Head's Blog

Rosie Allen's Blog: 27/01/22

On a day when Covid related restrictions have significantly relaxed, I have been reflecting on how wonderful it is to be able to open up our doors once again to inspirational speakers and mentors, authors, experts and pioneers.

Earlier this week, we welcomed British sprint legend Jason Gardener MBE, who spoke to Years 5&6. Bath born and bred, Jason had the room captivated with the incredible story of his journey to achieving an Olympic gold medal in the 4 x 100 metres relay in the 2004 Olympic Games. As an observer, I was delighted to see how the story of his aspiration and self-belief engaged his young audience. His memories of being their age (perhaps 9 or 10 years old) when he began to dream big, were still so vivid to him, and the children found this so relatable.

What struck me, was how many of his tips on reaching success reflect on the way in which The Paragon 'team' operates - including teachers, senior leaders, support staff, the children, and of course, our wider community.

Teamwork is dreamwork. Jason talked about the power of positivity and constantly having a half full glass.  He recalled some of the greatest achievements being made where a common sense of purpose and positive energy led his team to huge success.  I thought about some of the great things The Paragon has achieved over the last 18 months as a team, through the most challenging of times in education and every walk of life across the globe:

  • Three days off timetable in October 2020 when the school came alive through a plethora of brilliant activities with a sense of kindness, community and respect. We sent the children home for half term glowing with delight having reconnected with their friends in a relaxed learning environment. 
  • Launching, with just 48 hours notice in January 2021, 'Paragon Online' - keeping our school community going virtually and delivering an experience to pupils which was met with hugely positive feedback and so much thanks from families at an incredibly difficult time. 
  • Our Sports Day, the Year 6 Play 'Shakespeare Rocks' which was a triumph, residentials  for years 4- 6 and our Carol Service (all delivered at a time when other schools were shutting their doors to audiences) provided pivotal points for our community to celebrate the children together.  They were colourful, joyful and brilliant. 

These are just a few headline examples of the things I thought about as I listened.  There are a myriad of others which happen day in day out, all spurred on by pockets of wonderful, positive teamwork at the school and a focus on what CAN be done.  

Marginal gains. Which leads me to my next point.  That the things which CAN be done are not always the big, flagship events, but the little actions day in day out.

Jason talked about how many months, even years of time and energy was spent with his team, chipping away at the 4 metres that lay between the GB relay squad and the US relay squad.  Between fourth position and Gold.  As you can imagine, it wasn't one big thing that suddenly made them quicker off the starting blocks, the baton transitions smoother or the four individuals run 0.5 seconds quicker.  It was tiny, marginal efforts which got them there in the end.  Diet, sleep, travel, training, nutrition - the list was long, and over the time between the two Olympics, it gave them the 4 metres they needed.

I reflected that this is so much like teaching. You can't easily identify the tiny steps you make each lesson with an individual child, but when you stand back, at the end, you can see the progress they have made.  And it isn't just the steps you've made in class which have contributed to this progress - its the playtimes, the lunchtimes, the after school clubs, the wellbeing sessions, the assemblies, the friendships - all those intangible moments which have contributed in tiny measure to a great overall outcome.

The beauty of a school is that there is not just one gold medal, but many of different shapes and sizes for all of the wonderful children we encounter.  Let's keep doing everything we can to help each one of our children eventually wear theirs with pride.

Rosie Allen's Blog, 02.11.21

On Motivation....

  • “Eat your vegetables and I will give you a chocolate button.”

Very successful but feels a little empty in the long run.  The fate of the rest of the chocolate buttons once the child is in bed is generally not favourable.

  • “Tidy your room and I will put a star on your chart. When you have five stars I will buy you a toy.”

Successful for the first two stars, thereafter very painful to get to five.  Eventual buying of the toy did not bring with it long term behavioural change in child.

  • “Put your shoes on now and I will not shout at you.”

Completely unsuccessful for all concerned.

When we launched The Paragon Path at the start of term I was asked by a number of children, and by one or two staff and parents, what would ‘happen’ when the children reach 10.  Was there a prize or a certificate? Would there be some sort of announcement or treat perhaps?  In the initial absence of an answer from me, a rumour went round Y5 that children who reached 10 on the Path would be invited to eat cake in my office – fantastic!

My answer to the children in these early stages was necessarily cryptic – “when you get there, you’ll find out...”

This sent a whisper round the Y5 assembly - “it’s definitely cake.”  All of the children were even more resolved to get there and find out.  Over the next few weeks as the Path bedded in, there was a realisation that this was no easy task.  Most children made it up to 6 each day, 7 was seen as an accomplishment and for anyone getting to 8 there were suggestions it must be to do with having a ‘nice teacher.’  With no clearly stated reward, a gentle process of autonomous motivation began.  A sense of expectation built as more children crept closer and closer to the golden 10, whispers of 9s began to spread and then, finally, our first 10, quickly followed by a succession of others.

I now enjoy a steady stream of children happily bounding up to me to announce that they have reached 10 on The Paragon Path.  Beaming faces and sparkling eyes are the very best part of my job, and it is a pleasure to share in their joy.  They know the conditions for success, they know they need to make good choices to get there and they know there is an expectation that they will.  Interestingly, not a single child has asked me what their reward is.  They know. 

Rosie Allen's Blog, 22.02.21

A Recovery Curriculum...

