Where will your book lead you?

Another week comes to a close in some sunshine and warmth.  Autumn has not yet taken a grip on the weather and for that we must be thankful.  Trips and visits and the customary busy nature of the start of term has yet to bed down into the routines of the school year.  It is always a challenge to get everything back into full swing but it does eventually happen.

At the outset of the school term, we look to establish, and in some cases re-establish, the foundations of the children’s learning.  One of these building blocks is reading – not only “decoding” the words, but also understanding the meaning of the words, sentences, paragraphs, passages and stories that they encounter.  Ultimately they will read freely, whether it is text books, magazines, manuals, webpages or books that they enjoy.  What we wish for them, more than anything, is that they will embrace all that they read and, in particular, become wrapped up in the stories and tales that unlock all manner of worlds and adventures, emotions and feelings and the teaching of important lessons.

One American author, Mac Barrett, has beautifully captured this need for fantasy and imagination within his books, drawing children deeper into stories by bringing them alive – sometimes quite literally.

With a very pragmatic 5 year old son at home, we were quickly becoming familiar with the world of Lego manuals and fact-based guide books (particularly Star Wars and Marvel Super Heroes).  Thank heavens, therefore, for our teenage daughter’s old box of Roald Dahl books.  Reading them to him at night (no, my son is not a free reader…yet…and my advice is to skip Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator – not enough pictures!) he has been woken up to a world of imagination, flights of fancy and surreality in which Dahl was a genius and which children love so much.

Although not all stories are fairy tales with happy or straightforward endings (and remember fairy tales were never straightforward anyway…just read the Brothers Grimm!), they are reflective of life and the challenges that our children – and ourselves – face in our lives.  They entertain, make us laugh or cry, or think, but the ultimate value in a well-crafted story is the impact that lasts throughout our lives.

Here is Mac Barnett from the TED stage.  He puts the case so very well.

How do you explain a concept like Growth Mindset?


Great blog post from Phil Stock on how growth mindset works ‘on the ground’. I like his suggestion that such an approach is a prism which impacts upon school culture. Significant also is the sense that simplification is the key to embedding such a whole-school paradigm shift.

Originally posted on must do better...:


I have written before about my thoughts around Growth Mindset. Whilst I appreciate the valid concerns expressed by others about the dangers of overstatement and the need for coherent informed implementation, I very much believe that Dweck’s theories about learning and growth have an important role to play in educating young people – for now and for the future – and that her ideas can really help the students in our school to go from strength to strength.

After spending a considerable amount of time over the past few months with our staff thinking through the meaning and implication of Growth Mindset, I think it is fair to say that the vast majority of the adults in the building subscribe to the view that intelligence can be improved through a combination of hard work, clear feedback and spending time on the right kind of targeted activities. There is a recognition that…

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Aide Memoire

This post is to help me (and anyone else) remember where I left my list of twitter handles for the speakers at this year’s IAPS Annual Conference.


Stepping Up To Serve

helping others starts earlyWhat happens when we grow up and realise that what we believed we could achieve in our youth was more of a challenge than we expected?

Step Up To Serve is a campaign to promote Youth Social Action and seeks to build relationships with a wide range of organisations, researching and sharing best practice in youth social action opportunities. The campaign offers a platform to engage in activity that could sustain the passion to serve through to adulthood.  An inspiring conversation with Kerri Hall, Education Consultant at Step Up To Serve, has prompted me to reflect on what lies beneath an Education for Social Responsibility and the incremental stages of development in becoming a more active and engaged member of society.

It is not an accident that some individuals are more willing than others to take part in activity that benefits others rather than oneself.  Family, environment, school, significant others, all of these contribute to what we become as adults and shape the role that we play in society.  Therefore it would follow that greater interest and involvement in youth action and a more positive contribution to society as a fully-fledged adult have their foundations in those most formative years of primary education.

Learning anything – reading, riding a bike, particle physics – requires small and deliberate steps to become skilled along with resilience and determination to gain mastery.  In the same way, becoming more socially aware and engaged, willing to contribute and to be to actively socially responsible, is a journey that has an inevitable origin in early childhood development and, from my perspective, the experiences provided at school.

We know that young people gain a level of social and emotional maturity that enables them to be more proactive and willing (possibly) in deciding their future through their present actions.  Therefore at senior school there is greater opportunity to assume and discharge responsibility, to organise and run events, clubs and societies.  While this is possible at primary and prep schools, through school councils, eco-committees, etc., the degree of autonomy and self-determination is less common.

There needs to be structures and frameworks that support such endeavours in any environment – a legacy, a curriculum, committed adults, demand, necessity.  Yet there also needs to be an understanding of the phases of development in the acquisition of skills and values that lead to greater involvement when, later on, an individual encounters those opportunities that enable the expression of service.

Of course there is nothing, perhaps, new here and others have written in greater detail elsewhere. In addition, this is not rocket science.  And while some of this may be stating the obvious, what is essential is a focus on the development of social responsibility, service to others and an awareness of social capital and the “ecology”, the interdependence, of human society and the world in which we live.

