Principal's Blog

The power of generosity to improve lives – and the world

My first blog of the New Year brings together my assembly theme from last week (the power of generosity to improve lives – and the world), the Lance Armstrong confessions on The Oprah Winfrey Show, a ball boy in Swansea and a story I read recently. If only it received the same amount of publicity! I hope you enjoy reading it too.

On 2nd December last year, Basque athlete Iván Fernández Anaya was competing in a cross-country race in Burlada, Navarre. He was running second, some distance behind race leader Abel Mutai – bronze medallist in the 3,000-metre steeplechase at the London Olympics. As they entered the finishing straight, he saw the Kenyan runner – the certain winner of the race – mistakenly pull up about 10 meters before the finish, thinking he had already crossed the line.

Fernández Anaya quickly caught up with him, but instead of exploiting Mutai’s mistake to speed past and claim an unlikely victory, he stayed behind and, using gestures, guided the Kenyan to the line and let him cross first.

Ivan Fernandez Anaya, 24 years old, who is considered an athlete with a big future (champion of Spain of 5,000 metres in promise category two years ago), said after the race:

“But even if they had told me that winning would have earned me a place in the Spanish team for the European championships, I wouldn’t have done it either. I also think that I have earned more of a name having done what I did than if I had won. And that is very important, because today, with the way things are in all circles, in soccer, in society, in politics, where it seems anything goes, a gesture of honesty goes down well.”

Its message is a universal truth that we hope to instil in all our young people: Some things are more important than winning – integrity being one of them.

Thanks for reading.

M Donoghue
Principal

Principal's Blog

This morning it was my privilege to join the Remembrance Day Parade and church service. Barton-under-Needwood was served proudly by The Royal British Legion, local servicemen past and present, children from the Scouts, Guides, Brownies and Beavers and our village schools, representatives from the emergency services and other local groups, and a significant number of residents. For those who regularly follow my blogs, you will note that this time of year always has a profound impact on me. Indeed, it was the focus of my November Blog last year.

However, this blog relates more to those who I stood alongside today rather than the reason for our gathering. Today was a very visible and impressive demonstration of community action. In Barton, as is the case in many of the neighbouring villages within our school catchment, if the community want events to happen (Jubilee celebrations, bonfire night firework displays, craft fairs) or groups to run (scouts, Mothers Union, cricket club) residents acknowledge THEY will need to make it happen. Whether that means being involved in organisation or in showing support through participation, village communities roll their collective sleeves up with relish – and to great effect! At John Taylor, we benefit from this directly through having governors who give so much time to the school, a PTA that works for our benefit with tremendous enthusiasm and energy, and volunteers and community partners who will help us and our children in the classroom, on trips, and in so many other ways.

This community spirit is contagious from generation to generation. On parade today were just some of the young people at the school who get involved. One young man in our Sixth Form had to make a quick change from his scouts uniform into a chorister’s robes for the church service and then back again! I know that many children from the school were also involved in events in Burton and at the National Memorial Arboretum at Alrewas (where the school was also represented by our Chair of Governors). This level of participation often begins at primary school. Some of our children attend schools which serve small communities. Again, if these children want a sports day – they have to compete, if they want a school play – they have to perform. The transition to a large secondary school which many onlookers view as so daunting is made so much easier by the confidence and skills that come from active participation. Through our Year 7 ‘STRIPE’ programme, we develop these skills further in our ‘Community’ unit that Year 7 have worked on this term.
All our students, and most of their parents, will know that I believe success is derived from ‘turning up, working hard, and being nice’. To ‘turn up’ is not merely a request for good attendance and punctuality to school (important as that is), but a call to engage : to get involved with what you can, when you can, and give your all in the process. Many do this, following fine examples from their parents and others in their local communities. From this ‘virtuous circle’, we all benefit – and long may we continue to do so!

Thank you for reading.

M Donoghue
Principal

Principal's Blog

“Don’t wish that it was easier. Wish that you were better!” (Jim Rohn)

At this point in the academic year, whole cohorts of our young people are undertaking final examinations in courses they have studied for the last two years. Nothing different about that compared with previous generations, we may argue. I would contest this.

First, in addition to the summer series of examinations, students will often have sat many ‘modular’ or unit exams throughout the course. These bring with them a constant sense of pressure, and a need to achieve. There is no cycle of ‘coasting’ and ‘cramming’ that certainly some of my peers built their educational success on at school!

Second, outside of exams, there will inevitably have been pieces of coursework, controlled assessments or personal studies that students will have worked on towards their final grade. Again, with such work comes a perception, often correct, that there is no “let up” in the work. Studying a broad curriculum of subjects, if we multiply these course requirements by, say, nine for our Year 11 students, or by four for our Sixth Formers, I think we can begin to empathise with their situation. Add to this the social pressures of teenage life, and the uncertainties in their world of high unemployment and access to further and higher education, we could paint a rather depressing picture. However, what I experience every day here at John Taylor is an enormous amount of positivity for the long-term, and incredible resilience for the immediate future. Our pupils and students are rolling their sleeves up and getting on with it! They are incredibly capable of differentiating between what they can change and what they can’t. This leads me on to why the quotation at the top of my Blog is so resonant at this time:

“Don’t wish that it was easier. Wish that you were better!” (Jim Rohn)

Our students can’t change the exam papers, they can’t make sometimes abstract subject concepts more straightforward, they can’t manufacture more time between now and their exams. What they can do – and what they are doing – is working on what they can change: their understanding, their skills, their knowledge, their exam technique, their time management. And they are doing it with smiles on their faces, and springs in their steps – mostly! It is this that makes working with young adults so rewarding and inspiring, and this that I want to share with you in my Blog. They are a credit to themselves and to the families who support them throughout.

