‘Making My Mind Up’ Y8 POL

Thank you to all of the parents that came to 8 Explorer’s and 8 Pioneer’s Presentation of Learning last night. I must say that the Y8 ‘Making My Mind Up’ expedition has been an exceptional one.

Thank you to Mr Brown, Miss Parker, Mr Rider and Miss Haughey for all of the hard work that went into the planning, fieldwork, the expedition’s Google Site and the POL. A special mention needs to go out to Mr Brown for being expedition Lead – great work Drew!!

In only 48 hours the video clip of the final product that I put onto Twitter has had nearly 1600 views! It highlights the national interest that we have in the way in which we do things around here.

As ever, we cannot underestimate the role of Presentations of Learning in our expeditions.

They act as the period in which students have to step up to the pressures of articulating their progress to an authentic audience. POLs are high stakes, and hours of preparation goes into them. Knowing that your Mum, Dad, Uncle Tony or even your Aunty Dot are coming to the event means that students have to work hard to pull it off.

Yet again, I was dead proud of the way in which all of our Y8 students (ranging from those on the Autistic Spectrum, Special Educational Needs to those who may be academically gifted children) articulated their learning with such clarity, and it’s always nice to hear such positivity from parents.

Well done everybody!

Over recent weeks myself, Miss Poncia and Mr Sprakes have met with every parent / legal guardian of the current Y6 students that will start Year 7 at XP East in August 2019. These meetings normally last around 20/30 minutes and allow both parties to begin to form a relationship that will hopefully last 7 years (if students choose to study at our 6th form).

A common question that I posed at the beginning of these meetings was ‘Why did you choose XP East?’ The many varied responses revolved around the positive reputation of the school, the deliberately sized classes, and the blend of high academic standards with the emphasis on character growth. However, a common response centred around our Open Evenings – but it was nothing that I said or did during these events that swayed their opinions. In fact, it was what our existing Y7 and Y8 students said and did that made the difference!

Nearly every parent spoke about how impressed they were with the students that spoke and attended. Remember, I never handpick the students that attend such events as I *always* openly invite the entire school. In fact, I encouraged those parents that attended the Open Evening to ask existing students any question that they needed answers to and they would tell them the truth. How many other secondary schools do this?!!

Parents went on to explain that they were surprised at just how confident students were when explaining how our school does things slightly differently, and how students felt that they were always supported and encouraged.

After my first question, discussions followed about the new Y7’s first day at Outward Bound in Wales, any particular educational special needs, medical issues etc. I also emphasised that just as we as a school have high expectations of parents, they too should high expectations of myself and our staff. It is within this context that we shall do whatever it takes to ensure that our students feel safe, and supported, and as a result they will go onto create beautiful work and become the best versions of themselves.

Next stop as part of our transition process, our Learning Coaches will visit every single student in their Primary school setting in order to find out how we can support them from their very first day.

See you on the 2nd July for the Y6/Y7 transition day everyone!

Last week 16 teachers from schools in Denmark who had been sponsored by the Lego Foundation visited our school, XP and Greentop Primary. They were interested in setting up schools based around ‘Project Based Learning’ (similar to what we adopt at XP) and wanted to see these approaches in action.

After visiting Crews during the morning, our Danish visitors were immediately struck by the quality of conversations that were taking place between our students. Some of them were seemingly astonished at our students’ ability to articulate quite sophisticated responses within their everyday conversations. They were also impressed with the intimate nature of Crew in general (don’t forget, Crew revolves around having one adult to thirteen students.)

One of the Danish teachers fedback to me about how students in one Crew were talking about a recent instance of disappointing behaviour from one of the members of the group. The teacher spoke passionately about how one boy had to explain the circumstances surrounding examples of his recent poor behaviour, and how he sincerely apologised to the rest of the Crew. The Danish teacher went on to explain the power of what he had just seen:

‘…there’s nothing like this in Denmark. I can’t believe how one student had to account for his behaviour, and how others gave him advice on how to avoid the situation that he had put himself in… it was remarkable!’

One of the reasons that explains why standards in behaviour are so good at our school is because it is often challenged from students within our community itself. Discussions in our whole school and year team community meetings are held where students use their voice to appreciate others, apologise for their mistakes and make stands against things they are unhappy with – and this includes any instances of poor behaviour. As a result, students are accountable to each other and not just to teachers like in so many other schools. This is where the power of the approach lies: the traditional paradigm across the majority of schools in the UK is that bad behaviour is addressed by the staff alone, and not the community or individual students that were initially harmed. We do things differently by attempting to improve behaviour, instead of merely punishing it.

