Culture

Trinity Chapeltown – Family Dining

Family Dining is a very important part of our day.  At Dixons Trinity Chapeltown, we will come together as a community to eat freshly cooked, healthy meals in a family setting.  Children will sit around a dining table with an adult, they will set the table and serve each other their food.  They will eat from the best plates and dishes and drink from real glasses.  Conversation and manners will be modelled by the adult; this is a time of day when our children can learn so much!  We will talk about our values, what we have learned during the day, and this is a time when we can cement our relationships.

Justine Oldham
Primary Principal, Dixons Trinity Chapeltown

Trinity Chapeltown – Keep Things Simple

At Dixons Trinity Chapeltown, we like to keep things simple. The way we do things in school will not be particularly revolutionary, but we will make sure that we do the simple things really well. Children thrive when they feel safe and children feel safe when they know what to expect. By keeping expectations clear and simple, we ensure that children know what the boundaries are and know what they are supposed to be doing and when.

Keeping expectations simple does not stop them being high. The best schools have the highest expectations of their students. Through hard work and perseverance, every child can achieve.   Our core values of hard work, trust and fairness are communicated through everything that we do in school.  Even the youngest children have a deep understanding that they can rely on their teachers to support them in all their hard work.

Justine Oldham
Primary Principal, Dixons Trinity Chapeltown

Improving writing: A shared grammatical metalanguage

‘Grammar is what gives sense to language… Sentences make words yield up their meanings.’ (The National Literacy Strategy.)

As the GCSE overhaul of 2017 fast approaches, and with students facing unprecedented changes to examinations in order for expectations to match and exceed high performing internal jurisdictions, one thing we do know is this: students will be faced with ‘high-quality assessment’ with more emphasis placed on written communication and technical accuracy. Therefore, in order to ensure our students fulfil the academy’s mission of “succeeding at university, thriving in a top job and having a great life”, we need to prepare students for life beyond exams; if they are to realise their full potential, they need to be able to communicate effectively in the work place and in life. Yet, how do we adequately prepare students for such challenges ahead? The answer: by raising standards of writing across the curriculum through a shared grammatical metalanguage.

At DTA, a common language permeates everything we do: it is alive in corridors, in the Heart Space and in every lesson, every day, so it only seems natural that a common language – a grammatical metalanguage – should exist for students’ written communication.

Step 1: A ‘Grammar for Writing’ approach

In 2014-2015, the English Department implemented the ‘Grammar for Writing’ approach influenced by Debra Myhill’s pedagogical model. The approach focuses on demystifying grammar for students, providing them with a sound understanding of the mechanics of grammar so that they can confidently experiment with the nuances of writing. In order for students to write in a sustained, coherent and effective way, they need to understand the rules of linguistics in an explicit yet contextualised manner, so that their reading becomes meaningful and their writing has purpose. The purpose of teaching grammar in this way is not so that students can correctly label the different parts of speech; it is about making children aware of the grammatical principles to increase the range of choices open to them when they write. Students explore the use of grammar for effect, see how texts are shaped and play with grammatical structures to enable them to apply the principles to their own writing.

To assess the impact of such a model, and to successfully embed a grammatical metalanguage, it was necessary to go back to basics – the key principles learnt in KS2 had to be re-taught; Y7 and Y8 received one whole-year group lecture per week for the duration of the academic year, focusing on contextualised metalanguage with models and worked examples to support. To ensure consistency, lectures were delivered by our Head of Department focusing on the effects of grammatical choices at first, such as the effect of noun phrases, progressing to manipulating coordinating and subordinating conjunctions by the end of the year.

Step 2: Scheme of work design

Whilst the lectures were having notable impact, consistency was key. Reading and writing assessment objectives – from the new KS4 specification – were mapped across every scheme of work to allow students the opportunity to practise what they had learnt in the lectures; importantly, this gave them time to experiment with writing (using the shared metalanguage) and develop their analytical skills through knowledge of how and why a writer uses particular words, phrases and sentence constructions. Gradually, this approach began to produce results: by the time students sat their end of year exams, students in Y7 could confidently craft a piece of discursive writing, experimenting with a range of subordinating conjunctions to create dependent clauses and were able to identify and explore a noun phrase in an assured and sophisticated way. Writing had improved; students had developed more confident and versatile language use and were using grammatical structures with considerable complexity. Yet the problem remained: how could we replicate this success across the curriculum?

