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How infectious is your Learning and Teaching Virus?

How infectious is your Learning and Teaching virus?

The most important thing I have learned whilst leading our learning and teaching agenda is the role of line managers.   My role as lead for L&T is to be the virus that infects everyone and line managers play a crucial role in ensuring that the virus spreads.  The more aggressive the virus, the more rapidly spreads.  In terms of how far the virus spreads, you can think of the different faculties as different parts of the body, once a virus reaches a body part, it needs a host cell to replicate in order for it to spread further.  The most effective viruses are backed up with sound pedagogy and an unquestionable notion as to ‘why’ it will enhance students’ learning.

It doesn’t matter how innovative or imaginative your virus, the general pattern seems to be the same; the proactive teachers will take an idea and run with it, the vast majority of teachers will take on board the idea and may change an element or two of their day to day practice, and then there are some teachers who will pass it off as ‘jazzy’ idea that they are far too busy to implement.  For the latter, line management is critical for ensuring that the virus infects them.

It is also worth mentioning that not everyone is interested in pedagogy or the latest research and with very little expectation for teachers to engage with pedagogy after qualifying, infecting everyone within the school to the degree that they have to engage, can be somewhat problematic.

The last piece of contextualisation is in relation to experienced teachers.  There are many ‘innovative’ ideas that have been recycled from years back and sharing such ideas can irritate and disengage experienced teachers.

Below are 12 solutions for ensuring that faculty line managers support the transmission of your ideas.  There are then subsequent things which heads of faculty should be doing to ensure that ideas are translated into day to day teaching practice.  The idea behind this is that the virus gets a boost at each tier to ensure that it continues to spread.





6 Pillars of Leadership

screen-shot-2016-11-20-at-13-23-386 Pillars of Leadership

There are many articles, books, posts and graphics about the most important aspects of leadership.  Putting all that aside, my experience in schools and on the sports field has led me to a conclusion that there are 6 key traits that a leader must posses.  The absence of any 1 trait can be disastrous.

The Absence of Pillar 1 – Self Awareness

If there was a central pillar, for me it would be self-awareness.  Without self-awareness leaders will never address their frailties and at worst it can lead to a toxic culture of scapegoatism.  Around the leadership table, it is no use voicing an opinion to someone who thinks they are good at listening to others but instead sits their and feigns only the slightest interest at what is actually sound advice.  On the football pitch, where strikers lead the line, it is no use explaining to them why their finishing lacks finesse if they believe that they are the best finisher ever to play the game.  Players with this attitude will always blame someone else if they fail to score in a match.

The Absence of Pillar 2 – Broad Shoulders

Resilience is a term that is bandied about all the time in relation to schools and students but less so in relation to staff.  Teaching is a profession where it is essential to have broad shoulders if you want to develop as a professional.  The absence of broad shoulders can result in a leader crumbling under pressure at a crucial time.  Disagreeing with accurate feedback can cause resentment, mutiny and ultimately cause division in teams.

Sitting in a freezing changing room, being dug out at half time for my performance by the gaffer has definitely left me battle hardened.  The point here is that as long as the feedback is accurate and beneficial, it is ultimately to help someone develop.  Sitting opposite someone, listening to them make comments about something you have put your heart and soul into for the last 18 months can be tough but it is necessary in terms of developing you as a leader.  Sometimes a colleague just wants to provoke a more passionate response from you.

The absence of Pillar 3 –Selflessness

Selfishness is what comes in the absence of this pillar; an egocentric culture where leaders put their own needs above the needs of the team.  Without this pillar, the needs of the team will never be considered before the needs of the individual.   In schools, the higher up the ladder you climb the more important it becomes that a leader recognises that everything is their responsibility and not just the areas they line manage.  It ultimately means nothing if they lead their one area well if everybody else’s areas suffer as a result.  On the football field, in a high profile match, it takes a strong minded player to actually respond to the gaffer at half time and actually tell him that they are struggling.  Time and time again I have watched a player who is obviously injured, carry on and ultimately cost the team the result.

The absence of Pillar 4 – Emotional Sensitivity

Where a leader lacks emotional sensitivity the results can be catastrophic. Leading/teaching in a school is turbulent at the best of times. The emotional drain on staff can be difficult to cope with.  Leaders need to be able to sense when staff are becoming overwhelmed or are at risk of burn out.  A strong leader becomes emotionally attuned to their team and can detect/intervene early when things are not right.  A leader who doesn’t pick up on emotional cues, ultimately puts their team’s/staff’s wellbeing at risk.  There are also times when a difficult message has to be delivered in a certain way to prevent undue distress.  A leader lacking in emotional intelligence could appear callous if messages are not delivered with recognition of the sensitive impact on staff.

