Grayrigg CE School - Start Small Think Big

The Headteacher’s Coconuts!

Last week I had one of those moments where I needed to clone myself. I was in the middle of a confidential conversation with a parent, when a smiling little face appeared in the background with something in his hand. Fortunately, Mrs Hendrickse was able to stop and admire the child’s treasure and take him out and I finished the conversation with the parent, but I made a mental reminder to pop into the Acorns later and find out what treasure he had been holding in his little Tupperware pot.

The treasure which he held so proudly was a smashed up coconut. The Acorns thought this strange large hairy nut was amazing, some had seen them on holiday; nobody had ever tried one, but all of them were excited by this amazing and funny looking hairy thing. Fortunately it was my office day so I was able to jump in the car, pop down to Morrisons and purchase 10 more coconuts, some coconut water, coconut cakes and anything else I could find with coconut in it.

Of course the Acorn teacher hadn’t planned to work with coconuts that morning, but was so confident in the curriculum and needs of every individual that they were able to go with the children’s excitement. By the time I got back from my shopping spree, the children had written stories about the runaway coconut… one young lady in particular produced her best ever piece of writing, I walked in to hear her teacher celebrating her lovely vocabulary (love the word toddled) and that her story was much better now it had a middle as well as a beginning and end. I smiled to myself, happy in the knowledge that the teacher hadn’t just jumped on the excitement and forgotten learning. No, she had used her personalised knowledge of every individual and where they were in their learning and what would stretch them. She had woven personalised learning within the coconut experience for each unique little Acorn.

I proudly placed the shopping bags on the table - I’m sure I was wearing the same eager (and slightly over excited) smile that the young man, who brought the first coconut into school, had on his face when he was waiting to show it to me. Through the day lots more exciting coconut learning went on. The children tasted the coconut water - then shook their own coconut and estimated how much liquid they though it contained. Next the children had to work out how to get the liquid out of their coconut, using some very creative methods: drilling it with a hand drill; trying to crack it like an egg; using a mallet or simply chucking it up as high as they could and seeing if it cracked (the issue with the latter was measuring the liquid after the coconutty explosion). Once cracked, the children measured the liquid from their coconut accurately. Alongside this there was lots of scientific chatter about how to collect the coconut water or how to make it come out of the tiny drilled hole faster. Interestingly, the chatter was equally as enthusiastic as we looked through the photographs in our staff meeting that evening - every single picture told an individual learning story which staff discussed excitedly. As a school leader, there is nothing more exciting than learning that engages children and staff alike.

The true success in this story is the ability of my amazing teachers to be spontaneous. I am certainly not suggesting teachers don’t bother to carefully plan learning and ensure every child develops (and progresses) every lesson. The success with the coconut could only happen because of the teacher’s individual knowledge of each child and their secure understanding of what the children need to learn, along with the teacher’s creativity in learning to be able to weave learning into any situation.

We plan to develop this further - asking a child to select a stimulus for learning each half term - it’ll be interesting to see how it develops, but if the level of engagement shown during the coconut related learning is anything to go by, I can’t wait to see what interesting treasures come in next… all this learning from a simple coconut - seeing the extraordinary in the ordinary!

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