Convincing the learner they can learn

Dear Reader

You have been to school, so you probably think you know what makes a good teacher (and a bad one) and how to run a good school (and a bad one) this ‘ pontificating ‘ especially if you are also a politician can frustrate teachers themselves. I guarantee though, one space you didn’t know so much about was ……the staffroom! On teaching practice genuinely, I was warned not to sit in Mr X chair! However in my first post staff were generous and kind, they took an interest in how I was doing and they shared and encouraged me (or perhaps they lied) “oh Yes Chris is awful in my lessons too”. This concern was a wonderful gift in my early years in Witney. I often tried to imagine those colleagues, who were sharing with me over coffee, what they were in the classroom. In my naivety I thought everyone had to be young, energetic, passionate etc. I recall a lovely colleague I often helped out of the chair – over the age of retirement slow, measured but still going. We don’t treat older teachers as sources of wisdom, they often treat younger staff very generously.

In my early years there were no MATS, not even many INSET days ( preBaker). Toward the end of my first year I had missed opportunity to analyse and think about what I was doing – not a surprise , my PGCE saw about 50% timetable and I was now over 75%. My reflections were brief as the phots show.

I had a very difficult third year class, Y9 – we would have called them low ability. Whatever I did, interesting practicals or care with language, shout or stay very calm, it did not win them over. Discipline was OK actually but they just didn’t seem to learn. Tests often showed deterioration not progress. So one day I asked them who was the favourite teacher and who helped them learn best. Imagine my suppose when with one voice they gave the name of the elderly colleague, an English teacher. I asked her if I could observe her and she welcomed me with open arms.

The class arrived and entered her beautiful room orderly cheerful and keen, they sat down no trouble, they automatically got books and notes out. I was baffled, I mean this was English, activity was limited. Miss S set off by telling them it was spelling test day. Not a murmur, just found their spelling jotters. To honour me they had scientific terms….. out came the likes of aluminium, separate, science etc. they swopped papers, and Miss went through the correct spellings. BUT she didn’t take down the marks. I thought nothing of it. the lesson moved on to study some poetry – even I found it a challenge but they listened, they concentrated, often half the class had hands up at every question. they worked in silence, they asked some clever questions. Towards the end she said it was spelling rerun time and she reran the spelling test, everyone did better (of course). She took the marks down for that test. The bell went, they slowly packed away, no rush to leave, no wild comments, many a ‘thank you’.

As I sat there, a light went on, Miss S had shown them in black and white terms that this class which found learning so challenging, well she had proved they could learn. From initial spelling scores of 2 or 3 correct they finished with 8 or 9 and that made them feel good, made them want more, made them adore Miss S and enabled her to teach them really well because they knew they could really learn.

Teachers finds clever creative, innovative ways to motivate pupils and classes but the best and the lesson I learnt that day is we always have to show, however hard the content is (and listen Chemistry has plenty) with thought and planning, with magic and mystery it is possible to convince pupils they really can learn. This is the hidden challenge and hidden joy of the craft of a classroom. I was indebted to this wise (old) colleague forever.

A slight rant over ‘Textbooks’ which I love*

“…a book that contains detailed information about a subject for people who are studying that subject”

1 I once wrote a Chemistry textbook – with two other great Chemistry teachers –


Our Foundation level textbook

not examiners, not academics just plain Chemistry teachers. It was for the so-called less able or foundation GCSE pupils, labels I use but intensely dislike and I learned a lot win writing it and it was a fantastic challenge to help lots of pupils access our subject – especially those who find it hard – which is nearly everyone. It didn’t make us a fortune, schools bought lots of texts for the more able ( have a copy at home have a copy in school etc, but this was for the less able who were in small groups and often weren’t allowed to take a book home). Continue reading

Saturday period 4 – #Learningfirst conference @beyondlevels

So thought it might be appropriate for a small reflection on the rather excellent #learnfirst conference that I have been to today. There photo-1421749810611-438cc492b581were a couple of profound moments the second one was when was when Mick Walker (he the wise owl of QCA and curriculum) reminded us that the average age of teachers in the profession is 42. Though great to see so many today well under that age today. Hence his point that very few of them have taught without there being a national curriculum and an assessment system. They are ‘ after or during levels’ teachers  not ‘life before levels’ teachers. So for a very experienced (ie old teacher) like me who started teaching in 1981 we were reminded of the more creative ( frankly happier) days before the NC when it was up to us to choose what to teach ( how to teach) and what to assess although in secondary schools we still had to prep for O Level or CSE etc. A second moment came from a tweet from a  valued colleague who tweeted me in the middle of the afternoon “I hope you get time in the next few weeks to separate the lessons from the hollow truisms” it was a very important tweet and I think it’s a good reminder that some of the things we hear as teachers we know very well are true and in the twitter tweacher sphere can sound and probably are a bit trite especially to those not with you on a conference.

