All schools, here and elsewhere, share ambitions about wanting the very best for their pupils, students and staff. A cursory look at the motto, ethos, values or vision and mission statements of schools will readily confirm this.
St Peter’s CoE Primary School is no exception. We have made explicit our purpose via our school motto;
Learn, Sparkle and Shine..”
As children walk through the school entrance doors and step in to St.Peter’s, they are asked to imagine themselves taking daily steps down Progress Avenue.
As OFSTED said; “Each corridor is labelled to reinforce a value or an ambition and emphasises the aspirational ethos which pervades the school. Pupils regularly walk up Progress Avenue, Cooperation Alley or Achievement Road on their way to lessons, assembly or out to play.”
The vision continually reinforced is that Progress Avenue is endless.
- it does not seek to limit someone to a predetermined potential
- it does not assume a natural talent or predisposition.
- It recognises that hard work and effort will lead to greater outcomes and achievement.
- It starts with you and takes you as far as you want to go.
This philosophy has helped our staff to open their minds to the meaning of inclusion and avoid limiting beliefs, both for themselves and the pupils. By building a belief that anything is possible, you just have to take the first step towards achieving it, the children have been given the power to determine their own destiny.
The beliefs and values that each of us hold within us become manifest through our behavioural interactions with the world around us.
Those who believe intelligence is fixed and our success is determined simply by how much intelligence we were born with will approach life, learning and challenges in a very different way to those who believe that intelligence is expandable and they have a limitless capacity for growing their understanding and knowledge of different domains.
Children arrive at St. Peter’s with some of those views already formed. They may have been told many times that they are clever or conversely they may have been told many times that they are not.
“ I was never good at maths so it’s no wonder you can’t count to 10! You take after me.”
“I understand why you are struggling with reading–I did.”
Phrases such as these reinforce to the child the idea that they have a certain amount of intelligence, and furthermore there is a high level of heritable factors limiting their life chances. They reinforce the idea that some things, like learning to read or learning to count, should come easily and if you are struggling to learn these things, then you don’t have a natural gift in that direction.
These phrases remove the concept that actually learning something new requires effort, and struggling with something is part of the learning process. These phrases demonstrate, yet also compound and reinforce a fixed mindset.
Stories of child geniuses often glide over the fact that most of these children have spent many hours purposefully practising the skill that they are later declared to be a genius at! How much practise one needs to put in to become an expert is open to debate but Anders Ericsson argues in Peak; How all of us can achieve extraordinary things that the difference in the level of expertise demonstrated by individuals can be accounted for in terms of the number of hours of purposeful practise the person dedicates to developing that skill.
The argument goes that whilst some innate characteristics are important, must of the variation between people can be accounted for by the choices they make and the exposure they have to certain experiences and what happens to them.
Matthew Syed continues this thread in his book Bounce; the myth of talent and the power of practise.
As an ex table tennis player, representing England at Olympic and commonwealth events, Matthew attributes his success to his effort and determination along with the set of circumstances that gathered around him during his early days; an excellent table tennis coach, access to table tennis training facilities 24 hours a day, a personal love of the sport and a determination to practise to achieve success along with a family that supported his passion.
He points to the fact that many of the most successful table tennis players in England at the time were also living in the same location, with access to the same facilities. This location specific success leads him to conclude that success is not a trait inherited through the genes, but one based on the culture, coach, circumstances and commitment of the individual. His latest book “You are Awesome” aimed at 9-13 year olds reinforces this message and gives children the inspiration they need to recognise their own destiny is in their own power.
It was through my initial reading of Matthew’s book, that I began to think about the culture and circumstances that we create for our learners at St, Peter’s.
The iceberg illusion suggests that whilst we are visibly exposed to the success that a person demonstrates what we don’t see are the factors that sit underneath this success.
