“No problem can withstand the assault of sustained thinking”

Tricia Kelleher:

Recent blog about thinking differently.

Originally posted on stephen perse foundation:

Four Year 8 pupils sat solemnly across the table accompanied by their teacher. It was a Dragons’ Den moment. Their pitch? They had created an app to solve the widely perceived problem with our house token system. In our senior school each teacher is expected to carry around house tokens and award them as appropriate according to the designated colour of the house. With the best will in the world, it is adding another layer of complexity to the life of a busy teacher to remember to have tokens for each house in every lesson. Indeed, one of the students had experienced a situation where the teacher wanted to award a house token but had run out of the required colour. Oh the injustice. So I awaited their solution. Simple yet effective. With technical support from their very smart teacher, they had created an app where by, with a touch…

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Learning in an iPad 1:1 school – thinking differently

Being an iPad 1:1 school makes us think differently about learning. We have placed in the hands of our pupils a powerful tool which in the wider world is transforming all our lives in intended and unintended ways. For me the greatest challenge is understanding the transformative affect on our school community and what this means for all our learners, both pupils and teachers.

As a school with pupils aged 3-18, assessing the impact of digital learning is a nuanced process which needs to take account of the rate of normalisation of mobile devices as a learning tool. Our younger learners interaction with iPads is quite different I believe from the interaction demonstrated by our older pupils. Four year olds working together to create iMovies about selling toys or nine year olds literally spilling out into the corridors to find a personal space to use the app Explain Everything to review their creation of carousels in the Design lesson – for them the iPad manifestly is a powerful tool which offers enriched opportunities for learning. What is particularly striking is how this tool serves to make learning inherently collaborative with children willingly contributing and helping, and how it unlocks creativity because there is no predetermined outcome.

Our older learners are relatively late adopters – after all iPads have only existed for half their lives! It is interesting how at Key Stage 3 there is a willingness on the part of students and staff to allow a more free-form relationship with the device. With no public examinations to cloud the learning vista, teachers have been readier to engage with the device exploring the potential for transformation of learning opportunities and outcome in their subject area. GarageBand in music, iAnimate across a range of subjects for example. The opportunities offered by iTunes U now offers an excellent platform for curating a diverse range of resources which support learning in the critical examination years – an enormously versatile platform which shares links familiar to the older iPad learner.

Our teachers as learners are absolutely critical in the integration of iPads as a learning tool. However, it is also critical that they use the most appropriate approach with the students to achieve the best learning outcomes. As part of our staff professional development and to support sharing of best practice, we have asked teachers to reflect on their pedagogy and the learning of their students. This is not just confined to digital learning. The teachers’ initial thoughts can be found in our learning website:


Our learning community has come a long way very quickly. Yet to the forefront of our thoughts are the individual students who come to school everyday – are we offering them an education preparing them for the lives they will lead? Inviting the digital world in to our school is integral to this thinking. However, in an age of doubt and uncertainty, the vital importance of encouraging a strong and balanced sense of self and the capacity to think differently are the critical underpinning of our learning ethos. Without this, technology is a driver rather than a facilitator. So whilst welcoming iPads with open arms, our purpose remains constant – we embrace them as part of a holistic approach to learning where the student is very much in control and where we encourage our learners to think differently.

Handwriting – what’s the point?

Tricia Kelleher:

So we teach handwriting because exams require it – right? #ukedchat

Originally posted on stephen perse foundation:

I recently enjoyed the opportunity to speak to several Year 11 students about their lives as so-called “Digital Natives”. The conversation was prompted by a Critical Thinking exercise where we interrogated an article which put forward several arguments – of varying degrees of merit – as to why we should continue to teach handwriting in a digital age. It was striking that these teenagers, the children of the digital age, were not yet ready to abandon the paper and pen. Equally striking was their reasoning.

One really engaging student from Macau was unequivocal about the cultural importance of handwriting. For her the characters in Mandarin and letters in English are integral to identity. To lose the individuality of the written word was akin to losing an important signifier of ourselves and our distinctive cultures. Keyboards, she argued, are functional but fail to achieve this more fundamental role.

Indeed, to a…

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Leadership and Trust

Leadership is a term bandied around a great deal – usually because we are bemoaning a dearth of true leaders in our national life. Yet leadership is not just about the macrocosm. It is also about the microcosm of our everyday lives. A school community is just such a microcosm. Traditionally leadership as a concept in a school is wrapped around the figure of the Head Teacher. The Michael Wilshaw approach as a Head illustrates the strong decisive leader very well. Top down and hierarchical. I would like to share an alternative model of leadership which has evolved out of our school’s strategic plan.

When I joined my school in 2001 it was a traditional girls’ school. I was at the top of the pyramid as Head supported by deputies and, rather than any sense of embedded leadership, the concept of “primus inter pares” prevailed amongst my middle management colleagues. If we fast forward to 2014, following a series of strategic decisions, the notion of leadership is no longer associated with the iconic Head role. With six schools in the Stephen Perse Foundation (formally the Perse School for Girls) with two schools outside of Cambridge, the challenge is how do we ensure this group of schools retain an identity as Foundation schools? How do we ensure leadership is embedded across our Foundation?

What I have learnt is that trust is critical to empowering colleagues who have the responsibility of either running each school or who have Foundation-wide responsibility. This is not blind faith. Working closely with a colleague offers an insight into how they operate and I see my role as supporting, advising and facilitating yet ultimately allowing colleagues the space to lead.

I have also learnt the value of teams working together in what can be most accurately described as an entrepreneurial way. Some of our most creative sessions as a senior team have been when ideas have been tossed around, tossed out and resurrected in a different form – offering the best solution for a specific issue. The idea is not owned, it is shared. Hierarchy is subverted to empower everyone to engage without fear or favour. And once agreed everyone keenly supports the outcome and acts as advocates. Nivarna? No. This approach encourages honest discussion and views expressed can be disruptive and challenging. Yet the space to have such exchanges ensures that judgement is about the quality of the idea and not the potential irritation of someone challenging an accepted judgement.

Yet it goes without saying that leadership is not the preserve of the senior team. Subject leaders, as the Director of Music told me only recently, enjoy not being micromanaged. He and his colleagues share our vision for learning and enjoy being treated as professionals who are trusted to deliver the curriculum.

And perhaps that is the point I wish to make. In an age where challenging a teacher’s judgement has become part of political point scoring, how can we expect teachers to act as leaders when we don’t trust their professional judgement? Let us not forget, it takes confidence to offer effective leadership and self-belief to work within a team. I have personally witnessed the transformation of a culture where my role only works within the framework of a team. A transformation based on trust.