But there was inside that bubble a little key to a profound truth mentioned by Sean Harford and John Tomsett a reminder of what we came in the job to do and well worth us reminding those of us who are leaders why we still love the classroom. Shedding a light into the heart and soul of teaching, compared to “understanding employment law and cutting budgets”. But also a reminder to step back into the shoes of the teacher in the classroom. I did find myself feeling fairly optimistic in the morning because a number of comments and sessions just reminded us of the true purposes of being in a school and I think that was heartening mainly because so much of what I read and bother about even pick up from the odd conferences I go to, are focused on imposed “Stuff” appraisal, Safeguarding changes, OFSTED inspection frameworks, governance changes and yes budgets and employment law. I always try and talk with teachers and children every session every day to remind myself of our moral purpose. But hey ho  such is the nature of being a school leader there are a lot of sideline issues, so I was glad to just clarify my head space and start to think again about issues like the differences between marking, feedback tracking and progress. I am as committed as anyone to ensuring we minimise overload but t’s worth a fresh visit to the topic from a big vista not just the finer details, as we do need a system but no system should overburden classroom teachers. However teachers will need to record something after all. JT gave another great story to say he likes to ‘break the rules’ and that’s OK because he is the head and I am totally with him, as leaders we need to be able to say to a parent or even a child ‘we do have data but let me tell you a bigger story’. it is really bad that we ever let education get to become well this child is – actually we didn’t but it sure let like that.  SH also made me think again about KS3 something I have done since publication of the Ofsted “wasted years” as to how we use KS3, and with every dept wanting more time for their KS4 we do need to look carefully. But Sean reminded us that there is no assessment at KS3 and thus KS3 should be more of an amazing curriculum adventure and not just the build up to KS4 I think that was a very helpful. I want our pupils to be inspired by passionate teachers in those three years between year 7 and year 10 and although I appreciate Shaw’s comments I do think we would need to start getting things prepared for KS4 because there’s just not enough time.image2




The final summary of this seemed to be that we should spend more time collaborating (agree) that we have to think how to engage those people that were unable to get to the conference ( agree – twitter is only a small world still for teachers, influential, growing arguably committed (Saturday conference!)) but we need to spread the story. Also that we should look to see if College of teachers would spur us all in the right direction ( again is the COT an issue dominated by twitter teachers?)

imageMost important I think to say that assessment has  got to put children first and children’s learning and if we get that bit of assessment right then it doesn’t matter on systems. That assessment helps us in classrooms and in pastoral work to show our children what to do next and as Mary Myatt reminded us to set high challenges. However at the other end of the school someone like me is going to have to be answerable to governors and to inspectors and perhaps others and then there is appraisal….So it’s worth just thinking what sort of system you set up in order to deliver those requirements. At least in school we can make our internal assessments suit our children and even if SATs or GCSE still feel like they are designed as something for measuring schools or measuring teachers we can grab back some control.


I think it was very good to see so many governor colleagues there to hear the same messages and help us as school leaders to think about what information they need but also for them to see that some of the information we used to produce is unnecessary. I gave in and bought Marie Myatt’s book ‘High challenge low threat” and will resist the temptation to pass it on before I have read it thoroughly.  I love Mary’s commentaries and look forward to reading that and we’ll see if it makes any difference in our school. PS no reflection on Mary but I still have so much to read, dare I buy another without having applied all the ideas from the stack on my shelf?

As Mick Walker concluded,  we need to face up to the fact that assessment isn’t a bad thing it has to happen, we have to see where children are and help them move on and when they can’t we need our creative minds and pedagogy, and we have to do a bit more formally at certain punctuated times in the year. The purpose should not be lost to help pupils as they make progress and therefore more important than assessment is what marking we do and what feedback we give but actually it doesn’t have to be onerous long written comments or elaborate : blue penguin 3.6, in red or purple pen kind of stuff. We do assessment all the time back in the lesson when we noticed a child not really listening that’s really assessment isn’t it and we challenge them and got them back on task to help make progress. It’s just we don’t record all that and put it in a spreadsheet and email  for the head of department or the head teacher or the governors  who then pour over it and comments come back down the chain but make no difference to learning.

As a teacher born of the 80’s and a trad kind of person it’s all a bit back to basics: spend time preparing, teaching, assessing and helping pupils learning by interventions from that assessing – record what you have to but use that to drive your planning, and in the middle talk to colleagues to find creative solution cause talking teaching and learning with colleagues is one of the best bits of the job.

no teacher ever




Few thanks

Dame Alison Peacock for organising and inspiring

Prof Sam Twisleton for letting us into Sheffield Hallam

Teresa Roche who sent me a ticket when I nearly missed out

All the speakers and those who prepped stuff and the loads of enthusiastic teachers and Ed people who continue to remind me the Ed future might actually be safe.

oh and twitter people, some of whom came to life!

Oh and two of  my favourite quotes

Ros Wilson – What you doing? Why you doing it? What will you do with it? If the answer is you don’t know -don’t do it.

Mary Myatt – “The word assess comes from the Latin assidere, which means to sit beside. Literally then, to assess means to sit beside the learner.” 