As we prepare to reopen the school, I have found myself recalling on more than one occasion the experience of helping my children learn to walk.  The abject terror with which I doggedly followed each of them around cafes, parks and living rooms, reaching for every sharp corner, watching out for every slight slope, gauging their balance with every step. 

Despite my constant concern, I was very much in the ‘pick up and dust yourself off’ camp, and my mindset as we returned to school after last year’s lockdown was similar.  Like many Headteachers, I was confident that, besides a few first day back nerves, our children would bounce back from their time away from school.  And they did.  Much to parents’ and teachers’ relief, the safety nets we had in place for helping them deal with friendship problems, bridging learning gaps and addressing issues associated with children’s mental health were barely deployed.  Instead, September unfolded with a warm and happy glow as children across all age groups settled back into school life as if they’d never been away.   It was a joy to behold.

The vast majority of children will feel the same on March 8th.  Excited to see friends, classrooms, playgrounds and teachers, their experiences of the Winter lockdown will quickly dissipate.  Thankfully, children are extraordinarily resilient; their capacity to move on from events, particularly once they have regained what they had lost, is enormous.  Yet we still owe it to them to approach their return in the same, careful manner as we did the last one.  Schools must prepare a curriculum and a learning environment which support the children being allowed to focus on some key areas.

  • We must provide the children with time to invest in restoring previous relationships and fostering new ones
  • We must help the children to listen to the experiences of those around them to understand the shifted needs of our community
  • We must give the children space to be, to rediscover their sense of self and to find their voice
  • We must acknowledge a shift in their learning patterns and behaviours, preparing classrooms and learning habitats which reignite their capacity to collaborate, share and listen to ideas

Many schools are calling this a ‘Recovery Curriculum.’  A curriculum that addresses the five perceived ‘losses,’ of routine, structure, friendship, opportunity and freedom.  As in September, schools must address these areas carefully and holistically as the children return to school.  But all of this can happen in the background, subtly and unobtrusively.  Like the outstretched arms that were waiting to catch them as they took their first few steps, the children don’t even need to be aware that these supports are there as they put their best feet forward.  They just need to be confident that, if they do fall, we are there to catch them and help to set them right again.

 

Rosie Allen's Blog, 20.11.20

On reading with children..

“You want weapons?  We’re in a library! Books are the best weapons in the world.  This room is the best arsenal we could have.”  David Tennant as Dr Who 

“Once you learn to read you will be forever free.”  Frederick Douglass

Reading is the cornerstone of education.  A predictable and rather boring way to start a blog about reading, I hear you say, but 2020 requires us to reaffirm some of these simple, absolute truths which normal life might have given us cause to forget.    In fact, reading is not just the cornerstone of education, it is the cornerstone of life.  

This year, reading has provided many of us with all kinds of distraction, solace and freedom.  Kids in bed, Zoom calls over, Netflix back catalogue exhausted, who hasn’t enjoyed curling up with a good old-fashioned book?  Being able to discern what to read, and what not to read, has also been particularly useful over the last few months.  Never before has the capacity to identify ‘fake news’ been more important, as we are buffeted with information left, right and centre (no political pun intended).    

The key for the next generation, then, is getting our children to want to read.  To coin the words of the poet W.B Yeats, children should be encouraged to read in a way that lights their fire, not just to fill their pail.  Working through an approved list of ‘worthy’ tomes is not for everyone, and we should be equally delighted by a floor strewn with Beanos as we would by a neat stack of Brontes.  It is the quality of the children’s reading experiences that really matters, not the amount of books they read. 

Which is why sharing reading with our children is so important.  The association of a book with the undivided attention, warmth and love of a parent is about as powerful as it gets.  The next generation will need literacy to cope with the flood of information they will find wherever they turn.  They will need literacy to feed their imaginations so they can create the world of the future.  Let us, then, not forget the words of another poet, Emily Buchwald: “Children are made readers on the laps of their parents.” 

Rosie Allen's Blog, 25.09.2020

It’s hard to believe that I am only three weeks in post.  The school already feels like home and it is such a blessing to feel equally happy as both new Paragon Head and a new Paragon parent.  With everything else going on at the moment it is a pleasant surprise to be feeling so settled and calm, so I am taking advantage of this to share a thought provoking video from the late, great Sir Ken Robinson with you.  It’s a bit of an old one – 10 years to be precise – but it was a talk which crystallised for me a decade ago so many of the reflections I was having about what makes a really exceptional school.

My favourite part is the bit about paperclips.  I’m sure you’ve heard it before -  the experiment in which a group of pre-schoolers are asked how many uses they can find for the humble paperclip.  A group of 3-4 year olds will apparently happily reel off fifty uses just for starters, and that’s before they’ve reimagined the size, shape and material of said paperclip.  Give the same group of children the same test a few years later and the inevitable happens – the number of uses they can think of reduces with age.  Eventually, by the time they are adults, most of them can think of just 10-15 uses for a paperclip, compared to the 200 they might have come up with aged four.  Sir Ken asks, what has happened to this group of test subjects between preschool and adult life? Answer - they’ve been educated.

Imagine an education system which goes against this grain, schools which encourage, champion and value divergent thinking.  A community of learners who are willing to reimagine the art of the possible.  I find it a delightful irony that the very difficult time we now find ourselves in, full of change, chaos and uncertainty, is also the crucible for lasting change in the way we fulfil the purpose of education.  To be commencing a new Headship at a time like this is far more of a blessing than you would think.