Students are never asked to apologise publicly – yet apologies take place publicly and privately every day during Crew, and community meetings. If you’re an adult reading this, could you imagine doing that in one of your assemblies all those years ago? You know, actually having to account for your actions instead of just being told off by a teacher? Just being told off is the easy bit right? Facing up to, and truly understanding the consequences of your behaviour, has the power to positively influence children and adults for the better. I believe that some schools choose the easy and most efficient route first: sanctions and punishments over sincere attempts to remedy and improve ‘behaviour’ in its widest sense. Our school has consequences for making bad choices, but they are designed (wherever possible) to encourage reflection, rectify the situation and put things right.

It needs to be said at this point, that as a staff we publicly appreciate others, apologise for our mistakes and make stands – what’s good for our kids, is good for our staff!

Later on in the day, the same visitor’s final remark to me as he walked through the main school exit was ‘…you have a wondrous school Jamie, thank you.’

The final product for the Y8 expedition ‘A Place Of Our Own’ has culminated in a ‘Print Run’ where copies of students’ artwork will be exhibited in public buildings across Doncaster: CAST theatre, Civic Centre, Frenchgate shopping centre and Dreambakes.

This process was launched last Wednesday when Doncaster’s Mansion House hosted a group of our Y8s where we officially donated an A0 size print of the building. Check out the video below:

You can read more about the specific details concerning the expedition ‘A Place Of Our Own’ here, but I was immensely proud of the rigour that underpinned every aspect of its work: the anchor text that ran throughout the expedition was John Steinbeck’s ‘Of Mice and Men’, a historical enquiry revolved around studies of the causes and consequences of the 1930s Great Depression as well as the Suffragette movement in Doncaster, creative writing focused on prominent parts of Doncaster, renewable and non-renewable energy including an application for Eco School’s Bronze accreditation were explored in STEM, and the culmination of the artwork took place in X-Block where an expert from Sheffield’s Print Club taught students how to create prints of their work on local buildings.

Students also developed their scientific understanding even further by studying biodiversity and how humans can support healthy ecosystems and how to transfer energy in ecosystems, using food chains and webs, pyramids of number and biomass. Students accompanied their artwork with a first-person poem that embodied their vision of Doncaster and how to make it reflect their own aspirations – based upon Tony Walsh’s poem ‘This is the place’. In addition to this, students applied their knowledge of geometry and architecture in Maths to create blueprints of their own Eco-school, and used a computer aided design app called Room Sketcher to create specific designs.

Students, as always, then presented their work via the Presentation Of Learning to a wider audience of parents on 18th December. What an expedition!! Stay tuned for the curation of student work around school.

Seriously:

The next 73 seconds could change your life.

Its changed mine!

We are visited by teachers and school leaders from across the world. We have received 1000 applications for just 50 student places at XP, and 50 places at XP East for 2019/2012. Our 6th form provision opens in September 2019. We do things differently, we’re changing the world.

Clicked on the link below yet?

We are recruiting.

The litmus test is Friday afternoon!

Getting into classrooms, talking to students and supporting staff is the single most important aspect of my work at XP East, and one of the biggest litmus tests for looking at the quality of what’s going on is always the end of the week – Friday afternoons!

Yet again, this is what I have seen:

Students redrafting work, students responding to teacher feedback, students using rubrics to support their progress, exceptional levels of productivity, excellent student behaviour, staff working their socks off, students working their socks off, small targeted group work, Padlets being used to support student progress… Oh and did I mention students and staff working their socks off?

Remember, if the litmus test is Friday afternoon – this is working, and its working very well!

Hey, dear everyone else in the world – what does Friday afternoon look like where you work?

Like this?

Board of Director’s Meeting Update

I wanted to take an opportunity to highlight the hard work that goes on behind the scenes in our school. The Board of Directors of XP Trust met this morning as part of their role within our Governance structure. All governance at the Trust is focused on active and purposeful engagement of stakeholders to ensure each school is continually proving and improving their practice.

The specific role of the Directors however is to:
– Ensure our clarity of vision, ethos and strategic direction
– Hold the headteacher to account for the educational performance of the school and its students
– Oversee the financial performance of the school and make sure its money is well spent
– Ensure the legal and financial responsibilities of XP are carried out.

