Mind Reading

I have had a few conversations with colleagues this week about doing well in lesson observations. We have had a two day mock inspection and as can happen in these kinds of situations, excellent teachers begin to second-guess their practice. The advice I usually give is ‘just do what you normally do’ but this advice is difficult when observers tend to have their own criteria for what makes a great lesson. I’m not really talking about the basics here. It’s more about those nuances which can take a formally observed lesson from ‘good’ to ‘outstanding’. This is when a lesson observation, especially by someone unknown to the observee, can often become an exercise in mind reading.

I have heard many sweeping statements from different people of what would need to be observed in a lesson for it to be awarded ‘outstanding’. Some expect to see individual, paired and group work, others will mark the lesson as less than good if the teacher talks for a certain amount of time etc. I saw a comment on Twitter about someone who would expect to hear each child speak at least once. The fact is that people have their own criteria in their head. I welcome the idea of ‘what’s good is what works’ but this is still widely open to interpretation as ‘what works’ can be taken in so many ways.

This isn’t just about other people. My own ‘checklist’ of what quality teaching looks like has changed dramatically over the last few years.  I remember how incredulous I used to be if I didn’t see an objective written on the board. Up until very recently I have promoted the idea that teachers need to do a mini plenary as soon as the inspectors come through the door. Today, if I were to be asked on my own criteria for excellent lessons, I would say that exercise books are the key and they will tell me most of what I need to know. I like to think that I am sophisticated and know what great teaching is like but it still comes down to my own ideas about what an outstanding lesson looks like.

I’m not sure that we can ever eliminate subjectivity from the process, but I do think we can take steps to avoid the scenario where teachers end up fretting over lesson observations, overthinking what they are doing and trying to satisfy an observer’s very personal criteria. To do this, there needs to be a dialogue between the observer and observee before, during and after the lesson observation. The onus is on the observer to do everything they can to make the process transparent and supportive.

As someone who has to formally observe teachers as part of the performance management process, I have no interest in ‘judging’ teachers when I observe them. I also don’t want to put them in the position of having to second guess my ideas. Any lesson observation needs to be developmental, otherwise it is an empty process. For the staff that I observe in the next half term, I will meet with them beforehand and discuss the lesson.  We’ll discuss the context and any concerns.  I will be clear about the things I am looking for. While there may be disagreement that these are always the right things, at least there is clarity and no one is trying to second guess my motives or my expectations. It could be argued that this will just mean that they perform to my set of criteria. However, I will encourage them to teach in the way that they normally do as that is what I want to see. I will offer developmental feedback where I think I can and follow this up by supporting them with whatever they need.

When I am observed, I try to stick to my guns. As an experienced teacher, I know that one lesson observation doesn’t define me. I am always realistic that if I am observed by person x then I might draw attention to certain aspects of my practice but gone are the days when I would plan a showy lesson just to be graded good or outstanding. The whole idea of putting a number to a lesson observation is pretty ridiculous to be honest but it assumes so much importance for teachers, particularly those in their formative years. We can’t underestimate the deeply personal effect that the grading of a lesson can have on an individual. We will struggle to be exactly clear about what Ofsted inspectors have on their personal checklists  but we can definitely remove the mind reading element in our school systems.








How and why we reflect

Whilst it may sometimes seem that we are under constant scrutiny as teachers, the reality is that for a significant amount of time we are left to get on with it.  We don’t receive regular feedback on our lessons (except from the students) for long periods.  Often, when we do receive feedback, it is in a particular context e.g. a lesson observation or a learning walk with a specific focus.  In fact, we are the regular ‘observers’ of our day to day lessons.  It is the feedback that we give to ourselves that is the primary way we can develop our practice.

Much has been made of the ‘10,000 hour rule’ which suggests that this is the amount of time it takes to become masterful at something.  However, this relates to purposeful practice rather than just time doing something.  Otherwise, we would just teach for 10 years and then all be expert teachers.  In order to use our everyday experience to improve we must make it purposeful and that is where focused reflection comes in. If we are reflective practitioners, then every single lesson becomes a point of development.  Everything that goes well becomes another powerful tool in your toolbox and every negative experience is actually a positive one in that it propels you into further improvement.

These are my rules for purposeful reflection:

Be clear about your core purpose: We do all of this because we want to ensure that the students we teach learn.  Whatever we do has to go towards that- otherwise what is the point?  Don’t get into the habit of reflecting solely on ‘what Ofsted want’ or ‘what SLT need to see’- make it about ensuring students learn things.

Be honest: Don’t kid yourself.  There is no point in reflecting on your practice if you don’t want to admit where it could be improved.  This goes for people afraid to admit a mistake or even those embarrassed to say that they are actually very good at something.

Be open: There are different ways of doing things.  You need to be open to suggestions on things you might change.  This can be difficult when certain methods have worked in the past or work with your other classes.

Be confident: There is a danger of the reflective practitioner becoming the doubting practitioner.  You know that you do everything to the best of your ability and being reflective is not the same as being critical- it is a strength to acknowledge when to do things differently.  Also, we need to develop the outstanding elements of our practice as much as anything.  Dylan Wiliam states that ‘…the greatest benefits to students are likely to come from teachers becoming more expert in their strengths.’

