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A child is a small person, not a sub-person
I have been at a Head teacher’s conference this week focussing on putting the child at the centre of everything we do. You could argue that this is a bit of a ‘no-brainer’, for what are schools about if not children? However, traditionally schools were often places where children had ‘education’ done to them. Systems were in place about which they had no say and they made no contributions at all to their daily experiences. They were passive learners with didactic teachers in rigid and inflexible institutions. At the conference we heard from a number of inspirational speakers, including the Children’s Commissioner Dr Maggie Atkinson. Her job is to promote the voice of the 12 million 0-18 year olds in the UK. What a responsibility?! http://www.childrenscommissioner.gov.uk/
However, on a smaller scale all head teachers have a responsibility to listen to the voice of the children in their school and be their advocates and representatives.
Dr Atkinson talked about mutuality and the need for education to be around the child and not just done to the child. This reflects the thinking of Professor David Hargreaves who talks about co-construction and the child being involved in his/her learning journey. He advocates student voice as one of the key elements of deep learning (including formative assessment practices and pupils knowing learning strategies). He refers to the 19th century imaginary of education where rote learning occurs, where children are merely vessels for knowledge and schools are run for the benefit of the institution and its staff and not for the children; so all pupils have the same lessons according to age group and the same expectations are set, irrespective of ability and there is only one goal – to achieve the top grade in all examinations and anything less than that is a failure. Learning involves huge feats of memory and little application of knowledge or skills. In the 21st century imaginary schools are run for the benefit of children, they seek (although still within the necessary economic constraints) to offer a variety of programmes and pathways for different pupils according to ability and interest (including differentiating the type of work and activities set within a lesson according to individual need) they involve the pupils in key decisions about their environment, their learning, including teaching styles and curriculum and seek to promote a rounded individual who develops skills, empathy, teamwork, emotional intelligence and finally achieves the best grades possible for him/her in the areas that interest him/her in readiness for next steps. All schools are constrained by financial limitations, even in the independent sector and cannot offer one to one lessons or totally individual curricula programmes. However, we can listen to our pupils, develop courses and extracurricular activities with which they will engage and find interesting and help them to understand their own learning styles and preferences and ameliorate them.
At Teesside High School we are striving to develop our pupil voice. For many years pupils have had student councils and have discussed issues such as school lunches, the toilets and designs of common rooms. These are all very important in children’s daily lives and their contribution to these topics is vital. However, I am interested in taking this a stage further. I want to have their input into teacher recruitment and now all recruitment panels have a pupil panel and their feedback is valued and listened to. We are conducting a survey in school over the next few weeks about how children learn and what their preferred classroom activities are. We can then use this information to develop our teaching practices and hone them more carefully to the needs of the pupils. Our Head Boy and Girl attend governors meetings and senior team meetings from time to time to give us feedback and enter into dialogue with the adults who are making decisions about their school.
Now some traditionalists may and do argue that children are ‘taking over’ but this is not the case. The most important thing that will make a success of pupil voice is that they are educated and supported in knowing how to use this opportunity and they learn how to listen to the views of adults and realise that egocentricity will not prevail here and that mutuality is the key. They must develop skills in negotiation and persuasion and become more eloquent in the process. Their ability to use language to help them to express their views and needs also develops their literacy. So if child-centred learning makes you panic and think of the 1970s when children learned no grammar in English and anything went, where there were no rules or discipline in some schools then think again. Our children are very used to being asked their opinion in a commercial sense. They are savvy customers and we ignore that at our peril. They have the right to an excellent education under the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child 1989 but also the Human Rights Act. They also have a right to a childhood; this includes playing, having fun, mixing with their peers and forming relationships and learning from their mistakes and failures to grow stronger and more resilient. I am not proposing that we ask them to be early adults or skip the developmental stages. Sometimes they lack experience and need the adults to guide them carefully into the right choices, decision and actions, so we are not defunct, thank goodness. To treat them as sub-persons is not morally defensible and this will never happen on my watch at Teesside High School.