The Absence of Pillar 5 -Balance

There is a lot of noise around about which leadership style is the best.  I have been through Insight’s Leadership Profiling which identifies your leadership style in relation to one of four colours.  What was apparent following this session was that certain colours appeared to be seen as more desirable then others and that some colours were actually seen as a weakness.  When I talk about balance, I mean the ability of a leader to be organic in responding to the needs of their team.  This requires a good balance of leadership skills as different situations require very different leadership approaches.  In the footballing world, a manager needs to be able to employ a range of leadership styles depending on the profile of the match or the opposition.  There may be times when the team needs to be told in no uncertain terms that they need to pull their socks up but there are also times where confidence may be low and a different approach is needed.  Without a good balance, leaders may be ill-equipped to deal with a certain situation.

The Absence of Pillar 6 –Trust

A lack of trust means that there can never be accountability.  Without accountability there will never be a team.  If a leader can’t trust a member of their team then the question must be asked if they should actually be a part of their team. Successful leaders make it clear that they trust staff/players which then allows the team to contributes to a much greater shared sense of purpose.  In a cup final, a manager has to trust that the players on the pitch can fulfil their individual roles to enable the team to succeed.  Once those player cross the touch line, the manager can do very little to influence the game and the trust in the players has to be absolute.

Organic Teaching – Bringing Schemes of Learning to Life

The specification is the beating heart.  The schemes of learning make up the complex vascular system and blood itself represents the knowledge and skills.  The cells represent the students that require a healthy blood supply.  In anatomical terms, when cells require additional resources to function properly, a process called capillarisation occurs where the blood supply is increased to these cells. In my mind this is exactly what should happen when students experience difficulty with particular content or skills.

Whether a scheme of learning is brand new, or one that has been taking up storage on the shared drive for years, at best they improve consistency and provide resources to support teachers; at worst they are restrictive and can cause time to be wasted covering content that students already have a firm grasp of.  The purpose of this post is simply to encourage reflection on how schemes of learning are currently used in your school.


Let’s think about current practice.  If a scheme of learning has six lessons allocated to a topic, what happens if a group grasps the key information in two lessons?  How many teachers would have the confidence to deviate from the scheme of learning?  In many schools, schemes of learning are a vehicle for ensuring consistency and providing resources.

The problems with lifeless schemes of learning.

-Often, the amount of time apportioned to certain topics does not reflect the relative difficulty of the topic.  More difficult topics should have more time allocated in order to consolidate learning.  Far too often a scheme of learning is simply the specification chopped up into equal chunks to be delivered.

-Lifeless schemes of learning do not account for the fact that different groups/students absorb content at different rates.  Six lessons may be delivered on a topic that could have been covered in three due to the fact that the group picked up the content very quickly.

-Often, they dictate what teachers deliver as opposed to responding directly to the needs of the group in relation to the feedback gained through assessment.

Cynical people reading this post may suggest that all I am describing is a need to differentiate the content of schemes of learning, but it goes far beyond that if we want to truly close gaps and respond to the needs of the groups we teach. Organic schemes of learning help to systematically close gaps throughout the year reducing the need for terminal intervention; I for one would welcome an end to the intervention culture.


5. Adapt teaching to respond to the strengths and needs of all pupils.

There is a reason why so many teachers would identify teacher standard 5 as an area for improvement.  Organic schemes of learning could rapidly improve practice in relation to this particular teacher standard.

2 Key Considerations

-Schemes of learning need to live and respond to the feedback from the classroom.

-Schemes of learning should evolve with the needs of the group.

Living organisms are constantly receiving information from millions of receptors which in turn bring about responses from the organism.  When I talk about organic schemes of learning, what I mean is that they should change in relation to all the information gained from the classroom or the wider school context.  How much do schemes of learning evolve in your school?

Where students are finding topics difficult, schemes of learning should be adapted to give more time to such topics.  This process should be both intentional and on-going.  They need to evolve as a result of the information gained from both formative and summative assessments.  Key Stage 3 schemes of learning could be enhanced in relation to information gained through the delivery of lessons at Key Stage 4.  If students are struggling with content at Key Stage 4, does it not make sense to modify Key Stage 3 schemes of learning to tackle the difficult content or skills, earlier in their school life?

The two main drivers of the organic response are:

1. Pupils’ work

Pupils’ work gives teachers a wealth of feedback in relation to how they are coping with the content being delivered.  Looking at books or particular projects allows us to build up a picture on where the understanding of content is secure and where there are common gaps that need addressing.  Pupils’ work should influence day to day teaching which should in turn influence schemes of learning.

Frequent Formative Checks

The assessment emphasis is primarily formative.  Waiting for the outcomes of summative assessments is often leaving it too late as by the time the assessment is complete, gaps could have widened significantly during a unit of work.  High quality formative assessment can ensure that there are no surprises when it comes to summative assessments.