Chemistry Practicals in the new world

There has been an interesting debate on the MyRSC  “Talk Chemistry” and twitter and various blogs which raise an important question for the RSC, for academics teaching and designing courses for Undergraduate Chemists and for schools and teachers.

There is always change – I’m only in touch with the changes to A Level Chemistry, AS Level Chemistry, and around the corner GCSE Chemistry; the profound changes over practical work.

Universities will have changed too, new techniques, scrapping old pracs, developing new skills – I am slightly guessing at this though.

So will new and young teachers in school have the skills to deliver practical work and perhaps more broadly motivate pupils as they once had or actually need in this “new world”? Can they do a good demo? Can they deliver the organic prep the new spec demands? Have they even used the kit they find in a school under financial pressure where Chemistry puts most of its capitation down a drain? Seeing some of the nonsensical practicals suggested for AS and A or at least the slightly odd quantities will teachers (old and new) know where to turn for proper advice – CLEAPSS, RSC, ASE – sure but exactly WHERE – they are busy people?
Is it time for the RSC to take a snapshot of practical work at UG level and bring together the skills developed in UG courses and design any necessary training courses for potential and actual teachers in secondary. What role “old hands” like me who should be able to help show how show a good demo ( patter and all) or point out the pitfalls.

Over my career of 34 years in comprehensive school classrooms – the magic, the mystery of Chemistry is delivered through a range of activity but practical activity caught me in school and I daresay caught you – is anyone making sure practical work isn’t sidelined to the side bench?

We know sometimes physics or biology colleagues struggle with doing some of our Chemistry practicals – probably easier and more comfortable to hit youtube – so Chemists let’s stand up and be counted and ensure whether it is assessed, sidelined by exam boards or rubbished – that we maintain experimental Chemistry at the heart of our lessons, our teaching and our future workforce of Chemists.

Meanwhile let’s see just what the score is!

Monday period 4 – Are you sitting comfortably? Then I’ll begin

This is blog to put storytelling back into the heart of outstanding work in school. However you wrap it up much of an attention grabbing, motivating, challenging moment is – a story.IMG_0640

I can see it being a challenge in Maths but beyond that storytelling should be at the heart of great lessons, great assemblies and purposeful conversations with pupils and parents. If I am honest it’s what I will miss most when I eventually retire – telling a story and engaging learners to start their journey of Education. In fact for some may even evoke memories ( hopefully good ones) of storytelling times.

And a big thank you for a tweet from Gareth Williams (@gwill72)
“Pratchett, Stewart and Cohen suggested our genus should be Pan Narrans, the Storytelling Ape



  • Stories hook pupils
  • Stores fascinate pupils
  • Stories stimulate curiosity
  • Stories grab attention
  • Stories motivate
  • Stories allow the teacher to light up the classroom

Stories underline challenging learning, introduce it, develop it, help with recall and stories can be short and brief and pointed, they generate curiosity

In the classroom
time for learning is precious, literally every minute is important so as a teacher you need to justify the storytelling. I think there are plenty of reasons (above) but a few minutes of a well told anecdote and gripping story grab attention, fascinate, drive up curiosity and frankly are at the heart of learning. I do apologise a little as I think my subject (Chemistry) has the very best stories! In fact since 1992 I have taught my lessons by stories. Those are highlighted separately but as part of my plenary, part of my conclusions or as the meaty part of the lesson are *stories* to help understand, build knowledge, motivate and synthesise. I want to say a very daring thing – we sort of know what makes a bad lesson turn out bad, we know what needs doing to turn the learning around from inadequate to satisfactory ( hey I know Ofsted use RI but this isn’t ofsted speak this is classroom speak). What I am not sure about is making good lessons become outstanding but I reckon decent storytelling sits at the heart. Not only grabbing attention, but hooks to help recall of knowledge and also to challenge pupils – if X really thought that back in the 21st Century – who is doing that now. If Y discovered that, then so might I. If this solved a problem of drug development, then I might be able to do that. To me it adds a moral purpose too.

Chlorine-LAnecdote > Chlorine- saved incalculable numbers of lives by purification of water; ridding us of cholera and other diseases but misused in WW1 cost many lives too. We have got a story worth telling and with some Wilfrid Owen poetry brings us to a position where pupils listen all the more carefully to my lesson on Chlorine “it’s properties and reactions” – and remember it and may even challenge them into their future career directions, or choices.

I guess this is more obviously where a good story tells the message. Elsewhere I have written of the disproportionate effort necessary for good assemblies but at their heart is brilliant storytelling

Here are two examples:

1 During the Football World Cup I saw an interview with Gary Linekar saying he practiced penalty taking 50 -60 times after yes after everyone completed training. So while others tired and exhausted went for their showers, he stayed out maybe on his own, and the secret = practice = hard work. Check the stats on his penalty taking too! Wow I thought we can help children understand greatness cannot be achieved overnight but needs hard work and with hard work -who knows?FullSizeRender

2 I once read of a Uruguayan rugby team who were lost in the Andes and had to consider eating the flesh of the dead to survive.  “Alive” is a great story full of drama and tears, with a continuous unfolding of the. Story from the 70’s to date. This became the basis for one of my very favourite post 16 assemblies ” when is it right to do something which is wrong?”

