I coach, therefore I learn

Weekly coaching observations are an important part of teacher development in our school- my colleague Emma Hickey has written about her experience of being coached here. These are obviously designed to help the teachers being coached but I am increasingly finding that coaching others helps my own development.

Upping my game

My teaching isn’t bad at all, but when I see another teacher doing something I don’t do or something I don’t do well enough, possibilities suddenly open up. On Friday I watched a History lesson where the teacher expertly used paired work, group work and hot-seating, things that are less common in my classroom but which worked brilliantly in his. On Wednesday and Friday I saw amazing-but contrasting- examples of in-class interventions from Maths and MFL teachers. I love when I see something that challenges me to be better- this post from Andrew Warner captures this joy of seeing a great lesson.

The process of giving advice often forces me to reflect on my own teaching. Sometimes when I suggest a way to improve, I could almost be giving myself the same advice. It can be easier to spot an area for development in someone else than notice it about your own teaching.

Improving the quality of CPD

It’s tough to get CPD right, but the more lessons that I see, particularly outside my own subject area, the more confident I am in designing sessions that are useful for everyone, and not just a few. There is generic advice around teaching which doesn’t apply to every subject so seeing lessons and discussing the nuances with others helps me to deliver better training. I have an English teacher’s approach to marking, not a music teacher’s. I have five lessons a week with year 10, not one. Every lesson is a chance for me to learn how another teacher’s experience differs from my own.

I can also see the impact of CPD. I don’t mean checking up and holding people to account, because that is far removed from how coaching should be. I mean whether it is effective enough. Largely, when we introduce something new, or suggest a way of doing things, teachers will do it. That’s a massive responsibility and if something that we say doesn’t work, or isn’t actually helpful, then it is good to see that and do something about it. It works the other way around too- I can see where our CPD has been very effective and then share examples of good practice.

Thinking deeply about teaching

I have more ‘lighbulb moments’ in other people’s lessons than my own. Sometimes, seeing several lessons across a week allows me to think about a particular aspect of teaching in a more than theoretical way. One of my favourite posts, The Space Between the Question and the Answer, was conceived in this way. I had been contemplating questioning and wait time then saw how various teachers went about this and the effect in their classrooms. Sometimes a single moment in a lesson will lead to a massive shift in understanding.

Seeing students in a different light

In one of my coaching observations I see a Maths class made up of many of the students that I teach. It’s fascinating to see a different dynamic at play. Much like when a student sees you in Asda and it blows their mind, seeing students you teach in a different context is an eye-opener. The quiet student who comes to life; the one whose behaviour is much better than it is in your lesson; the hidden world of student behaviours that you miss when you are not looking.

Making me more open to feedback

I am confident in my own teaching but there is a danger that confidence becomes arrogance, and arrogance becomes resistance to feedback. I’ve definitely been there. The culture that we have at DKA- and my own role as a coach- has helped me relish the feedback I receive. When I coach others, I don’t judge or look for problems, I just look for what might be the simplest way to improve. I know that my coach is thinking this too, so it helps me to relax. Each week my coach makes my brain hurt a little with her questions, which is exactly the way I want it.

I would recommend that all teachers get into other classrooms, even for five minutes a week. Those five minutes could make all the difference.

The Sharepocalypse: Written feedback










At #TMENG, attendees were given ‘Sharepocalypse’ cards. These are the responses to the question above on responding to feedback. Please add your own ideas in the comments section.

Have ROW time (reflect on work) – when marking, set a target- first 10 minutes of next lesson is spent addressing that target.

Phrasing feedback as questions and giving time in lesson for students to write a response and then checking this later.

By trying to do it before they’ve ‘finished’. Showbie is good for this. @alcass2s

  • Personalise it
  • Allow time to read and respond to feedback
  • Establish a dialogue with students
  • Ask students to summarise feedback
  • Respond to responses to feedback

Verbal Feedback stamp with 2 bullet points – pupils write what you have said.

At the end of marking a piece of work set 3 targets: 1 long term and 2 short term. The short term targets are things which they spend the first 5/10 minutes of the next lesson doing e.g. Find 3 alternate words for ‘good’ which they could use in their writing. Students complete task in their books.

Choose five different common problems seen in a piece of work. Put them into a hierarchical order and assign students into groups. They have to address this problem and then can only move onto the next kind of sentence.