“Children are not the people of tomorrow, but people today. They are entitled to be taken seriously. They have a right to be treated by adults with tenderness and respect, as equals.” – Janusz Korczak.
The UN Convention on the rights of the child says that every child has:
The right to a childhood (including protection from harm)
The right to be educated (including all girls and boys completing primary school)
The right to be healthy (including having clean water, nutritious food and medical care)
The right to be treated fairly (including changing laws and practices that are unfair on children)
The right to be heard (including considering children’s views)
March 4, 2014
February 28, 2014
Travel Broadens the Mind
“Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness.” – Mark Twain
This week’s theme at Teesside High is ‘Travelling’. On Monday in assembly we heard from our Assistant Head about the seven ancient wonders of the world and also some possible candidates for modern day wonders of the world. I was delighted to realise that I have travelled to 3 of the modern candidates, Petra in Jordan, The Great Wall of China and the Colosseum in Italy and one of the ancient ones – The site of the Colossus of Rhodes.Indeed, I have loved travelling for many years and enjoy exploring new cultures and countries. I have benefitted from visiting countries that do not normally figure as entries in the mainstream travel brochures. These include Syria (before the current awful civil conflict), Jordan, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Namibia, Estonia, central Russia and Finland. I find it really fascinating to connect with different cultures, foods and languages. Furthermore, visiting the historic sites of the country in question also embellishes an understanding of why the culture is at it is in the modern day.
This topic is particularly relevant following a half term, as I am aware that many of our pupils have had the benefit of a foreign holiday during the break. I was fortunate enough to visit Cyprus. Many may only think of this mediterranean island as a venue for beach holidays, sun and sea. However, I was able to visit the Paphos mosaics, some of which are 4000 years old and chart the history of the island under the Roman Empire and Greek rule. The Cyprus Museum additionally traced the Ottoman and Venetian rules in Cyprus and helped us to explore the traditions of ceramics and the multitudinous visitors to the island over the centuries. The Cyprus Handicraft Centre is the home to artisans who replicate the traditional crafts of lace making, weaving, silverware and copperwork (because the name Cyprus originates from the word for copper). We were also on the island during the festival of tsikno pempti (or Thursday of the burnt fat) which is the day at the start of Lent when Greek Orthodox Christians eat up all their meat in preparation for a fast during Lent in the run up to Easter and souvlaki can be smelt roasting on spits across the island. In addition to this I revelled in the beautiful salads with locally grown tomatoes and coriander, in delicious halloumi and feta cheeses produced in the Troodos mountains and in traditional sweets such as baclava.I spent time in Nicosia, the last divided capital in Europe divided between the Greek and Turkish sectors. In one visit I encountered history, two languages (Greek and Turkish), local cooking, crafts and politics (plus the benefit of blue skies and temperatures in the 20s!)
At Teesside High we provide many opportunities for children to travel abroad. Since I arrived at the school over two years ago we have organised visits to USA, France, Germany, Spain, Italy and in the summer to Barbados. Prior to my arrival there were visits to Uganda, China, Namibia, Thailand and Borneo . These trips have been run by a variety of staff from different departments. There have been visits focussing on history, art, sport (including skiing), music, geography, DT, science, MFL, ICT and English / Drama. Teachers at the school are very aware that learning outside of the classroom is vital to bring their subjects to life and to demonstrate their relevance. As Mark Twain states, these ‘hands-on’ experiences are also antidotes to prejudice and small-mindedness.