As a long serving teachers, SLT ( and many others)  have all seen pupils “turn it round”. Pupils that are a bit like the pupil sat in front of you: yes the upset pupil, the bullied pupil, the bullying pupil, the “I’m not sure any more about A Levels” pupil. The poorly attending pupil, the one with special needs not being addressed, the one with stuff happening at home. So have a story to uplift, to bring hope, to challenge and to help. It’s not the main discourse with the pupil that’s much deeper but the view that there was someone like you who….got through, made good, turned it around, found an answer….might just be important to this pupil.

The same is true of discussions with parents. This is more challenging but knowing your parents and their story it might help to have an anecdote and a story to hand. I try never to conclude a fixed term exclusion meeting without sparing a separate word for the parents. I don’t try and engineer a story but I do need to help them – I might need to challenge them, to tell them a home truth, to put something up to date before them and a story might help.


I’ve never been much good at cover lessons. I feel bad for the children that their teacher is missing and so I always try and teach them, especially as a senior leader I think it is really my duty and only rarely with other stuff pressing down have I said “sit down, shut up and do this work so that I can get on”. Of course I try and do the tasks set by any absent staff where that has been left, but peppering with stories can really help bring a lesson to life which might otherwise be dull.

Personal Stories? Maybe
Can we share personal anecdotes, stories from our own lives or families? Well I guess this is controversial and its up to colleagues to be comfortable but the occasional story can help with engagement. I have told of stuff that has happened relevant to the lesson.Perhaps mostly about incidents in my own journey with Chemistry – where I inadvertently made a few crystals of explosive Nitrogen Triodide, or where I met a Nobel winner and nearly embarrassed myself.image 2(3)

So here are some headings I drive around my brain finding for Chemistry Stories and watch for a post with some of these in more detail.

  • Origins of chemistry
  • History of chemistry
  • The story of an element
  • Characters  in chemistry
  • The obviously famous chemists
  • The less well known chemists
  • The bad chemists
  • The controversial chemists
  • Preset frontier chemists 
  • Events in chemistry
  • Discoveries in chemistry
  • Inventions in chemistry
  • New products from chemistry
  • Changed ideas in chemistry
  • Prize winning chemists
  • Daft chemists

Some Questions

Q1 If you are a teacher does your subject have great stories? And do those stories bring a magical enchantment to your pupils in your lessons?

Q2 If you are not a teacher, do you remember lessons, or school or teachers and is any of that memory from stories or anecdotes ?

If you work in a church school

Proverbs 1:6.  –for understanding proverbs and parables (stories) the sayings and riddles of the wise

Matthew 13:13     This is why I speak to them in parables: ‘ though seeing, they do not see; though hearing, they do not hear or understand.

Genesis 39:17 Then she told him this story


part 4 – from good teaching to great teaching

I am deliberately avoiding calling this “Good to Outstanding”. Ofsted can do what they wish but I want to see great teaching and learning and do very often. We teachers always try and produce good lessons and positive learning but we have bad days, pupils have bad days; whole school stuff disrupts, SLT disrupt! However we can consider moving from good to great with a sustainable manageable approach, bringing inspiration, inspiration, inspiration – that get’s pupils learning by definition! Here are my top ten:


1 Great teachers know their subject inside out

Not only do they have good knowledge of their specifications, they have a wide grasp of their subject. They understand it very well, they can apply ideas and synthesise them. This is not about pedagogy (yet) it’s about wisdom in the subject. It’s about keeping up to date, reading, identifying interesting stuff in the news or other media. It’s about maintaining a network of contacts to follow the latest developments. It might even be about visiting places of interest like museums or going to lectures, of picking up podcasts. It might even mean rereading text books. Always try to find time to read and expose yourself to new stuff in your subject.


imagesCA5QXQ852 Knowing the tough topics and lessons

It takes time to suss out what pupils find hard and of course it varies by ability and age but this is the next critical aspect to make a sustainable difference. What topics pupils find hard and challenging ; what skills they need that prove difficult to develop. Its about knowing the best introductions to topics, the best conclusions, the most effective assessments ( formal or informal) that help build confidence and show the teacher what needs to be done next. Our big duty as teachers of KS4 and KS5 exams is to ensure our pupils know what they have to do to achieve a given grade and then teach them to those standards. Be absolutely clear what they must do to get that A* or that E whatever is appropriate. Phrases like “they need to work harder” or “just understand more” are probably correct but of little value to the pupil who is willing and works hard. However knowing what they need to know and do, we work backwards to build that into the day to day week by week lesson plans. I’m not keen on lots of past papers and exam practice I’m very keen on my students understanding my subject. This is a big challenge when we all face new specs but hang it we all face that – so look out for blogs, read exam boards support stuff and  well much won’t change – if pupils find equilibrium difficult now in the GCSE spec, they probably will next year with the new spec.
3 Maintain enthusiasm, humour and jazz

imagePupils love a teacher who knows their stuff, they enjoy the relevant anecdote or story telling and they like a touch of humour. (Great teachers do not grow old they just lose their class) They like to try and distract you and …you know it. You have taught for a good while now, so you know what works, what goes down well and you should milk it for all it’s worth. Hone and refine the skills – you should feel like the conductor of the orchestra.

