Just like that, we’re into a new half term! Wow - time is flying! Firstly I start with a thank you; it has been an absolute joy to be welcomed into the Gateway School community, meet so many of you and your lovely families and teach your wonderfully hardworking children. Our first term has been a busy one with welcoming new children, beginning our clubs offer and getting back to school routine, however, it’s been valuable to pause, reflect on and share an observation as one of the new members of the Gateway family - and to celebrate it!
One thing I have been excited to observe so far is that our pupils at Gateway School embrace challenges. I see it in the many hands that go up to offer a solution to a problem a teacher has posed, when pupils ask questions of each other, or when they push themselves further when representing the school in a cross-country race (the red faces and gasps for breath are all you need to see!) Pupils are in a safe place and challenging themselves every day and in their own way - what one finds challenging, another might handle with bucket loads of confidence.
But this doesn’t just happen by chance. Our role as educators at Gateway is to create and maintain an environment where every pupil is engaged in challenging themselves, where they have opportunities to learn, test ideas, experiment and, yes, get things wrong. But for the latter, that’s not always a comfortable place to be, is it? It can be scary. It can be tough. It can take more effort. Believe me, not all of my marathon training runs began with me skipping happily out of the door...but the efforts did (excuse the pun) pay off in the long run.
Learning ‘at the edge of our comfort zone’
We learn most when we are challenged. We all know that. But how often do we pause and assess the level of challenge we are currently facing? To help our pupils with this, this term we are including a tool for pupils to self assess their own learning - or in other words, the level of challenge they are experiencing in their work. The theory that underpins the tool has a remarkably catchy name too: “The Zone of Proximal Development”, created by Vygotsky - but don’t worry, we don’t use that term with our pupils!
Why is this so important? We want our pupils to understand that when we find something hard, that is the very moment that we’re learning the most. It’s the perseverance at a task that helps build personal resilience - something that all of us as parents get tested from time to time. Encouraging our pupils to assess themselves using the red, amber or green traffic light approach helps them to engage with what they are learning and gives them the ability to make judgements about their own performance and how to improve upon it. It encourages pupils to develop an understanding that if they are in the green zone, the activity is too easy for them and they need to seek out the next challenge - even though that might mean not getting it right first time.
“You never fail until you stop trying”
A great acronym that can come from the word FAIL is First Attempt In Learning. Making mistakes, seeking feedback and learning from them is an essential part of the process of learning. I regularly say to the pupils I teach “I love it when mistakes are made!” Maintaining a classroom where mistakes are celebrated (as well as successes) is vital so that every pupil can feel that they can take risks in a non threatening environment. It’s OK to strive for something tough and not succeed first time.
It goes without saying, the hardest thing with challenges are that they are not easy. It took J.K. Rowling six years to write the first Harry Potter book, and when she finished, all twelve major publishing houses rejected the book! Can you imagine if J.K Rowling gave up and there was no Harry Potter? Likewise, Walt Disney, the creative genius who brought us Mickey Mouse, faced many failures. Rumour has it that his idea of Mickey Mouse was turned down over 300 times by bankers and financiers because they thought the idea was absurd? These important examples give us all hope that if we seek challenges and continue to strive for our goals we can achieve them.
I shared this picture with pupils in a recent assembly. The two paths show different routes that you can take; the one on the left being easier, it's flatter and you can see further ahead making it the ‘safer’ choice. The path on the right heads uphill and into darkness; being steeper and harder work but potentially much more rewarding and exciting.
At Gateway School, we’re creating and nurturing our future leaders, children that will progress into professions and jobs that don’t even exist yet, making it all the more important to build their confidence when pushing themselves, tackling a challenge and having the resilience to get back up if they don’t succeed first time.
My challenge to you? Next time you’re at the dinner table with your children, share a challenge that you have set yourself. It could be something to do with your work, or could be something personal to you. It doesn’t have to be record-breaking or heroic. What is key is that it’s something that you find personally stretching, puts you out of your own comfort zone and how you might feel if you didn’t succeed first time.
...and of course let me know next time I see you in the playground.
Mrs Natasha Harrison