“No one realizes how beautiful it is to travel until he comes home and rests his head on his old, familiar pillow.” – Lin Yutang
Even if an overseas visit is prohibitively expensive, travel around our home country can also be beneficial to broaden the mind and avoid ‘provincialism’. Many of our younger children benefit from visits to the local park or historic sites and even in the High school trips to London, Hadrian’s Wall, on geography fieldwork or as part of Duke of Edinburgh to the moors, dales or Lake District are all valuable learning experiences. In fact overseas visits can also make you appreciate the beauty and assets of your own culture and mother country. People can of course be armchair travellers these days with access to a word wide web and the TV. In school we can recreate some travel experiences when we show video clips of foreign cultures in assemblies and lessons and have themed food days in the dining room such as our recent Chinese and Mexican days. However, there is no real substitute for arriving in a foreign land and hearing the call to prayer from the muezzin in the minaret in a Muslim country, or smelling and tasting the local delicacies on street food stalls, or seeing a riot of beautiful tropical flowers or feeling the heat or humidity against your skin of a foreign climate. Indeed, I always recommend to sixth formers who are rather study weary after four years of public examinations at GCSE and A level to have a gap year where they travel and experience new cultures, meet new people and visit interesting places. Even better if they can help people less fortunate than they are in the developing world like two of our pupils did in a progamme organised by their church last year to Mexico where they helped to build houses and a school for local people.
So let us accept and acknowledge that education is much more than sitting in a classroom completing exercises and passing examinations. It is about broadening the mind, finding new experiences, moving out of our comfort zone and exploring the world in which we have the privilege to live in order to stimulate our intellect but also with all of our senses and emotions.
“We live in a wonderful world that is full of beauty, charm and adventure. There is no end to the adventures we can have if only we seek them with our eyes open.” – Jawaharial Nehru
February 17, 2014
February 14, 2014
Following on from last week’s blog when I bemoaned the winter months and this continued dreadful British weather, I want to talk about being positive this week. This is something that the people living in the south and west of the UK will be finding a challenge at the present time with the ongoing flooding situation. However, we have seen some true British grit with people supporting and helping each other in a time of crisis and putting a brave face on.
The theme of the week here at Teesside High School has been human rights. In assembly on Monday I talked to the pupils about the 30 articles of the universal charter for human rights, in particular article 26 which states that everyone has a right to an education. I was able to remind them how very fortunate they are to live in a country where education is available to all children aged 5-18. Of course when they have just been given a stack of homework and are facing the perfect tense or simultaneous equations on a friday afternoon, they may not feel that way. However, I frequently carry out learning walks around the school and when I visit lessons I see pupils who are having fun learning; they may be on their ipads making an animated film in classics, or using a science app to explore the digestive system, or perhaps they are transported into the past with a hotseat lesson where the teacher has taken the role of a second world war soldier and is being interviewed by the pupils as journalists from local or national papers. Our pupils have opportunities to develop their skills including their creativity, their problem solving and evaluation skills. They get plenty of exercise with our full PE programme and enjoy competitive sport and the opportunity to perform in music concerts, our upcoming production of Oliver or Talent Night. Our pupils have the added benefit of wonderful facilities, including a stimulating forest school, all weather pitches and a state of the art bespoke sixth form building.
I showed the pupils video clips of children in Arusha in rural Eastern Tanzania going to a school with no new technologies, nothing on the walls and no glass in the windows. However, even here the children were engaged in their learning because they knew the value of education and that it was their ticket to knowledge, the prospect of a career and a better way of life. The positive news is that the number of children worldwide who now get no education at all has reduced from 110 million worldwide in 2002 to 57 million in 2014. This is partly a result of countries coming together to set some millenium goals, one of which was a target worded as follows;
Ensure that, by 2015, children everywhere, boys and girls alike, will be able to complete a full course of primary schooling.
However, there is still a long way to go and we must be collectively determined to achieve universal global education for all children.
Positivity in education is very important. It is vital that teachers have high expectations for their pupils. Research by Rosenthal and Jacobson in 1968 involved a group of primary teachers being told that certain of their pupils had been identified in a test as likely to make marked gains academically in the coming school year when in reality they had merely been chosen randomly by the researchers. Subsequently these pupils made better academic progress than their peers and Rosenthal and Jacobson interpreted this as evidence that positive teacher attitudes influenced their behaviour towards their pupils and produced learning outcomes. The educational academic Chris Kyriacou also talks about high teacher expectations being of paramount importance in order to stretch all abilities of pupils to achieve the best attainment possible.