There follows an exploration of some of the ways you can develop your ability to reflect purposefully:


Filming yourself is one of the most powerful methods of reflecting on your practice. Seeing yourself as others see you can be difficult but also very helpful.  If you watch a video of yourself with a clear focus you can pick up on all sorts of things.  I filmed myself recently and was struck by my body language with a challenging class.  It was interesting to see how different my posture, movement and expression were in this lesson compared to another class where I was smiling, moving around the room etc.  Again, this isn’t just about negative things- the first lesson with my year 8 class this year was a textbook example of how to set the tone with a new class and I can use this video to remind myself of how to deliver a positive lesson and the techniques that I used to good effect there.  You can use a bog standard camera or a more complex system like IRIS Connect.


Another way to develop reflective practice is to find a coaching partner.  This really needs to be someone that you trust.  They don’t have to be an expert in the area you want to reflect on because this isn’t asking for advice- their job is to listen and keep it purposeful.  If you have a particular issue, you talk to them about it.  A good coach will ask the killer question and get to what this is really about.  Sometimes they don’t even need to as the process of articulating your thoughts allows you to approach the problem in a different way.

The GROW model is a suggested framework for this:

G: Goal- what do you want to achieve?

R: Reality- describe the reality of the situation you are in.  What are the barriers to you achieving the goal?

O: Options- explore a variety of different options.

W: Will- what will you do?

This is just one way of doing it.  In practice, once you have a few formal conversations following this method you know how it works and it becomes a little less rigid.  The key is for the coach to listen.  Often, that is all you need to get the issue sorted.  This will also work well for self coaching.

Triads/ Professional learning communities/ Call them what you want! 

We have coaching triads in our school.  We are given time in whole school training to meet and plan.  The fact that we are peers and no one line manages anyone or has any other agenda means that the dialogue is safe and helpful.  In one instance, we watched a video of my teaching and my colleagues had some great advice to help me.  One of them suggested something so simple that I had not thought of to manage the behaviour of my class but which helped me no end.  If you don’t have anything like this set up then form a triad yourself.

On top of this, there are all sorts of informal learning communities in a school.  5 minutes of discussion with a couple of colleagues can often be a great way of reflecting.  For whatever you wish to develop, there will be someone in your school who is an expert and who could support you.


I enjoy writing this blog.  Once I click ‘publish’, my ideas and thoughts become solid and voiced so I have to reflect on what I truly believe and know about teaching.  Blogging has been useful to summarise my thoughts after training sessions I have attended or before sessions I have delivered.  Sometimes I set out to do a ‘how to’ guide like this and am reminded by all the things that I used to do or which I have never tried.  The blog is as much about developing my practice as sharing it.

If blogging doesn’t feel like the right approach to you, then you could find another way to reflect and share.  You could tweet your reflections or even volunteer to lead a training session.


We have a lot of data nowadays as teachers.  I don’t think we use it well enough.  Since I discovered how to use pivot tables in Excel, I’ve looked at my data a lot as I can organise it easily.  For example, when analysing behaviour data for my classes, I noticed that one group had significantly more consequences on one particular lesson.  That made me consider the fact that this was a lesson which I arrived in after teaching in another classroom away from my normal base. I was taking a few minutes to set up, hand books out etc.  An awareness of this led to a tiny change of practice and now that lesson runs smoothly.

Reflecting on students’ work

I do a great deal of my reflecting as I mark books.  You can teach a lesson but students don’t get it.  They may well have enjoyed a lesson but learnt nothing or you may have work which seemed to be brilliant as they completed it in class but misses the point.  Your job as you mark is to reflect on what they actually learnt and whether your methods of teaching were effective.  Again, this isn’t about looking at the negative things- sometimes it is about realising that they learnt a great deal when you did x but not when you did y.

360 degree feedback

One of the most interesting experiences for me was getting 360 degree feedback.  As part of a middle leadership course, I asked for feedback from a number of colleagues.  It could be quite difficult reading anonymous feedback from colleagues but it was fascinating to see how other peoples’ perception of me differed from my own perception.  The reflection part is in acknowledging the degrees with which this perception reflects the reality.  I won’t go into details here but I did receive some feedback which helped me to build better relationships with my colleagues around issues which I had no idea were issues.  You might also include student voice in that feedback too.

You need not even go to any of these lengths.  Sometimes all it takes is a 5 minute reflection on your day in the car on the way home- whatever works.

Student Voice

“If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses” Henry Ford (attributed)

I have mixed feelings on student voice.  First of all, we need to acknowledge that teachers are the experts and students’ opinions are interesting but not the same as their progress.  Also, you can often read a student voice report by someone and it says vague things like ‘students felt that their lessons could be more challenging’ which is such a generality as to be meaningless. On the other hand, I have definitely improved my teaching approaches and my relationships with students based on pupil responses.  As a classroom teacher, student voice is about addressing students’ perceptions of lessons and is a bit of a temperature check.  As a middle leader, it’s about supporting teachers to reflect on their lessons and to get an overview of general attitudes to the subject/ curriculum.

It’s a little like the 360 degree feedback that you get on leadership courses.  As long as you are clear that you are dealing with students perceptions then the process is useful.  Also, you need to separate the idea of fun and achievement.

When you look at the evidence Ofsted consider, the weighting of student voice is significant:

“Inspectors must spend as much time as possible gathering evidence on teaching and learning, observing lessons, scrutinising work and talking to pupils about their work, gauging their understanding and their engagement in learning, and obtaining their perceptions of typical teaching.”  As ever, my advice regarding Ofsted remains the same.  Don’t do things only for Ofsted but be pragmatic about what they are looking for and how you can ensure that your good practice will be recognised.  If you do the right things routinely then any pupil interview will show this but sometimes students can surprise you.  Preempt this by finding out and then addressing that perception.