Step 3: Create consistency

It became clear, through a number of quality assurance measures, that students were not transferring the rules, or stylistics of writing, learnt in English to other subjects, in part because these particular mechanics were not being reinforced before students completed a piece of writing or during the redrafting process; therefore, we set about crafting a common language for all staff to use with students – a language that students were already familiar with from their daily English lessons. We wanted students to know that to improve their eight mark response in PE they needed to use more adding connectives, or to write more succinctly, yet fluently or that, in RE, they needed to avoid the comma splice. As this grammatical approach had led to noticeable gains in the quality of both reading and writing in English, we began to devise a way in which a common approach to writing across all subject areas could form part of our culture, and so came the dawn of our writing surgery…

Step 4: The Writing Surgery

Before we could insist on particular writing expectations to be adhered to by all departments, it was our duty to ensure that all staff were comfortable with the terminology taught in English; we had to play fair; we had to teach our staff how to use this language so they could, in turn, improve the writing of our students in their own specialism. In September 2015, The Writing Surgery commenced. During Staff Morning Practice, staff attend a 25 minute session led by the English HoD which simply follows the same principles as the whole-year group lessons delivered to students: staff are taught, in a supportive manner, the grammatical metalanguage so that they feel confident when teaching and marking writing. To avoid staff becoming anxious about the sessions, pre-reading material is distributed at the beginning of each week and all tasks are completed collaboratively. Our staff are incredibly grateful to learn what sadly some were denied during their education; they demonstrate a thirst for understanding the mechanics of grammar – whether that is how to create an embedded clause or what constitutes a complex sentence. Initially, what started out as a 13 week programme is now – due to its popularity and impact – going to run all year as we support staff to improve their literacy which will provide them with the confidence to address misconceptions in their students’ writing. Comments such as: “This is the highlight of my week” and “I used the term embedded clause with my group and they knew what I meant” give the practice a real sense of purpose – it now finally feels that we have addressed a key piece of the puzzle: improving staff literacy confidence in order to improve student writing.

Next steps:

We know this is just the beginning of a lengthy process, but one which we undoubtedly know will have great impact in helping us achieve our mission. Even though we are still in the early stages of climbing this mountain, our grammatical metalanguage is now firmly alive in our staff, in our students and in our classrooms; a language that will enable our students to succeed no matter what writing challenges they are faced with in 2017, at university or in their lives beyond the classroom.

Natalie Brown
Assistant Vice Principal

The value of driven values

At Dixons Trinity Academy, we live by the three core values of Hard Work, Trust and Fairness, which pervade everything that we do. To guarantee that these values are lived and underpin our behaviour we have further installed three drivers: MASTERY, AUTONOMY and PURPOSE, outlined by Dan Pink in ‘Drive’. We would go as far as to say that the living presence of these Drivers have led many to regard our school as ‘revolutionary’ in its approach as they ensure that everyone associated with Trinity is inspired to succeed.

While the values safeguard a certain code of conduct, it is the Drivers that motivate us all to meet these high expectations with determination and rigour. In essence, the drivers are what get us up in the morning. They are the fuel to our fire. Without them we would not have the wherewithal to meet the demands set by our core values. Let me explain!

In MASTERY, we seek to achieve great things; refining our practice and investing in what matters. By hanging this Driver around the three core values we ensure that we focus on the right things and seek mastery in an environment aligned to a deep-rooted set of principles. For example, upholding the value of Trust with authenticity must be underpinned by a desire to see AUTONOMY develop in all corners of the academy – with autonomy comes an inherent trust and where there is genuine trust, there exists the sovereignty of autonomy.

At Trinity, we believe core values cannot simply live within a vacuum in and of themselves. The Driver of PURPOSE is integral to ensuring that there is a reason for doing what we do. Our individual and collective purpose clarifies what we are working towards and what each and all will take from their academy experience:

The Academy Sentence

“The academy ensured that all students succeeded at university, thrived in a top job and had a great life.”

The retrospective nature of our sentence obligates us to strive towards a successful future – with clear goals set out in no uncertain terms.

As the school has developed and matured, so have the Drivers become increasingly the imperatives for understanding and working within the remit of our core values. They are, in a sense, the ‘slow burners’, and it has taken us a period of time to truly work out how they give us all real meaning – a raison d’être.