Having a glass half full mentality can fill those around you with a sense of hope and happiness. Henry Ford said ;
‘If you think you can, or if you think you can’t’ you’re right.
He also said;
‘Don’t find fault, find remedy; anybody can complain’.
Henry Ford was one of the most successful businessmen and entrepreneurs of the twentieth century and that was largely down to his optimism. I would have loved to have met him as I imagine that after just half an hour in his presence, you would go out into the world feeling fired up and enthusiastic about anything you had to face. There are certain people who can drain the energy from a room with their negative attitude, moaning and ability to see a problem around every corner and a plethora of reasons not to do something. Henry Ford would have been the opposite sort of person. Nowadays he would be your first choice to ‘friend’ on Facebook or to follow on Twitter!
The ideas and views that you hold can become a self-fulfilling prophecy. One of my favourite childhood books was ‘Pollyanna’ by Eleanor H. Porter written in 1913. The main character in the novel, a young girl refuses to be negative about anything. Pollyanna’s philosophy of life centers on what she calls “The Glad Game”, an optimistic attitude she learned from her father. The game consists of finding something to be glad about in every situation. Even when faced with people who are grumpy and sometimes even rude, Pollyanna is determined to see the best in people and have a rosy attitude about all aspects of life. She infects everyone around her with her sunny disposition. It is only when she has a serious accident and breaks her back that she loses that outlook. It is at the moment that the people she has been kind to rally around to cheer her up and pull her through the bad times.
It is also important for pupils to have a positive approach to their studies. If they come to lessons with the notion that they will not understand and it is too difficult, progress will be limited and success will be diminished. An open mind and positive mental attitude will help children overcome many barriers and difficulties. Of course this should be accompanied by excellent teaching, staff who are prepared to spend the time explaining things clearly and facilitating learning. But learning is truly a two way process and the positivity of both teacher and learner combination is a potent cocktail.
Our pupils have shown a great amount of positive mental attitude this week with their ‘have a heart’ campaign. They have taken the issue of teenage cancer very seriously and have organised a plethora of activities to raise money during the week including a book and DVD exchange, sponge the teacher, a valentine’s card service and many other innovative ideas all designed to help others and to take positive action rather than being defeated by some of the serious challenges thrown at us in life. Overall they have raised nearly £900 and I am so very proud of their tenacity and positive determination to make a difference.
So this week I have resolved to be positive and to ensure that this positivity rubs off on those around me. I want to have a Pollyanna effect on the staff and pupils! The art of ‘mindfulness’ is the new fashion. Sportsmen and women and business experts swear that it can change your life and at a conference I attended before Christmas it became apparent that many schools are beginning to use these techniques to help their staff be more focused and less stressed and to help pupils learn more effectively and develop the skills of perseverance and persistence. This is definitely something for us to explore further at THS as we are always open to new ideas and innovative approaches to achieving success for our pupils.
February 10, 2014
On 6 February Teesside High School held its annual Careers Convention. The event is designed to enable pupils from Years 9 to 12 to explore a range of university courses as well as a myriad of different career options. Talking directly to recent graduates and Professionals ranging from Cardio-Vascular and Veterinary Surgeons to Lawyers and Accountants gave students an invaluable insight into the qualifications and experience required to achieve their chosen careers.
Many local and national businesses attended including Lister Architects, Siemens PLC, Burgess Hyder Dental Group, ABB Engineering Services, Bousfield Gaskin, Caterpillar, Integrity Search, James Cook University Hospital, Stanhope Park Vets and South Tees NHS. There were also representatives from the Police Force, British Army, Royal Navy and Royal Air Force.
Delegates from universities from across the country, including Teesside, Durham, Newcastle, Northumbria, Sunderland, York, Leeds, Bradford and York St John also joined the event.
