Meet The Dolphin Schools Headteacher, Shelley Dixon
Shelley Dixon, who became head at The Dolphin School in January, reflects on her first weeks and looks ahead to the exciting move to the new buildings after Easter.
What attracted you to The Dolphin School?
Although the school launched four years ago, it feels as though I have joined at a great time for a new beginning. The move to our own buildings offers a blank canvas – a chance to redefine The Dolphin School’s identity and establish it as the true heart of its community. The location is unique; being on the borders of Montpelier, St Paul’s, Stokes Croft, City Road and Redland means the school community is diverse in all senses of the word.
What has impressed you most about The Dolphin School so far?
It is very welcoming. I have been highly visible in the playgrounds in my bright blue coat so that families can get to know me and I can get to know them. Our families are hugely supportive and the children are fantastic – so keen to learn. Our staff are enthusiastic and committed and really care about the children.
What are your immediate priorities as head teacher?
I have focused on ensuring a calm atmosphere for learning. The school community has experienced a lot of changes over the past couple of years and it is time to build stability. I have taken a strong stance on behaviour, which has been supported by families. Children learn best when they are happy.
What do you bring to The Dolphin School from your previous jobs and from your interests outside school?
After six years at Henleaze Infants, I worked for an international charity in Guyana. I feel lucky to have been able to live and work abroad. I returned to Bristol as deputy head and later acting head at Sea Mills Primary, where we worked hard to build links with the community and inspire families to feel proud of their school. I want to do the same at The Dolphin School, getting the children involved in local events and welcoming people and groups from the community into the school.
What changes have you already made?
Working with the whole family is very important to me. I am getting to know families at coffee mornings and on the playgrounds and have met with lots of parents individually. I have set up a weekly after-school Snack, Chat and Play Club where parents/carers, children and siblings can spend quality time together. Families are an essential part of school life and I want them to feel completely welcome here.
I have also introduced online home learning – Abacus for maths and Bug Club for literacy – which is proving very popular.
What changes can parents and children expect to see in future?
Learning will become even more exciting! We have been chosen as a pilot school for a new Bristol-based curriculum called Curious City, which will offer some fantastic opportunities both in the immediate locality and, when it is appropriate, by going out on the bus or train to other areas. It is important for children to understand the community they live in. The key thing is that all outings are linked to learning. Our doors will also be open to the many interesting people in the locality whose experiences can enrich our curriculum.
What are the challenges facing you and the school?
It’s no secret that the school has faced challenges being on split sites while the building work has been going on. We expect some initial logistical challenges even after the move, until the access to the new building is finalised, but I am confident that the trust and unity we have already developed as a school community will get us through so we can go on to build the school we need and deserve to be. Support from parents and from the CGS Trust (CGST) are very valuable as we take this forward and drive improvements.
What are the opportunities at the new building?
The architects and builders have done a fantastic job in making creative use of space. The roof garden is a unique feature that will offer many opportunities for outdoor learning, from story times to science at the ecology pond and geography – there are amazing views across the city. We want it to be used all the time.
The reception classes will have their own rooftop outside area. We will have access to a bigger outdoor space on the tennis courts at Colston’s Girls’ School (CGS) for PE and games. Being so close to CGS will also provide opportunities for linking with staff, students and specialist facilities there.
Maps will be a strong theme, showing the children the school’s place in the community, the city, the country and the world.
What are your ambitions for the school?
We want our children to love learning. Our aim is to create excitement about learning – to stimulate and engage the children. We have a strong emphasis on speaking and listening and on reading – in recent weeks we have enjoyed author visits, a bedtime stories session and dressing up for World Book Day. We are also creating a school library and have raised funds for the books, which will be chosen to link with the curriculum and reflect the city we live in, inspiring the children and creating a love of reading. Development of skills such as resilience, problem-solving and reasoning are important too. Being part of CGST gives us a wider field of expertise to draw on as we develop the school.
My vision is for The Dolphin School to be the most important place in the community, where all are welcome. I want everyone to know that the school is here and I want them to regard it highly.