This week’s Talking Head comes from Craig Knowles, Acting Head Teacher at Hetton School. The Secondary School in Sunderland has gone through a vast change over the past two years and for Mr Knowles, like many other Heads, there is an importance of achieving more for the school, and its pupils, than just good results. Find out how Hetton School is achieving just this…
I know that this is a sentiment shared by every Headteacher, but how realistic is it with current accountability systems? Of course the answer is that it comes down to the strength of our moral purpose.
The last two years at my school have been tough in terms of headline results and this has felt worse because they have been hard to explain (or make excuses for). As a school, teaching and learning has improved, CPD is better directed and more effective than ever, the curriculum is more personalised to individual needs than previously, and we have a great new building – so why were results a disappointment? This was the dilemma that I was faced with when taking over as an Acting Headteacher. How could I address this at the same time as doing what I know to be morally right? I’m not certain we have found the answer, but the ‘Learn to Achieve’ strategy we have introduced is an answer that has started us in the right direction.
‘Learn to Achieve’ is my school’s adaptation of Professor Carol Dweck’s Growth Mindset work. Our aim as a school is to build a growth mindset in our young people, avoiding the fixed mindset that can trap them into a premature plateau and therefore cause them to fall short of their unknowable potential. Our end game is that students have a desire to learn, embrace challenges, persist in the face of setbacks, see effort as the path to mastery, learn from feedback and find inspiration in the success of others. Easier said than done!
We started small, trying to create curiosity in our students through posters placed throughout the school with the word ‘Yet’ or with phrases like ‘Embrace failure’. We expanded to our use of language in the classroom like, “I love the risk you took in…” and “Nearly – what would you do differently next time?” Reflecting after a term, we were already seeing a difference in the willingness of students to have another go at a piece of work that they would have previously given up on – displaying the type of resilience that not only makes a difference in their school lives, but forms a bedrock for a positive mental approach to the rest of their adult lives.
To say it has been transformational is disingenuous (yet!), but the approach has created a positivity around learning, and has the potential to have impact throughout our school community. We have encountered resistance from some unhappy parents and staff, but the passion we have for our ‘Learn to Achieve’ philosophy has overcome these attitudes.
You might ask the question – “so what?” and you’d be right. Unless it has a demonstrable impact then why shout about it? Our students are not all bursting with a desire to learn every lesson yet, but they are a lot closer than they were. Pupil and staff surveys show positive changes. Governors are on board, and if our KS4 results are anything to go by, there has been an impact in outcomes too.
This term we are building on our staff’s use of language by changing the way students speak to each other about their work. We are deliberately creating obstacles to challenge our students and all our policies and practices have been altered to reflect the new language. Lastly we are attempting to change the aspirations of the community for our young people through events and community work.
I don’t yet know how our philosophy will be interpreted by those outside our community, but I do know that it feels right and feels like we are delivering more than just good results.
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