  • Ensure that you make time for meaningful conversations on a regular basis.
  • Relate feedback to clearly understood objectives and make it personal.
  • Make students justify their moving on to the next skills by analysing their own work and improvement. @funkypedagogy

At the moment using ‘What went well’ and ‘Even better if’ in exercise books and after assessments. @gwenelope

Have ready made ‘how to improve sheets’. Students do work and you stick help sheet in books and they complete tasks on the sheet.

After a piece of work, before handing in, the students write me a letter to explain what I might find when I look at it.

Taxonomy of errors (my new obsession!)

Get students to predict their feedback first with markscheme before handing feedback to them.

Spend time telling them, then make them write it down.

Lift quality of peer feedback. Use ABC feedback. Use regularly so students know it: Add>Build upon>challenge

Train students to self-assess their writing, then assess their work AND their assessment of themselves. They get better and better – take off the training wheels- just assess their assessment.

  • Blogging! MP3 of me reading and discussing student essay – more detail, some timing. They really have to pay attention!
  • Feedback symbols for quicker marking.
  • Mark/25 e.g. spg 3, analysis 6, use of vocab 4. Pre-decided and shared then re-used in later versions too. @miss_tiggr

Highlight in books: green=great, pink=could improve. Match to success criteria/ APP.

I usually try to ask a question in marking- and check students have answered it- or give them a specific task to do. Think instant verbal feedback is very helpful.

Feedback post-its. They write down their targets and move them up each lesson to the current page.



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.

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.






Developing teachers in the age of ‘no prescribed methodology’

I love the idea of ‘no prescribed methodology’ when it comes to teaching.  What’s good is what works.  However, this does pose some interesting questions for those tasked with training staff, particularly new teachers. With this in mind, I want to consider how we train teachers to be brilliant while still saying that there is no right way to teach.

Start with Why

I have delivered two training sessions this week- one on written feedback and one on displays.  In each of them, I did my best to give compelling reasons why these were important and how they help the students.  Often, I have heard sessions begin with ‘this is important because there will be a learning walk’ or  ‘Ofsted want to see this’ and it makes my blood boil.  If it works then let’s do it.  It’s quite lazy to blame Ofsted.  Teachers have to understand why there are certain aspects of lesson design which work.

For example, many people see a plenary as the bit on the end that you have to do and see it as a box-ticking exercise.  A good plenary is a chance for students to reflect, to consolidate understanding and to give the teacher food for thought.  If we develop staff to understand the reasons underpinning aspects of pedagogy then they build lessons where these elements are essential and used where appropriate.

Observe others

The best writers are usually those who have read a lot of books.  I think some of the best teachers are those who see colleagues teaching regularly.  Even as a teacher with 10 years experience, I find that I still learn so much when I visit other teachers’ classrooms.  I much prefer observing in a coaching capacity or in a very informal nature because teachers don’t feel the need to revert to a traditional prescribed method of teaching when that happens. As an English teacher, I like seeing other subjects.  In the last 3 weeks, I watched a science teacher to get help with my tricky class, I saw a humanities teacher use some ICT I haven’t used yet and I stole a bunch of display ideas from a colleague in technology.  *update- This blog on Canons Broadside sums this up even better!*  Equally, I like to invite teachers into my room when I’m doing something unusual or trying something for the first time.  The more you see different ways of approaching lessons, the more you will be able to attempt in your own lesson.  This should be routinely built into training for new teachers.

Even better if they can move from passive observation and…


Plan lessons with someone else.  Teach them together so they can have that dialogue about what they are doing and why.  Experiment with ways of working that suit the individual.  We build into our NQT training a cross-curricular project which encourages collaboration.  It may be idealistic when budgets and timetables are stretched to the limit but wouldn’t it be great to timetable NQTs to team teach at least one lesson on their timetable?

Be reflective

As part of their training, trainees are asked to reflect on lessons.  Sometimes I get the impression that this is just seen as another evidence building task for a portfolio.  In my experience, if teachers reflect routinely, then they get better.  Reflection can be a couple of bullet points, a blog, a coaching conversation or even just a quick think.  To help develop staff, we all need to be modelling this process and allow time to do this.