4 Know your pupils inside out

G0414677Some of the older pupils you taught when younger or came across in your football team or orchestra, maybe even had a run in as a head of year. You might well have taught an older sibling. So you understand the dynamics of the family and you know how they are likely to respond and for those you don’t know so well, you know your school community better. You also know how to handle the reactions. If you have to call home about homework there are after all only a few responses from parents: “thank you for telling us/so what/we don’t have any issues from other staff it must be you”. So you know what to say in response, you know who else to mention on the SLT if necessary. Exploit this to raise standards, to flush out more work and better quality work. All that investment in the craft of the classroom over recent years should after all bear fruit. It really isnt a blank canvas. You should know the G&T the SEND and more-so you should know what works and what doesn’t, so take it in your stride.

5 Systems

You know all ISS_Flight_Control_Room_2006of the school systems such as those for behaviour management and discipline those for reporting problems and those for reporting achievements and awards and merits etc. You know when reports are due and mocks or tests come along BUT by now you should be able to work a system which suits you and your subject. No whole school assessment system can suit every subject, so where do you need to branch out? When do you need your own mock, when do you need an extra assessment. You also know the rhythm of school and seasons, for example it’s not a good idea to leave a really difficult 3 week topic to mid winter; you know when illness is at its worst and can sort out work around it. You have a sense of the need for a really really outstanding lesson to lift spirits ( yours and theirs). You know what to do about ill pupils, about those who get stuck ( see me after the lesson? – not really going to work is it; what does work?). So within this class this group add a layer of your own systems to supplement the schools

6 Confidence and Resilience image

You can be confident in the classroom, a confident teacher, a confident behaviour manager, a confident leader. Ooze that confidence to your pupils and ooze it so much that your pupils pick it up. They need more confidence and resilience, make sure you pass that on to. How? Well by inspiring their progress and pointing out how far they have come -as much as the distance they still have to go. Help develop them as independent learners; it wont be easy and it definitely wont be less work but it will likely be a greater impact on their state of mind. Tell them -this topic is tricky and tell them when they’ve got it and of course when they have not got it. They need to go into your exam full knowing a) this subject is tricky b) I have to work hard but I have worked hard and c) I have been well prepared and can perform. It’s no different to the big football game or England vs Australia for the world cup ….oh hang on.

Then there is resilience, the ability to cope with stuff thrown at you and designed to throw you. You cope quite well with that, have a think how you do so, think what wisdom has brought you to the point of coping better now than the last time you faced that issue. You need to bottle this, not least for yourself ( see end of post) but also to start to work out how to pass this on to those pupils who need to develop it all too.

7 Activities and resources

You have plenty now, as above you know what works and what is still weak. Look ahead if that Powerpoint didn’t work last year it needs a tweak. That lesson which was rather boring and lost the pupils, does it need something extra. SOmetimes though, be frank the topic is boring the lesson can be boring and this bit of learning is boring that’s how it is but you should know this now.You alos know the subtle bits, you know sometimes that some content isn’t covered so well and needed more time but it’s now time for revision. OK you are the wise professional balance the time carefully for the pupils. When they say ” have we finished the spec yet?” reply confidently “not quite yet but we will and more importantly how do you feel your understanding of the spec is going?”



8 Talk, converse, chat, discuss…..

I have taught for 34 years but I still love chatting Chemistry to my colleagues. Still asking what I might do to improve. Still observing an NQT or a student and thinking that is clever. Still talking about classes. I recently had a Y13 who were very quiet and so I spent much time with a colleague discussing what we might try to do, even discussed them with other subject staff. Talk to SENCO, talk to HoYr talk to parents and most important talk to the pupils. Check you spend as much time talking children and subjects as you do moaning about me (the head/SLT) or the government or the weather. However do have a moan. we all need that.