Our directors are made up of parents and people from a range of professional backgrounds. You can read about the individual Directors here, but to illustrate: we have a prison Governor for HMYOI Moorland as Chair, two Principal Lecturers in Education for Sheffield Hallam University, the CEO for Lincoln City FC, an internal auditor for DMBC, a solicitor, and an experienced Governor of a Primary school from within the Trust.

The Directors all lead committees linked to safeguarding, curriculum, finance, premises (to name just a few) but I think you will agree, the experience and expertise of our Directors are of a very high calibre indeed!

Such meetings are tough because the level of detail required is precise, and the questions that arise from a committee’s findings are challenging. What particularly struck me however was the level of honesty in our discussions. Our work is so important, and the stakes are so high that conversations should not be fudged by not having the courage to speak up, or ask that particularly question to challenge the status quo.

No one in our Governance structures is trying to catch anyone out or embarrass anybody. What lies at the heart of their approach is a rock solid – cast iron authentic commitment to trying to create the best schools in the world.

Consequently, let it be said that we welcome this level of challenge.

Right, there’s work to do!

The Governance at XP website can be accessed here

‘Exceptional!’

That’s how I described today’s Remembrance Day service at our school this morning.

The event acted as the ‘final product’ for the expedition ‘Over the top!’ (for parents who are new to XP East, every expedition has a final product that culminates in a Presentation of Learning in front of a wider audience).

In my closing remarks I emphasised that our Y7s have been with us for just 9 weeks.

That’s. 9. Weeks.

The people who witnessed today’s event (including myself) were staggered by what they saw: 45 minutes of 11 and 12 year olds reading extracts of their creative writing, reciting poetry, explaining military links from WW1 to modern day Science and performing scenes related to their work in Drama – in front of 250 people. The transitions and movements between the 20 plus segments during the service were all conducted by students. There was no one hidden behind the curtain whispering ‘NEXT!’ or ‘GIRLS YOU’RE UP’. They pulled it off due to the hours of preparation that went on throughout the week.

The event embodied the work of expeditionary learning – drawing on disciplines from different subjects and linking them together via a guiding question, combined with developing the character of students.

What I saw today was nothing short of exceptional.

Well done Year 7s and what a start to life at XP East!

Our 1st ever book launch!

Our expeditions have final products that drive our learning and should wherever possible ‘connect with the world.’ The first expedition that we undertook back in Y7 was ‘Society, Steam and Speed’ where we embarked on fieldwork to York Railway Museum, Hyde Park Cemetery and Hitachi Rail Europe in Doncaster. We studied the science of railway development, mathematical concepts concerning speed, distance and time, and developed our literacy skills via descriptive and analytical writing.

We also learned about local history via enquiries into the workers who lived and died in accidents during the Industrial Revolution. We could only have achieved this via the superb support of our local expert Andria Johns from the ‘friends of Hyde Park Cemetery’. We also created pieces of art around the town’s rich rail heritage: the ‘Flying Scotsman’ and the ‘Mallard’, and explored arguments for the controversial HS2 scheme which represents Doncaster’s future in the rail industry.

The book culminated in historical written accounts, investigations, scientific reports and artwork from every single student that was involved. The launch at Waterstones was a special moment because it represents the fact that our work is beautiful and good enough to be bought and sold in a shop full of such quality!

Check out the video of the book launch below and don’t forget that you can purchase the book here.

Day 4: Parents – please read before you watch the video!!

Here is the final video that highlights the daily activities and challenges that students were involved in at Aberdovery – Day 4.

Before watching, please read the following…

As I sat down and opened a nice cold bottle of shandy at home on Friday night, my thoughts quickly drifted to what I had witnessed over the previous 4 days. I was moved beyond belief to see first hand how students and staff overcame the struggles that they faced each day, and how it brought them together in the face of adversity. Whether it was walking for 8 miles with heavy rucksacks, immersing themselves in freezing water, camping overnight, canoeing or climbing mountains, I experienced a togetherness that centred around the concept of Crew.

Parents: please ask your children the question ‘What is Crew?’

I guarantee that you will be amazed at what it is beginning to mean to your son or daughter. Ask them for examples of how students acted as Crew, and give them the opportunity to express how they supported others, and how too they were supported.

In the following video, I stumbled into two Y8 Crews and as per the videos for Days 1, 2 and 3 none of the student interviews were scripted. I simply asked them some questions and recorded them on my iPhone. All students responses are sincere and authentic.

I’d like to thank our highly dedicated and committed staff for helping to facilitate such a memorable experience. Overall however, I think you will agree that what took place in a small coastal village in Wales between August 28th to August 31st 2018 was something very special indeed.

JP