Red2Blue prepares students to learn

We talk to Headteacher James Newman about how Red2Blue has been helping both staff and pupils improve their mindset and their ability to perform under pressure at Epsom and Ewell High School.

Epsom and Ewell has always been a pioneering school, embracing new idea and changes in education. As the first secondary school in the UK to be awarded the School’s Mental Health Award at Gold Standard back in 2018, mindset and wellbeing are at the heart of the school’s ethos.

Unlike a lot of schools, the team at Epsom and Ewell don’t believe in focussing all their energies on final exam outcomes. Since James took over as headteacher seven years ago, his approach has been very much to focus on the child as a person rather than being driven purely by the results they achieve at the end.

The process begins with supporting Year 7s and 8s on their learning journey. “We’ve always said, if we can create happy learners, we can get happy outcomes. If we work on the process, those results will take care of themselves,” says James.

A real purpose for Red2Blue in education

As part of that journey, the school is looking at ways to push the boundaries. They became a Microsoft showcase school – one of only 300 in the world – in recognition of their use of technology in education. It was while James was looking into different aspects that could influence the children’s education, he came across Red2Blue. “I could see a real purpose for it in education. There was nothing really like it that could have a massive impact the way Red2Blue can.”

The beauty of Red2Blue is the simplicity around the imagery. “You don’t even need to explain it to the children,” James says. “You can put the map in front of them and they will be able to tell you whether they are feeling in the Red or the Blue. They’ll just do that from the colours and the way that it looks. And that’s quite powerful when you’re working with children.”  

James was initially introduced to Red2Blue in a sports context by football coach Andy Maciel, who was employed to lead their football development programme and is a certified Red2Blue coach. As a sportsperson himself (originally a PE teacher), James engaged with the Red2Blue concept and its performance-based purpose immediately and was keen to implement it throughout the school.

Developing expertise within the staff body

“We are experienced in rolling out strategies across our whole school and we’ve found the best way is to start slowly and get some expertise within the staff body,” James says. “We upskill them so they have plenty of experiences they can share. They can talk about the journey they’ve been on and the impact it’s made. That way, you get alignment with the rest of the staff.”

The school identified three teachers who they thought would take a real interest in Red2Blue. They are being coached regularly and are trying out the techniques in their lessons. Feedback indicates that Red2Blue is having a positive impact, not only with some of the students, but with adults as well.

Getting students ready to learn

The biggest impact James has noticed from those teachers is how effective Red2Bue is at getting students ready to learn. “When students come out of the playground there’s a lot of hustle-bustle and if you’re not careful, they carry that behaviour into the classroom. Some teachers were making the mistake of trying to go straight into teaching content without making sure that these children were ready to learn. Red2Blue activities have enabled pupils to get back into the Blue before we start trying to teach them.”

James also cites examples of how Red2Blue has helped dysregulated students to calm down. He explains how he put the map in front of one student and asked her to spend three or four minutes looking at it, without worrying about the words on the page. He then asked her to think about which head she had at that particular moment.

Giving the student time to review the map allowed James to have a proper conversation with her because it diverted her attention to a place where she had naturally calmed down. The student was able to articulate that she was in Red head. When James asked what red meant to her, she acknowledged that she was “feeling pretty angry”. James’s next question was “Where do you want to get to?” The student replied, “To the Blue.” When pressed on why she said, “That looks a lot calmer.”

Opening up important conversations

Giving that pupil the map opened the door for James to have a conversation about how she was feeling. James followed up with the Red2Blue Control Circles to help the student work out what she could control in that situation and what she couldn’t, and what she might be able to do differently next time.

“That was a really visual example of where it took a dysregulated young person, and almost instantly calmed them down, just by looking at that map,” James says.

James has noticed how the teachers who have been trained in Red2Blue are using the language in their classroom, so that it’s starting to filter through to pupils. He expects that to continue as more people go through the programme and share their knowledge with the rest of the staff.

Tools to become even better teachers

There’s also been a surprising unintended consequence of the Red2Blue training – it is making them better teachers because they’re using it themselves. When they’re teaching a tricky class or if things aren’t going their way, teachers are remembering what they’ve been taught and can get themselves from the Red to the Blue. “They can not only speak about the effect on the children, but they’re also able to talk about the effect it has on themselves as teachers.” That was not something the school had originally focussed on when it began incorporating Red2Blue but it’s proving to be a positive bi-product.

Teaching can be extremely frantic and hectic and often requires quick decision making. “Red2Blue can really help as it’s obviously far better to make a decision from the Blue than it is from the Red,” James says. “That’s where I can see it having a real impact moving forward, enabling staff to make better decisions quickly. “

For the students, it’s teaching them resilience and how to cope with pressure. For example. James recently used Red2Blue to help coach a year 11 student on exam preparation, which he says had a real impact. Red2Blue is also benefiting the sports teams who are using it to prepare for big games, and the performing arts department is using Red2Blue to help the cast prepare for an upcoming musical.

Acknowledging what you can control

Having been involved with Red2Blue over the last few years, it has become an important part of James’s response when people come to him for advice. “I ask them to think about what things they can control here? And what are the things they can’t? That opens up a useful discussion with both adults and children and gets them thinking.”

So, what’s the best piece of advice James has ever been given? “I come from a PE background and I was always conscious that this could hold me back as I looked to climb the leadership ladder”. That might have held James back until someone told him that by possessing skills such as integrity, honesty and emotional intelligence, he could achieve anything he wanted to. “That was the best piece of advice I could have been given. I came out of PE and taught maths, science, computing and all sorts of different subject to prove that I had the skills and mindset to be successful in many different areas of education.” 

James is certainly achieving great things at Epsom and Ewell. We can’t wait to hear more success stories as they continue to roll out Red2Blue throughout the school.

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