Running: a British School in Nanjing

I have always been an advocate of running. Good for the soul and good for the heart. Not so good for the knees. It clears my mind and gives me breathing space away from 4G, Wifi, browsers and emails. It’s always been a key to a better work-life balance.

As part of my work with Dragonfly Training, I was invited to run two training days at The British School in Nanjing. My two year visa and an excellent track record, meant I was a good fit. We had lots of time to find out exactly what the school’s needs were, so we formulated a toolbox of practical ideas to improve, regenerate and revitalise teaching and learning. After a long journey, my first priority was to explore the school, share resources and connect with senior staff. I was able to spend time listening to the Head of Senior School, Heidi Witt-Williams and the Headteacher, Matthew Shephard, describe the unique context of their school. It was time well spent.

I just want to say how much of a pleasure it was to host Marcus here in Nanjing. I think it’s often overlooked how important it is that training is enjoyable and that trainers need to be engaging. Marcus was excellent; I only got to sit in a couple of hours of the two days but I felt inspired. – Matthew Shephard, Head, BSN

The two days were filled with practical suggestions for differentiation, assessment for learning, stretch and challenge and ways to create independent learners. The final session looked at how to use projects (particularly STEM projects from www.practicalaction.org/schools) to bring classrooms alive. Staff completed the Squashed Tomato Challenge, starting with a scavenger hunt for various items and then constructing a working model to show how to bring small amounts of tomatoes down a Nepalese hillside to markets in the valleys. Great fun, highly engaging and a fantastic way to finish the two days.

Day one started with a ‘Keynote’ presentation to the whole staff. It was called ‘Brilliant Brains’ and was really a way to get people thinking about how connections, brain development and memories are key factors in learning. I have learnt a great deal from a fellow trainer at Dragonfly, Dave Taylor and been lucky enough to share ideas about how kids learn best and what makes us better teachers. I was able to use some of these during the first session.

Making connections with real teachers really matters to me. I invest a huge amount of time and effort in creating a tailored course to suit the needs of individual schools. I want people to enjoy it, but most of all I want it to impact on their professional lives, making work more rewarding, fulfilling and ultimately more enjoyable. I want children to be engaged and nurtured, stretched and challenged rather than become passengers in a classroom full of uninspiring content and knowledge. I was inspired by the passion of the educators at the British School in Nanjing, their flexibility and willingness to adapt to new situations, new buildings and new challenges. I have a follow up chat with the Head in the next few days to see how things are progressing.

The Head, Matthew Shephard, has a calm and uncomplicated approach to school leadership. He promotes quality first teaching, supporting and encouraging his staff. He is surrounded by a highly experienced team of educators who promote and model excellent teaching and learning from Nursery up to Year 13. We discussed leadership styles, teaching and learning……. and running. I suggested a simple program to build up to 10k over the next few months. Good for the soul. Good for the heart. I look forward to joining him on a run in Nanjing the next time I visit.

For details on Dragonfly Training courses, give Mary Chapman a call on +44 (0)2920 711787 or email mary@dragonfly-training.co.uk

 

Sir John Jones: magic weaving

June 2016 – University of Sussex

Some key ideas from the talk given by Sir John Jones to a large group of trainee teachers at Sussex University this summer. It was remarkably inspiring.

“Magic weaving”

The three most important words to an educator should be ‘children, children, children’, nothing else too catchy or well-thought out just tell it like it is straight from the heart. Most educators would say they join the profession to ‘make a difference’ and Sir John Jones would generally agree that this matters. However, bigger factors influence the success of our endeavours as educators. Babies are born (fairly frequently apparently) into a ‘demographic’ (a family, a postcode and an income level) and life begins. For some, this is a happy journey but for others, it’s a daily struggle against the odds. It’s not fair. One in four children in the UK lives in poverty. One and a half million children live in a house where no adult has worked. Sir John described four battlegrounds that these children face over the next few years:

  • Cognitive – in a professional family a four-year-old will have been exposed to over 40 million words. Adults will hold conversations over the dinner table and read books together. In a deprived area, the likelihood is only 10 million words and lower levels of literacy. Society wrongly confuses this gap with ability. Not fair.
  • Emotional – in a professional family, children will get on average twelve encouragements to every one discouragement. A huge impact on self-esteem. At the other end of the spectrum in benefit street, one encouragement is met with two discouragements. Not fair.
  • Aspiration – society distinguishes the aspirations of children from wealthier backgrounds as ‘high’ and those from poorer backgrounds as ‘low’. Sir John suggests we use the words ‘broad’ and ‘narrow’ instead.
  • Expectation – most wealthier children would expect to attend university. Those from poorer backgrounds have never heard of a university. He reveled in the fact that at a Bolton Academy, where he is a governor, 15 students went on to University last year. The first members of their families ever to have attended University. Boy did they party.

