Reward systems, Global curriculum, and more. In this episode, Andy, Robin and Adam are joined by Ed Parkinson from Attenborough School in Germany to talk about classroom cultures. Is consistency key? Do pupils have to have a particular mindset? Plus, Ed discusses parent buy-in and cases such as new pupils and teachers joining the fold.
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Hi, I'm Andy Psarianos.
Hi, I'm Robin Potter.
Hi, I'm Adam Gifford.
This is the School of School podcast.
Welcome to the School of School podcast.
Welcome back. It's another episode of The School of School podcast. Welcome Andy, and welcome Robin, how are you doing?
And from miles away, although it doesn't seem like it. As we sit here all together, Ed Parkinson from the Attenborough School all the way in Germany. Ed, welcome to the School of School podcast. And can you just tell the listeners a little bit about yourself?
Hi, yeah, thanks for having me. So yeah, my name's Ed and as Adam said, I work at Attenborough School in Germany, which is a British school. We follow the British curriculum and I've taught here for about 10 years. I currently work in Key Stage 1. I'm the Key Stage 1 Leader, and also the Maths Leader. So yeah, we've been on quite a big journey implementing Maths new problem in our school. And yeah, it's been great to share some of our successes with you guys.
Thank you, Ed. I know a wee bit of history about your school and I know that you weren't always the school that you were in now. And by that I mean that you had a combination of schools that schools came together, that you've had teachers coming and going. And I think from my experience of being in a school both wearing a teacher hat and a leadership hat, one of the things that I found massively challenging was having a level of continuity that the children could expect, that the staff could expect. And I think one indicator when you've kind of got that whether you're working towards it is indicative in the classroom culture. And so when people do come in, again, you've talked about high mobility in your class for the children, I think that classroom culture becomes so important in terms of embedding yourself into your school. How do you go about establishing that, working on that, making sure that it's kind of obvious? What do you do?
Yeah, I think if your listeners have heard me and my colleague Angie on some of the other podcasts, right, one of the things that is probably quite unique to us is that we're quite a small school. So lots of the teachers at the school wear multiple hats. We'll often cover classes, children from across the school. A child in year five will know all the teachers, right, through the school. And that's sometimes quite rare. I've been in other schools where children in FS might not necessarily know who the teachers in Key Stage 1 are because they're not seeing them every day, whereas unique to us like these pupils do, they see us on the playground. Like I said, teacher colleagues from sort of year five, six might come down and deliver a phonics lesson to year one. So that's quite unique. So we've got quite a small school of family kind of feel to it.
And I think that kind of stems into the classroom. I think that we've been on the journey with this. I think obviously like Adam said, we have quite high mobility of pupils, so we get pupils coming in. And one of the things we're not struggling with but is needing to address was the idea of sort of like what do we want the culture in the classroom to be? What's the charter almost? And that obviously happens in everyone's class, right, at the beginning of the year. We talk about rules and what's acceptable and how do we respect each other? But I think for us it was like we wanted that to go school wide. So we wanted there to be something where we would iron out lots of what a teacher might say like low level behaviour so that every teacher and every pupil was getting 100 percent quality learning time in the lesson.
So yeah, one of the things that we have or that we've used at our school is kind of like this idea of there's no chance behaviours that there would be a consequence for that. And when we introduced this to the pupils, it was like, "We care about you. We want everyone to have a great time learning. So because we care about you, if you are interrupting a friend, then there might be a consequence for that, because we want every voice in the classroom to be respected." And so initially introducing that there was a kind of like, "Oh, is that a bit harsh? Are we being too hard on the children?" But it was almost like, I think we had maybe a month or half a term where we'd be picking children up for very small things and we'd often go, "Oh, are we being a bit too harsh here?
But that was crucial because I think now the children know the expectation of what the culture in the classroom is like. We're all here to learn. And so if a friend is talking, everyone's listening to them because you could learn something from them. And I think that's been great. So with that, it's this idea of, having that kind of open mindset of it's okay to make a mistake. I think people talk lots, don't they now, about having an idea of a growth mindset. And it's that whole idea of there's no such thing as a bad idea because even if your idea is wrong, we could learn from it. If you've made a mistake with what you are sharing with us, we can unpick it together and find out where that mistake is and what we can do to kind of help you not make that mistake and be successful, if that makes sense.