A study by Aneeta Rattan Stanford University, Krishna Savani Columbia Business School N. V. R., Naidu M. S. Ramaiah Institute of Technology & Carol S. Dweck Stanford University asked the question “Can Everyone Become Highly Intelligent? “ across various cultures. Cultural differences in people’s beliefs of the universal potential for high intelligence were identified. Studies found that in U.S. American contexts, people tend to believe that only some people have the potential to become highly intelligent. In contrast, in South Asian Indian contexts, people tend to believe that most people have the potential to become highly intelligent. It seems that the belief that only some people have the potential to become highly intelligent is a culturally shaped belief.
Underpinning much of the work we do at St. Peters are therefore two basic assumptions;
- the premise of the universal potential for high intelligence for all, and
- if you want to get better at something you need to practise it and purposefully work towards getting better at it, be that knowledge of multiplication facts, phonetical interpretation of graphemes, reading musical notation or kicking a ball.
These ideas can be summed up by the phrase we have chosen to adopt as our mantra
The concept of Progress Ave for us precisely determines why our children come to school – they come to learn & practise and each day be slightly further on that journey to success than they were the day before. We need to provide our children with the belief that intelligence is malleable, that the things we are able to learn are limitless, that school is a place where learning is offered to them and by engaging in that learning process the knowledge they can acquire has no end.
By physically labelling our corridors with the street signs we continually offer a reminder to our pupils that upon walking through our doors they are entering an environment where learning will be promoted and excuses that aim to detract from the child’s ability to make progress will be argued against.
Nationally, disadvantaged pupils are achieving lower outcomes than their non disadvantaged peers.
As head of a school in a disadvantaged area I strongly argue the case that high attainment is possible for all; but hard work, focused and determined effort and strong teaching is the key. Working in an environment where cultural advantage is significantly limited, we have to strongly propose the view that intelligence is a concept accessible universally, not just to those who inherit it.
Progress Avenue is the symbol we choose to represent those views.
It is important at this point to note that whilst “Progress Avenue” may be a psychological ‘nudge’ rather like subtly placing fruit near the checkout point as way of increasing healthy lifestyles, it is not intended as a psychological intervention, which alone can change behaviours and bring about success.
Changing behavior is really hard, as you may realise if you have ever tried to eat more healthily, visit the gym more often, give up smoking or even wear your watch on a different arm. Changing a child’s behavior so that they show more dedicated practice, give their work greater effort, accept failure willingly, listen more intently is not achieved through simply educating them about the concept of incremental learning or a growth mindset. Students may readily agree with the concept and understand the purpose of Progress Avenue, yet successfully changing behavior is another matter. By inviting children to walk down Progress Ave we are simply inviting children to take the path to learning. This in itself will not lead to greater success it simply opens the doors to it. We are not aiming to change mindsets, raise self esteem and aspiration so that academic achievement can be raised but indeed vice versa. We are aiming for children to know that we believe learning is limitless, intelligence can grow and we therefore expect strong academic outcomes from them, which will in turn raise their aspiration and self esteem.
Progress Avenue is a metaphor for the idea that at St. Peter’s barriers to success are hurdles along the route, they will be identified and removed and excuses will be given a ‘so what’ response, so that the children’s chances to “Learn, sparkle and shine..” are maximized.
We believe ability is a consequence of what happens in our classrooms not a cause!
We believe inherited traits are only one part of the story of where we may end up. The environment created in our classrooms, the culture of hard work and determination that we encourage, the recognition that we are all able to increase our knowledge through learning, we believe, has an equally valid impact on our future success. (Learn)
We believe that engaging in a rich and varied curriculum will provide our children with an opportunity to develop a positive attitude to learning and an environment in which they can flourish and thrive. (Sparkle)
We believe that by using Christian Values to underpin our work, children will be able to spread positive attitudes and shine as a beacon in society. (Shine)
We aim to effect the environment to which the children are exposed to maximise pupils’ opportunity to “Learn, Sparkle & Shine..”