I am just completing a student voice review for my English Department, and the following are my thoughts on the process:

As a HoD/SLT/Person conducting the review

Get the questions right.

Think of it in terms of ‘what do I want to know?’ and then ‘what question will tell me that?’  Also, try to ensure that the questions are about the learning, not the teacher. Inevitably, students link their experiences to the teacher, but focussing in on the quality of learning goes some way to avoid this being ‘do you like your teacher?’  Make it a mix of questions which can be easily analysed e.g. scales from 1-10, tick boxes etc and questions which require a more detailed response.

One student’s memorable lesson was the one where they told Chuck Norris jokes.

In this student voice, I phrased a question: ‘What was your most memorable lesson?’ My thinking being that it would highlight lessons where students made good progress and where they enjoyed themselves too- lessons we want to have plenty of.  However, I read through the responses: ‘when there was a power cut’, ‘when Mr Paddy did an impression of Mr Miller’ and, my favourite: ‘when Lewis said testicles’.  The information was hardly useful and a better question would have helped. We will rephrase that question in future.

Even the order of the questions is important.  You will tend to see detailed responses for the first few questions but less detailed ones later on.  You must also consider the fact that some students will be unable to articulate their views in writing.  Talking to students in addition to the questionnaire will help.

Use technology

This is the right time to use technology.  We use a google form and this allows the responses to be easily collated.  There are some tools that allow you to get information instantly and visually.  It can also be shared easily with teachers and exported to Excel for further analysis.  Other tools are available such as Surveymonkey.

Consider Context

If you are conducting a pupil voice which encompasses a range of teachers and year groups, you have to take into account that some will have e.g. completed the student voice just after a really engaging starter.  Another teacher may have had a difficult lesson the day before with that class and had to phone 5 parents.  There are all sorts of variables that increase the distortion of the data.  The trick is to identify the broad brush strokes which emerge from all of that.  Think also of the time of year- are year 10s competing student voice after the exam or after reading the last page of Of Mice and Men?  This will affect their perception of the subject.

A case in point: I have just finished teaching An Inspector Calls for controlled assessment.  I do not enjoy controlled assessment and I find it a tricky proposition.  I have recently delivered teacher talk heavy lessons.  I would rather not but I am pragmatic and know that the marks this year are much higher than last year when I went for a more co-constructive approach.  I still need to accept that many students mentioned that I talk too much but I have to also understand that this would not necessarily have come up in the week students were writing letters in pairs or taking part in critique sessions- or even during the time we were reading the play.  I also know that when I spoke about growth mindsets I discussed a target I was given by an observer to reduce teacher talk so this was already ingrained in students’ minds.  If I ask a question designed to look for something to improve, it is perhaps more likely that it will come up.  However I still need to deal with that perception (see ‘remember it is their perception’ below) and this feedback should not be dismissed out of hand.

Let the teachers deal with the micro-details

I had a lengthy passage on my survey from a student who was expressing their concerns, knowing it would be read.  It made for difficult reading but was thoughtful and enlightening, not malicious.  I would be really uncomfortable with someone else reading that out of context and having to ‘have a word’ with me.  Teachers know about the student who is going to give them a ‘bad report’ and will also be able to deal with those very unique situations where a problem is identified.  While I appreciate there may be significant issues that a student voice brings up, if teachers are concerned that this is another method where they are being ‘judged’ then you will find that the net result of student voice is negative.  Student voice will throw up issues which teachers as professionals will wish to address but it can’t be a stick to beat them with. Give the results back to them, let them look into the issues and trust them to respond to the feedback.  We need to avoid student voice becoming, as the NASUWT warn, a ‘development of strategies which involve little more than opinion surveying of pupils and strategies which privilege pupils in a way that undermines, disempowers and deprofessionalises teachers.’

As a classroom teacher

You may have been asked to do this as part of a departmental or a school monitoring system.  You may choose to do this yourself.  Either way, there are a number of considerations for you:

Consider how it is delivered

Explain to students why this is important.  Remind them that everything will be read but anything which is unhelpful will be ignored.  If they are going to say anything negative ask them to try and frame it as a positive.  ‘In the lessons where you would say the opposite, what is going on?’  Don’t do it in 5 minutes at the end or rush through it.  If it is part of a departmental review and the results will go to someone else, consider whether you want to let them know as it will affect what students write.  For most students, it is a chance to get their voice heard in a positive way but boy will some students take advantage.

Remember it is their perception

None of this is fact.  If you ask students to write down their writing target and they write down ‘I don’t know’ then it is true that they don’t know it but it doesn’t mean that they haven’t been given one.  Whatever way you look at it, that student is not aware of the target you took the time to give them so you need to address that.  If they say that lessons are boring then they may think that but it doesn’t mean that lessons are objectively boring.  As I said in the introduction, a good analogy is in 360 degree leadership feedback.  If you receive feedback and someone states that you are ‘not a good listener’ then it is only that they feel you are not a good listener.  However, every time they approach you, they have that in their mind and it deeply affects your interaction- whether you are a bad listener or not- and you need to think about how this perception can be changed. (or you might actually be a bad listener!)

Read it all.

