'Jump in'... bravery and daring in our 6th year

So in 2016 I wrote a blog called 'On Hope and Wonder'.  That blog was a brief story of my first tough and brilliant year as the new headteacher at EUTC.  Read it if you're interested in the 'back story'.  Now, 2 years after that blog, I'm writing this one... as our wonderful college turns into its 6th year (and the 3rd since I have been principal). 

The 'Cristopher Robin' movie has just arrived in cinemas and I'm reminded of the anthology of poems AA Milne released entitled 'Now We Are 6'...

"Now I am six I'm as clever as clever, and I think I'll be six now for ever and ever".  

There is something magical about turning six.  My youngest daughter is also in her sixth year and something amazing happens.  You start year 1.  You stop being a toddler.  You become a more independent 'little person'.  You begin to establish yourself.  You learn to read and swim and ride a bike and write your own postcards.  It is a year of becoming and a year of bravery as you challenge yourself to do things that make you a 'big kid'.

In 2016 when I wrote 'On Hope and Wonder', EUTC was 'rising up' and ensuring a safe foundation.  It was working hard to make sure teaching was inspiring and engaging.  Now, as we enter our 6th year, I am excited about EUTC becoming, and establishing itself.  We have grown again this year.  We are fully subscribed in year 10 and we welcome new students, families and staff to our community.  We don't feel as vulnerable, we are less tentative.  We have had 3 years now where our results have been outstanding in our specialism.  We are less about 'hope' and more about 'confidence'.  It's time to be a brave 6 year old and remove the stabilisers.  So I once again returned to the art work of Lisa Swerling and bought another 'glass cathedral'.  There are now three in our staffroom and each tells a chapter in our story from early hope, to hard and thankless work, and now to bravery and daring.  The latest piece is called 'The World is a Scary Place but I Have Armbands'.  Here it is:

So why this piece?  Well it seems apt.  I launched my development plan for this sixth year to my staff colleagues and to all students with a story, which I also now write here.

The story:

My youngest daughter (5 and a bit) learnt to swim this summer.  Or rather she learnt to throw herself into deep water, hold her breath, kick her legs and circulate her arms until she reached the opposite wall of the pool or found her way to another member of her family.  She learned this 'swimming' in only a matter of days - it was impressive and rapid learning.  Her sister is older and a capable swimmer but she took much longer to learn.  As for me, I took ages to learn to swim, fully submersing the face was scary and deep water was - well you could die!  So why did my youngest take to it so quickly.  The answer is that there was no shallow end!  The pool we went to whilst on holiday in Italy had no shallow end; it simply had 4 steps followed by deep water.  There was no choice, no safe comfort zone, she had to either stay on the steps, or go for it!  

A fair amount of work has gone into identifying the learning 'sweet spot' - that is to say the optimal condition for deepest and fasted learning.  What are the conditions that make for the best learning and fastest progress.  According to TeachWire, the answer is when you are 20% safe and 80% taking a risk.  80% challenge.  In the case of my daughter learning to swim, it was about moving closer and closer to the ultimate risk - jumping into the 'deep'.  Each step down was a new level of risk: step 2 - 20% risk, level 3 - 40% risk, level 4 - 60%.  We gave her a float and then she jumped.  I was watching her and thinking of all my year 10 and year 11 students who want to get past level 4 in their GCSEs.  Who want to jump in and achieve level 6s and 7s and 8s and 9s!  It got me thinking about how to ensure that they feel 20% safe enough to jump, to fully immerse themselves in their studies to risk challenging themselves; to fully commit.  For my teachers and staff too, what will help them to really go for it, to encourage all their learners into the deep end; to get 80% out of their comfort zones, to be be afraid and brave and great.

So, this year - 2018/19, EUTC is determined to 'jump off'.  We are safe enough - we have secured solid results for 3 years and made a safe and happy community.  96% of parents would recommend the school to others (according to the Oftsed parent view survey).  Students are happy here and there is next to no bullying.  Opportunities continue to grow and we have some truly brilliant partners.  We are working with our educational colleagues at Danes Educational Trust (National Leader in Education) to help drive up progress in English, Maths and Science.  So we have all the floats and inflatable rings we need.  We are safe and confident, we are no longer vulnerable, now is the time to go for it.  So come on our KS4 students, don't be satisfied with level 4... jump off!  Come on post 16 students... Don't be satisfied with a 'C grade' pass... jump off!  Throw yourselves in; more homework, more reading, more independent study, fully immerse yourselves, be brave, put your face in fully. 

And you shall swim and your progress will be fast and deep.

Here's to the year of bravery, challenge and commitment.

Chris Mitchell