At the beginning of this Term, I began what is a new role for Barker College, “Deputy Academic Care”. I am often asked “what is Academic Care?” so I thought I would share a few of my reflections.
At Barker, learning is our core business and we want our students to be deep and critical thinkers. We also want them to find success in external examinations and leave Barker with their own unique story of success. To achieve this, we provide varied and challenging learning programs. Barker’s commitment to excellence in learning is shown through the development of the Barker Institute where the opportunity to learn through research is shared by students, teachers, and parents. At Barker, research helps to drive our decisions every day. This term alone, students, staff and parents have considered the power of memory, the importance of habits in learning and have celebrated the creative power of science. We are committed to ensuring that evidence-based learning is central to everything we do, and that our programs are sufficiently challenging and appropriately deep. This is Academic Care.
Last week I read a quotation from Simon Sinek that caught my attention: “There is a difference between losing and failing. Losing reflects the score, failing reflects our attitude.” Sinek highlights the importance of our mindset when we face setbacks. Sinek reminds us that a score is an external measure that does not need to determine our sense of self. Sometimes ‘losing’ can be a powerful motivator and can help us to learn lessons which we may overlook when success is easy. Understanding how to approach learning in a way that builds positive attitudes and confirms our ability to reframe setbacks is an important focus for us at Barker. This year we have been focusing on building the habits of learning and how to develop a positive mindset. This is Academic Care in action.
Young people do not learn in a vacuum. Long gone are the days when teachers presented information to pupils and expected it to be memorised and reproduced in exam conditions. Thankfully, educators have come to understand that the context of learning is as important as the content. We also know that how we apply knowledge to real situations is more powerful than the acquisition of that knowledge. Barker abounds with opportunities to put learning into action and opportunities are woven together in ways that make learning more immediate and more powerful. Continuing to bring synergy between opportunities and learning programs is the work of Academic Care.
At Barker we seek to recognise, celebrate, and nurture the inbuilt uniqueness of every learner. Our staff find joy in helping our young people to create ideas, solutions, and creative visions. An ability to create is one of the essential 21st Century skills that helps build success and collaboration in that process is important. We know that learning is a relational pursuit and dynamic, positive relationships are central to engagement. Research shows that positive relationships between students and teachers are a strong predictor of academic success. In my first weeks at Barker when I asked the students “What do you love about Barker?” – so many of them said: “The teachers.” You will not be surprised to know that when I asked the same question of the teachers the answer was invariably: “The students.” Academic Care recognises that people matter.
“Character cannot be developed in ease and quiet. Only through experience of trial and suffering can the soul be strengthened, ambition inspired, and success achieved.” (Helen Keller). To learn more about Barker I have taken the chance to visit the students learning outside the classroom when their skills and abilities are put to the test and their individual characters are on display. I have watched Year 11 wrestle with rehearsing a difficult play exploring deep and difficult themes of war. I have joined with the Senior School in Chapel and seen the students reflect upon the bigger purposes of life. I have watched the 13 years Rugby team face stronger opponents and call on their reserves of concentration and teamwork to dig deep and win a game that seemed lost. At Barker, our students sharpen their resilience, wrestle with ideas, take physical or intellectual risks and harness their reserves of grit. This is Academic Care in action.
Academic Care works best when the learning programs and the pastoral supports are aligned and mutually supportive. When students feel confident within themselves, can embrace their strengths and weaknesses, and are strongly connected to others then the best learning can happen. I have been so impressed by the pastoral networks at Barker and know that the staff are actively and passionately committed to always improving the care that they give.
Barker is a community that promotes deep and challenging learning, links context with knowledge, provides opportunities to put understanding into action and supports all this with authentic and connective care. These components are evidence of our Barker values - commitment, compassion, courage, integrity, and respect - in action.
This is Academic Care.