Make sure that you read your responses fully.  If it is part of a wider student voice, ask for the results from your class/ read through the responses before they are passed on.  Read each and every one and consider whether it is offering you any helpful perspective on the individual’s experience, whether there are any patterns.  Be very open to anything that will help you in the classroom.  While we cannot consider students experts, they do observe more lessons than we do and if they are able to articulate their experiences then you can learn a great deal.

Don’t take it personally

There will be the odd student who takes an opportunity to have a little dig.  When you trust students to complete something anonymously, some will seize their chance.  Equally, when there is something which you deem as a negative issue in a class, look at the next steps.  My year 11s wrote positive things about the team teaching I did with the Head Teacher.  One phrased it in a way that made it clear that they thought he was a much much better teacher than me.  I take this to mean that we should get him in to the lesson more often.

And it works for positive things too. I was interested by a couple of students from my former year 10 class last year talking about how much they learnt through fun games on An Inspector Calls.  As I mentioned before, fun is not progress, and broadly speaking, these students didn’t perform as well in that essay as in their spoken language.  Ego deflated and evidence again that things need to be seen in context.

Beware false positives

I have coined that term for the occasion where someone in the class says ‘Sir, can I say that you need to make your lessons more interesting’ and then several students write that too.  This relates to that ‘context’ section earlier.  Something like this could indicate a pattern of feeling in the class but often is not the case.  One of my year 8s said ‘I liked the lesson where [our PGCE student] gave us chocolates.’  I thought that was a great lesson too as it happens but I can’t tell if all the other responses were influenced by that answer.

Comments on this post will be gratefully received.




The mid-year review

From September, I was appointed Research and Development Leader.  It is an unusual job role and one which I absolutely love.  The broad remit is to develop outstanding and innovative teaching practice in our school. To an extent, I have been able to shape the role to my strengths and passions.  Today I had my mid-year review with the Head of School, the Executive Principal and our School Improvement Advisor and I thought I would reflect on the development of the role here.

When I was at Cramlington Learning Festival in June, they used the analogy of a stick of rock to represent a school.  The idea was that wherever you cut a stick of rock, the same message remains.  It works the same for a school- wherever you look you will see the real ethos of that school.  Pete Jones explores this idea in his excellent blog here.  I like the idea of a school where the conversations are about learning and I want to play my part in developing that school culture.  My focus in launching this role was building the culture of collaboration so that new ideas and methods can be developed without a very prescriptive whole school approach.

This blog is where I was at the start of the year.  Here is where I am now:

The successes

The Blogpocalypse

One of the best things to develop this year has been the blog-off with two colleagues.  We seem to dovetail quite nicely.  Stephen Cavadino’s ‘Cavmaths’ blog is all passion and enthusiasm.  He sees Maths everywhere!  Richie Dunk’s blog is a bit more academic and research driven.  (I will have to ask him tomorrow what ‘Beaudrillardian simulacrum’ means.)  I like the sense of collaboration, especially as we have all been part of the blog-sync.  There’s also a nice bit of professional competitiveness.  We are going to set up a similar in-school blog-sync project on our staff blog.

For me, the blog is a fantastic way of reflecting on my own practice- it helps me to become a better teacher.  In doing this, I often feel able to share my ideas which I hope can help develop other teachers.  This pattern of reflect-then-share is very important in staff development.

Leading in Learning Magazine

I devoted quite a bit of time to this in order to create something that would be read by our staff.  It has been great to share this with a wider audience too.  We thought about it in terms of different staff archetypes. The geeks (and let’s face it- if you’re reading this blog you are probably one of them!) will read it cover to cover, there will be those who dip in and out of it and then there are those who will give it a quick flick through and read anything that jumps out.  I didn’t want something which existed just to make me look good but would draw in those who wouldn’t usually read such a thing.  The design from my colleague Jackson is a massive selling point and he really worked to the brief.  It is a pleasure to work with him on this project.  Equally, it was pleasing that there were a number of contributors.  We have already started the plans for the next one and the idea is that more and more staff volunteer to write articles.

You can read the magazine here.

The Ideas Market

The idea is not groundbreaking- it’s just a regular in-house mini-Teachmeet.  What I like is the fact that we are continuing to build this culture of collaboration and sharing of good ideas.  The fact that teachers attend this voluntarily is wonderful.

Open Classrooms

I have started a timetable of lessons which are ‘open’.  These are lessons where teachers have highlighted good practice, some where they seek support and some where they just want to work with others.  It has been used by many staff and sparked off some further projects and collaborations.  Teaching is hard, and knowing that your colleagues will support you and will open their doors is pretty awesome.

We have just started our Chain Reaction project and I will blog about this later in the year, when I reflect on my role again. There are a number of other projects I am involved with, such as team teaching, working with NQTs, leading on teaching and learning in the English Department.  I’m also trying to join in more Twitter conversations rather than just the odd tweet.

Some things I need to develop


I have refreshed the Teaching and Learning section of our VLE.  It looks great but the Head of School didn’t know about it.  As he is quite on the ball, it brings me to…


We had an interesting discussion about the extent to which these methods are publicised.  For example, when we launched the magazine to all staff I wanted to place it in their hands without any fanfare, to let it speak for itself.  Similarly, I think there is something quite off-putting about whole staff emails bombarding staff.  However, all the work that goes into developing the VLE is pretty meaningless if no one actually uses it.  Furthermore, there will doubtless be staff who would get involved in some of these projects but don’t quite know where to start.  So, while you won’t see my image on the side of buses, I am certainly going to make more of these projects visible to staff.