So what, then, are the phases of development in an Education for Social Responsibility? Laura Wray-Lake & Amy Syvertsen (2011) have produced research on “The Developmental Roots of Social Responsibility in Childhood & Adolescence”.  They suggest three broad areas in cultivating social responsibility through home, school and social action.  These are:

Modelling Prosocial Behaviour – positive role models reinforce socially responsible behaviour such as care, justice and democracy
Values Socialisation Messages – information implicitly embedded in verbal and non-verbal communication and in actions of people and organisations
Opportunities to Practice – experiential learning that enhances self-efficacy, perspectives and identity

Here, then, are a few suggested stepping stones that build on these three areas and would take a child from the EYFS, through primary and prep school years and leave them more ready and willing to participate when the opportunities in secondary education present themselves.

  • Learning to take turns and share
  • Recognising similarities & differences in others, either peers or in more distant locations
  • Meeting people who work in vocational careers
  • Learning about food and farming, healthy lifestyles and trade
  • Learning about other countries and cultures with an emphasis on human experience
  • Linking with schools and communities in different locations
  • Being part of a school wide committee – either as representative or through opportunity to express opinions
  • Acting to support others – planning and organising events, helping in the local community
  • Working proactively with small-scale, local charities
  • Being trusted with responsibility within the school community

Further work is needed to understand these and other stepping stones, to define and refine them.  There may, indeed, be others, however those I suggest here are naturally broad.  In addition it requires members of the school community to be willing to lead with a values-based approach to their interactions – inside and outside the classroom.

Taking these steps, embedding social responsibility in education, will give young people the opportunity to reach adulthood and realise that what they believed they could achieve in their youth is still a very real possibility.

Nobody said it would be easy…

2013-07-26 12.13.44Thankfully George Kell, Exec Director of the UN Global Compact, recognises that the name is not important:

Regardless of whether you call it CSR, corporate responsibility, environmental, social and corporate governance (ESG) or sustainability, a common understanding is emerging around the world: a company’s long-term financial success goes hand in hand with its record on social responsibility, environmental stewardship and corporate ethics.

He also goes on to outline the ‘5 trends that show corporate responsibility is here to stay’.   This resonates with an Institute of Directors post last year by Andrea Rannard (Four Trends in CSR) and should fill us with confidence that the global desire for greater responsibility and compassion for others and our environment is reaching a critical mass.

But lest we breathe a sigh of relief, slap the dust from our hands and say ‘our work hear is done’, Chi-Pong Wong, posting on Triple Pundit, demonstrates why we must continue to remain vigilant.  His evidence shows that CSR is not necessarily, at the moment, the difference between success and failure for those corporations that we look to for leadership.

The emergence of CSR, its importance to consumers and, increasingly, to employees (Andrea Rannard, Cone Communications), tells us that these values are here to stay.  We – the people – want to use our privilege to consume in ways that express our growing frustration with the state of our environment and our society.  But of course, it is never going to be smooth or indeed easy and profit will, for now, have primacy on the triple bottom line.

Therefore Education for Social Responsibility or Education for Sustainability – again, call it what you will – has an increasingly significant role to play in our approach to learning and teaching.  There are 2 reasons for this:

  1. Teachers will continue to come into the profession with  personal values that are contemporary to issues of social responsibility and the environment
  2. Our pupils live in a world with an ever-sharpening focus placed on people and planet and they must carry with them the knowledge, skills and values to play a part in accelerating the change

If we want to further the trends in CSR that have been identified and appear to be here to stay, then we must, within schools, embrace the changes that are occurring and drive them forward.  Schools have been (or should have been) places that enable and empower people to develop the attributes that make them more effective and positive contributors to the wider world.  We know our responsibility is to the young people in our care, but we must adapt this responsibility to reflect the the changes that they will face and to make sense of the complex world that they inhabit.

Thankfully, the National College have revisited the principles of leading and managing Sustainable Schools and renewed understanding of their benefits.  Through these principles we have the tools to shape the values of future generations to both meet the complex challenges effectively and shape the society of which they will be a part.

No one said it would be easy, but trends, by nature, are dynamic, moving and changing, and Social Responsibility – in education or in the corporate world – is one that will stay.

On Children…

With thanks to Kerri Hall for this…

On Children - Kahlil Gibran

Your children are not your children.
They are the sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself.
They come through you but not from you,
And though they are with you yet they belong not to you.

You may give them your love but not your thoughts, 
For they have their own thoughts.
You may house their bodies but not their souls,
For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow, 
which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams.
You may strive to be like them, 
but seek not to make them like you.
For life goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday.

You are the bows from which your children
as living arrows are sent forth.
The archer sees the mark upon the path of the infinite, 
and He bends you with His might 
that His arrows may go swift and far.
Let your bending in the archer’s hand be for gladness;
For even as He loves the arrow that flies, 
so He loves also the bow that is stable.