So I think, yeah, that's been something that we really kind of value is this idea of inner lesson, a Maths lesson. If we're talking Maths, like we want this culture of talking, discussing, and I think I've spoken before about how we've implemented Maths no problem. And that is just built into that platform. The idea of when it's the anchor task and you are presenting pupils with something to discuss, everyone is discussing, everyone's talking about what they think a method they might have to solve a problem. And what we try and do is make it so that nobody's afraid to speak, if that makes sense. And I think when we do get new pupils in, sometimes they can find that difficult because coming from maybe at the UK where they might have come from a big class, they're coming into our class which are maybe relatively smaller than what they might have been used to.
And sometimes we've seen pupils initially, there's a bit of a shock there because whereas maybe I know I've taught pupils before that have maybe been a little bit shyer than their peers. In a bigger cast, they might have been used to kind of taking a backseat and letting other people speak for them. But in our culture, we want every voice to be heard. So sometimes there's that expectation in every lesson that we could come to you, so make sure that you've got something to share. And whatever that is, we're going to listen to it, we're going to respect it, even if it's wrong, nobody will laugh at you. We'll praise you for that and we'll unpick it. I think that's really important.
Ed, do you guys talk about the culture when you have your sort of staff meetings and your inset days? Is that something that you guys explicitly talk about at your school?
Yeah, one of the things that we do and how we teach the pupils is we've got this idea of a global curriculum. We say to the children, "We want you to become a global citizen." So it is based on the Oxfam, there's an Oxfam sort of guidance for global citizenship. And so we've looked at that and we've taken elements of that. And that was one of the things that we did when we were sort of redesigning parts of our curriculum from the ground up is how do we build the curriculum, so our foundation subjects? How do we build this idea of a global citizenship into that? So we have sort of six themes that we run throughout the year. And in the autumn, the theme that is the first theme of the year is called Leading the Way. And it's all about the under theme of that is choices and decisions and powering governance.
So straight away with the children, we're introducing them to those concepts and what that means at a local level. And as the children get older, more of a global level. But within that, we talk about the culture of the school and the culture of the classroom. And so we build everything around that. And so then the school council elections are built into that and classroom charters are built into that. And then every September and every year we kind of relaunch our behaviour system where we say, "These are the expectations, this is what we expect from you." And yeah, it's ongoing throughout the year for anyone that's coming in. But yeah, we will touch base with it every so often in staff meetings and just like, "How's it going?"
I think with the mobility we've had, it's always good to do that because what's been successful now, I think it's always kind of as in sort of leadership, it's like to say that we could go back in September and just continue would be naive because I know that September's going to bring a lot of changes to the school structure. There's new pupils coming in, so what has worked really well this summer term will not work the same in September. We're going to have to come back to that and reevaluate certain things and think about that, because it will almost be not a new school, but it'll be different. And then we always flex. We were always having to adapt our approaches. So yeah, I think I would say we are very fortunate. As a school, as a staff, everyone that we work with is flexible. We've got that kind of mentality where we will lean in to help each other out and things like that. And I think that's been part of our success I think.
Just on that theme, you talked about bringing in new teachers and that the culture changes. So come September you're going to be bringing in these new teachers and having them not just take on the culture that is already there. They're bringing their own bits and pieces to your school and probably suggestions. And you said you work together to kind of create this school culture. And I just wondered, is that something do you think that the new teachers are embracing and do you think it's different in their classrooms? I mean, I would have to think that each classroom has its own kind of microculture.
Yeah, I suppose. I will say, we have got new children starting, I think potentially new teachers coming in might be something that would happen in the future if we were to grow. But in September, I don't think we're not due to have anyone new start there. But in leadership there needs to be an element of consistency. But obviously each teacher's then got the autonomy to kind of design the culture of their classroom in a certain way. But I think part of our success is that in our school, certain things are quite uniform. So I mean every school will have some sort of reward system, but for us, we've got a system where the children earn merits for showing great aspects in their learning kind of thing. But that runs across the school.