Building classroom routines

I have been considering classroom management this week for a number of reasons.  First of all, I am going to deliver a training session on it and I have been thinking about the focus.  I will certainly discuss de-escalation strategies and language- see this blog from Tom Sherrington- but another focus will be routines.  I think good routines are essential for calm classrooms and they are also essential to create the climate for outstanding lessons.  Often, school is the most routine thing in some of our students’ lives and, while they may never admit it, I am sure that even the naughtier students crave teachers where the classes are ordered and learning can take place.

Secondly, I have a couple of classes which I feel are not making the progress I would like and I can see that this is partly because, for various reasons, my classroom expectations and routines are not ingrained.  I filmed myself teaching one of these classes yesterday and it was clear that I wasn’t following my own routines.  (Also clear was the fact that I have to establish a healthy eating routine!) So part of the reason for writing this post is for me to develop these areas of my practice- to look at the routines that work effectively in most of my lessons and apply them to areas where they are not established.

Charles Duhugg’s fascinating book, The Power of Habit, goes into some detail on how routines form, how they work and how they can be changed.  He speaks below about his own experience and the habit cycle: ‘cue>routine>reward.’


I suppose the reward is that classrooms are calm, positive, efficient places where students learn.  It does take time and concerted effort to make sure these routines take hold, however.  This post from Alex Quigley looks at the idea in a wider school context.

I’m not a fan of formal lesson observations but I do appreciate that they remain a part of teaching.  If you have your classroom routines established then you know that you have a good chance of a positive outcome.  Routines are evident in exercise books through good progress and I do know of Ofsted inspectors who have asked the students, ‘is this a typical lesson?’

So where do we need to build routines and what should these be?  Here’s my top ten:

Meet and greet at the door: Line the students up, make sure they are wearing the correct uniform but most importantly, talk to them and say hello.  Deal with any issues outside before they come in.  You are indicating that you are the sort of teacher that insists on the rules but that you are happy to see them too.  I appreciate that some teachers don’t have their own classroom so find it hard to get there before the students but there is still no reason why they shouldn’t be lining up and have a settled start.  Find ways that work for you.  I know of an MFL teacher who asks students to stand behind chairs.  It’s not for me but it works for her.  I will never ask a student to write down a learning objective but I know teachers who use this as part of their routine with difficult classes.

Transitions: Work out routines for moving from one stage of the lesson to another.  I love when primary school teachers clap in a rhythm and the students have to respond.  The old hand raise can also be used although I hate when this is used in teacher training to shut up teachers (but it does work!)  I like a leisurely count down from 5 to 1.  It goes something like this: “5…4…and just finishing off your conversations…3…and putting pens down…2…everyone facing me…and 1…brilliant, thanks.”  It is also good to move into position at the front of the room as a cue.  Some teachers use music and others use a call and response.

Active listening: When you are speaking to the class, insist on full attention with pens down.  Keep insisting on this and it’ll become established.  Nag nag nag about it and also expect them to track you as you walk across the room.  Don’t allow anyone not to show you they are listening.  Once you allow this, more will follow and you will have more and more students who don’t know what they should be doing.  This video, advertising Doug Lemov’s Teach Like a Champion– a book full of routines- shows this in action:

Equipment: Art teachers have this nailed because the equipment is essential- they count out pencils and rigorously police the equipment. Go and visit them or a Technology teacher to learn their routines.  I am fortunate to have a set of laptops and use students to check them, count them, plug them in etc.  For students without equipment, there are a number of responses.  One colleague of mine makes students write in a brown pencil when they forget their pen.  It means that they can chase this up when marking if it happens more than once.  I also hand pens to repeat offenders which they keep in their folders.  The only surefire way to make sure students have the correct equipment is to chase every incident up but it is time consuming.

Handing out books: Work out your best routine for handing out and collecting in exercise books.  I have 7 tables.  At the end of lessons, they put them in table piles, then bring them to me as they leave.  It takes 20 seconds.  Then they can be handed out really quickly next lesson because they are in table groupings.  If you can reduce the time spent on these parts of the lesson, then you have more time for the proper stuff.

Acting on feedback: Establish routines for acting on feedback.  I go into some detail about my routines for the whole process here.  Make it a habit for students to read and act on feedback.  They really value this when they are accustomed to it and getting this right will lead to massive progress.

Teach group work: Bad group work is really really bad.  It is impossible for group work to be effective at all if students don’t know how to work in a group, what their roles are and how these roles combine into a productive group.  I like the following: ‘Scribe’-writes everything down; ’Reporter’-presents findings to class;  ‘Chairperson’-leads discussion; ‘Envoy’-sees what the other groups are up to. All students are involved in the discussion.  Kagan structures are worth exploring and jigsawing (from David Didau) is another routine worth teaching.  The key is to teach group work skills explicitly and revisit.

Marking: You need to establish routines for marking.  When should you do it?  I set aside Sunday afternoons for some of it but most of it I do the day it is handed in or before the next lesson with a class so it is completely fresh.  I have to plan for this so that I have time but I rarely have any of those days when I’m marking literally every waking hour.  Marking also makes it very easy for me to plan the next lesson, especially when much of it will be spent acting on feedback.