At Dixons Trinity, how do we define Mastery, Autonomy and Purpose and so make them our own?­­­

Mastery is the urge to get better at things that matter made manifest through our commitment to Practice (Doug Lemov, ‘Teach Like a Champion’). We practise key techniques collectively as a staff twice every week during Morning Meetings and engineer more tailored practice during one to one coaching sessions. We have also adapted ‘the cycle of highly effective teaching’ developed by Achievement First and introduced ‘data days’ to ensure that evidence about learning is used to adjust instruction to better meet student needs.

Autonomy is the drive to direct our own lives; at Trinity 100% of students present an exhibition of their Stretch Project at the end of each assessment cycle. In addition to their more traditional curriculum, Stretch Projects allow students to explore an area of interest within a given theme. We aim to develop students’ autonomy and grow their love of learning. Teachers are free to teach as they want as long as students learn and make progress.

Purpose is the drive to connect to a cause larger than ourselves. Those who have visited the school have recognised that our structures liberate teachers to teach and students to learn – because students know why we do things, they buy into them. To keep motivation that lasts, we focus on two important questions. First, we ask a big question to orient our life toward greater purpose – what’s my sentence? In one sentence we state what lasting impression we want to leave on the world. Then we keep asking a small question for day to day motivation – was I better today than yesterday?

With these Drivers to push us forward, our core values permeate all that we do to realise our mission (our Academy Sentence); giving us direction with absolute clarity. In effect, the Drivers are our quality assurance.

Matt Fitzpatrick
Vice Principal

Useful links:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u6XAPnuFjJc
http://connectedprincipals.com/archives/2202
http://www.danpink.com/drive/

Values Driven

Hard work, trust and fairness

Our values permeate all that we do; they are not a gimmick and so much more than a strapline. They form the strategy to deliver our mission and are the backbone of every conversation we have with students. Our culture is mission-mapped (we will talk through this in a future blog), the values support the mission and the behaviour is derived from the values. At Trinity, our values are the same for the leadership, for all staff and for all students; we are all held accountable for upholding our values at all times, whether through our behaviour routines or our performance management. Our values are underpinned by the growth mindset we foster across the school which, again, we will come back to in a future blog.

We share our values like a common language, it is a way of being on the team. Lots of organisations get this wrong maybe because of the confusion that can emerge from the different types of values that exist within any structure. In ‘The Advantage’, Lencioni defines the range of possible values to generate clarity around what a core value really is. Core values are the two or three traits absolutely inherent to an organisation; they do not change over time and, in the hiring process, we should not be looking for employees who agree with the core values, but those with a predisposition for them. Aspirational values are what an organisation wishes it had; they require what Lencioni surgically calls ‘purposeful insertion’. Permission to play values are the minimum standard of behaviour expectations; they are generic things that are likely to be needed in any organisation. In other words, the core values should be more apparent in your organisation than a different organisation with different core values. If not, they aren’t your real core values.

Ours set a very high bar:

Hard Work
We never give up. We remain positive so that we have the strength to persevere with even the hardest work. We do what it takes for as long as it takes.

Trust
We are honest. We do what we say we’ll do and do not make excuses. We are loyal and have the courage to do the right thing.

Fairness
We play by the rules. We are respectful, polite and courteous at all times. We don’t take advantage of others and helping a member of our team is helping ourselves.

Our students need to work hard to overcome the disadvantages society will try to impose upon them; we need to make explicit to them just what hard work means. We use the metaphor of climbing a mountain to share this value with our students; we tell them that university is the top of the mountain they are climbing every day. To help this vision come off the walls and be more than rhetoric, before our students even start at Trinity, we take them to Leeds University to show them their future. Then, we take them to the Lake District in the first term of Y7 and climb a real mountain – every one of us. Hard work permeates so many of our decisions at Trinity, our no-hands-up expectation ensures all students work hard at all times, everyone ready to answer, no one opting out. We use DIRT to ensure that feedback is acted upon, there can be no lazy response if we each are going to climb our own mountain. If any student requires intervention, Morning Mastery sessions are scheduled from 7.30-8.00 am every day; we all work hard, we do whatever it takes.

