on the principles of ‘Growth Mindset Learning’ (C. Dweck Ph.D). All the learners at Grendon – children, staff and governors – are here to ‘grow their own brains!’ The word ‘yet’ is very important to our philosophy because there are many things we all cannot do… however it’s just ‘yet’ because with determination, commitment, perseverance and many other Learning Behaviours we can fire the neurons in our brain to embed these new skills.  We are ready to make mistakes in our learning because we like to try hard things – we can’t grow our brains on a continual diet of easy stuff! So expect hard stuff at Grendon, and expect to make mistakes, show humility and learn from these.”

 Mrs Brand-Benee’s energy and ambition has been an asset to the school. Already, these positive behaviours are embedded within the school community, which can be attributed to her unwavering focus on what was needed to make this a school where children flourish. Staff members speak in a positive, growth language; parents use the learning behaviours to encourage children and students take responsibility for their goals, relishing any opportunities and inviting challenge. In an educational climate fixated on data, it is really refreshing to be part of a school t recognises that learning is not just a curriculum, but a way of life. Just as plants are nurtured to bloom, children here are equipped with the life skills they need in order to grow.

At Grendon the children wear the School badge with pride as it represents all of our Learning Behaviours: 
Pippa continued “We call these Learning Behaviours and not values as we aim to demonstrate these on a day-day basis in all areas of school life.” The learning behaviours are what makes this school stand out from the rest. Pupils enjoy coming to school and are good self-motivators, often referring to the Growth Mindset when working or taking on new roles around the school such as playground leaders or office helpers, where some confidence and commitment is needed. They embrace opportunities offered and truly ‘feel the fear but do it anyway’, making the Grendon community an exciting one to be part of.

It was through the embedding of these Learning Behaviours that led to many Year 6 children offering to help in our growing EYFS during the autumn term. Never before was the curiosity there for the eldest children in the school to ‘venture back down’ to where they all began! Whilst there are links across the school, it wasn’t often that the children from opposite end of the curriculum crossed-over, usually because of the perceived difference in intellectual ability and age. This curiosity of ‘playing’ with Nursery and moreover, Reception children, inspired those at the top of the school to suggest that they have a go at teaching phonics.

During October the ‘buzz’ of leadership escalated whereby 100% of the Year 6 children were signed up to help during their own time; before school, during break and at lunch time! However helping the children learn through their play wasn’t enough!  Initially two of the Year 6 children became the EYFS Leaders, observing and feeding back to me on the Letters & Sounds lessons programme I delivered.  They spoke to children and analysed what they had learnt and what the next steps might be in their learning, showing a maturity beyond their age. As well as this being a valuable experience for the children, it was also really beneficial for me to hear their perceptions of my teaching!

 With this information the two EYFS Leaders devised their own one-off synthetic phonics session called ‘Rainbow Phonics’ an interactive Power Point, following the four stages of teaching phonics ( revise, teach, practise and apply) was used as the basis of the lesson.  Reception children were given the opportunity to work in learning partners as well as using hands-on equipment, inside and outside environments and using the VAK approach.  Feedback was given to the two young leaders. As a result of the success of their teaching the girls were keen to ‘train up’ other children in Year 6 to deliver this once a week phonic session. So, having witnessed the passion to lead ignited in Charlotte and Ruby, staff created EYFS Leader roles to challenge their abilities. They delivered a lesson to their year 6 peers about what teaching phonics would entail, focusing on the fact this role needed commitment, organisation, patience and good communication skills. As so many embraced the challenge, we had to limit the idea to one class at a time for each term. Our EYFS leaders now give advice and guidance to others prior to delivery, feedback comments from staff to the children and continue to sometimes give their own sessions. The sessions have little impact on the year six curriculum time as they often prepare ideas during their own time and excitedly discuss with their peers what they could do. Due to their high motivation, the leadership duties have allowed genuine opportunities to take risks and have successful experiences, which in turn have heightened their confidence.

Responses from Year 6 children have included:
“It was a fun experience and helped me get to know the Reception children better while teaching them”
“I felt like a teacher and think I would like to be one”
“They were all well behaved” “I enjoyed deciding to use The Wild Wood Area to introduce an element of outdoor learning to every day learning.”

When asked what their favourite bit was and why, reception children responded by stating:
“I liked learning the letters using the PowerPoint”
“I remembered all of the letters when we drew on the SMART Board with Year 6”
“I liked using the wands the older children made for our learning”
“I liked using the dice to think of so many words.”

 The experience has proven a valuable interaction for both EYFS and Year 6 children and brought the school community closer together. As the year sixes are familiar to EYFS, the younger children tend to go to them on the playground if they want help, a friend or just to say hello.
 Now, having witnessed the benefits of Rainbow Phonics, and being overwhelmed by the enthusiasm for involvement from year six, we are continuing to offer the opportunity for them to take on this leadership role. If in September you’d have said the curriculum would be designed, delivered and evaluated by our year six pupils I’d probably have thought you were joking. It seems like such a big feat, especially when you consider the time dedicated to teaching teachers how to teach phonics on PGCES/SCITTs yet these children have epitomised the growth mind-set philosophy and shown that despite Carol Dweck’s ideas coming under criticism sometimes, the behaviours do have a positive impact on the children. Here at Grendon we are very proud of our pupils and what they have achieved.

Written by Kevin Morrissey and Kieran Dhunna Halliwell (Jan 14)