9 Data, pupils or surprises

imageYou must know by now there is a lot of data for you. FFT (new)  Sims, prior knowledge and especially exam board performance data on question level etc etc Use it but not without care or discrimination.  Your own analysis of previous pupils performance tells you a lot – do they do better on exams or coursework; this bit of this unit is really challenging. When you check how your pupils performed on Q3 of paper 1 last year that was to inform you as to what to do this year – the same or different. Yes maximise those marginal gains. Data should show no surprises. I had a conversation the other day ” We were disappointed not to get more A*”. Should some pupils have got A*? Did they get A* in other subjects? Were their various targets A*? If the answer was their prior performance  predicted no A*, like everyone be the optimist and sure “aim high” we all need that. However stop beating yourself up, be realistic, be of sober judgment, sure aspire, we heads love all that but the job needs to be sustainable and enjoyable as well as all the inflicted pressures – try not to add to that yourself or on your colleagues. However more important then being level 5b or blue ladder 6 or smiley face yellow is “you know this, understand that can do the other and NOW to improve you need to do this….” Knowing pupils not knowing data is critical. Data should avoid surprises – I had no idea she was that good/bad/struggling etc

10 Inspire, Reward and Challenge……and honesty

You teach a great subject, yes? You teach generally great pupils yes? You know how the classroom heart beats yes? Good, good, now capitalise on all that inspire them, praise them and when they slip challenge them or when they get it challenge them even further. Oh and you make a few mistakes, the odd idea doesn’t work – you are big enough now to admit it, share it and sort it, not under the table but on the table.

other responsibilities

My last point isn’t advice but challenge. My guess is you also have responsibilities three

1 Family – don’t neglect your rightful duties to families not just children but parents and grandparents too and friends who need you. It’s a challenge

2 Other responsibilities in school . After 4/5 years you might well have other responsibilities: pastoral as a heads of year or academic as a subject lead or other jobs like student mentor etc etc. You need to fulfil these duties swiftly, clearly and deftly but the key difference you make is as a classroom teacher and that is in the day to day in the classroom.

3 Yourself. I’ve seen too many people who end up burnt out, or cynical or the poorer in the job. It’s never simple to say why but make sure you look after yourself. Personally this is the one I find hardest. Getting to the gym, taking enough time off, reading for pleasure etc etc check out the #teacher5aday and enjoyreading what others are thinking about and doing and check yourself. Why not get a critical friend to help you? My previous head often emailed me at 10pm saying get off that **** computer and talk to the family.

imageAND be uplifted to be a GREAT teacher isnt even rocket science you can do it and be the great teacher you can be.




Tuesday Period 4 – Subversive activity

So if, like me, you are a teacher preparing for Tuesday period 4 here is something to help us. Do not be caught out, just be prepared, make sure you have planned and stay calm.

Hang on! For what?

If you are reading this you are a good or outstanding teacher, or you support them or help create them, and sustain them. I want you to imagine you preparing your  most liberated lesson. Yes imagine no Ofsted telling you what to do (in fact I’m not sure they do really). Imagine no governors or Head telling you what to do ( that may not be difficult if they don’t really tell you) and imagine no SLT interference. I am SLT so I know we really do tell you what to do, because each of us often tell you something different.

So this time the only matter to worry about is you and the class. Bet you are smiling, this is what you came into teaching for, this is the dream and vision you had all those years ago (or not so many years ago). Now I want to warn you, want to do so big time because now you are about to discover the subversives, yes now stripping away accountability you spot the subversives.  Not the subversive staff,  the subversive pupils, yes whilst we all worry about all those we are accountable to, there are those cunning individuals preparing disruption on a potent scale. They are in the disguise of older pupils usually matured and effective by Y13 but equally competent in Y12 and mastering the art in years 9 to 11. The art of teacher distraction , played out to avoid….a test, an e=assessment, a topic which feels “hard”

This is not silly behaviour issues, of course not,  they know you and me are good, they won’t mess us around, oh no they have discovered a more subtle approach. Operation Distraction.

I first learnt this at school myself. Back in a Grammar School in Coventry ( note Coventry; bombed, blitzed, historical Cathedrals new and old, Coventry) I was in the first generation to learn German and French not Latin and French (oh Mr Gove where were you?). Our German teacher (strictly our German Master) gave us a mini lecture on the Weimar Republic, the rise of national Socialism, and practical matters such as why the salute was so deeply offensive and why we mustn’t bring any light heartedness about such into the classroom. One occasion when we did, he changed, he halted from being our teacher, he reran his lecture taking almost the full hour. We were stunned, but we noted how he was riled, and whilst one of us had to suffer a Saturday morning detention it was worth it, not for the lecture, but to avoid the planned lesson , especially the vocab or grammar tests. (another blogpost will reveal the results at O Level of such a tactic from a class of 32 boys taught in the same class for every subject every year for 5 years).

So dear reader watch for the subversive, they come in various shapes and sizes

1)    The very personable polite enquirer (PPE), the pupils equivalent to the progressive teacher. These take an interest in the everyday lives of teachers “How was the weekend Sir? How is your sick kitten? Sir we have all been wondering as no one has mentioned her again. The affable subversive

2)    The educational politicist subversive. (EPP) These are able to draw out us to distraction by picking up the debates from twitter or even a quick look at the TES.  “Surely you agree with Mr Gove’s latest idea Sir? Do you really think the GCSE is harder?” “Do you think Ofsted would…?”