I close with a ‘mention in dispatches’ to the school’s staff who also share our students’ pressures of constant assessments, modular examination, and the need to achieve exceptional results. They are as acutely aware as anyone of the importance attached to the reaching of potential for every child.

Together – parents, staff, and students – we meet the curve-ball of the examination challenge and send it into the long grass!

Thank you for reading.

M Donoghue
Principal

Principal's Blog

Why small talk is such a big deal!

In March, it was my privilege to accompany two of our Sixth Form students to the annual Drapers’ Company Court Dinner. This event, hosted as a means for all organisations and individuals that benefit from patronage by The Drapers Livery Company, is a wonderfully grand affair attended by a throng of illustrious guests – government ministers, peers and knights of the realm, and celebrated scientists, artists, and other professionals. Held in the Drapers Hall, Throgmorton Street (pictured above), the setting for many of the palace scenes in last year’s “The King’s Speech”, it is an awe-inspiring occasion.

Understandably, our students were a little apprehensive about being seated at separate ends of the large, formal, room. However, I told them that they would be afforded a warm welcome by the Members and other guests, and to engage in light conversation and enjoy the company of some very interesting people. This they did, in fine style, and a great evening was had by us all. On the train back to the Midlands, we shared our experiences – who we had dined alongside, their background and the stories they shared.

It is more than likely that we will not meet most of the individuals we spoke with that evening again. So, why engage in conversation with them at all? Small talk IS a big deal. First, it hones our skills as listeners, as empathisers, as speakers. These qualities are essential for us to be happy, sociable and maybe even for our success professionally. In a survey of MBA students ten years after graduation, Stanford University School of Business concluded, via their survey findings, that the final grade achieved by their students had far less bearing on their success than their abilities to converse effectively with others. In his famous work “The Tipping Point”, Malcolm Gladwell notes that we are more likely to find out about new career opportunities from ‘acquaintances’ rather than friends – the rational being that we share the social circle of our friends, acquaintances put us in touch with other, neighbouring social circles. How do we establish such acquaintances? As often as not, through small talk.

At John Taylor, our young people are often praised by visitors for how confidently and articulately they welcome and engage with them. Having worked in several schools, I think this recognition is well merited. Whether it is through their experiences at home, their extra-curricular activities, travel or structured opportunities in the classroom, our pupils and students have plenty of practice in the art of conversation. This is not the case everywhere. In an age of “stranger danger”, where we are rightly cautious about the safety of our children, we must balance that with giving them opportunities to experience new social situations and develop the skills that will serve them well as adults – as family members, as workers, as friends. “Communication” comes from the Latin word ‘communicare’: literally, “to share”. For the good of our society, we must equip all our young people with the ability to share – knowledge, experience, stories, beliefs, emotions. Our curriculum, not least our revised programme for Year 7, aims to enable this.

Thank you for reading.

M Donoghue
Principal

Principal's Blog

New Technologies

For this month’s Blog, I have chosen to return to the theme of new technologies.
Some months ago, I wrote that John Taylor was on a journey to harness technologies in order to improve learning – naturally – but also to improve communication. Yesterday saw the launch of a “JTHS App”, now downloadable from the Android Market (or GooglePlay as it is now known), and its arrival at the Apple AppStore for iPhone users is imminent. The App itself draws useful information straight from our website (for example, “Latest News”, the events calendar), our hugely-popular Twitter feed, and also enables connection to ParentPay, GCSEPod, our Facebook Newsfeed and the Learning Gateway. At one day old, and “version 1.0”, there will inevitably be bugs to iron out and improvements to add. However, the message of my blog is more about how this development reflects so much about our school in microcosm.

First, this is part of a “big picture” of new technologies that includes the GCSEPod revision tool, Gmail accounts for all, a new virtual learning environment, ‘ClickView’ resource storage, Kindles and iPads, a total campus Wi-Fi installation over Easter, and new servers and computers.

These developments are not ends in themselves: they are the ‘luggage’ we need to pack as we embark on a 21st Century learning and communication journey. They enable us to make our ideas real.

This is my second point about John Taylor: we innovate. We are the first UK state school with such an App. This reflects the passion and commitment of our staff and pupils to look creatively at what we do, and what we could do. Our new Year 7 project-based learning further indicates this. As the first ‘converter’ academy in the County, and one of the first in the country, we are prepared to step out. In a world with an insatiable appetite for innovation, we must lead our pupils by example. Innovation is a way to gain advantage: to leapfrog others who were ahead. As such, we must ‘walk the talk’ for our pupils.
Third, we are trying to communicate in ways that suit an increasing number of our intended audience. With over 1100 followers on Twitter, a popular Facebook feed, e-mail, Gmail and texts, we can send and receive information much more effectively. However, we’ll always be there for the face-to-face stuff too! To me, that remains at the heart of relationships that are successful.

Finally, it is an indication that the staff can respond quickly. I first went “kite flying” about the possibilities of a mobile version of our website twelve days ago. Within three days we had a prototype app developing, and now we’re at launch.

There is a “buzz” around the school that is palpable. Technology is not for the whizzes and bangs, but for creating learning opportunities and, perhaps most importantly, pump-priming the imagination of all of us. Exciting times ahead!

Thank you for reading. Our App can be downloaded via the Android Market (search for “JTHS”, or follow the link from the QR Code above).

M Donoghue
Principal