He went on to quote Nelson Mandela:

“It is only through learning that the son of a miner can become the manager of the mine and it is only through learning that the daughter of a cleaner can become a doctor and it is only through learning that the child of a farm worker can become the president of a proud nation.”

The future of the planet lies in the palms of the hands of those adults that have dedicated their lives to young people – the magic weavers.

Sir John skillfully and passionately described the context in which teachers are required to perform. It was not a political statement. It clarified the importance of the role of the teacher as a route to social justice.

“The keeper of dreams”

Everyone should have one of those teachers. The ones that made school better or even bearable. I remember mine, Mrs Yorke. A maths teacher from the old school. She taught we learnt. We practised and we got really good at it. We would do anything for her. Sir John described a conversation with a teacher who was inspired by one of her teachers. A teacher who was there on a wet and windy November afternoon to see her one and only netball hattrick. The teacher who said I’ll look after your self-belief until you’re ready to take it back. She was the one person who a year after her mum’s death, whilst she was still at school, came up to her and whispered in her ear “Are you okay? I’m here if you need me.”

Working in a school is a supreme act of faith he went on to say. Never quite knowing what children have become. Sir John then described four gifts that teachers provide to young people:

  • opportunity – skills and expertise that teachers talk about in interviews should be brought into schools and used whether it’s embroidery, cooking, golf or playing the piano. Plant a seed.
  • passion – create passionate children by putting passionate adults in front of them. Passion gives you a desire to do more. A desire to do more gives you an appetite for discovery. Be enthralled by learning.
  • time – given unselfishly – teachers are good at this!
  • world class teaching – plant the seeds and allow children to fly.

“You’re hired!”

Sir John revealed key elements of his interview process. Before saying a word, he would look deep into the candidate’s eyes and look for passion. He knew when it was absent too. The look of a ‘velociraptor’ who doesn’t like children. Not good. The next thing he looks for is warmth. A warm heart of someone who cares.Not someone who brings fear and trepidation to a class. Next on the list, it was ‘fire in the belly’. Stand up for what you believe, push the boundaries and tell people what gets up your nose. Then, an unconditional positive regard. Liking all children is key even the ones who are tough. He described a school where some of the children were definitely unloved. An OfSTED inspector arrived for a visit but somehow ended up coming through one of the back doors only to be nearly knocked over by a group of teenagers leaving the school building. He asked one of the girls at the back, “What’s going on here?” She replied, “There’s a big inspection going on today so they’re sending all the dickheads home!” Out of the mouths of babes. The final attribute Sir John was looking for was a relentless pursuit of excellence. Doing small things brilliantly and relentlessly. There’s always a better way.

“We would like our teachers to …..”

A plea from children to their teachers. Sir John described some fundamental needs from a child’s perspective.

  1. Have a great relationship with us. We’ve got to spend lots of time with you. It’s no good for our self-esteem if you don’t really like being with us. It has long-lasting effects on our cognitive and emotional status.
  2. Ask me brilliant questions, abstract questions to which there is no right or wrong answer. About 80-90% of questions asked in a classroom are answered correctly first time.
  3. Let me learn independently.
  4. Don’t tell us how to do it.
  5. Let me learn with my friends.
  6. Tell me how I’m doing. John Hattie says this is important!
  7. Have high expectations of me. Believe in me!
  8. Give me challenging work.

Sir John ended with a reminder about telling good stories because all good teachers are good storytellers. Make it RING. Relevant, Interesting, Naughty and a Giggle. He described the American teacher who was asked out of the blue by one her more persistent students, “Mrs Johnson! How many times did you have sex with your husband last week?” He defied anyone not to see a ‘win-lose’ situation but being the true professional she ignored the question and carried on with the lesson, choosing to act not react. The boy asked again. He said, “Mrs Johnson, are you ignoring me?” She replied, “No! I’m still counting.” One-nil to the teacher. Humour is very powerful in the right context. The poor boy is still in therapy.