3)    The pseudo academic subversive (PAS) shows a more subtle approach, by bringing stuff up during the lesson rather than at the start. Their’s is a distraction tactic. “Miss, didn’t you say we should have all read…. only it made me seriously consider…?” “Miss can you remind me where was that article about what an unpleasant if brilliant man Haber was?” Especially colleagues you must be very aware of the A* grade PAS who can also pick the topics which so much more easily get the teacher riled. Along the lines… “My great Uncle is a Chemist, he says the most important aspect of Chemistry is pH Sir, not atoms and bonding, which you occasionally mention.” (Note the politeness). “This is based on his study of Anfinsen when he won his Nobel prize, stated every young man who wants to be a scientist should study pH, Sir.” This sends you into Wikipedia whilst you set some hurried task to the class, in response to your part embarrassed (Who? Did he? Is this Unlce correct?) and in preparation for the return volley. All of which really deserves a QED because the test you were going to give…well it just doesn’t happen

4)    My last group are the wind up subversives (WUS). I have to say I have a secret admiration for these pupils. They are a mature version of group one. They discover your Achilles heel, for example that you are a Coventry City supporter. Mid lesson as they see you about to announce the test having given a few minutes to “check the notes” they come out with. “Sir, what did you think about Coventry buying back their ground thanks to that huge donation from Qatar?” These comments have enough truth to stun , to stop you in your tracks.


Of course none of us really fall for this, we know how important are relationships with children, we know the delicate balance of getting them involved and getting them thinking outside the box of the classroom, in fact we are actually hoping to create subversives because we come from a PGCE course where we all read…..”teaching as a subversive activity” but from now on colleagues do not allow a single chink on the armour of making those carefully made lesson plans be executed according to your plans, not ever ever distracted by subversive pupils. They are a much bigger problem than Ofsted will ever present.

I once planned a technically challenging and innovative practical for my Y12 Chemists. Like you I then thought long and hard about the students and the lesson and just knew many wouldn’t be able to get it to work with such complex kit. I then face the rare and unusual comment “oh this experiment didn’t work” so my decision was in addition to demonstrate the set up. So after looking over the instructions with them, there it was a demo of how to connect up the kit to make a conducting polymer. “Now just before you get going…are there any questions?” “Yes Sir?” What’s that Anna ?( not her real name she’s a fully qualified Dr now, and you never know…) “Yes Sir……..where did you buy that necktie, in fact where do you buy all your wonderful neckties?” …and by the end of the explanation and the rant…she didn’t get to the practical.


NB for those of you who are outstanding teachers you will have spotted more subversive pupils, click on reply and add their styles – let’s get them back.

By the way Sir “how did you enjoy Warhorse at Bradford Alhambra?”

Some questions to consider

Q1 How do we encourage pupils to “think”, to “question” and “argue” without hijacking our planned lesson, and without it becoming effectively low level disruption?
Q2 Teaching has relationship at it’s heart, we like to take an interest in our pupils, so are we surprised when they take an interest in us? We can say “not now” or “not about this particualr matter” Of course we can, but how do we keep the balance?
Q3 Some points made by pupils bring spark and life to a lesson so how can we foster this to make progress and help support achievement?

For those in a faith community
Moses and Aaron got into trouble in the OT when the suggested to Pharaoh they take a break Pharaoh wanted none of it.
Exodus 5: 4 -5
“Who do you think you are?” Pharaoh shouted, “distracting the people from their work? Get back to your jobs!”
In the NT Jesus wanted a focus on the call people felt was from God. Ultimately Jesus himself had to be fairly single minded in approaching his work on Earth
Luke 9:62
But Jesus told him, “Anyone who lets himself be distracted from the work I plan for him is not fit for the Kingdom of God.”

Friday Period 5 – Perseverence

I doubt any teacher reading this hasn’t stood in silence in the summer term and looked long and hard at THAT piece of paper. The timetable appears in our pigeon hole or active in the new season of sims. We all look to check which classes, how many non contacts, but above all we head in one direction, to Friday period 5. The last lesson of the week, what I am teaching?

I love Friday p5. Except this year when I am free (more later). Friday p5 means the week of formal work is almost over and the weekend beckons. The bigger gap (a weekend) between a period 5 and the next period 1 (Monday) gives a welcome breather to staff and of course pupils. Don’t worry I haven’t forgotten Sunday periods 3, 4, 5……etc but wine O’clock, beer O’clock or frankly just BreakfromSchool O’Clock all beckon.

For several years…

What I have learnt is Friday p5 needs prep like no other lesson. Oh I know some lessons need a lot of attention when difficult concepts or challenging skills have to be delivered, or even when feedback is not going to be easy ( after mocks when we feel we worked harder than our pupils). But Friday p5 is a challenge. Pupils are ready for home, staff can see the light at the end of a tunnel, even the TES ran their articles “Thank God it’s Friday” .
What I have found is:

  • Plan a Friday period 5 lesson well in advance
  • Now prepare that really good lesson (as always) with the fine tuning
  • Take the teaching and learning seriously (no easing up just for Friday p5). It may be difficult for us as teachers to be so challenging on Friday p5. But try, don’t give up
  • Don’t go soft and bring in cakes and biscuits – neither choose that easy lesson, maintain your standards. Do what we say on Monday period 1 > persevere
  • Think all the more carefully how the class and individuals will react
  • Choose activities to suit but keep up your passion and inspirational leading, your pupils usually follow.

