VIEWS & OPINION Achieving exceptional

performance Comment by JON GRAY, Headmaster at York House School

Nurturing every individual child to achieve and to be the best they can be, is something that all good schools strive for. Yet a lot of schools still seem to focus on process or outcomes. Often, if you ask for an update regarding a child or specific issue/situation, some schools

will automatically relay a list of tick-box actions that they have completed in line with this. Others take the opposite stance and will reply with a focus on what that child actually achieved, what they did, what the interventions were and how this impacted the result or outcome.

The truth is, it is outcomes that matter, not processes. The same

applies to achieving exceptional performance in school. When it comes to pupil ability and expectation, there is much written around the “gifted and talented” but for me, both edges of that sword are blunt. The assumption is, if a person is born gifted or blessed with an abundance of talent, clearly, they need not bother with effort? Similarly, if you don’t fit into either of these categories, then why even try? The phrase ‘exceptional performance’ is about valuing substantive contributions rather than effortless, graceful cameos that rarely change the game.

Likewise, money is often spent on providing emotional support to

those who struggle to access the curriculum and also additional support for the exceptional performer (which is of course important), but what about all of those pupils in between? What can schools do to ensure no one gets left behind and that every child can achieve to an exceptional level?

Parent expectation is for a bespoke and tailored version of teaching

and learning, one which achieves excellence; but the demand is more for the ‘boutique hotel’ rather than the mass chain model. Therefore, pastoral care should always be looking carefully for the child that is quietly, and uncomplainingly, not doing or feeling much. Every child has their demons from those struggling to access the curriculum to the academically gifted. I once asked a good friend of mine why he couldn’t just use his brain to reason away his doubts and turmoil. He replied that “After careful reflection, I’ve realised that no matter who you are, your demons are unfortunately just as clever.”

My own experience of mental health and wellbeing issues is that

they simply don’t correlate to a child’s educational level and that, if anything, the faster moving neurones are more likely to create doubt and anxiety as they search for new and innovative pathways to follow. So how can we nurture children to face their demons, build greater resilience and achieve exceptional performance?

I have always been a great fan of ‘experiences’ as having a greater

lasting power and benefit for children than theory. Children certainly benefit from good ideas, such as being told about growth mindset, learning that FAIL can stand for First Attempt In Learning or indeed the Power of Yet … “I can’t do that!” “You’re seven. You can’t do it YET.” That said, connecting theory to outcomes is a mature request to expect of young children. Reading a book about climbing a mountain does not grant resilience and character nearly as much as looking at a mountain in the confident certainty that you have climbed it.

When the demons come knocking, it’s what you’ve done, not what you’ve read about, that will send them packing.

November 2020

How to give teachers more child time

In this month’s column, GRAHAM COOPER looks at ways to lighten the workload and reduce stress levels for teachers.

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) recognises teaching as one of the most stressful jobs of all, and that was before any of us had heard of Covid-19. In the grip of the pandemic, the usual pressures will only have increased, intensifying their impact on the physical and mental health of staff. However, teaching is one of the most rewarding jobs too. Because of

the children. The tasks which add to a teacher’s workload and stress such as lesson

planning, marking, pupil assessment and administration can’t be avoided altogether. But there are ways to challenge current practices, tweak the way you carry out those tasks and win back more child time for you and your staff. Here are some suggestions to ease the burden on teachers and

alleviate the stress: • Ask which six tasks eat up most time. We all know there are day-to-day jobs which are laborious and stressful, yet they don’t really make much difference to the children in the classroom. Ask your staff to write down six administrative tasks they do every day and rank these tasks from high to low in terms of the time and effort they take to complete. Then ask your teachers to rank the six tasks according to their impact on teaching and learning. Finally, encourage teachers to comment on what they think would be the consequence if they stopped doing that particular job. Would it affect teaching and learning? This quick and simple exercise will help to highlight the priorities and flag up the time-eaters. • Challenge the way you do things Take any task in your school and ask teachers why they do it, and you are likely to get a range of answers including ‘because we have always done it that way’ or ‘because the SLT needs it.’ Instead, the answer should be ‘because it helps the children.’ Invite your teachers to a workshop and ask them to bring the six tasks they have identified. Use these to generate a discussion about which tasks you should keep, which you should tweak and which you should abandon. If high workload, low impact tasks cannot be tweaked to secure more child time, be bold and abandon them. • Monitor workloads and take action to reduce them Identifying those time-eating tasks and changing them is not a one-off exercise. You’ll have to do it at least once a year to make a positive difference and to reassure your teaching teams that a review leads to effective change. Encourage your staff to continue bringing their own specific workload issues directly to you, and publish details of the areas where workload savings have been made. For instance, if sharing lesson resources has saved two teachers three hours of planning. The time you spend understanding where the pressure points are for teachers in your school will be time well spent. A lighter workload helps to reduce the stress levels in these troubled times and clears the way for teachers to focus on do what they do best, making a difference to pupils’ lives.

For more ideas on how to save time, sign up to the 10 Day More Child-Time Project, a set of free resources from Juniper Education aimed at primary school leaders.

Running for 10 days from 16th November, former school leaders provide advice on how to reduce the marking burden for staff, simplify curriculum planning, improve wellbeing and help with supporting pupils through the pandemic. 23

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