So for our pupils moving up to the next year group, the consistency is there. They know what to expect there. So I think that helps as well, because I spoke earlier about, we're quite unique, we're quite a small school. So I teach in Key Stage 1, so at times I teach year one and year two. But for things like Maths, we've decided to split those lessons. There'll be certain lessons that are split. And for that, other colleagues come in and some will be delivering Maths to the year one group. Some will be delivering maths to year two. But because there's this element, there is this kind of consistency in the culture of the classroom. There's things like the reward system that might be similar, like the expectation of how a lesson might run. So that's been great because our year one pupils for example, in a day they might see four different faces or they might be taught by four different people.
But we've seen them from September to now they've made really good progress. And it's almost like you might say that to somebody and go, "That's a lot of people." These young five and six year olds are seeing four different teachers in a day. How does that work? But I think there's that level of consistency. Having that has been good, because one teacher, if they were doing something different to another teacher and another teacher and we're not all on the same page. And the children, they know don't they? They can find the cracks. If there's a substitute teacher for one day, they will know kind of thing.
But it's worked really well. I think that's it. The culture's there. And I think we've tried to do things where we brought everyone on board. Everyone's buying into something. So if we're going to introduce something, like I mentioned the idea of we have these consequences. It wasn't a case of somebody said, "We're going to do this." It was a case of, "What do we want for our learners?" This is what we want, how can we get there? Everyone piles in suggestions, we all kind of talk about it. Maybe one suggestion is brought forward and it's trialled. And then from there, there's a buy-in, everyone's bought into what we do as a school.
So I think from a staff culture that's been crucial, that directly translates down into the classroom. I think that would be, from my experience, if anyone's listening, take that advice. If you can get the buy-in, if everyone can kind of agree and it's like everyone's on the same page, things will be more successful because everyone knows why they're doing it. They know what they want to achieve. And nobody's going, "Oh, well, I'm letting the children talk at this point at the lesson because I've been told to do it." It's like they know the reason. They know why they're doing it, and that's really powerful.
Did you find too that once you'd established that, I don't know, a clear expectation across the board, did that make it easier for parents too? I mean, with all the high turnover of children, obviously you've got a high turnover of parents. And I think that if you are implementing something, I imagine when you first implement something, the parents will quite rightly have an opinion as to whether or not that is okay doing that, and now they're not. What's the story? Has it made it easier subsequently, or maybe there was never a problem? I can just imagine though, if you start setting new expectations and then the parents are like, "Hey, hang on, my child's in trouble three times now that you always used to be cool. What's going on, Mr. Parkinson, what's the score?"
Yeah, I get that. Yeah. Well, initially it was. I mean, we always try and bring parents on side and we feel that, I would say that we've got a good school parent relationship. Parents recognise the successes that the school has. And I had a pupil leave today and their last day's going to be tomorrow. And the parents came up and just thanked me and they were really appreciative of the school. So we recognise that the parents see that in the school. But obviously, like you said, yeah, when we initially were introducing these things, there was a bit of a kind of, "Oh, this is different." But I think we came at it from a place of care like we were saying, we want the best for your children. This is why we're doing it. And initially, like you say, we were tough on little things, but that didn't last long, because then the children know the expectation and then that has an impact on the lessons.
And then obviously that then gets fed back to parents because the children are coming back and they're positive about their learning. They've had great lessons. And so like I said, in September, when we have new families come in, that'll be something that we're just being mindful of. But we always start the year by every sort of year group will bring the parents in and have a dialogue with them and set the expectations and let them ask questions, sort of share with them the partnership that we are hoping to establish between home and school, and how we are going to support them if they've got any questions kind of thing. And yeah.
I suppose with a lot of what you've talked about is establishing that consistency isn't just good full stop for learning regardless of someone's situation. But in a school like yours which poses challenges that a lot of schools don't have, some schools do have high mobility for all sorts of reasons, but yours, it's almost normal to have a high turnover of families. Your community changes on a regular basis. There's so many things that you've talked about that in terms of establishing what I would consider good practise like that classroom culture must be massively beneficial for everyone involved, for someone coming in. So if I was to come to your school with a family, just to know, just lay it out for me, what am I expecting from you guys? And to have that so clear, it sounds like it's well implemented, well done, and a massive benefit to any of your stakeholders, whatever you want to call it, like your school community.
Well, it's been great. So thanks so much, Ed, for taking the time.
Thank you for joining us on the School of School podcast.