The organic responses, as a result of the information gained, can do one of two things:


After every lesson taught, there are almost always things that we would change if we were to teach the lesson again.  The first organic response is to strengthen schemes of learning as a result of the experience of students.  This could be for next year’s group or it could be strengthening Key Stage 3 schemes of learning to ensure that students start working on a particular skill much earlier in the curriculum.  This is absolutely essential with the new, more challenging, Key Stage 4 specifications as it is the first time that the content has been delivered and there are many unknowns.


The second organic response is to adapt the future schemes of learning to ensure that teaching closes common skill/content gaps whilst teaching the students new content. Ways in which this organic response could actioned are as follows:

-Interleaving activities into a scheme of learning to address common gaps.

-Pre-planned starter activities to provide more practice on weak skills or difficult content.

-Super learning weeks in which teachers split topics up that have been causing students problems and teachers deliver topics in relation to their own areas of expertise.

-Creating closing the gap resources for particular assessment objectives or topics.

-Re-shuffling of topics to space difficult content out.

-Additional tests built into the scheme of learning to ensure that gaps are closing.


Let me know your thoughts,




Evaluating Teaching not Teachers


Teacher PLCs – A forensic and focused approach to improving teaching practice.

Teacher Personalised Learning Charts

@beautifullyfra1 wrote here (link) about our approach to evaluating teaching and we now have a truly authentic model for evaluating teachING not teachERS which ensures that all learning and teaching actions are data informed.  But, it has led to many questions about how we ensure that all of our teachers are continuously refining and developing their classroom practice. It’s taken some time, but I have finally got round to writing up part 2.

With a rapidly changing assessment landscape, significantly different accountability measures, and the most over stimulated generation of children ever, it is essential that all teachers are continuously reflecting on and refining their practices.  It’s fair to say that for many teachers entering the profession, marking, planning, resourcing and other pressures can lead to a plateau in engagement with new pedagogy; pedagogy which would have been a regular part of training courses, degrees, and PGCEs. With this in mind, all schools face the challenge of finding innovative ways of ensuring that professional development, and ultimately improvements in the quality of teaching, continues. Coaching is well established in many schools, but how do we ensure that every teacher is committed to developing a specific aspect of their teaching practice?

For me (as I am sure is the case for many others), formative assessment underpins everything that I do in terms of continuously checking whether or not my pupils have understood the content that I have delivered.  Student PLCs are fairly common place in schools these days whether used formatively or summatively.  So if we can use them to build up a clear picture of what our students are good/not so good at, why should formative assessment not be equally as important in building up an accurate and organic picture of what teachers can do?

The best teachers spend a lot of time thinking about what they would have done differently if they were to teach a lesson again.  Invariably there is always something or multiple things that we would change.   The best teachers will do this anyway as they are naturally reflective practitioners, but a PLC specific to teachers could ensure that there is a more streamlined approach to being reflective. Dylan Wiliam has written much about the dangers of trying to develop more than one area of practice at the same time, but how do we identify a teacher’s specific area for development/refinement?  In my mind, the teacher standards provide the best common language with respect to splitting teaching practice into fundamental elements.  Every teacher should be working on developing their practice in relation to one specific element.  A performance management target could then be linked explicitly to evaluating anything and everything the teacher has done during the year to improve their practice in relation to that particular standard.

So alongside our approach to evaluating teaxhing, we have created a personalised learning chart for teachers not dissimilar to the subject specific PLCs we use for students.  The Teacher PLC provides a clear language for formatively assessing teaching practice in relation to the individual standards, lesson to lesson, week to week, term to term.  The Teacher PLC (pictured below) consists of teacher standards 1-7 with a key description of what best practice may look like.  At this point I want to make it clear that the teacher PLC is categorically not used to grade, or quantify data about the quality of teaching in terms of an overall judgement.  Instead, the purpose is to encourage all members of teaching staff to reflect, in a low risk environment, on the 7 different standards, in relation to their own teaching practice.  Staff then identify what they consider to be their main areas of strength as well as the areas where they would like to invest time in developing their practice.  They can discuss their PLC with their Director of Learning to help them clarify their thoughts on where best to invest time.

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In addition to the teacher reflection sheet, a rubric has been created to provide loose guidelines for each standard ranging from limited to extending. Before the cynical people reading this tell me this is just another way of grading teachers, the PLCs were never designed for that purpose.  The rubric can be useful in identifying what might be missing with regards to classroom practice in relation to a specific teacher standard.  It also ensures we have a common language and consistency across the school when we look to share best practice.


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Supporting Development
To ensure all teachers are equipped with sufficient ideas to develop their practice in relation to a particular teacher standard, or to simply encourage all our teachers to take a risk and try something new., we regularly launch teacher challenges in relation to a particular teacher standard.  They usually contain 6-12 practical, easy to implement ideas which have been very well received.  They are also designed so that there is something new for every teacher to try regardless of their level of experience.  You can see an example of this for teacher standard 5 below.


