Guest post: Learning @ Honywood – Creating a climate for collaborative dispositions

Our latest guest post is by Simon Mason, headteacher at eedNET member school, Honywood in Essex.

In my view, for people to be happy and successful in their lives they need to understand themselves. What makes people tick? Why do we act or behave in the way we do? Are we self-aware and able to analyse ourselves? Are we reflective and self-critical? Are we honest with ourselves, open to others’ views and able to react constructively and thus able to grow and develop emotionally? These questions can be used with young people and adults alike and they are key to the learning and development of all youngsters who attend our school and the staff who work alongside them. At Honywood we expect everyone to be learning; we are creating a culture predicated on proactive and independent self-discovery leading to an environment in which everyone at Honywood never stops learning and we foster this belief with the youngsters who attend the school, with our staff and with our wider community.

Creating collaborative dispositions begins with having a clear vision and a set of beliefs about people which are unwavering. That vision and those beliefs must then impact upon every action you take in your daily life at school. At Honywood we are not trying to be a ‘school’ in the traditional sense of the word as for us, schools get muddled up with messages about compliance and test passing that can obscure opportunities for real learning. At Honywood we are trying to focus all our energy into creating an organisation that is unrelentingly focused on learning, both about the world around us and about ourselves; a place where everyone is learning and where learning is the driver behind all our decision making.

In many organisations, respect is about hierarchy and a set of discrete rules. At our school we have tried very hard to build an organisation based on self-respect. To achieve this we offer far more trust to our young people than is traditionally found in schools. We thus do not have a multitude of rules and regulations, neither do we have an endless list of policies to follow that allow the follower to act unthinkingly. We expect learners and staff to approach their learning and jobs in a proactive and positive way. If they make poor decisions then these are discussed in a sensitive and constructive manner, with the focus on what can be learned from those poor decisions. Youngsters are encouraged to take ownership of the resulting consequences of any poor decisions they make, as are staff. We have worked hard to create a climate where people feel trusted and empowered. Many young people and adults with whom I come into contact are compliant, afraid of getting things wrong and often just follow instructions or complete tasks without really thinking for themselves and making independent decisions. I believe that more often than not the reason for this is that they have never been trusted or empowered to make such decisions. The society in which we find ourselves re-enforces this, with people not accepting responsibility for their actions and blaming others instead of accepting their role in events. By showing our youngsters and our staff real trust, we have found an enabling strategy that has helped everyone to be far more willing to accept responsibility for their actions and thus become far more central to their own learning, for which they take much more responsibility than is seen in many schools.

This year as part of our learning we have used, with youngsters and staff, a simple framework based on three key reflective and speculative questions; “Where was I? Where am I? Where could I be?” Learners have been using these questions to support the development of independence in their learning; our staff learning model has replicated this and staff have used the framework as a tool to support improvement in their performance.

I believe that the closer we can match the model for learning we are using with our youngsters with that we use with our staff the better the outcomes will be for all. If staff are self-aware and open to constructive criticism and see themselves as lifelong learners and adopt a growth mind-set, they will be in a better position to model this to the learners with whom they interact. It will also enable them to be able to analyse learning more successfully, knowing when to intervene and offer guidance and ask pertinent questions so that the young people for whom we have responsibility can grow emotionally and become happy and successful now and in their lives ahead.

As part of a new curriculum we introduced in September 2011, we have focused on sixteen skills, attitudes, dispositions and behaviours which we feel are essential for people to master if they are to be happy and successful in their lives. Our teachers design learning in two ways; they don’t just think about subject content they also design learning opportunities that encourage mastery of these skills, attitudes, dispositions and behaviours. Central to pedagogy is the notion of choice. Currently youngsters are given choices about how they learn, where they learn and how they present their learning. As we develop, we will be offering choices about what youngsters learn and about the length of time they spend on their learning. By offering authentic choice, we have opened up the possibilities for collaboration in learning. We have become used to seeing youngsters learning in self-directed teams, with learning spilling out into our corridors and stairwells as youngsters take ownership and show real responsibility for their learning. Similarly through Joint Practice Development, staff have been encouraged to make real choices about their learning and have seen the huge benefits to be gained by learning alongside colleagues of their choosing.

If we are to be ambitious about preparing young people for the lives they are to lead, we need to consider that the world is a rapidly changing place; the constant in the lives our young people will lead is likely to be themselves. By developing a greater awareness of self, by learning through the real choices they make, through being trusted and respected and expected to develop in this model, we are finding at our school that young people can take far more control of their lives than we saw when our school was more traditionally configured.  As a result, we feel that a generation of young people will be leaving our school better able to be successful in modern life and far more likely to enjoy the challenges it poses.

If you’d like to know more about our work to date, email me at or my Deputy Jo Brook at

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About eednet

eedNET is a not-for-profit membership organisation set up to: - encourage local networking, CPD, idea sharing and professional development between professionals who are passionate about expansive education -enable teachers to learn how to undertake action research and carry out and publish their own enquiries into expansive education. - Our website acts as a focal point for those interested in expansive education

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