Being thoughtful, adventurous and ambitious is at the heart of everything at Rendcomb College near Cirencester and staff lead the way by setting an example for the students they teach.
SoGlos speaks to the independent school's head of Sixth Form to discover what these values mean to her and how she embodies them in her work.
About the teacher - Mrs C Williams, head of Sixth Form at Rendcomb College
Williams is the head of Sixth Form and head of history at Rendcomb College. Initially, she worked in businesses after graduating, where she discovered a passion for training and progressing other members of staff. This led her to return to university to complete a PGCE. She has now been teaching for 18 years and has worked at the independent school for six years.
Rendcomb College is a co-educational day and boarding school surrounded by spectacular Cotswold countryside just outside Cirencester, with its own Forest School and an impressive Sixth Form Centre.
What does a typical day at Rendcomb College involve for you?
I’m not sure there is such a thing as a typical day in teaching! However, most days involve a mixture of teaching and meeting with students. Lessons might range from discussing the Winter of Discontent with Year 12 historians, to exploring the credibility of evidence with Extended Project Qualification students, so provide plenty of variety.
Individual meetings might focus on academics or supporting students in applications and future planning. I go to the Sixth Form Centre at break time and chat with students about what they are doing, and lunch is a good time to catch up with colleagues around the site since the whole college eats together.
Depending on the day I might also run an activity; I finish the week on a Friday by doing a yoga class with some of the students.
Rendcomb College encourages pupils to be thoughtful, adventurous and ambitious. What do these qualities mean to you?
We wanted to understand what these terms meant to our students, staff and parents so sent out a survey and talked to lots of people to narrow down a set of Rendcomb virtues that define these qualities.
Thoughtful Rendcombians are critical thinkers, empathetic and keen to give back to society through service. They are adventurous in having the courage to stand up for what is right, try different things and apply creativity in solving challenging problems. They are ambitious in being curious, with a love of learning, and persevere when faced with obstacles and challenges.
How do you encourage your pupils to be thoughtful?
Our pupils are definitely thoughtful. This can easily be seen in the enthusiasm with which they get involved in school committees such as the equality, diversity and inclusion committee and school council, seeking to improve understanding among different groups and better the Rendcomb community for everyone.
As a history teacher, critical thinking is happening in most of my lessons; just this week my Year 11 class and I had an interesting discussion about how we know anything – how do we trust what we read or see?
How do you encourage your pupils to be adventurous?
Our activity programme offers a wide range of different opportunities for students to be courageous and step outside their comfort zone.
In the Michaelmas term, I work with a group of Year 11 to 13 students who set a debate motion, prepare arguments and run the debate in front of the Sixth Form. This year they chose the motion 'This House would introduce a universal language, to be used globally'. To speak in front of your peers and argue a position you don’t necessarily agree with personally takes considerable courage and I am always really impressed with the quality they produce, and the appreciation from their peers who often challenge them. In fact, that particular example fits thoughtful, adventurous and ambitious.
In lessons, courage may be on a more personal scale, challenging themselves to take on something difficult.
How do you support pupils to be ambitious and strive for their goals?
As a relatively small school, we are able to know our students well as individuals and support them in their particular goals. In just the last couple of years, this has involved supporting students in successful Oxbridge applications, gaining access onto competitive courses such as medicine and law, and securing apprenticeships or places at specialist music/drama schools.
Very many of our students also achieve highly in sport or dance, for example, and we support them in finding the time for this, as well as celebrating their achievements. Our students are all unique and have very different goals we can help them achieve.
Would you describe yourself as thoughtful, adventurous and ambitious?
I would like to think so, but there is always room for improvement. I find being thoughtful comes more naturally to me than being adventurous for example - and as I get older it is easier to not challenge myself! I try to remember Eleanor Roosevelt’s advice to ‘do something every day that scares you’ when I feel reluctant to do something!
How do you embody these traits to set an example for your students?
This is something I think is really important. As teachers, we are role models for our students and we have to live the values ourselves. I remind myself of this when finding myself doing high ropes courses with students, faced with a difficult problem or when asked to appear in a video speaking in a foreign language I haven’t used in nearly 20 years!
What’s the most rewarding part of your job?
Seeing students flourish. It is so exciting to see students embrace the opportunity to achieve their academic and personal potential.