At Trinity, we do the right thing because it is the right thing to do; part of being able to trust each other is being able to take responsibility when we make mistakes. Trust comes in the growth mindset of seeing mistakes as part of future success, in committing to this, we commit to a no grudges culture. Students can trust staff to deliver recurring forgiveness and staff can trust students to learn from mistakes. We have a no excuses culture.

To enable every one of us to live our mission, we must be rigorously fair, that means we must all commit to being on task each and every day. If we do this, we are playing by the rules which means students can learn and teachers can teach. Every student knows that team beats individual and that it is never fair to disrupt the learning of others. We over-rationalise everything to staff, to students and to our families – this is not a carrot and stick environment, we expect so much more than that. It is only fair that, given our high expectations, everyone understands the purpose to all actions. We have silent corridors to ensure our transitions are safe and orderly, conducted with pace and purpose. This means that all students can get to lesson on time and support one another; we know how to be fair.

Our values make real our mission – without them, we would still be struggling to basecamp.

Jenny Thompson
Head of Secondary

Many Minds, One Mission

“The academy ensured that all students succeeded at university, or a real alternative, thrived in a top job and had a great life.”

At Dixons Trinity Academy, our mission is ambitious; so ambitious, we will not be able to measure our success until long into the future – until our students come back and tell us they are living truly great lives. Our mission is our fundamental reason for getting up in the morning, it is our core belief. Everyone who works at Trinity is compellingly committed to this mission – but we didn’t come up with it by committee. As a start-up, our mission came directly from our Principal, Luke Sparkes; it is the pure, undiluted, crisp vision of one person whose moral purpose sets the highest expectations every day. When Ofsted came to inspect the school in January 2014, they could see the impact of such clarity, “the vision of the headteacher combined with the unrelenting commitment of other leaders and teachers, are crucial elements in the academy’s success.” It is because of Luke’s clarity that others are able to wholly commit.

Some may raise an eyebrow at the vow to ensure all students succeed at university, or a real alternative, – but this is a vision; this is where it is absolutely imperative to be brave. Ultimately, the only people who have ever taken issue with us setting such high expectations are those who have been privileged enough to go to university themselves. We will not make apology for believing in our students and their families are 100% in support. University is a tangible goal, higher level apprenticeships are tangible goals; this is about raising aspirations. Our mission is clear and unpretentious – grounded in really, really hard work.

Lots of organisations agonise over the exact wording of a mission statement culminating in big thinking squashed into academic language. At Trinity, we say it simply – but we spend a lot of time saying it. The best organisations concentrate on alignment to the mission not the constant drafting of the mission.

The big thinking needs to be made real by the clarity of the language. Our mission is about what we honestly want for our students, put simply. And we are willing to be punished for it. A truly inspiring mission should make it worth doing whatever it takes.

We have no doubt that the achievement-oriented culture at Trinity is the main driver of our success. As Peter Drucker says, “Culture eats strategy for breakfast.” Of course, no school is better than the quality of its teachers; however, there is only so much that even the best teacher can do with students who have low aspirations and poor learning habits. Conversely, create a truly aspirational culture with extremely high expectations and all teachers can secure exceptional outcomes for all students. What we have learnt from the best schools is the power of a vision-led culture – it is not a means to an end, but an end in itself.

Being wholly committed to our mission is not that intellectually sophisticated, it is just common sense and we, as a team, need to have the persistence and humility to return to it every day; to sustain our routines and live our values over and over – the humility to commit is critical. As a team, we return frequently to the work of Patrick Lencioni; this year, we were talking with a group of American visitors about our systems and they made reference to ‘The Advantage’. The visitors thought we had based some of our systems on the logic laid out in the text. We hadn’t. We hadn’t, at that stage, even read it – but, when we did, it felt like a better explanation of what we strive for than we could ever have articulated. Indeed, the commentary on clarity felt written for us:

“alignment and clarity cannot be achieved in one fell swoop with a series of generic buzzwords and aspirational phrases crammed together… Clarity requires a much more rigorous and unpretentious approach.”

So, why is our mission in the past tense? In ‘Drive’, Dan Pink talks about how we generate intrinsic motivation; our mission is expressed as a single sentence; it is the lasting impression we want to leave on the world and it orients each one of us towards a greater purpose. Our mission is our motivation for every student, every day.

Jenny Thompson
Head of Secondary