Mastery Through Co-Curricular

The main body of our enrichment offer is delivered through co-curricular electives; made up of an array of arts and games disciplines designed to allow our students to acquire knowledge that takes them beyond their own life experience. We settled on ‘co-curricular’ as the name for the provision as we wanted it to stand alongside the more traditional suite of subjects, both in terms of status as well as quality. Students in Years 7 to 9 participate in four hours a week of timetabled co-curricular lessons (two hours of games and two hours of arts), while Year 10 do just two hours, choosing either games or the arts as their focus. It should be noted that although we offer elements of PE, music, DT and art as part of the co-curricular offer, we also deliver these as discrete subjects as part of the traditional subjects on offer to all students.

To support the co-curricular electives we have extra-curricular sessions before and after school to allow students to develop their abilities. Indeed, a key part of the enrichment offer – extra and co-curricular – is to facilitate and nurture the ‘grassroots’ for our sports teams and academy performances.

To ensure that the co-curricular sessions are of high quality we felt it was important that the variety of electives all adhered to a set standard and are rooted firmly in the intention of working towards meaningful and measurable outcomes for the students. In order to facilitate this, we took inspiration from Dan Pink’s Drive and his belief in mastery as a motivating driver behind getting good at something. More specifically, we have attempted to ensure that each elective fulfils the three key ingredients of mastery – pain, flow and growth…


“The path to mastery is not lined with rainbows” (Drive by Dan Pink)

Although not always physically painful, acquiring new skills and developing new understandings brings with it challenges that students must overcome to achieve their goals. When learning anything complex for the first time there will be a period of repetition, drudge, potential boredom and maybe even despair. The heuristic nature of the co-curricular provision means that it should not be simple to access in the first instance; it should not simply be a case of turning up, doing and then leaving without the sense that challenge was very much central to the activities that students have taken part in.

There’s no doubt that the repetitive nature of learning a new song with its rhythms, key changes and precise cues can become boring and staid. Similarly, acting out a scene repeatedly to get lines and timings accurate can test the patience of the student who begins to feel that they will never get it right! However, these processes are essential in achieving anything of worth. Without the pain of the repetition or the drudge of “going again from the top” the end product would be half-baked. This is the mundanity of excellence in action.


“The oxygen of the soul” (Mihály Csíkszentmihályi)

Grittiness is key to success in achieving mastery and accomplishment – it’s only at this point that the notion of ‘flow’ can enter the process. Without going through the hard yards first the student cannot achieve a state of flow. A student ‘in the flow’ is experiencing joy in their work – as W. H. Auden states, it’s about “forgetting yourself in a function”.

Only once the student has studiously learned the key apparatus necessary for accomplished public speaking can they become immersed in their newly developed craft. What may once have been a daunting and seemingly impossible feat now appears as a fulfilling and enjoyable activity with consistently impressive outcomes.

All co-curricular options must offer the initial pain of learning something new but this then shifts onto students being able to access the work in such a way that they are experiencing a genuine sense of joy from what they are doing.


“Mastery is a mindset” (Carol Dweck)

The varied nature of the co-curricular offer is to provide choice to the students as they elect to be part of a particular discipline. However, it is also designed to challenge the students’ sense of security in terms of what they ‘can and cannot do’. Dweck points out that we are responsible for the boundaries we set for ourselves. As Henry Ford said: “Whether you think you can, or you think you can’t – you’re right.” With a growth mindset, students can embrace the many colours of the co-curricular electives and take on new challenges that do not necessarily feel comfortable in the first instance.

Pain: the grit and mundanity of excellence in action.
Flow: forgetting yourself in a function of suitable rigour.
Growth: effort and persistence in developing talents and abilities.

Co-curricular and the House System
Outcomes are key in the co-curricular provision, which is further facilitated by allowing staff to award House points based on students’ individual and collective performances in their weekly sessions. This raises the stakes and further ensures that staff and students fully engage in the electives across all year groups.

Planning for mastery
At the development stage of each co-curricular elective, we require all staff to complete a planning document that ensures that the three key ingredients of mastery are immersed in each respective discipline. Staff are also required to stipulate the intended outcomes, many of which result in externally recognised accreditations; the more theatrical-based electives work towards the Showcase, of which we have three a year. This planning document is available here.

The offer:
Co-Curricular Offer 2015/16

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

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