Sunday, 6 January 2013

Reflection on the new year to come

Walking the dogs the other day, chatting about the Christmas holidays about to end & all our children, usually unwilling to agree on anything as a matter of principle, were unanimous about their intense desire not to go back to school. And that got me thinking ...

So, I've been a Headteacher (or Principal, as it's a Free School / Academy) for 'only' a term (not including the 6 months prior to opening), but I have been teaching for over 20 years. And I can say with certainty that I still absolutely love my job. Yes, there are times when it's hard & I feel overwhelmed, but on balance, I really do think I have one of the best jobs in the world. It is such a shame that the vast majority (if not the entirety) of young people under the age of 16 are today bordering on clinical depression thinking about the school run tomorrow.

I've heard and read a lot about the discontinuity that is the difference between a young persons' life outside of school and inside, highlighted by the immediacy of the Xbox, Internet and FaceBook. Watching my children over the last couple of weeks, I have noticed one thing - it's not about the currently popular modern technology-bashing phrase about short time spans! In fact, our two youngest have, at times, spent over 3 hours on task. Ok, it was an Xbox game (Minecraft, so no killing or blowing things up even ....!), but 3 hours, non-stop!! That's not a short attention span. And it's not even just modern technology. Over the break, we've taught the youngest to play backgammon. On a traditional board. And she will play two or three games in a row. Again, there's no short attention span there.

Reading, however, is different. I've just bought the eldest an ereader for Christmas and she's loving it. The youngest, however would, in her own words, rather "wait for the film to come out - so much easier and quicker!". And I don't blame her either. I've never read Les Miserables, but I've seen the stage show a number of times and am so excited about the film about to come out!

But back to school (& I can almost hear the national groans from households around the country). How can I, as a Head, do something to make school somewhere that my students want to be part of & enjoy like I do?

First of all, I would say that the vast majority of my students enjoy school the vast majority of the time, once they are there. In fact, it was lovely last term seeing the students coming in to school - none of them looked like they had to be forced out of bed to get to cool on time & they were not desperate to leave at the end of the school day either. This did not happen by chance. We focused, in the first term, on the personal. Seeing each student as an individual, rather than a herd. Getting to know them and understanding their individual personalities is important. In fact, I would say it's vital.

The other thing is relevance. Being an Academy, we can adapt the curriculum to make it relevant to our students. And we are. Yes, this is hard work, because it has meant that every teacher has been re-writing schemes of work to match the school. I know that I have an amazing team of staff with me, who have worked hard (& will have worked hard over the break) to bring this vision to reality, but it has also been essential. The students know that what they are being taught is relevant to them and has been crafted by teachers who care.

We also don't talk down to them. The environment is one where we encourage the students to see themselves as being in a workplace. This is the starting point of our behaviour policy too; students are held to account for their behaviour and asked to justify their actions in terms of what would be acceptable in the workplace.

And we seek to make the environment even more relevant to them, by engaging other people in our journey. Each student has a member of the local business community as a mentor to them and we bring in opportunities to reflect the students' excitement. This term, for example, we are looking to offer Sign Language lessons as an after school club, acting master-classes by a local, successful actress and links with an organisation that will develop reporting skills in a group of our students as an extra-curricular activity. The Reporters' Academy is a local organisation that has similar values to ours; giving young people real-life experiences of situations and giving them the skills to be successful.

I am excited about welcoming our students back tomorrow morning and while some may well be groaning about coming back to school, I am hopeful that once we get back into things, they will throw themselves into it all as fully as they did last term!


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