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Changing lives through learning

guest-blogIn October 2015 the English team at SSAT member school West Lakes Academy won a National Teaching Award for ‘Outstanding School Team of the Year’. In their own words, Head of English Melissa Relph and Assistant Principal Abby Deeks reflect on the journey the English department has been on during recent years.

Changing Lives Through Learning – it’s our academy’s slogan and it’s what drives everything Team English do.

Team English is a team in every sense – we work together, play together and learn together. You just need to look at a photo of us to see that we are very different individuals, but it is our shared vision that unites us and makes us the strong, successful team that we are.

Everything we do is about our students achieving their full potential, and we don’t stop until we’re happy we’ve done everything we can towards achieving this.

It hasn’t always been this way… we’ve worked hard to create this inclusive team ethic. Central to this is the principle that every team member has a valuable voice and everybody’s opinion counts.

This has strengthened the team because we have been able to approach barriers from different perspectives, making it much easier for us to overcome them – a problem shared really is a problem halved.

Things started to change when our principal Vanessa Ray joined us in 2010. She saw the potential of our team then, and helped to lay the foundations for our team’s success by recognising areas of strength within the department and making bold and inspired decisions to ensure that these strengths were able to thrive and grow.

Vanessa was a fantastic role model for us. Her trust in our capacity to improve the team and the outcomes for our students helped us to believe we could achieve our vision of every child fulfilling their potential.

One key barrier we faced in realising our vision was recruitment. In rural Cumbria this is not easy: at WLA half of our catchment area is sea! We knew that we needed to think differently if we were to overcome this obstacle.

Vanessa’s model of growing talent from within guided our thinking, and in conjunction with University of Cumbria and Western Lakes Teaching Schools Alliance we were able to contribute to the training and development of new English teachers, many of whom went on to become part of Team English.

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We love being part of Team English and it is always our ambition to impart this love of learning to our students. We want to inspire them not only to achieve their ambitions but also to enjoy the process of getting there.

Our students do love English lessons. This is evident in their approach to the subject, the pride they take in their work and the enthusiasm they show in lessons. We always try to make lessons as creative as possible, and use innovative approaches to covering the curriculum.

For example, we ran a themed ‘Dickens Day’ with staff and students in costume to explore the text of Great Expectations. We regularly take students to meet key speakers and see theatre productions making their academic study relevant to their real lives.

West Lakes Academy has a largely rural intake, with a significant proportion of students coming from disadvantaged backgrounds. A key component of our success has been to ensure that no student is held back by any barrier but that they all believe they can achieve and consequently aim high.

Our ethic of excellence drives everything we do and we expect this attitude from our students too. It’s a bit of running joke that for Team English nothing is ever good enough, however, for our kids, we do believe that nothing is ever good enough.

Team English’s Twitter strapline is “It is not necessary to accept the choices handed down to you by life as you know it” and this summarises our approach to the education of our students.

Just as we encourage the students to constantly seek opportunities to improve their skills, we are always keen to develop our practice as teachers. We draw on the strengths of each team member in order to do this.

This can range from delivering subject-specific workshops to one another, to having a quick breakfast meeting to plan for the day ahead. In Team English, no one is ever alone. We are friends as well as colleagues.

Team English is not just 11 English teachers. Team English is our parents; our students; our governors; the wider WLA community. It is by enlisting the help of all of these individuals that we have been able to enjoy the success we have with our students.

It’s not chance that all of these people have come together to help our students succeed – we actively promote this partnership through our constantly open channels of communication – for example: Twitter, emails, phone calls, visits – it’s all encompassing. We are always there for our students, and they know that.

Changing Lives Through Learning – it’s what we believe and it’s what we do.



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