Monkton Attributes by Joe Sidders - Deputy Head Learning

Monkton Attributes by Joe Sidders - Deputy Head Learning

Like all good lessons, we started with a question. 

It was 2014 and I’d just arrived at Monkton; the Director of Learning and I had a blank A0 piece of paper in front of us and some of those coloured chunky felt tips - we were ready. We wanted to look forwards over the next five years to see how we could build on the amazing learning already going on in our beautiful valley just outside Bath. 

Hence the question.

But it was a rather scary question - it could end up being too big and we’d fail to even get close to answering it. On the other hand, in attempting to get anywhere near answering it we might just end up coming up with trite platitudes. So we got another coffee, took a deep breath, picked up a chunky felt tip and wrote the question in the middle of our blank piece of paper: ‘What is education?’

There’s no doubt it’s an important question. But there are so many layers to what education has become that rather like the old wall with layer upon layer of wallpaper on it, there’s a danger that when you start peeling the layers back you get yourself into all sorts of trouble. So as we started to answer the question we felt ourselves moving beyond our comfort zones as we looked away from the safety of specifications, exam-focused schemes of work and teacher-led learning.

Eventually what emerged was the academic development plan which had these aims for our students:

Being deliberate and thoughtful in my choices Approaching difficult work with persistence

Making positive use of failure

Asking ‘can I do it this way instead?’

Asking ‘what resources can I use to make progress?’

Working efficiently to make progress

Seeking to influence positively the academic progress of other students

Displaying a love of learning for its own sake

It was rather colloquial, but we quite liked that - these had to mean something to people if they were going to get any traction.

Fast forward 4 years and we got our best A level results ever. Which is intriguing because at no stage was the strategy to improve exam results - we were aiming for bigger things for our students. You can get better exams results in all sorts of mechanistic ways, and although those techniques have a place in school life, to elevate them to the level of strategic vision is, for me, a travesty. It’s possible to get so fixated by exam results that this is close to what happens.

But what we showed is that you don’t have to do that to get great exam results (which - let’s be clear - are very important even if they serve only as a passport to the next stage). It turns out that by growing their learning attributes, exam results did exactly this.

Fast forward another 3 years and we arrive at the present, and what we are now calling the Monkton Attributes. We’ve reviewed them and broadened them - why limit these to just the academic sphere of school life? There are learning opportunities around every corner, whether that’s on the hockey astro, in a Media Studies lesson, on a paddleboard on the Avon, in the recording studio, at an in-house, or just walking to lunch with you friends. In every aspect of life - academic, co-curricular or pastoral - these are the attributes we want our students to be developing:

Intentional: Be deliberate and reflective in my choices

Imaginative: “Can I do it this way instead?” 

Inquisitive: Display a desire to look beyond the familiar

Persistent: Approach challenges with perseverance 

Productive: Work efficiently to make progress

Resilient: Make positive use of failure 

Resourceful: “What resources can I use to make progress?”

Symbiotic: Seek to positively influence others 

This is work in progress, but we have much forward momentum already: the traditions and ethos of Monkton, the instincts of our amazing staff, the ‘look and live’ vision of our chaplaincy, the series of ‘failure awards’. 

What has it meant in practice? One of the major innovations has been the rolling out of student self-reports across every year group in every term. These are opportunities for students to reflect on all aspects of their progress.

The student-centred nature of our new Wild Monkton initiative demands of students that they’re imaginative, inquisitive, resourceful and symbiotic.

Questions form a crucial part of teacher-student interaction at Monkton. If you dropped into a lesson you’d hear students’ questions answered with questions. If you were a fly on the wall in a tutorial, you’d hear tutors employing executive coaching techniques to help their tutees find the answers. If you snuck up on a half-time team talk (note to parents - don’t do this), you’d hear the coach seeking feedback from the team about what needed to happen in the second half.

Like our first steps in answering The Big Question, the answers themselves to ‘what is education?’ push us all out of our comfort zone which is where the great learning happens - and that means it’s not just the students who are learning. When a school becomes a genuine learning community, that school becomes an exciting place to be.

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