This approach has only worked for us because we are absolutely clear that for us, it is not about grading teachers.  It would be very easy to take this approach and use it as a behind closed doors attempt to quantify or attach a number or grade to a teacher.  The authenticity of our evaluating teaching cycle depends on us absolutely not using it in this way.

Finding Flow


Finding Flow PNG



Finding Flow

I have recently become fascinated with the notion of flow, and after reading Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’s book it has provoked a lot of thought in relation to whether we can create flow experiences for children within all lessons across the school.

For those who are unfamiliar with Csikszentmihalyi’s work, ‘The metaphor of “flow” is one that many people have used to describe the sense of effortless action they feel in moments that stand out best in their lives.’(Finding Flow: p29)  In these moments ‘The sense of time is distorted: hours seem to pass by in minutes.’(Finding Flow: p31)  I have experienced flow many times whilst playing sport competitively but I can’t remember experiencing a similar sensation when completing other tasks which leads me to the question:

Can a student experience flow in any lesson?

Before I tackle the practical side of creating such situations in classrooms, it is important to delve further into the notion of ‘Flow’.  “Athletes refer to it is as “being in the zone”, religious mystics as being in ‘ecstasy’, artists and musicians as aesthetic rapture.”  Athletes, mystics and artists do very different things but when they reach flow, but their descriptions of the experience are remarkably similar.”  This quotation suggests that it is possible to experience such a sensation regardless of the activity and makes me more hopeful with respect to students experiencing such a sensation in any lesson.  Don’t get me wrong, I am not expecting students to be in ecstasy when solving an algebra problem but there are ways to create tasks which will ultimately help students to achieve that magical state where they will be most effective in their learning.

So what can we do as teachers?

Csikszentmihalyi  suggests that  ‘Flow tends to occur when a person’s skills are fully involved in overcoming a challenge that is just about manageable.’  This is best illustrated by the following graph from Csikszentmihalyi’s book.
Finding flow graph















As teachers, the biggest consideration is whether or not tasks are perfectly matched to a student’s ability level.  If a task is too hard, the student will become anxious and disengaged.  If the task is too easy, the students will become bored and disengaged.  This in itself is nothing revolutionary, but the key for me is to establish how a student might behave when experiencing flow.  Once we establish this, it is easier to reflect on how often such behaviours are exhibited by the students within our care.

One strategy could be articulate to students what a ‘flow experience’ feels like so that they recognise it for themselves.  The best example I can give is that when I am mountain biking down a steep and technical route, my skills are pushed to their limit.  Perceptual narrowing is at its peak and my concentration is solely on the way my body and bike respond to the environment.  For that brief moment, I can think of nothing else.  In a classroom environment, I think you see glimpses of such an experience when students take an idea and become completely immersed in it.  What’s happening in the room fades into the background as the student focusses solely on completing a difficult problem or constructing an emotionally charged piece of writing.  I have seen Art lessons where a student using a new medium for the first time and has made it over the initial barriers and suddenly the picture begins to take shape and the student embraces the challenge further.

‘Another characteristic of flow activities is that they provide immediate feedback.’  When a student hits a ball in tennis, they receive a wealth of kinaesthetic feedback.  Did the ball make good contact with racket? Was the timing right? Was the power right?  Similarly, in an invasion game, when a player makes a decision to try and beat an opponent, they receive immediate feedback as they either pass the opponent or they don’t.  In a maths lesson, where the answers are clearly right or wrong, the student can quickly assess their progress.  This becomes more difficult in subjects where the assessment criteria are more subjective.  The key point here is that once a student reaches ‘flow’ we as teachers want to keep them in that zone for as long as possible and quick feedback is essential to this.  Personalised success criteria in student friendly language may help so that students can regularly check their progress against the criteria.  Circulating the room as frequently as possible to provide timely feedback could also be key in preventing students from falling out of ‘flow’.

As Csikszentmihalyi states  ‘A typical day is full of anxiety and boredom.  Flow experiences provide the flashes of intense living against this dull background.’(Finding Flow. P31)  I am really keen to hear what teachers do to encourage such experiences within their classrooms.


Finding Flow: Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi 1997 Basic Books


Lessons in Leadership Straight from the Sports Field

footy pitch

You have just been on the end of an absolute pummelling.  Players around you are breathing hard as you sit shivering in the changing room at half time.  On paper, you were always going to get beaten, everyone expected you to be behind at the half way point.  So what are you going to do about it?  You look around at your team mates with their heads down, looking at the floor.  Where has the belief gone? Where is the hope?  Whatever team you lead or are a part of in school, your role is essential in helping them to overcome any barrier.  I have been in difficult situations on the football pitch but I have also been fortunate enough to play with team mates who have inspired me so that I felt ready to take on the world when I returned to the pitch after half time. And there is much, I think, that can translate from the sports world directly into school leadership.


