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Thank you #rEDScot
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It’s a bit like standing above a pool of cold, deep water and daring to jump in, isn’t it? My first Pedagoo post…..Can I do it? Think how good I’ll feel if I do…..No, I’m too scared……I’ll let him just go first…..Oh no wait, now he’s beaten me too it….I’m useless……Oh maybe not….deep breath….Splash!!

Back in the spring of last year I got caught up in a Twitter debate about the need for teachers to engage in research. Whilst I could absolutely see the point of what was being said, I asked how on earth teachers were supposed to fit in research along with the hundreds of other tasks that fill their days (and nights). Wasn’t creating an expectation that they should do research just another way of making them feel inadequate when they couldn’t find the time?

And then came my discovery of the debunking of Brain Gym and Learning Styles. “What?” I cried, feeling entirely defensive and embarrassed at having launched a ‘Learn to Learn’ programme in several schools which has both within its content…..”But I DID research around those! I read shiny, published books by Alistair Smith and others and they’d done LOADS of research in writing those books….” I felt let down (as well as stupid) and thought indignantly that if, as teachers, we don’t have time personally to do the research, we should surely be able to trust the ‘big names and the shiny books’.

And in such a frame of mind, my eye fell upon a tweet from Mark Healy about researchED Scotland. Late to the Twitter party and not at all knowledgeable about researchED, I decided to go along and see whether it would be able to help me with my malaise about the relationship between educational research and practice.

What was I expecting? Maybe something above my head and overly intellectual. I suspected, having driven for 2 hours to get there, that I might duck out at lunchtime and get back to my family. It was Saturday, after all.

What did I find? Passion, connection, challenge and stimulation and some answers to my questions, plus a few more questions to ponder…Do I have any part to play in the research debate as someone who fell for Brain Gym? Yes, as Tom Bennett said, everyone within the education eco-system has a right to talk to everyone else in that system.

Is the research always 100% to be trusted? No. As George Gilchrist said, sometimes we stop, take stock and have to ask “what have we been doing for the last five years?” before moving on and trying something different. What worked 2, 5 or 10 years ago may not work any more.

If the research provides compelling evidence that we should teach in a particular way, should we ignore it? No, said Anne Glennie. Not in terms of teaching reading and when we are risking the future wellbeing and life-chances of our children.

Is IQ testing outmoded as a useful benchmark? No; Andrew Sabisky has a LOT of data and evidence that proves otherwise. Can it assess all types of intelligence? No… but then the definition of intelligence is the stuff of another huge debate…

Can we half-do Mindset interventions? Mark Healy and Marc Smith would argue not. Everyone in the institution needs to understand the theory and walk and talk the values. But this can be problematic when the system we are working in is based on different values. Character education must be a good thing, right? Not necessarily. Gary Walsh explained that the jury is out and that we need to continue to seek hard evidence of its benefits.

And where exactly is the love? Well, my love has found a new recipient. His name is David Cameron and my tweet, after attending his session was “Your talk today was the most inspirational 40 minutes of my educational life. You are my new hero and I actually love you.”

The key messages of his talk? Don’t be blinded by research that isn’t. Don’t allow politics to rule education. Use relevant, pertinent data to inform developments. And “it is better to try in the face of incorrectness than to give up on children’s lives.”

I stayed until the bitter end and was sorry not to be able to join the others in the pub after the final panel session. I left with my faith in research, passion and debate restored. I know to be a little more cautious of the big names and shiny books in future….but also that passion and meaningful research can combine to create the best possible outcomes for our learners. Thank you so much to all those who made it happen and brought researchED to Scotland.

Re-framing challenging behaviour
Teaching the unteachables

In ten years of teaching I can specifically recall on one hand the names of pupils who had me down and out on the classroom ring floor in terms of their excessive challenging behaviour. Each teaching moment with these pupils created a daunting sensation in the pit of my stomach and overwhelming emotions of incompetency, where I believed myself to be ill equipped to manage their behaviour.

Those un-teachable moments can shatter your confidence and make you question your ability to teach effectively. Experience has taught me that the repertoire of behaviour strategies is often not creative enough to tackle and address the challenging behaviour of some pupils. Sometimes a re-thinking of the problem is what is required and often it can be as simple as meeting the child where they are, on a cultural, social, morale and peer hierarchical level.

How can we help teenagers and young adults to overcome self-defeating beliefs and habits from holding them back?

On episode 27 of the Inspiration 4 Teachers Podcast Show, Steve Beckles-Ebusua, a Change and Life Skills Expert, and I discuss simple teaching techniques that can help radically transform a pupil’s behaviour and their ability to re-frame their thought-process.

What behaviour strategies have worked for you in the past?  What would be your ideal solution to address challenging behaviour (regardless of boundaries and resource restrictions)?

Episode take-aways:

  • Overcoming pupils’ self-defeating beliefs
  • How to adapt your teaching to address challenging behaviour
  • Allowing pupils to physically experience the learning

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Shocking CPD
Ideas Thoughts Knowledge Intelligence Learning Thoughts Meeting

Two and a half hours of death by PowerPoint and where the only engagement with a hall of teachers were mini exercises, that if you had pre-read the course material you would have found all of the answers. I’ve been subjected to some pretty poor CPD events, and it makes me angry! Our profession works incredibly hard to raise the aspirations of learners and to ensure that we all have a better future, yet we are often subjected to poor CPD! I want to learn and improve my professional development; any teacher worth their salt wants the same.

