11 January 2023
Mr Chris Kellaway, Director of Empowered Learning, shares his experience, and learning, of shadowing Charlotte in Year 10 (main picture) recently to see what lessons are like from a student’s perspective.
It may have been before Christmas, but I am still grimacing about a Year 10 GCSE PE lesson I joined where I volunteered to complete an interval training session planned by Ellie and Lexi (see picture below of me trying to sprint), followed by a plyometric session planned by Molly and Sofia (this was fun!).
So why, you might be thinking – as a nearly 40-year-old man – did I volunteer to join a Year 10 PE lesson? I was also wondering this the next day while I was still recovering… The reason was I was going ‘back to the floor’ to try to understand the range of lessons, opportunities, and experiences for the students at Woldingham as part of my new role as Director of Empowered Learning.
‘Empowered Learning’ is the term we are using for our teaching and learning pedagogy at Woldingham. We want to ensure that empowering students to write their own story and thrive is at the centre of all we do. In the five years I have been here, I have witnessed students of all abilities write their own story, in their own way, at Woldingham, and I want to ensure that all students have this chance. This will mean that each student is ready to fly academically, and personally, as she leaves Woldingham to whatever she chooses to do next.
During the autumn term, I dropped into various departments to get a feel for what it is like being a Woldingham student, including the aforementioned PE lesson (see the workout at the end if you want to have a go and let me know how you get on), and I intend to see all year groups in different subjects by the end of the year. How can we know what the student experience is like if we don’t also breathe it?
So, what did I discover in my day?
First, Woldingham is a kind place. Charlotte and the whole of Year 10 were incredibly welcoming throughout the day. I was reminded just how friendly staff and students are at Woldingham, from saying hello in the corridor to just smiling. I have visited quite a few schools, and this is a noticeable difference that sets Woldingham apart. The friendly community is something that is mentioned regularly by Year 6 students when I interview them for a place at Woldingham as a main reason for wanting to come here. It was wonderful to witness this from a student perspective.
Secondly, it was great to see the confidence the students have in lessons to ask questions, to challenge each other, to challenge teachers and make mistakes. Both students and staff seemed to have fun in their lessons. We know from educational research* that single-sex education improves student confidence, but it was good to observe this confidence shining through first hand in our students.
Thirdly - and perhaps the most unexpected - was that the benefits of the size of the campus became clear to me. Charlotte’s tutor period was at one end of the school, her Spanish lesson on the other side, followed by her second lesson back where her tutor period was! This was a walk of at least six minutes. It made me realise just how much exercise the girls get in a day just walking between lessons – most of it in the fresh air. A recent Microsoft study has highlighted the importance of breaks between meetings for wellbeing, and Woldingham is lucky to have natural breaks built into the timetable that provide the obvious benefits of fresh air and exercise. I certainly felt refreshed, and I think it helps us all learn more effectively.
Overall, I really enjoyed being a student again, even if I was quite sore after the PE lesson! The variety that the students have in their day really stood out. It was great to see their journey from a Spanish test when they have to be attentive, to an art lesson, where they are creative, to a discursive geography lesson. It was great to see the girls collaborating virtually via OneNote in a theology lesson, in groups for a physics practical and checking their own learning in maths. All in one day!
This term I will spend a day in the life of a Sixth Former. I will use my experience from being with Year 10 as well as life in the Sixth Form as we continue to develop our approach to Empowered Learning. In the meantime, thank you to Charlotte, her Year 10 classmates and their teachers for making me feel so welcome.
*Laury, Lee and Schnier (2019): ‘A growing body of evidence suggests single-sex education can improve student performance, be it math skills and self-confidence, test scores and college attendance, or grades and pass rates.’
PE interval training (tabata)
40 secs sprints
15 secs rest period
40 secs burpees
15 secs rest
40 secs sit ups
15 secs rest
40 secs mountain climbers
15 secs rest
40 secs tuck v sits
15 secs rest
40 secs long squat jumps