Posted in Learning, Teaching

5 Elements of Teaching and Learning We Should All Enjoy

Being immersed in pedagogy and practice, reading journals, blogs, tweets and as many relevant academic texts as I can (and those recommended by @teacherhead and @chrishildrew!), I do sometimes forget to take a reflective step back and just think about the initial positives of my role as a teacher I enjoy. Those generic, all encompassing elements we experience across the multitude of establishments we work in/attend.

These are not new to us;

nothing here is innovative or brand new;

hopefully just a catalyst to make the reader take their own reflective step away from the day to day concepts and misanthropes we can sometimes be bogged down by. Now that sounds negative, it doesn’t mean to be, just an honest interpretation that we generally find ourselves in deficit when it comes to personal good will after a day that may include financial pressures, summative assessment changes and shocking pastoral mishaps from agencies beyond our 4 walls.

Here we go…

  1. We Make a Difference; Whether we/they know it or not!

We make a difference in young lives, sometimes not just those in our classes but those we may meet in the corridors. As an altruistic role, we plan lessons and tasks to make that difference a positive one, but I consistently observe that its the smallest actions, the ‘hello’ in the corridor to the Y8 who you know is having a tough time outside of school, making the effort to watch the KS2 netball team even though you’ve already had 3 meetings that week, or focussing a lesson on certain aspects of the pupils lives they may have mentioned before so they can make positive learning links easily are subconscious demonstrations of making a difference. Great learning comes from building great relationships with your pupils, building a mutual respect can only ever put you and them in credit when momentum is needed.

2. Learning is Just Brilliant

Think of the last thing you actually learnt, that you were able to apply correctly after learning it and have since developed it to a greater depth. How long ago was it? I cite my own learning of the new accountability measures for KS4, I spent time learning about them, discussing them with relevant individuals to gain some peer assessment and appreciation, and ultimately augment my opinion. Not too put too finer point on it, but now I feel so much more confident about the measures, I feel a sense of achievement, of ease and, dare I say it, self-assurance when it comes to my learning. If we get it right, we know our own pupils can feel like this, that we can build and construct situations and environments that allow pupil to safely test themselves and develop into mature adults who will want to contribute to our society.

3. Creating Your Teaching Persona

I recently read the article from the TES by Mark Roberts (@mr_englishteach) about ‘Why a popular teacher is the last thing you want to be’. It looks at how a positive teacher/student relationship, one built on mutual respect and high standards and expectations will lead to a productive outcome for all. This relationship is something that a teacher cultivates over their career, they play the joker, the authoritarian, the counsellor, the all knowing-all seeing oracle (!), but they will always ensure that the personality they develop is one that is honest, accepting, patient and self-assured. Building a persona, creating your own space that allows you to offer high quality learning opportunities to your pupils is exciting, and is a dynamic situation, you know that if you are adaptable, you will offer the best deal for the pupils.

4. Reward can come form the smallest places

Routine can sometimes put pay to recognising success and that epiphanal moment in learning. But when we do spot the breakthrough for any learners, be it pupils or staff, the reward isn’t one that remains a personal one; its not something that when you share its because you want the ‘pat on the back’. You share the reward to share the learning, model that it can be done and exemplars of the methodology behind it. This is why Professor John Hattie clearly states that any lesson feedback for a teacher must be given as soon as possible to harness that positive sense of reward, why we continually try and close that feedback loop for pupils by using former success as incentives to create intrinsic motivation. Who doesn’t love that palpable sound in a class of ‘AHHH, thats what it means….’!

5. Every Lesson is Different

Finally the most obvious of the 5, as even if you are on the first day of your PGCE placement or have 20 years under your belt, each lesson will be different, and isn’t that just the best!!


Posted in Learning

Faith to Overcome the Fear

Buried deep in the medial temporal lobe, just above the brain stem is the neural nugget called the Amygdala _4755829; a collection of neurons that are believed to play an important role in the processing of fear and threat for humans. As we approach the start of a new term, a term which will include KS2 and KS4 external assessments, how many of our pupil’s own amygdalas will be lit up at the thought of these, and how many of our teachers will demonstrate high levels in activity in their own neural pathways due to the accountability measures we experience here in the UK?

Fear can sometimes be the driver and catalyst to creativity and motivation (how many times have we pulled a late night trying to complete the department evaluation form or school improvement plan!), but the production of cortisol is only a short term fix. Better solutions and coping mechanisms must be intrinsically built so we can cope and develop when facing threat and fear in our jobs. Yet more often than not the first 5 articles that I come across related to teaching are usually about the fear teachers have, the threat of results, of Ofsted, of education itself and where it is heading, and not how we can focus on the positive stories that may help us solve these issues.