Questioning:  As an English teacher, I love a good class discussion.  To get this right, you need routines.  I use lollipop sticks to select students and they know that I won’t accept ‘I don’t know’.  This has forced them into a habit of thinking which some do not have in class discussions when it is hands up.  This blog from Rachael Stevens also has some great questioning routines.

Modelling: This one is less about classroom management.  In each subject there are methods which should be used repeatedly.  For example, as an English teacher, I am asking students again and again to respond to texts.  I show them examples but, more importantly, I model the process.  I don’t just do it once and accept it is learnt because students need to practice.  This goes for any other aspect of the subject that is required and doesn’t stop with the subject specific stuff.  We should regularly model peer assessment, redrafting, presentation etc.

Routines won’t make students learn anything but they will make it much easier for them to do so.  Oh, and if anyone has any good ideas for establishing good homework routines (or anything else) then I’d love to hear them.




Blogsync 1-Team Teaching

What is ‘The Universal Panacea’, the number one shift in UK education I wish to see in my lifetime?  It’s a hard question but my answer isn’t about the government or the curriculum- it is about the teacher.  We know that the thing that makes the difference is the teacher- we should be concentrating our efforts on making all teachers better.  This blog, part of the #blogsync project, (share.edutronic.net) ties together two of my biggest passions- developing teachers and getting teachers to work together.

When we are training, we get a lot of support: training sessions, mentor meetings, lectures, assignments, observations, opportunities to receive feedback.  In the NQT year, there is more of the same.  A reduced timetable offers the chance to see others teach in a range of subjects.

And then it all stops.

Suddenly, teachers go to a full timetable with minimal frees.  At this crucial stage in teacher development, we increase the timetable and decrease the support.  We leave teachers to ‘get on with it’.  Sometimes this can be a good time for a teacher to find their own voice.  Without interference, teachers can become the teacher they want to be.  However, without the focused practice, teachers will often just stumble upon what works and may end up trying so many wrong turns before ending up on a correct path. Being frank, some teachers never develop any further from their NQT year because they have no guidance.

Then, sometime later, some emerge into leadership positions and gain more frees.  Once you seem to be a good teacher, you teach less! Then you can become an even better teacher by observing others and seeking opportunities to learn from colleagues.  Alternatively, you spend so much time on your leadership role that classroom teaching is neglected.  This whole process seems a little askew and it needs addressing.

So my answer is Team Teaching.  Trainee teachers should do it for every lesson and every member of teaching staff should Team Teach a minimum of one lesson per week.

Here’s why:

Joint planning

Whenever I plan with someone else, my lessons are better.  Today, I met to plan a Tech/English lesson and we built ideas that we could not have come up with individually and have created a project which I think will be very exciting.  I am Team Teaching Expressive Arts with a colleague in Art as I know it will benefit us both.  I will also work together to co-plan the lessons of the people I performance manage.  The dialogue that comes from this is so important.  Is it any wonder that some of the most high performing school systems in the world build in time for their teachers to plan together?


If lessons were taught on paper then anyone could teach.  Just because we teach something doesn’t mean that students learn it.  When I have someone directed to my lesson to see good practice, I often do what I call a DVD commentary.  That is, I explain what I am doing and, more importantly, why.   This may be partly because I am nervous but I do want teachers to see that there is a methodology.  This is especially important when things are going wrong e.g. students don’t understand.  I love talking about the craft of teaching and think the only way to understand the complex nature of subtle adjustments in lessons is to be a part of it.

Getting in the real world

If teachers are working closely together for a shared purpose, they don’t need to tick boxes* to satisfy each other.  They can get on with teaching in the most appropriate way.  Even though every message coming from Ofsted reiterates the ‘no prescribed methodology’ comment, you still have to be incredibly brave to resist falling back on tried and tested methods in a formal lesson observation.  And let’s be honest with each other- teaching is a bit messy.  We go off topic because kids are interested in an aside, we give an extra ten minutes for a task because they need it, someone starts telling a story about their little brother that has nothing to do with the lesson but will be something that helps the bond in the classroom.  We should model that it’s okay to do these things (sometimes!) and teachers should see this messiness as part of the fabric of teaching.

*But just because it’s on the list for box ticking, it doesn’t mean it’s bad.


Do not underestimate the power of good banter.  When I taught Romeo and Juliet with my Head Teacher in the summer term, we built a cheesy repartee that students seemed to respond well to.  We acted out the scenes and found the rhythm where we would be comfortable building on the points the other made.  We relaxed and enjoyed it.  The students did too.  I’m not advocating a full on Cannon and Ball routine at the expense of high quality learning but I know that good banter=relaxed classrooms and positive relationships.


New teachers get a much harder time from students.  It is an elaborate charade trying to avoid letting pupils know that they are being taught by a PGCE student and they soon work out that you are making observation notes.  Teach together and that status shifts.  Similarly, if students see the Maths NQT delivering lessons with the Vice Principal then they end up responding to them sooner- think of all the NQTs who struggle with behaviour management in their first year.  The quicker you can get students to say ‘Miss X is alright’ then the more they will learn and the easier our time at school is.

Different benefits

For new staff and trainees, working with someone is going to help them get into those good teacher habits.  For, those embarking on that post-training-pre-leadership phase, it will accelerate their progress and avoid the pitfalls mentioned above.  For those more experienced teachers, the opportunity to coach is great.  Also, we can all learn from each other.  Another great thing about teaching is that each year someone comes along with new ideas.  I want to be able to learn from them.