Learn models

Much as I love breaking the rules, the largest percentage of my lessons are 3/ 4 part lessons.  It is a good model and one which has been the skeleton for a large number of brilliant lessons. And because I know the rules, I know that I have solid reasons for not following them.  I can reveal the learning objective at the end if I want.  I can skip a starter. I can do jigsaw group work.  I can spend a whole double lesson getting students to redraft work.  Teachers should continue to build a repertoire of lesson models and seek these out in books, blogs etc.  For example, early in my career, I found The Teacher’s Toolkit by Paul Ginnis helpful in exploring different approaches.  When we think about what we want students to learn, we can then choose a model that might work or create our own.

Looking back at my list, perhaps this isn’t just for new teachers.  I think this is pretty good advice for us all really!



Building a culture of collaboration

Before the summer, I was appointed to my new role as Research and Development Team Leader.  It is a job that allows me to do things that I am passionate about and I feel very fortunate to be taking the role on.  There are a couple of very specific things I have to do but I have a very broad remit around developing innovative practice around school.

Immediately, I drew up a list of things we needed to develop.  Ideas came as quickly as it took my Twitter timeline to fill up.  Lots of summer reading (e.g. An Ethic of Excellence) led to further new things that we just had to do.  As I started to think about all of this, what struck me was that it would be quite impossible to deliver training session after training session and quite irritating for staff to receive lots of informational emails.  So many ideas but bombarding staff with them would not work.  I realised that the way to develop practice across a whole school was not in a top down model but from the bottom up, gradually trialling, adjusting and sharing ideas in classrooms so that by the time they reach a critical mass, teachers are secure in their understanding of not just the what, but the why.  I therefore decided that the first thing to do was create the ways for staff to collaborate, reflect and share practice.

We already have a half-termly ‘Ideas Market’- our version of a Teachmeet. This is an informal gathering attended by a small but committed band.  It is also a key part of our induction process that NQTs (+GTP, TeachFirst etc) work together.  For example, they planned a series of cross-curricular lessons together and led whole staff training on behaviour management.  I have already posted here on working together with my mentee last year.  However, it is safe to say that this collaborative culture is by no means embedded or high profile.

 What next?


One of my interesting summer reads was Professional Capital by Michael Fullan and Andy Hargreaves.  They develop the idea that successful schools should have high ‘social capital’.

Key quotations which struck a chord:

“…teachers who work in professional cultures of collaboration tend to perform better than teachers who work alone.”

“In collaborative cultures, failure and uncertainty are not protected and defended, but instead are shared and discussed with a view to gaining help and support.”

I was also recently inspired by this fantastic blog post by David Fawcett.  He lists so many ways of building a culture of collaboration in a school.

So here are my (constantly evolving) plans:

  • Open classroom system introduced.  Teachers willingly invite other teachers into their classroom. The other teachers can join in, offer support and learn from colleagues.  This is a feature of my classroom, christened the Goldfish Bowl as it is right in the heart of the school and has lots of windows on to the corridor.  This is a picture of our boyband ‘Sen5ation’ using the room in their music video.
  • Development of the Ideas Market e.g. by focussing on particular themes.
  • I have set up our school’s teaching and learning blog, the Leeds West Wire, and have started to encourage teachers to blog as both a way to reflect and a way to share.
  • We will develop our simple teaching and learning booklet into a larger magazine and share this outwith the school.
  • Professional enquiry groups created.  This is an upgrade from the coaching triads that we have used before.  Instead of the focus necessarily being on lesson observation and feedback, staff will be able to choose whatever they want to work on and present their ideas in a celebration event later in the year.  We have a demonstration of IRIS Connect in a couple of weeks which has the possibility of becoming a tool to support this.
  • Chain reaction: two members of staff work together then split and each works with someone else on a project.  Then those two people work with others before closing the ‘loop’ at the end of the year.
  • Any member of staff going on an external CPD course shares what they have learnt and are encouraged to support other staff with similar needs.
  • The VLE is also now set up so that staff can add resources and share ideas easily.

 Another aspect of all this is that I am asking staff to take ownership of these things.  The organisation of the Ideas Market, for example, will be passed around teachers to allow it to evolve and to offer leadership opportunities to others.  In the last week, I have had so many conversations with staff who want to take on projects and get stuck in.  They don’t need a job title or permission to lead teaching and learning projects.

Watch this space.