Within such articles is talk of teacher retention, (‘Nearly half of young teachers planning to quit over high workload’), of how the percentage of teachers quitting full time work in the classroom has risen by almost 19% in the last 10 years due to mounting pressure and fear of;

  • Ofsted
  • Exam results
  • Workload and marking

But rarely do we read that the top fear for a teacher is that they are worried about the pupils not fulfilling their pedagogical potential. But we do, all the time. I like to think, in my hopeful, helpful way, that no one working in any role in education turns up and purposefully ‘doesn’t care’ about the learning. Its innate within our profession that we are altruistic, that we plan so our pupils receive the bets possible learning opportunities. So using that ethos and moral compass, surely teachers should be held to account over the progress of their pupils in all aspects of school life, both academically and pastorally? Is it this natural professionalism that exacerbates the extrinsic fear and pressure, are we just infuriating perfectionists?!

As a senior leader I am lucky enough to visit a wide range of learning environments not just in my own academy but in a wide range of locations. The success stories, the times when you can tangibly feel the learning taking place and realise that the pupils are developing in their cognitive and non-cognitive skills far out-weigh the times when data targets are not met, or when a perf management objective has not yet been achieved. Why not write about these times, these aspects of our profession we treasure and go back for? An amateur golfer doesn’t continually play because of the bad shots and choices they inevitably make (and my word I make a lot of those on the course!), they go back for the positives, the times when it worked and they applied their skills effectively. We want to retain teachers, then lets focus on all the positives they achieve with their pupils in the classroom and beyond. Accountability measures need to be there to ensure that the pupils receive the highest quality learning and relevant opportunities, but are not there to create fear and threat.

Ultimately, fear is a concept, its not a ‘thing’ in the brain, not a place we can quell and administer chemical relief to change our reaction to it. The change and building of faith in our abilities to deal with threat and fear is born out of our ability to learn, (again, just like we do with its pupils!), and apply that learning in the correct contexts. WE should ask ourselves ‘Am I able to use an experience, a technique I had previously observed to positively solve this problem?’.

 and  are just two mediums I have recently encountered where the positives that are ubiquitous to our profession are shared and enjoyed. What a  hopeful and  way to start the term, starting it with an elevated degrees of faith in our sector to banish the fear.



Posted in Learning

Relevant Transition Creating Relevant Learning Opportunities

At the start of the Easter holidays I was invited back by my old PGCE tutor at @UWEBristol to talk to the #uwepgce geography students about transition and the need to focus on having high expectations for all our pupils no matter what year group/key stage/ability. I started with a ‘Thunk’,one of those questions created to stop you in your tracks and make you see the world in which you live differently. The thunk, (below), was there to focus the group onto aspects of teaching and learning that we may over look, logistical elements that, maybe as PGCE students/NQTs, they feel they have no impact or say over. This included the use of the KS2 data they, as a secondary school teacher, would need to be aware of and analyse to understand the strengths of the pupils they are receiving into Y7. Too many times this transitional phase and the qualitative and quantitative data is overlooked, not used or not shared appropriately which can lead to the disengagement of pupils in their learning at an early juncture in KS3, and then a complete resource overload geared towards after school/Saturday booster sessions at KS4 and generally creating an imbalance in their teachers’ workload.


GCSE booster sessions should not be something ubiquitous to the key stage, clarifying it as a revision session that pupils can attend to deepen their understanding and enjoyment of the subject is an achievable goal, the love of learning and intrinsic motivation, not ‘quick, lets get them through the next topic….’.

How much time are new teaching recruits given to experience learning at another Key Stage, to be part of the learning diet that their new cohort have just finished/still part of? I was asked when I trained, (ahem, a number of years ago) to spend just 2 weeks in a primary setting, a minuscule amount of my time to prepare me for what the abilities of my KS3 pupils would be. How, in that amount of time, were we supposed to gleam and understand the capabilities of our new Y7 pupils?

Expectations at KS2 and KS3 are continually changing and pupils are now developing strong abilities in literacy and numeracy that are not being challenged and used when they reach KS3. I asked the PGCE students if they had ever seen a KS2 SATs question before, knowing that the majority, (through absolutely no fault of their own) would not have done. Realisation of what comes before and what will come next is one of the teachers’ greatest allies, if we know what they can do, and what they need for the next step, closing that learning loop becomes more efficient and relevant.

I find it amazing how many teachers have not read the 2015 publication ‘KS3: The Wasted Years’ from the DfE, ( It hypothesises from exemplified, routine inspections that Key Stage 3 is not the priority for many secondary schools and that too many secondary schools focus on the empirical side of transition (the data) to the detriment of the experiential side (prior and post learning. By allowing pupils to take an active role in transition, not a passive one, (surely the days of inviting feeder primaries for a WOW day are long over?), it demonstrates to them that we as educators work together for them, and how important it is to learn those skills of collaboration. But it also doesn’t marginalise and categorise pupils based on only their outcomes, we show how all aspects of a pupil’s academic life are important.

Intervention in KS4 can be an enriching experience then, not a program that only focusses on the mythical C/D or 4/5 boarder line. The new P8 measures will surely go some way in abolishing these measures, although having read this earlier today; about new grammar schools service ‘ordinary families’ it seems like the DfE have created their very own ‘booster’ group or (worst phrase in education) the C/D boarder line group!!!

If intervention happens early, if data is used effectively and not sparingly, if transition is effectively planned, then pupils will develop their love of learning throughout their time with us.

Uni Presentation exert