I’m a chemist so we have a great subject to deliver and there is an array of weapons for defeating any Friday p5 blues from demo’s, practicals, videos, software as well as the reading, quizzes, worksheets powerpoints and of course for us just great chemical stories. For several years I had a Friday p5 and Monday p1 ‘double’. Yes two lessons split by the weekend. I tried to have a ‘practical Friday’. We (class and me) agreed we were not at our best and so we would take a slower pace and do a practical. This soon turned out to be an error on my part as some pupils sat back, didn’t engage, let others do the practical and then did not learn the skills. The practical did not help the theory. On the Monday when we came to look over the results I faced a spectrum from those who couldn’t remember what we had done to those who had lost results, with little in between. I was tempted to do a rerun demonstration but that sent a message equivalent to ‘forget Friday p5 he’ll do it all again”. I have done tests and assessments Friday p5 too, they don’t bring out the best but they are of course necessary.

But school is more than just that timetable and so as the Friday 3.30 bell rings out school and rings in the weekend it’s farewell. For us, bus duty has an additional ring. “Enjoy the weekend, get a rest, have a break, do your work well” is a great message to pupils getting on the bus but it’s not a bad one for staff.

So this year I am free Friday p5 and find it difficult to be productive – I struggle to do any serious planning for the next week, I am too tired to do marking and it seems to be less books per hour than it does at other times. I try to think what might be happening in the next week and planning that to save time and worry on Sunday period 3, but frankly not much comes very easily. In fact it is my response to a first non contact in 30+ years which has made me think all the more of the importance of lesson prep for Friday p5 and of course all our lessons. Way back in the early 80’s on teaching practice my mentor said to me that every hour long lesson needed an hour planning – he might have been right but I have neglected that, perhaps inevitably as an SLT member. The hour you leave for prep can be hijacked by some crisis, or ‘more important’ task and too often my lesson Friday p5 wasn’t prepped by an hour but by 15 min the night before and 50 metre ( journey from office to classroom). There is a lesson in there and it isn’t an outstanding Friday p5 one.

I’ve done some Friday p5 covers this year, looked at the class on sims and wondered…what mood will they be in? What work has been left? How best do I tackle…. and I have found the solution. Just arrive with the big smile and say it’s Friday period 5 lets get this last hour of learning done really well and then it’s the weekend. So with an enthusiasm covering  my state of mind we crack on together.

One last thing though. Friday p5 has a little gem of a bonus. Possibly six times a year it is swallowed up in an end of half term event. In my school we never finish a half term early, school time is too valuable….well and we can’t get buses any other time! My lesson prep planner says: Christmas liturgy, Easter, Sports awards, Summer farewell. As a younger teacher this meant nothing to do save escort my class or tutor group, and reflect with them the term passed and the holiday ahead. Or as I recall in my first school keep my y11 tutees from being rude about the Heads final assembly ‘ the best part of the holiday can be likened to the first bite of the cherry, after which a little has been lost”. Same words every year. As part of our SLT there are now the arrangements to be made for a whole school activity; logistics to plan, and the cajoling and supporting of others leading those occasions. Some planning as to what should be celebrated, in what appropriate manner and by whom.


Over the course of a year I think these 40 Friday period 5 sessions epitomise a lot of what schools are about:

  • Teaching and learning at the sharp end of making the very best of the time in a classroom;
  • Of enthusiasm and passion in the face of personal and pupil fatigue
    Of what might be important in the wider community and family, well and frankly in life -ours as teachers, for our pupils and for our community
  • A reminder of the work life balance and that rhythm of life for pupils and staff
    the reinforcing of ethos – what a school, a school leader, a teacher and a pupil think are important and expect.

I think there is a special magic about Friday period.

Oh hang on – Friday period 5 finished and Friday period 6 mean it’s the deputy head detention night……oh well let’s see if anyone is waiting, even that’s all part of the magic too.


Some questions to consider

Q1 How do we help our pupils to learn about perseverance, can it only be modelled? Or can we teach it, mark it and inwardly digest it?

Q2 What about when we feel like giving up or giving in, what is it makes us persevere?

Q3 Is perseverance too difficult a concept, it’s not a proper skill, just get back to teaching facts? Hey….. Employers want them to be able to write a decent letter, not interested in perseverance? Hmmm


For those in a faith community

The NT is full of references to perseverance, even the classic reading for the wedding day in the character of true love. Paul seems to realise it’s pretty necessary and commends the Roman Church for showing such.

1 Corinthians 13:7

Love always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres

James 1:4

Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.

2 Peter 1:6

and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness;

Rev 2:2

I know your deeds, your hard work and your perseverance.