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Toiling away

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Blog - Toiling away

Monday 3 October 2016

It has been a very busy week at Bennett. The jam packed programme of events has just come to its close with the wonderful New Year 7 Entrants’ barbecue, organised by Mr Green and his team of form tutors and really well supported by students and their parents, who braved the showers to spend the afternoon competing at bench ball and speed stacking. Just before that, we waved goodbye to our Italian exchange partners who have been with us since last Saturday. They and their Bennett partners have had a particularly full programme, with three days of visits, including a late night performance of Macbeth at the Globe Theatre. In the midst of all of this the school has staged two of its three Open Evenings for admissions into year 7 in September 2017. Once again, these were highly successful, with an unprecedented number of visitors taking away prospectuses for admission.

Working hard like this is rewarding. I am sure that you are familiar with that buzz that you get when you put the effort in and see the fruits of your endeavour. It is always harder though when the success does not emerge right away. We can become discouraged and stop trying. This is where having the right mindset matters so much. If you genuinely believe that achievement comes from working hard, then that can support you at the times when the relationship between your effort and success is not obvious.

For some of our students, having the emotional resilience to keep on trying when they learn is critical. In a school system where, frustratingly, we appear to be turning back to the notion that some children have academic talent and some do not, it is all too easy to lose sight of the importance of systematic endeavour, particularly when it comes to thinking. Intellectual development is, we are told by cognitive scientists like Daniel Willingham, the product of thinking hard. We are all capable of thinking hard if we are encouraged to do so, therefore we are all capable of intellectual growth.
One of the greatest challenges for teachers is to gauge how hard their students are thinking. It requires skilful teachers like the ones that we have here at Bennett, who really know their students. They do this by probing their understanding with questions, so that they can then set the next challenge, which is carefully judged to be just hard enough to move the student on, without being too hard so that they give up. There are no quick fixes in this kind of teaching. It requires detailed knowledge not only of each student and their work, but also of the subject and how children learn in it. This takes careful planning and preparation.

Reflecting upon the virtues of hard work brings me on to the newly issued £5 note. I received my first one in some change today. Initially, I was a little put off by the shiny texture of the new notes, but on closer inspection I rather liked the transparent panel and the overall design. I was drawn in particular to the image of Winston Churchill and the quotation: “I have nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears and sweat”, which comes from his first speech as Prime Minister to the House of Commons in May 1940. His words resonate very powerfully. Offered at a time of national crisis they speak of the importance of hard work. One does not usually associated the virtue of humility with Churchill, but that is there too. There is also, of course, something sacrificial about those words. The mention of blood and sweat is all about giving of yourself. I understand that there is a social media campaign #firstfiver, which is encouraging the nation to donate the first new £5 note received to a charitable cause. This seems like a very good idea as we begin our week of Harvest celebrations and encourage giving from students in support of our two sponsored charities.

Jon Sparke