Kristin Atkinson of Integrity Search said ‘We were delighted to be given the opportunity to exhibit and discuss the fantastic career opportunities there are within the ever growing digital marketing and e-commerce sector, from web design and development to creative journalism with the pupils and parents of Teesside High’
Head teacher Deborah Duncan said ‘The evening was a real success and it was great to see our pupils thinking about their futures and considering the exciting career prospects they have in store’.
February 7, 2014
Beacons of Light
I find January and February the toughest two months of the year. They seem even worse since I returned from living in Cyprus where everyday the sky is blue. Getting up in the morning here feels more of a challenge when it is dark and most days we go home in the dark too. This year we have battled with rain, wind and cold temperatures. It is understandable that people in some Northern hemisphere countries suffer from SAD disease. Seasonal affective disorder (SAD), also known as winter depression, winter blues, or seasonal depression, is considered a mood disorder in which people experience depressive symptoms in the winter months. This phenomenon is not recent and was first described by the 6th century Goth scholar Jordanes in his Getica. One of the treatments sometimes prescribed for it is additional physical exercise and we obliged yesterday with our annual House cross country competition in which all pupils were required to take part. Interestingly, winter depression is a common slump in the mood of some inhabitants of most Nordic countries except for Iceland. It has recently been suggested that this may be attributed to the large amount of fish traditionally eaten by Icelandic people; in 2007 about 90 kilograms per person per year as opposed to about 24 kg in the US and Canada, rather than to genetic predisposition; a similar anomaly is noted in Japan, where annual fish consumption in recent years averages about 60 kg per capita. So I will encourage our catering staff to have healthy amounts of fish on the menu throughout the winter months.
This week in the Christian calendar was Candlemas. It is a time when Christians celebrate the presentation of Jesus at the temple as a young boy and when Simeon refers to him in the Gospel of Luke as the Light to reveal God to the nations. For Christians Jesus was the light of the world, the hope for the future and his first official appearance as a young boy marks a key transition point between Christmas and Easter. Candles are lit in churches across the Christian world. It is a turning point in the year and is part way between the shortest day of the Year on 21st December (the winter solstice) and the vernal equinox on 21st March which celebrates the start of Spring. We feel that we have turned a corner and that the light of hope is beckoning us towards long awaited spring and new beginnings.
In school too these first two months are difficult for the children. Many of the older pupils have sat mocks and faced the harsh reality of how much work is still needed in preparation for the final examinations in the summer if they are to achieve their true potential. Others are continuing with the daily demands of lessons, homework, sports fixtures, music practice and so on. All of this is against a backdrop of dark nights and weekends where it is more difficult to get out in the fresh air and let off some steam.
However, this week we have seen our own beacon of light illuminate the horizon. We have officially moved into our long awaited sixth form building. Seeing it last Friday evening all lit up on the hill overlooking the river and our wonderful rolling grounds gave me hope and lightened my heart. The Year 12 and 13 students are delighted with their new building and just yesterday when I was over there, they were enjoying their lessons and studying hard, or relaxing for a while and chatting in their lovely common room. Research has shown that a building can have an effect on children’s ability to learn or on workers’ morale. I am certain that a combination of additional taught lessons at A level and this fantastic, state of the art, modern and cheerful building will ameliorate the students’ moods and their prospects of attaining good grades.
I often think that every child is like a little beacon of light. They give us hope for the future. During our highly successful careers evening last night pupils chatted to a variety of representatives from different professions and began to consider the direction their lives will take. They have their lives in front of them and if they work hard and are determined, the world is their oyster. It feels like Teesside High is sending out lanterns of light and hope into the world; so much potential, choice and possibility.
My own mood has been lifted by a number of events this week and by the fact that when the school bell rings at 4pm it is now still light! This morning I noticed that the snowdrops are blooming in abundance in my garden and they are delicate but beautiful. Roll on spring and Easter and my favourite summer term with light nights, rounders and cricket. Winter will soon be behind us! But in the meantime Teesside High School will shine as a light in the darkness to inspire the young people in our care.
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Click here to read the latest news from our Prep School.
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