As befits this week’s theme, although written by Rosie McColl, today’s Headspace is the outcome of collaboration between Rosie McColl and Laura Comerford. There is one piece from both schools. 


On a visit to one of our sister schools, Norwich High, this week, I made two new friends: Cleo and Collette – or, to give them their full names, Cleo and Collette Collaboration. Cleo and Collette appeared on the wall in Norwich Prep, along with Rita (Resilience) and Ruby (Reasoning) as part of a display about character traits and learning dispositions – they represent some of the qualities the school is looking to instil in its students and they form part of a discussion that has been a focus for educational thinking and debate over the last decade.


Cleo and Collette Collaboration (and friends) had been created in response to the following questions: What skills and qualities should we be developing in our students? Which will help them to thrive, both now and in the future? Which will allow them to lead happy, successful lives? Cleo and Collette are also performing a different role – in providing a common language for the students, they are helping them to identify their individual strengths, making them more aware of their unique learning styles, and helping them to appreciate how they learn best.


At Brighton Girls, we have already started asking these questions and we have already found some answers in the process of reaffirming our school values. When we ran a Future Skills Forum with parents during the first lockdown, we discovered that lots of the traits deemed desirable in the workplace connected to kindness (like empathy and emotional intelligence) or boldness (like the ability to challenge in a constructive way, or being creative or willing to take risks). We have evidence that our values are starting to influence our collective thinking: the Year 5s recently produced badges with the words ‘kind’ and ‘bold’ and they featured in a satirical sense during the Year 11 ‘Play in a Day’ event – a sure sign that the idea has taken hold and that we are well on our way to developing a common language throughout the school. We are excited to be on this journey and Laura Comerford and I both know what an impact such a project can have, having been part of similar initiatives at previous schools. 


The next stage for us as school is to ask ourselves what kindness and boldness look like in the classroom, and whether we could use these two values to shape our approach to learning. Does kindness manifest itself in active listening and encouraging others? Does being bold involve being curious and asking questions? How can the two combine during debates and class discussions? The aim is to create a common language around teaching and learning, and we want everyone to be involved – because, whatever we decide, it will be a collaborative process, involving staff, students, parents and governors. Collaboration – sometimes referred to as good teamwork – is essential. Any list of character traits or learning dispositions will include the ability to work with others; Cleo and Collette will always be somewhere in the mix. 


In September, we are looking forward to welcoming Professor Bill Lucas to Brighton Girls. Bill Lucas is a leading educationalist, who has written extensively on the importance of a shared language for learning.  He is the co-creator of Educating Ruby: What Our Children Really Need to Learn, which explores seven character traits (curiosity, communication, creativity, commitment, craftsmanship and, of course, collaboration). Whatever traits and dispositions we settle on as a school, the power is in the discussion – and that takes collaboration. Not only does the word appear in the list of skills chosen for Ruby, it appears on the front cover – the book was co-authored with Guy Claxton. Collaboration was the very purpose of my trip to Norwich – I was meeting other GDST heads to share ideas.


In case anyone is in any doubt about the importance of collaboration, I will end with a brief illustration. 


On arriving home from Norwich on Wednesday evening, I discovered (to my horror) that my son had been dropped off at school that morning wearing no shorts, no trousers – just underpants, along with his top, shoes, socks and raincoat. I think this is what’s known as a ‘parent fail’ (of epic proportions). But what had caused this failure? The investigation is ongoing but, suffice to say, it all comes down to a breakdown in communications, a team under pressure (note that one member of the team was in Norwich), time-management issues and, above all, a complete lack of collaboration. 


When Captain Underpants needed them most, Cleo and Collette were nowhere to be found, and the results speak for themselves.