This was a heartwarming, stimulating and insightful talk. If you get a chance to see Sir John Jones talk then make a date. You will not be disappointed. Thanks to Jo Tregenza, Head of ITT at University of Sussex, for organizing and my invitation. @sirjohnfjones 

Music4Learning #5

“Teaching is a passion. Don’t do it if it’s not.”

Wellbeing is underrated. So many people pay little attention to their own or others. Hardworking teachers and students crashing and burning their way through an academic week means there is little left for anyone else come the weekend. Teachers are victims of their own regime. The timetable creates a Pavlovian phenomenon of knowing exactly what you are doing and when. But this hamster wheel is where we lose the ‘why’ of teaching.

Let’s refocus on the ‘why’ then. Teaching is a passion. Don’t do it if it’s not. We nurture, guide and applaud young people. We push and pull, cajole and coax and equip brave young minds with resilience and tenacity. To survive this rollercoaster I need time to look after myself and my students. I need to know when I am pushing them too far. I use the music from I Can Teach to ‘chill out’. Generally, with no lyrics, the music allows me to refocus, to reflect and calm before the next onslaught. Try it before that ‘hard to teach’ class arrives. The effect is not short-lived. My favourite track in Chill Out has to be La Femme d’Argent by Air. You can almost feel the waves lapping around you and a gentle sea breeze keeping you nicely chilled. Follow this up with Homebase by dZihan and Kamien and you are in a different place – a different space. Northern Lights by Lux is delicious in its simplicity. You can melt away in this music.

So, you’ve tried the therapeutic self-awareness route and you are now confidently going to try it on that class of 8 year olds or 13 years olds that have bounced in after break. It works. It creates a calm, peaceful and purposeful atmosphere. It physically changes the chemical balance of hormones in the body. Calm teacher, calm class of learners. Greater focus means improved productivity and greater confidence. ‘Chill Out‘ does not mean ‘Doze Off’. There is an intrinsic purpose to this choice of music. It works.

ASAP Science: The Scientific Power of Music (2:00)

“More of the brain is involved in perception and response to music than to language or anything else.” – Oliver Sacks

Lastly, if you like the academic rigour behind all of this then check out Oliver Sacks – Tales of Music and the Brain. His site is here. Worth a good look.

Music4Learning #3

“I look into the window of my mind; reflections of the fears I know I’ve left behind. I step out of the ordinary, I can feel my soul ascending, I’m on my way, can’t stop me now and you can do the same, yeah……what have you done today to make me feel proud?” – Heather Small

Music4Learning is all about learning.  It’s the complex connections that we make when we learn something new. Music is such a powerful addition to the process that it reinforces it in so many different ways. The TEDx talk by Jessica Grahn at Western University highlights the proven links between brain activity and music.

The opportunity to use music for reflection is so important in my classroom. I use the Think section in I Can Teach as a powerful tool when considering heavyweight topics such as world poverty, migrants’ struggles, pollution, natural disasters and the list goes on. I might use Reuters Images as a starting point – add the music in the background. It might be Elegy by Lisa Gerrard and Patrick Cassidy or it might be Cahuita by Oystein Sevag and Lakki Patey – both incredibly powerful. How about an assembly or a lesson on James Mollison’s photo series on Where Children Sleep – I used Adagio for Strings in G Minor – Albinoni – alongside these photos. The connections in the brain are stronger and reinforced.

Much of the music in the Think section, contains lyrics designed to provoke thought. So why not use it to do exactly that. Use the lyrics for analysis in English and as a form of expression and theatre in Drama. Use it in Religious Studies to consider compassion and understanding. True Colours by Cindy Lauper is a familiar and well-used classic piece of contemporary music. What do the lyrics mean? How can we make society fairer and more understanding? These are real questions for real learners.

My students show a greater understanding of ‘big issues‘. They can articulate their feelings about homelessness and famine and pollution. They report on issues that affect them. This is not a ‘citizenship’ lesson or ‘personal and social education’. This is real learning and music is integral to their progress. They tackle new challenges with greater confidence because they have better self-esteem and understand their own issues in context with those of others around them. They are better at learning and metacognition and make great progress as a result.

Finally, try this: Ludovico Einaudi – Nuvole Bianche (White Clouds) running alongside ‘The Mountain’ – if you haven’t seen it – it’s worth a look.

Music4Learning #4 will be about using the Wake Up section of I Can Teach. It does exactly what it says.