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What do your learners look like?

This week one of my schools has been having an inspection by the HMIE. The week was full of ups and downs, some stress and a fair bit of pressure. Just like a normal week in school really, but different. The system of inspection we have in Scotland is a lot more supportive than those that exist in some other systems, and certainly different to the approach that seems to prevail in England. From our first contact with the Managing Inspector she was at pains to reassure us all that her and her team aimed to support myself as headteacher, and the school as a whole, to better recognise where we were in our continuous journey of development and to help us with our plans for moving on. This would be a professional dialogue around where we were, and how we might improve what we do. She also asked me to reassure teachers that when they came into classrooms the inspectors would be looking at the learners and their learning, not them. 

This post is not about the whole inspection experience or the result, this is embargoed at the present anyway. Instead I want to focus on one question that the inspectors posed which caused myself and my DHT, to stop and consider. The question was basically, what did a pupil leaving our school in P7 look like? Not in a physical way, but what were they like personally, socially and intellectually? How had we equipped them to be successful as they moved on in their education and in the rest of their lives? I suppose that's more than one question but it was encapsulated in 'what does a Parkside pupil look like as they leave the school?' I really liked the question because to be honest this is not something we have deliberately thought about or considered. We are often so busy thinking about the totality of the curriculum, learning and teaching, attainment, achievement, deprivation factors, working with parents, working with other agencies, developing the culture and ethos of the school and so on, but when do we consider the impact of all this activity in shaping the the young people we work with as they move through our schools?

The following is what we came up with, as we considered our learners holistically before they moved on. The characteristics we identified are not in any particular order, as we believe they are all important. Some people classify many of these as 'soft-skills', but I prefer to think of them as life-skills.

Resilience was the first characteristic we identified. The inspectors had already told us they had spoken to quite a number of children already and they had challenged them in aspects of their learning. 'Even when they didn't know the answer, they kept going and trying' said on inspector. This was music to our ears because this determination to keep going, and accepting that making mistakes is a natural part of learning, is something we have sought to develop in our learners over a number of years. In the last few years we have been using Carol Dweck's work on Mindsets to help move our learners further along on the journey of understanding themselves as individuals and as learners.

Next was self-regulation. We have deliberately set out to develop this characteristic in all our learners and we begin this as soon as we can. We want them to be able to focus on their learning and their behaviour, and have the skills, aptitudes and attitudes to enable them regulate these themselves. We want them to understand that they have the ultimate responsibility for their learning and behaviour, and that adults in the school are there to help and support them to develop this ability. This desire to develop self-regulation in our learners is grounded within our values and is seen as a whole-school responsibility. Culture and ethos are key in developing this, and it should be a characteristic observed across all school activities. When speaking to one inspector a pupil said ' we can usually sort most problems ourselves in the playground, if we can't we always know we can speak to an adult, and they will help us.'

We look to develop our learners as problem solvers. This ability is closely linked to the characteristics above. We present them with problems and explore strategies they may use or have to solve these. One of the first problems young learners have, discovered by one of our teachers enquiring into her practice, was that very young learners don't know what a problem is, because they have always had them solved for them in their short lives. So you need to develop in them an understanding of what problems are and how they can go about solving these themselves, without waiting for someone else to do it for them. They need to develop a range of strategies and attitudes that will help them when they are confronted by problems and difficulties. Metacognition and their ability to understand and regulate their own thinking is crucial here. So we try to develop that ability in them to think about their own thinking and consider ways they can develop and improve this. We get them to articulate their thinking to each other so they can hear and see other strategies being used by their peers and their teachers.

All of this promotes and gives them confidence. We want them to be 'confident individuals', one of the four capacities identified in Curriculum for Excellence. We want to develop their confidence in themselves as individuals and in a range of circumstances. Therefore, we provide them with opportunities and support to develop their confidence, recognise themselves as unique individuals and their particular strengths and abilities. We give them responsibility and we find more and more ways to have an authentic pupil voice in how our school community is shaped and develops. So we promote, encourage and provide meaningful opportunities for them to grow as 'responsible citizents', another of the key aspects of Curriculum for Excellence. We give them personal and collective responsibility and the opportunities to develop this in every aspect of their learning and school life. We want their contribution to their learning, to the school and to the wider community to be effective. So developing them as 'effective contributors' is another key aspect. They know how to take effective action to bring about change.

We want them to be successful learners and to understand themselves thoroughly as a learner. They should know their strengths and where they are on their own individual learning journey. It is important they recognise the areas where they are not so strong, and how they might improve in these. They will use the whole range of characteristics identified here in order to help them be successful and to solve problems. We want them to be adaptable and flexible in the strategies and approaches they are able to use in their learning and in different circumstances. We want them to be able to work as an individual and through collaboration to problem solve and to learn. They need to be knowledgeable and have understanding of themselves and others to support everyone's growth and development. We wish them to be emotionally aware to better understand themselves and others, and to facilitate their personal growth. We want them to be balanced and happy individuals who are equipped to achieve their potential and be successful in their learning and life. They are sociable and have had opportunities to achieve in a whole range of learning and contexts. We want them to be literate and numerate as we and they recognise the importance of these key elements to success in their lives. But we want them to be rounded individuals in learning and to recognise the value in all areas of learning, and how this helps them make sense of the world they live in. They should be ambitious for themselves and others and have an understanding of how to go about achieving their ambitions. We want them to be tolerant and accepting of difference in others. They should be honest about themselves and with others and have begun to identify some of their own personal values that will underpin their thinking and actions.

Our curriculum will provide our learners with many of the opportunities they will need to develop and shape these characteristics. But we believe it is our values, culture and ethos as a school that will help shape most of these. Young learners are really good a detecting authenticity and insincerity in adults, so we all have a role in actually modelling, living and displaying these characteristics ourselves if they are really what we want to see in our learners.

So in answer to the inspector's question, and following our own considerations, we aim to develop all the above in all our learners and these are what we hope to add to their development as they progress through our school. A pupil from Parkside school would have many of the the characteristics shown above in bold, and our aim is to develop them all in all our learners. Like our pupils we have high aspirations

I wonder what your learners look like?

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