There are obviously significant barriers to this, the biggest issue being the cost.  We have 80 teachers at our school so by my calculations that would mean we needed to cover 40 teaching periods- or 2 teachers worth.  It is a brave head teacher who would implement this. However, this post is about a universal panacea and I can be a bit more ideological today!

Disagreeing with myself

I have spent quite a lot of my time recently working on our school’s teaching and learning magazine:  the last minute edits, page order revisions and the ridiculous process of naming the magazine have taken their toll.  Copies were handed to staff on Tuesday and I breathed a sigh of relief.

One of the biggest issues that weighed on me was that when I printed the copies, my views, ethos, ideas etc were final.  More than this, the school name was attached so what was written in there almost instantly became part of what the school stands for.  While the electronic copy could be edited, that version I gave to staff was physical and unchangeable.  Therefore I had to ensure that I could stand by what I wrote.

But…I have no idea how my views on teaching will change.  I guarantee that if I read the magazine in a year’s time, I will disagree with myself on some specific ideas. I find some of my earlier blog posts naive and they were only written 6 months ago! However, I hope that my overarching ethos, that of collaboration and developing teachers doesn’t change.

One of the things that makes a great teacher is clear confidence that you are right in what you do.  You can’t second guess everything.  However, disagreeing with yourself is not a sign of weakness, it is a sign that you are open to new ideas and able to change your mind when evidence or experience leads you down another path.

So, on this theme of changing beliefs, below are 5 occasions when I have been absolutely sure of something, but where I disagree with myself now.

“As soon as ‘they’ come in, do a mini plenary”

‘They’ in this case being Ofsted.  I have said this on many occasions in recent years as I was convinced that ‘it’s what Ofsted want’.  (I wrote here about Ofsted not prescribing a teaching methodology)  The idea around demonstrating progress is sound, but creating fake opportunities to show progress which in fact hamper progress is a real issue.  Oftsed actually went to steps to decry this in their report on English. (I recorded a podcast on this last year.  Nobody listened to it.)  Now I stand by the fact that the progress is evident to see in exercise books that are marked well.

“If you plan good lessons then the behaviour will be good”

I have said this so many times.  While I still believe the reverse of this to be true and pretty obvious- If you don’t plan well then there may well be poor behaviour- I have been in situations where students disrupt a well planned lesson and I have observed lessons which have been destroyed by factors outside the teacher’s control.  Sometimes the lessons are great but the behaviour management is poor.  Behaviour management is different from lesson planning and this shouldn’t be ignored.

We know students like certain things and there are activities etc which may well lead to better behaviour.  We know that you must take into account the needs of individual students when lesson planning.  However, behaviour management is a skill that needs to be developed too.  I rarely observe badly planned lessons.  It is an unhelpful piece of advice to give someone after they have struggled with poor behaviour.

“Teacher talk is bad”

It can be but isn’t always.  I have seen teachers engage students with passionate talk and skilful questioning.  I have watched as teachers model the writing process.  I have also had really active lessons myself with minimal teacher talk where the students may well have had a nice time but they didn’t learn things.  I wouldn’t encourage it as the only method, and it is a poor method when it is just a teacher lecturing students, but if it works then why shouldn’t you do it sometimes?

“You should always share the learning objective at the start of the lesson”

I have been scathing in the past of teachers who don’t have the learning objective written on the board.  Nowadays, I’m just sick of students interrupting at the start of lessons to ask what the WALT is.  My lessons always have clear learning objectives, but I’ll share them how I want and when I want.

“Kids will get what they deserve”

In my first couple of years in the profession, I was a poor teacher.  One of the reasons was very low expectations of students.  I believed that students got what they deserve and this was rooted in the culture of the department.  Students routinely handed in incomplete coursework folders and there was zero intervention.  We just taught them and ‘they got what they deserved’.  What I later realised was that ‘what they deserve’ is different to what they can get and that my job was to make the difference.  Students actually deserved the teachers to care about them even if they didn’t seem to care enough themselves.  Now, our English department gets outstanding results with the same broad pupil demographic.  (I am still in the same school).

Now, I wonder how long until I disagree with this blog post…

Remixing texts

The inspiration for this post comes from this blog from @Missjlud.  I loved the idea of Blackout poetry and was already considering how to use it my own lessons when I was asked to create a scheme of work for Expressive Arts, which we do as an additional GCSE in year 11.  I jumped at this opportunity because I love teaching the subject and began to think of how we could use this. (Expressive Arts covers art, creative writing, music, drama, dance- students must integrate two of these for coursework.)

I took the step of combining Art and English departmental meetings in order to tap in to the wide range of ideas.  Both departments teach Expressive Arts and I thought it would be a really positive experience to join our brains, especially when it is relatively new to all of us.  (I have already committed to team-teaching Expressive Arts with an Art NQT which I know will I be mutually beneficial.) The discussions were even more productive than I had hoped and I was introduced to a number of writers/ artists that I would never have discovered without the collaboration.  The theme of remixing and reimagining emerged- taking things out of context, breaking things and reconstructing them.

Here then are some of the ideas:

I am a big fan of Dave Gorman.  I like the way that he embraces chance in a number of his projects e.g. The Googlewhack Adventure.  On his radio show, Gorman often reads his ‘found poetry’.  Usually this is constructed from web comments from articles on ‘controversial’ subjects as in this example below about the Sugababes:

John Hollander: ‘anyone may “find” a text; the poet is he who names it, “Text”‘.  While students may well create something good enough from randomly selecting the lines for their poem, I would recommend they collect an excess of lines and then refine what they have.  Here are some ideas below:

Make a poem from the school planner.

