CEO’s Blog: August 2023: The Persistence of “Common Knowledge”

For this month’s blog, I wanted to focus on something that teachers come across frequently: a perception from their pupils that they already know something when, in fact, they don’t.  Often these misconceptions are innocuous and not in any meaningful way detrimental to the pupil’s understanding of the world or their development.  However, sometimes they can be. An example of such a common, but harmless, misconception relates to the chameleon.  Perhaps what the chameleon is best known for is its ability to change colour to match its environment.  Indeed, we may refer to people who can fit in well in a variety of settings as “social chameleons”.  However, this phenomenon is a total myth.  Any change of colour in a chameleon that is aligned to the colour of its habitat is coincidental.  Chameleons change colour primarily in response to their changing emotions:  when they are frightened, when they have triumphed in a fight, when seeking a mate etc.  In addition, they have minor changes in colour based on regulation of their body temperature. 

So, how did we develop this belief in the chameleon’s ability to camouflage?  According to scientific sources, the first time this idea was recorded was in around 240BC inn a series of Greek biographies called Antigonus of Carystus.  Aristotle, far more widely-read and writing a century earlier, had correctly attributed the change of colour to an emotional response – specifically fear.  By the Renaissance, almost no one believed chameleons changed colour to blend into their background – but somehow the myth has returned to us. 

There are some myths and misconceptions that are positively destructive in our world, and particularly for our children.  We know that there have been numerous medical opinions – sometimes published in esteemed journals – that have been subsequently disproven, and yet the misconception has persisted.  Whilst it is common knowledge that Dr Andrew Wakefield’s publication in The Lancet in 1998, linking autism in children to the MMR vaccine was subsequently found to be based on flawed and falsified findings and Wakefield was ‘struck off’, MMR take-up rates remain a concern two decades later.  Perhaps a more common misconception is that the best way to prepare for exercise is to undertake a series of stretches.  Sports scientists certainly recommend stretching for those athletes suffering with a specific injury, but it is now believed to be much more effective, and safer, to prepare for vigorous exercise through undertaking a gentle form of similar movements as a “warm up” – for example a gentle jog before a longer run. 

Naturally, our Trust values prioritise the importance of learning.  One part of learning is to understand, and have challenged, misconceptions.  The teacher who inspired me to join the profession was the Maths teacher who taught me during my examination years.  His gift was to recognise the misconceptions myself and others in the class held and correct them in a way that made sense to us.  Even now, one of the activities we will ask of candidates at interview for Maths roles is to present to us a solution to a mathematical problem, showing us where the pupils are likely to make errors in their calculations or approaches.  By appraising this, the interview panel get a keen sense of the depth of expertise of the applicant and their understanding of how children learn.

In an age where “YouTubers”, “trolls” and “influencers” can command the attention of millions with precious little or no authority underpinning their content, teachers remain important. So too does our schools instilling the virtue of scepticism for all the times those teachers are not, and cannot be, there to correct the errors. We cannot do this too much. As always, thanks for reading my blogs.  Like “Heinz Varieties”, this is my 57th. I hope you’ll continue reading them into the new academic year. 

Mike.

Headteacher Designate – Branston Locks Primary & Nursery School

Headteacher Designate

Salary L11 – L17 (£56,796 – £65,999 per annum)
Permanent Full-time starting Summer Term 2024
School due to open September 2024
Closing date: 13th October 2023

It is with huge excitement and great pride that we start the search for a Headteacher Designate to lead the latest member of the John Taylor MAT family of schools; Branston Locks Primary & Nursery School, located outside Burton-Upon-Trent.

A brand new school that will incorporate many of the features of John Taylor MAT that have become a hallmark of its success: challenging the most able, outstanding quality of teaching, a taught curriculum of ‘gold standard’ content and skills, and an enrichment offer and pastoral system we believe is second to none.

This is a unique opportunity to lead and grow the school from pre-opening to an ‘outstanding’ provider, demonstrating your enthusiasm, vision and leadership qualities. You will be encouraged by a strong local governing body and an ambitious, forward-thinking MAT Board with a determination for excellence as you develop the vision for the school.

Please download the Recruitment Pack for all the information about this role and our new school, as well as details about the application process.

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CEO’s Blog: July 2023: “Listening to others, sharing with others, learning from others.”

For my final blog of the academic year, I want to articulate two things that I hope you will see are very much related.  First, I want to thank all of my colleagues – leaders, teachers, support staff, administrative staff and governors and directors – for their hard work, expertise and support for me, our school communities and one another.  It has been another year with many achievements and celebrations – none of which “come naturally” but rather emerge from a considerable amount of thought and work from dedicated colleagues, pupils, and their families and communities. Second, it would be timely to draw your attention to only a glimpse of how our schools are working more closely together.  Whilst much of this work takes place “behind the scenes” via subject and other network meetings, there are occasions when it is more visible.  On Friday 30th June, pupils from across our Trust met together for a day of leadership development, hearing from guest speakers giving their perspectives on leadership and then working in teams comprised of pupils from across our schools on a range of challenges, and later working in school-based teams on taking pupil leadership in their own schools to the next level.  

  The following Friday saw all our schools working together via our trust-wide training day.  With a focus for teachers and subject leaders on assessment and feedback in all its many forms, the day was supported by materials from the Education Endowment Foundation and was delivered across three of our secondary schools, with a fourth venue as the place for our Early Years colleagues, who welcomed Greg Bottrill (author of the wonderfully-titled “Can I Go and Play Now?”) to facilitate their development of best practice.  Our support and administrative colleagues had a range of activities that were more bespoke to their roles.  It is only through coming together that we can offer such opportunities, and this is recognised by so many within our family of schools.  

I will close this month’s blog with an infographic.  John Taylor MAT sent out to all its staff across all its schools an invitation to express in just a few words what the Trust meant to them.  The results from our respondents are represented here, with the more frequently submitted words given greatest prominence in size:

To see “collaborative” emphasised by colleagues as the single most significant word inputted, followed by “supportive” is a source of tremendous personal pride, and a testament to the collegiality of our people. Their generosity is as considerable as their expertise.  One of the trust’s key values is “Collegiality: listening to others, sharing with others, learning from others.” The exemplification of this value is at the heart of our work, and its success. As always, thanks for reading – and have a wonderful summer. 

Mike