Sunday, 17 April 2016

Saving the RHINOs and PANDAs in your school

(Image from

A few years ago, when we started thinking about using growth mindset as a way forward throughout our school, we realised that we would need to consider how it might fit in with our particular students. 

Each school is unique; this is what makes us feel our hearts belong to a particular institution. Remember how panicked you felt as a trainee when you had to change placements? But once you’d been at your second school for a few weeks, it was hard to even remember the name of the first school. So even though 'kids is kids', each school works in its peculiar bubble, ethos and culture. It can feel quite strange when you spend a day in another school when you don’t get out much, a bit like drinking in the day and going into the daylight – it’s like real life but slightly distorted and disorientating. For this reason, your own students in your unique context should be a school’s starting point for any focus on change and attempted improvement.

I teach in a pretty leafy area, in a semi-rural shire county. However, we also have one of the most socio-economically poor housing estates in the city on our doorstep and our catchment is fully mixed – and fully inclusive.

Through experience, close data analysis and anecdotal evidence and discussion, two key types of student kept surfacing as needing our attention. We decided to pool our evidence and identified them as belonging to two distinctive groups. We’ve now committed to focusing on these groups in our teaching and in our pastoral support. These are our RHINOs and our PANDAs.

Whilst we recognise that every student is an individual and has their own unique set of abilities and needs, by grouping students into these two categories, we feel might be able to share strategies and approaches that will help them to overcome their barriers to learning. It might also be that, in doing this, we can pinpoint strategies that could also work with students who show similar traits but in different ways.

Who are RHINO students?

A RHINO is Really Here In Name Only, a term coined in the late 1990s by the then Secretary of State for Education, David Blunkett. He was interested in the significant proportion of students who were disengaging from the idea of education, typically at secondary level. Unlike the students who showed their feelings through disruptive behaviour, low attendance and poor relationships, Blunkett found a large number of these disengaged students attend school regularly, are of average to high ability and capable of attaining C grades (3 levels of progress in new money) and therefore unlikely to be the subject of intervention. They are often adept at the social behaviour teachers like to see: smiling, maintaining eye-contact, using affirmative body language. But school is not engaging them actively and so they do what is necessary to get by, hence Really Here In Name Only. We have LOTS of RHINOs and I've written about them before.

Who are the PANDAs?

PANDA stands for Perfectionist AND Anxious (name created by myself and Tess Thomas @flickasforeva, my oppo in T&L). We’ve found these often higher ability students are surfacing earlier and earlier, and they are of concern to us primarily for their inability to switch off from work, their heavy investment in self-criticism and sometimes even their potential to develop anxiety-related behaviours; in the worst cases manifesting in eating disorders, self-harm and medium to long-term mental health issues. I know we are not alone in worrying about students with this profile, however low down the scale of concern they might be now.

Do you know any RHINOs and / or PANDAs? If so, and you’re interested in what we’re doing to focus on and support them, read on…

Who are your RHINOs and PANDAs?
Thinking of particular students and then seeing how far they fit the profiles can help in deciding on strategies to use and share.


(Our Headteacher says it's also interesting seeing if any of these traits apply to colleagues!)

In our Teaching & Learning group, we are looking at strategies that may work well with these two types of students using three main foci from our current areas of interest and action research:

Marking & Feedback
Our whole-school policy that focuses on quality, not quantity and that asks teachers to consider the impact of their marking above everything else (copy here)

Growth Mindset
A continued area of importance at our school, that features in our school development plan 

Learning Ambassadors
A growing range of student roles throughout the school in various subjects, which includes student voice, modelling high standards of effort/work, and support roles 

These areas will form the focus on of our work and discussions in 2016, with the aim of identifying the strategies with the highest impact, sharing them and promoting their use across the school into 2017.

To act as a starting point, we produced the following list of possible strategies, based on feedback we’d had from staff about where they had previously had success with particular students, and also taken from published research on growth mindset; Pupil Premium attainment, and findings from SLT’s pilot research with their own teaching groups.

This is what we shared with our Teaching & Learning group and then with our middle leaders:

Strategies for PANDAs and RHINOs

Members of the T&L group (and any other interested members of staff) can choose any of the coloured boxes and trial ONE idea for ONE group or ONE student, for ONE term.

After one term, what worked? What didn’t? Why? What can be shared?

GREEN boxes are growth mindset strategies;
LILAC is marking & feedback;
BLUE is for Learning Ambassadors.

Learn more about growth mindset and apply its thinking to help PANDAs cope with set-backs and stress more effectively. (GM)
RHINOs could benefit from growth mindset meta-cognition teaching strategies to improve exam techniques. (GM)
Break tasks and challenges down into small steps that can be tackled bit-by-bit.
Show RHINOs examples of medium and long-term gain as incentives.
Talk about skills you now have that you didn’t have previously because of the practice you put in. Dramatise mistakes that demonstrate solutions; describe things you’ve struggled with yourself and that you’ve now made progress in.
Try to engage parents/carers: the vast majority want their children to do well and once they see that you recognise their child’s potential, most will support you to help them reach it.
Try not to over-indulge PANDAs during anxious episodes: use good relationships to be supportive but clear and decisive about expectations.
Do not accept under-par work: set high standards in detail and presentation of written work. (M&F)
Use time-planners to help PANDAs with revision timetables, including wind-down time to help them cope with exam periods.
Be consistent with praise in feedback: RHINOs will often indicate they aren’t bothered about rewards but are in reality. Reward effort (M&F) & (GM)
Use growth mindset language in our written and oral feedback to help confidence and attainment with our PANDAs. (M&F) & (GM)
Use feedback strategies that encourage responsibility for improvements and greater detail in RHINOs’ written work. (M&F)
Use PANDAs to provide quality student voice on the teaching strategies that work best for them. (LA)
Give RHINOs roles as Learning Ambassadors to help them increase their accountability and engage more in their learning. (LA)
After careful explanation, use the ‘R’ (Requires improvement) grade for effort, if and when appropriate. Use it to encourage conciseness when PANDAs write too much. (M&F)
Be very specific about revision strategies. Tick boxes and directed class time can help RHINOs organise their revision content.
Monitor DIRT carefully and be kind but firm with PANDAs when they don’t follow up on your feedback. They may ignore advice if they think they know better! (M&F)
Sit RHINOs with Learning Ambassadors who act as models for written standards.

This will be added to by colleagues and built up as a bank of strategies. It will then be added to our Staff planners this year, and will also be a feature of the T&L focus for the rest of this year and into next.


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