Leading by example 

I am a strong believer that the best way to get people to buy into you is to practice what you preach. This is no different whether you are on the field or in a classroom.  I like to think that I lead in the same way that I play on the pitch.  I see myself as equal to everyone in my team and I gain buy in from staff by demonstrating the behaviours I expect from my team.  There is nothing worse than a leader who implores you to do something but does something different themselves.  But what I have also learnt is that leading by example doesn’t mean expecting everyone to do things in the way you would do it.  To me, leading by example is about having high expectations and expecting the same of those around you, but at the same time understanding that there are many different ways of achieving the same result.  The balance is always going to be in guiding and supporting people, whilst at the same time allowing them the freedom to take risks and think for themselves about the way they want to lead.


Failure can enhance the future

In 2012, the nation watched an emotional Andy Murray finish as runner up in the Wimbledon tennis tournament.  The loss clearly left him devastated but he found the strength to say that he was ‘getting closer’ to that elusive Grand Slam title.  A year later, hard work, perseverance and determination paid off as Andy Murray was triumphant in winning the tournament.  Failure is always difficult to deal with, but through failure, leaders learn many valuable lessons.  We learn to be more self-aware, more reflective and ultimately more resilient.  In education there are so many unknowns that there is always going to be some degree of failure.  The introduction of the progress 8 measure, life after levels, new specifications and the simple fact that we live in the most over stimulated generation in history, all leads to a constant battle of reestablishing our ground. Resilience is mentioned regularly in schools, and one thing that I am absolutely certain of, is that sport helps people to become more resilient.  It is disheartening as leaders when something we have put blood, sweat and tears into ultimately doesn’t quite work the way we want it to, but what we take away from such situations is valuable experience.  In my mind, there is always room for improvement and therefore is always something to learn.


Hard work 

No leader who has achieved something special has done so without hard work.  Cristiano Ronaldo is not one of the best footballers in the world simply because he was born with the physical attributes that gave him an edge in the footballing world.  In his book, he talks about the fact that he is consistently the first person into the changing rooms before a game, and is always the last player to leave.  There are many theories that suggest 10,000 hours of practice are needed to master a skill and it is no surprise therefore that people such as Cristiano, who work hard, are viewed as some of the best in their field.  For leaders to be successful there is no substitute for hard work, and many of the best leaders I have met value hard work above all else.  But I am also clear this doesn’t mean just the number of hours they work.  Working hard has to also be about working for impact. Cristiano knows what to practice and when.  A great leader isn’t one who just puts the hours in. A great leader ensures that the hours they put in translates into something meaningful for students and staff.



As a leader, there are always times when we question what we believe in; we doubt ourselves and our capacity to fulfil our role.  Sometimes it is hard to stay positive when everything seems to be going wrong.  It is also difficult to stay true to our beliefs in the onslaught of pressure.  Every leader feels pressure and the best advice I can give for dealing with pressure (again from my experience in the sports world) is to keep your focus on the variables that you can control. If you think about any situation in leadership there are things you can control and things you can’t.  For example, you can control  how you prepare to deliver training, the delivery of the session and the resources that go with it.  You can’t control how people will interpret the information or whether the key message will resonate with your team.  Just the act of being mindful about what you can and can’t control can make a pressured situation seem manageable.

In 1978, Michael Jordan went home and cried in his room after seeing that he hadn’t made it onto the varsity roster but his close friend, Leroy Smith, had. It was extremely rare for Sophomores to make Varsity.  Whilst Jordan has been prone to self-aggrandizing, the message here is clear – although his confidence took a big blow, he never lost the belief that he could go onto to be a player that dominated the sport for the next two decades.  The point here is that leaders need to be clear about their core beliefs, and consistently remain true these if they wish to be viewed as an authentic leader.  With so much noise about education on various social media sites, beliefs can be challenged radically.  There is no doubt this challenge is beneficial,  but leaders also need to filter out and use that which is applicable to their vision.


Everybody can be a leader

Never doubt the influence you can have as an individual.

In 2001, David Beckham stood over the ball in what would be the last kick of the game against Greece.  At the time the free kick was awarded, England were set to be leaving the competition.  He struck a curling free kick up and over the wall to the keeper’s right – and that one kick sent England through to the finals of the competition.  Any one member of a team can at any time contribute to something truly special. Actions no matter how big or small can have a significant impact on bringing a vision to life.  In schools, many of the unsung heroes are the classroom teachers who consistently lead the way in developing high quality teaching practice ultimately helping students to make rapid progress.  Although I lead learning and teaching across my school, I am very conscious that first and foremost I am a member of the teaching staff.  I welcome and encourage feedback on my teaching practice as a member of the department within which I teach because that is what I want for everyone else.  In this situation, I am part of the lesson feedback cycle just as much as anyone else.  I don’t promote regular feedback because it is my job to do so. I promote it because I believe in it.