Use YouTube comments/ web comments.

Make a poem from Twitter.

Swap exercise books and create found poetry from those.

Write down what you hear in the classroom.

Watch a clip from a film and write down dialogue as a poem.

Flick randomly through a dictionary/ book.

Use the random article feature on Wikipedia.

Another idea is book spine poetry, although it may test the patience of your librarian:





I followed the trail of Blackout poetry to Austin Kleon.  His site has examples of his work.  For Expressive Arts, we need to study practitioners, so we will read his biography…then turn it into a blackout poem!


I also purchased ‘A Humument’ by Tom Phillips, as recommended by one of my Art colleagues.  He is an artist who bought a 3 pence Victorian Novel and turned every page into a piece of art.  There is a slideshow here.  30 unique versions of the same page would make a fantastic classroom display.






I was also introduced to Graham Rawle, who wrote an entire novel from cuttings of ‘Woman’s World’ magazine.  Although it may seem like writing a ransom note, students can create text from cutting up magazines, newspapers or even old textbooks?



And Keira Rathbone, who creates images using a typewriter.





Here are some further ideas on how remixing could be used in an English lesson:

Genre swap- explore the stylistic conventions of a text by converting it into a different genre.

Reconstructing texts-  my colleague Elaine begins many poetry lessons by cutting up the poems and asking students to reconstruct them.  She can add more than one to help students compare the differences or even just insert one line from another poem.

Create a ‘madlib’ from a well-known text e.g. The Raven and analyse the change in tone/ meaning.

Alphabetise your text and ask students to reconstruct it, like this version of Visiting Hour by Norman MacCaig.  They can also use this as a way to analyse patterns of language.






Work-life balance

At the moment, I am working on our school’s teaching and learning magazine.  I decided to write an article which contains lots of tips on how to improve work-life balance.  Here are the top tips along with some further thoughts:

First of all, the tips I can honestly say I follow:

1) “Does your lesson really need a PowerPoint with magnificent transitions or a complicated smartboard presentation?  If not then leave it.” 

I do this more and more nowadays.  I make slides that I might need such as sentence starts or interactive quizzes etc but I’ve stopped typing up objectives, outcomes and things I will be saying in class.

2) “You can’t always say yes.  If you have to say no to an extra project then do so.”

I am doing this increasingly too.  However, I still tend to set up lots of things (e.g. this blog) which take time.  I see this as time well spent and actually quite enjoyable.  Those tasks which have a whiff of ‘delegate because I can’t be bothered doing it myself’ get a firm no!

3) “Ask for help.  If work is getting on top of you, then discuss it with your line manager or a supportive colleague.  Then tackle the real issues head on.”

It’s quite hard when you move into a leadership position to say that you are struggling.  I have led training on behaviour management and then if I find that I have a challenging class it can be difficult to admit it.  When you do, and you access the support that others can give, it is a no brainer really.  I know that there are people I work with who can help me and it is ridiculous to let pride get in the way of that.

 4) “Plan with colleagues.  It saves on workload and is much more fun than doing it alone.”

I love this part of my job.  I love sharing ideas and learning from others and when done well it can also save so much time.  This week, we combined the English and Art departments to share ideas on teaching Expressive Arts.  It was great sharing ideas and my planning load is now much much smaller.

5) “Take advantage of the web.  Sites like Twitter, Pinterest, Scoop.it and The TES are full of resources and teachers sharing them.  Start there before you spend hours creating things.”

Twitter has saved me so much time and the resources/ideas I get are amazing.  I can usually find an appropriate resource or lesson idea just from a quick search on the web or a glance at #ukedchat, #edchat or #engchat.

6) “Put in extra effort to save time later.  For example, phone a parent after the first poor lesson for a quick call and not 3 weeks later for a time and energy sapping discussion.”

Sometimes you do have to put in time to save time.  Lack of preparation or intervention can lead to much bigger issues to deal with further down the line.  The example given was about phonecalls home but it is more than just that.  Like putting off a conversation with a colleague that has to happen and will at some point in the future.  You need to take the time now to stop things from coming to a head much later.

7) “Good enough is good enough.  Does it matter if things are not perfect every single time?”

I can’t plan detailed, outstanding lessons day in day out, mark books, attend meetings and have any kind of a social life without compromising somewhere.  So I make sure that my lessons are pretty good and I throw in some great ones at regular intervals.

8) “Get organised:  Make lists.  Keep your desk tidy. Plan your week.  Repeat.”

I used to be very badly organised.  On so many occasions, someone would remind me of a meeting I had missed or a task I had not done.  I started making lists and wrote down everything.  I check my lists regularly and cross items off. However, my desk is a disgrace.

And the tips I have yet to get to grips with:

9) “Decide what time you are going home and stick to it.  If you really have to work at home, work to a time limit.”

I am rubbish at this.  I am writing this sentence at 9.21 on Thursday evening before we break up.

10) “Plan the non-work things first.  Make appointments and stick to them.  You need hobbies, interests and friends outside of school.” 

I must confess that I haven’t got this the right way round yet.  Writing the article has made me realise how many commitments I have broken because of work.  This has to be the big change I make in 2013.