Uniform and presentation

It takes just 2 hundredths of a second to form a first impression.  In the changing room, just by looking at who has cleaned their boots and who hasn’t, you can tell a huge amount about how someone will perform.  In the midst of a uniform drive, I have had plenty of discussions with students about the importance of uniform.  In terms of leadership, someone who turns up with a dishevelled or slovenly look is never going to initially evoke trust in those they lead.

I made the point to students, that in the world of sport, they are expected to wear a specific kit.  Let’s look to the All Blacks. When Ritchie McKaw, arguably the greatest rugby player ever to play the game, was first handed his all black jersey, he placed it over his head and just sat there for a period of minutes whilst he took in everything that the jersey means.  Wearing a uniform with pride denotes a certain attitude and link to the desired behaviours of your team.  High expectations should permeate every aspect of leadership – right down to presentation.


Vision and Expectations

Despite the pressures, fluctuations in desire and drive, highs and lows, an outstanding leader somehow manages to maintain perfect discipline. What I mean by that is absolute clarity regarding the expectations of staff. Vince Lombardi once said, “I’ve never known a man worth his salt who, in the long run, deep down in his heart, didn’t appreciate the grind, the discipline.” Discipline doesn’t have to be enforced in an authoritarian fashion when leading, but I know that to fulfil any vision, every member of the team must be absolutely clear on the non-negotiables.  Deviance from expectations can cause everything that has been built to become fractured and damaged.  One way in which I have approached ensuring a clarity of expectations is to ensure that the learning and teaching priorities permeate all elements of school life.  All teachers have a placemat on their desk which has the non-negotiables for each priority as well as practical strategies.  I also regularly send out ’12 solutions’ for implementing each of the priorities.  The idea behind this is not that everyone teaches in the same way, but that everyone is aware of the non-negotiables and adapts what works for them within this.


Sometimes the bigger picture is what is important

Not necessarily a lesson in leadership but a final reminder of the power of sport.  In a time where two countries and thousands of soldiers occupied trenches separated by a muddy field strewn with bodies, on the eve of Christmas 1914, something special happened.  British and German soldiers climbed out their trenches, laid down their weapons and played a game of football with people who hours earlier were firing bullets at them.  Anything that has the power to momentarily stop a war and cause soldiers to halt all hostilities, is something that has plenty to teach us.

Confessions of a PE Teacher: Breaking the mould










Confessions of a PE Teacher: Breaking the mould


There is nothing worse than listening to ultracrepidarian comments about your subject:


“It’s alright for you PE Teachers, all you do is organise a game of football.”

“It’s not like you have to plan your lesson.”

“Those who can’t teach, teach PE.”


For the most part, the comments are said in jest, but the reality is that these comments reinforce a certain PE Teacher stereotype.  On top of the onslaught of comments suggesting that PE Teachers are less worthy than other teachers, the government constantly places PE at the bottom of the priority pile which can make it very difficult to stay positive.  I won’t be the only PE teacher who has sometimes questioned why I went to university for 4 years of my life to complete a degree in a subject which for some people actually has very little status in education.  The stereotype that PE is somehow for a ‘lesser’ teacher because they weren’t capable of anything else saddens me, as does the low currency that some schools place on the subject and its value to students.  We all know the positive impact that playing a sport can have on our students and in my experience, it is not often the case that I see successful leaders who have not at some point in their lives participate in sporting or other creative activities.


It also seems odd to me that despite all of us being aware that we are in the middle of an obesity crisis, there is little recognition of the huge part that PE as a wider subject has to play in raising students’ awareness of the importance of healthy living – particularly those students who come from more disadvantaged backgrounds.  To dismiss it as something which is a luxury if the budget can afford it seems short-sighted to me.


PE is not just about kicking a ball about.  It requires acute critical reflection, the tenacity to deliberately practise skills, the resilience to persevere, and the ability to think strategically and quickly under pressure. On top of this, there are huge benefits for students in terms of team work, confidence and, crucially for me, competition.


PE teachers consistently teach some of the largest ability spectrums within the school.  It is common to have a group with a county footballer at one end of the spectrum, with a student who can barely make contact with a ball at the other end.  Regardless, PE teachers still ensure that all students make good progress.


Being a PE teacher has taught me much and given me the skills to undertake all the leadership positions I have held.  It has helped me build relationships with even the toughest students.  It has allowed me to witness some truly inspirational sporting performances.  But ultimately, it has allowed me to retain my passion for teaching because it is a subject that I truly believe in.


Evaluating Teaching not Teachers


Evaluating Teaching Cycle V7








I am really excited about this model which has been well received by the teaching staff at our school.

Principles of the Model

The principles behind our evaluating teaching cycle are straightforward:

• We are evaluating the quality of teaching NOT teachers. There is a subtle but important difference.
• It is a flawed methodology to arbitrarily judge the quality of teachers through lesson observations.
• The best schools promote a collaborative and shared commitment to improving outcomes for students.
• There is no prescriptive approach to quality teaching – what’s good is what works.
• Data is merely the starting point – it gives no answers, just generates hypotheses.
• The most important aspect of any evaluation cycle is the input – the quality and personalisation of research, actions, and strategies which recognise that different approaches work differently for different teachers, departments and students.

The Cycle
These principles led to @beautifullyfra1 and I designing the following cycle as our methodology for both evaluating and improving the quality of teaching:

Data Collection
This is just the start (or once the cycle is implemented – the checking process!). This is not the post to discuss the process we go through to collect data, but needless to say it has been through a process to ensure that it is meaningful and robust. For us, this is just summative data and we do not pretend for it to be anything other than this. If you look at my previous post (http://www.benbainessle.com/part-2-how-do-we-prevent-data-being-the-catalyst-for-change/) I have written about how we are using PLCs and grain-sized data as the most important form of assessment to inform teaching for students.
Key Questions
This data forms the basis for Directors of Learning and SLT line managers to draw hypotheses from:
• What are the trends for key groups across the subjects?
• How are the students performing in relation to their prior attainment?
• Is there a difference between performance at key stages?
• Is there in-subject variation?
• Where is there good practice?

Cause and Effect
Our Directors of Learning are constantly evaluating the quality of their department’s work, but following the generation of the hypotheses from the data collection, we have a consistent review week across the school to allow for quality assurance, and joint work between middle and senior leaders, to ‘test’ these hypotheses. If the data is suggesting, for example, that in Year 8 maths the high prior attainment disadvantaged students are underperforming in comparison to the advantaged students, we will make this a focus for further investigation on top of our everyday evaluation. We will visit lessons, look at schemes of learning, look at books, talk to the students, look at parental engagement, compare attainment of these students in maths with other subjects and so on.
Once we have interrogated the data and our initial hypotheses, we discuss as a department team, and as a team of middle leaders, what our priorities are as a whole school, as well as highlighting any in-school variation.
The Difference
Once these have been identified, we move to the most important part of our cycle – how we use what we know to ‘productively tinker’ with our practice. We tackle this from both a teacher and student perspective. Some of the strategies we have found effective for us can be seen here:

The work now really begins and students, teachers, middle leaders and senior leaders work together to implement the actions with an emphasis on shared ownership and collaboration. Our data scrutiny meetings have completely changed emphasis. Rather than focusing on the numbers, they are instead driven by a discussion and commitment to the changes that will take place in the classroom in schemes of learning, teaching approaches, assessment approaches and department work.
The next data collection is then an opportunity to ‘temperature check’ the impact of the work we have been undertaking. And so the cycle begins again – in all likelihood, we will need to continue with what we are already doing as sustainable improvements don’t happen overnight, but ‘checking in’ allows us to track progress against priorities and alert us to anything else which may need investigating.

But what about?
The concept of the cycle was welcomed unanimously by Directors of Learning, and their input into how the cycle would work in practice led to some effective changes to our initial thoughts. Unsurprisingly for them, the collaborative approach was the most important aspect.
It is worth noting though that this is not a ‘soft’ option – this model does not excuse underperformance. This model is not one which precludes tackling and addressing individual underperformance. Nor is it only during ‘review’ weeks that teaching is evaluated. We all know that you don’t need an observation or a data collection to tell you that a teacher is not performing. If at any points, there are concerns, these are raised and addressed in the appropriate way.
And whilst I would hope nothing I do is driven by Ofsted, I am not naïve to these pressures. I have every confidence that when we are next inspected, our approach to evaluating teaching – with not a single grading of a teacher in sight – will be welcomed. In fact, I won’t allow it to be up for discussion.

Next steps
Alongside trialling and refining this cycle, I am currently working on a teacher PLC which we will use to forensically identify where we have areas of strength in terms of pedagogy, and where we need to do further work at both a teacher, department and whole school level. We are excited about the potential of this and again, this has been welcomed by staff. I know he intends to blog about it in the near future and I would definitely recommend looking out for it if you are a senior or middle leader.

We would love to hear your thoughts / feedback on what we are doing. Please do leave us a comment.

#12 Solutions for Embedding Spacing and Interleaving – Creating a More Durable Memory.

Memory fascinates me, I am constantly on the lookout for ideas to helps students retain information.  I want to start with a few questions; how many lessons do you walk into where a starter activity is based on the content from the previous lesson? I would imagine that this is very common.   How often do you walk into a lesson and see a starter based on content that was covered 6, 12 or even 18 weeks ago?  What would students find more difficult, a starter based on something they did in the previous lesson or a starter based on something they covered weeks ago?  The answer is likely to be the starter based on older content and the fact that they find it more difficult is the absolute key to building a more durable memory.


There are many posts on the principles of spacing and interleaving that go into far more detail with regards to relevant research and so I promise to keep the preamble brief. It is the practical solutions which are most important to me.  This post is fuelled primarily by a fantastic article by Bjork and Bjork and sections of Make It Stick: The Science of Successful Learning.   Firstly, I want to address spacing which in essence is increasing the time in between delivering content.  What many people recognise as traditional curriculum design is where content is taught in discrete topics. Students sit and end of unit test and then may not revisit the content until the terminal assessment at the end of year.   A curriculum designed with spacing in mind aims to spread the learning out so that students have to recall information at greater intervals.  For example, in science they may do a lesson on current, followed by a lesson on osmosis etc.  At first, this is a frightening concept because immediately teachers are thinking that students will struggle to keep track of all the information, but this struggle is essential.  To quote  Brown, Roediger and McDaniel, ‘Rapid-fire practice leans on short term memory.  Durable learning, however, requires time for mental rehearsal and the other processes of consolidation.’ When delivering a curriculum structured in the traditional way, students rely too heavily on their short term memory and so may perform well on the end of unit test but when trying to recall the key information in the distant future they will struggle.


Interleaving two or more subjects or skills has a significant impact on retention of knowledge.  This is the process of inserting content into lessons to challenge them to recall knowledge out of synchronisation.  The big draw backs are that the progress is slower and students find it confusing which makes it unpopular with teachers.  However, I defy anyone to read pg48-50 of Make it Stick:The Science of Successful learning  and not be fully convinced  by the concepts.  In short, one experiment with interleaved practise showed an increase of 215% in performance on a final test.  ‘The research shows unequivocally that mastery and long term retention are much better if you interleave practice rather than you mass it.’


There are some fantastic articles in relation to spacing and interleaving which are referenced below.  They are all well worth a read if you can find time.


Here are 12 solutions for embedding the principles of spacing and interleaving:



12 Solutions


  • Plan starter activities based on content from previous units.


  • Design schemes of learning which factor in time to reteach/review content.


  • Less terminal revision, more reviewing during units.


  • Use cumulative exams and quizzes throughout the unit.


  • Explain the evidence behind the methodology to get buy in from students and parents.


  • Mix up the order of practice problems for greater retention.


  • When planning learning, vary practice: -Teacher input –Student recall – Application.


  • Pilot spaced learning with a group and compare outcomes with a similar group.


  • Multiple exposures –students need 3-4 exposures to information over time.(Hattie)


  • Use programmes like Quizlet for frequent low stakes quizzes.


  • Use PLCs to identify common weaknesses and interleave questions related to the weaknesses.


  • Collapse lessons periodically to provide spaced practice on common areas of weakness.


Spacing and interleaving 1-6








Spacing and interleaving 7-12










Make it stick:The Science of Successful Learning – Peter C Brown, Henry L Roediger III, Mark A McDaniel.


Learning: Chaprter 3: Making Things Hard on Yourself, But in a Good Way: Creating Desirable Difficulties to Enhance Learning. Elizabeth L Bjork and Robert Bjork

Cepeda, N. J., Pashler, H., Vul, E., Wixted, J. T., & Rohrer, D. (2006). Distributed practice in verbal recall tasks: A review and quantitative synthesis. Psychological Bulletin, 132, 354-380. DOI: 10.1037/0033-2909.132.3.354.

Cepeda, N. J., Vul, E., Rohrer, D., Wixted, J. T., & Pashler, H. (2008). Spacing effects in learning: A temporal ridgeline of optimal retention. Psychological Science, 19, 1095-1102. DOI : 10.1111/j.1467-9280.2008.02209.x.


Spacing and Interleaving of Study and Practice: Shana K. Carpenter Iowa State University. 

Bahrick, H. P., Bahrick, L. E., Bahrick, A. S., & Bahrick, P. E. (1993). Maintenance of foreign language vocabulary and the spacing effect. Psychological Science, 4, 316-321. DOI: 10.1111/j.1467- 9280.1993.tb00571.x.

It’s not about pace, it’s about efficient teaching.

I don’t particularly like the term pace when talking about teaching.  ‘Good pace’ suggests that it is desirable to move through content as swiftly as possible during lessons which doesn’t necessarily translate into good progress.  I have heard teachers comment on the pace of lessons many times and with a recent move to 50 minute lessons at our school, the notion of pace raised its head again.  As an alternative to pace, I prefer the phrase efficient teaching.  It’s not about getting through as much content as possible, it is about using the available time effectively to enhance learning and support good progress for all.  In order to embed this notion of efficient teaching, it is essential that the term translates into everyday classroom practice.


Efficient teaching relates to maximising the use of time available.  The amount of time available to deliver and redeliver content is finite and therefore it is essential that every opportunity is taken to use this time effectively.



As James Kerr highlights in Legacy “A vision without action is a dream.”  Its all well and good introducing the idea of efficient teaching but without the How, it is just a an idea.  So how can we ensure that teaching is efficient?



What does it look like on an everyday basis? Here are some ideas for ensuring that everyday teaching is efficient as possible.