Ideas Thoughts Knowledge Intelligence Learning Thoughts MeetingBut how do we construct CPD environments where teachers receive rich professional learning? WE have to construct it for ourselves! On episode 26 of the Inspiration 4 Teachers Podcast Show, Bill Lucas Director of the Centre for Real-World Learning and Professor of Learning at the University of Winchester, shares his experience of teacher research groups to divulge his discoveries on developing rich professional learning communities for schools.

Together Bill and I discuss thought-provoking ideas on constructing safe CPD opportunities for teachers to allow them to develop strategies for experimental learning.

Episode take-aways:

  • Developing rich professional learning communities for schools
  • Constructing safe CPD opportunities for teachers to develop strategies for experimental learning
  • Being brave and honest about the true importance of education

What has been your worst and best CPD experience? What would be our commandments for exceptional CPD?  

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Preparing learners to face the future with a SMILE
Smart kids

“Our task is to educate their (our students) whole being so they can face the future. We may not see the future, but they will and our job is to help them make something of it.” ~ Sir Ken Robinson

Smart kidsIf you agree with Sir Ken Robinson, then you’ll also agree that education serves a purpose bigger than a suite of academic outcomes that only capture part of a person’s ability at the end of the schooling process.  If you agree with that statement, you might also be inclined to agree that our learners need to know how to find their purpose in life, how to be successful but in a manner which ensures their happiness and gratitude.  But how do you squeeze these positive psychology messages into a curriculum that is already overburdened and where teachers lack the time to develop resources that focus on the learners’ well-being?

Gratitude trees are a visual representation of recognising acts of kindness.  They are easily implemented into a classroom environment and can be the first step in a process where our learners embark on a journey of well-being and self-discovery.

On episode 25 of the Inspiration 4 Teachers Podcast Show, Ashley Manuel, Head of PE & Sport at Immanuel Primary School, Adelaide, Australia and founder of Growing with Gratitude has developed a new revolutionary approach to help teachers and learners build positive habits.

Together Ashley and I discuss simple and effective strategies to implement positive habits of well-being into your classroom.

Episode take-aways:

  • Benefits of introducing habits of well-being, happiness and gratitude into your classroom
  • Classroom activities for promoting happiness, gratitude, mindfulness and service
  • How to develop positive and engaging habits
  • Modelling behaviours of service at school and in the community

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Reluctance vs. Positive Wizards

Every remarkable leader throughout our history had a powerful message behind their choice of words, “We must fight them on the beaches…” ~ Winston Churchill, “I have a dream” ~ Martin Luther King and “Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice.” ~ Steve Jobs

It was those motivational speeches that rallied the troops, empowered the marginalised and inspired a generation…

We use powerful phrases all the time in education to teach our subjects, convey models of behaviour and to ignite the passion for learning. But have you ever heard of rallying your positive wizards to overcome reluctance?

As educators we regularly encounter reluctance in our classrooms or when attempting to launch new initiatives. Often the wave of sighs and rolling eyes dents our own enthusiasm, makes us question the validity of our ideas or shakes our ability to inspire our learners. Reluctance in its most basic stubborn form, “I don’t want to”, requires a framework of skills and a suite of motivational phrases to overcome the negative force which refuses to engage. This is the precise moment that you need to channel all of your energies into identifying the positive wizards among your pupils, teaching staff and leaders. Positive wizards are those people willing to embrace new ideas, have a thirst for learning and who are willing to champion your cause.

Julia Skinner, former Headteacher and now founder of the 100 Word Challenge has used positive wizards to champion the most reluctant of learners and most stubborn of staff. And when the conversation is beyond the magical sway of her positive wizards her cunning plans have enticed and achieved resolution.

On episode 24 of the Inspiration 4 Teachers Podcast Show Julia and I discuss how to overcome reluctance and engage not only learners, but teachers, leaders and governors.

Episode take-aways:

  • Deciphering reluctance to engage
  • Identifying positive wizards and using them to your advantage
  • Building relationships and effective communication

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Teacher burnout is preventable!?

Lurking in school staff rooms and offices is a poster tacked to the wall that says, “Bang head here!”

The thought has crossed my mind. In particular, when the escalating pressures of being a teacher start to manifest into physical form; headaches, burning eyes, and knotted shoulders. But despite having super human organisational skills, like most teachers, my strength gets zapped at the end of a school term. Years of recognising the burnout signs has taught me what I need to do to look after myself. But are these time management, wellbeing strategies good enough? Do we need a greater change?

If we discovered more creative ways for the school system to maximize time would we all be in a better position to teach, so that we wouldn’t need tips on how to “hang in there” and keep fighting the good fight. What are your thoughts?

Whilst you deliberate on that point I do have some fantastic tips on avoiding teacher burnout. On episode 23 of the Inspiration 4 Teachers Podcast Show Angela Watson, former teacher and now Educational Consultant and Founder of Due Seasons Press, discusses transformational ideas to overcome burnout, big picture teacher planning and how to make teaching and learning exciting.

Now back to that question. How could we develop a school system that creates more effective use of a teacher’s time and alleviates some of the pressures (assuming that we have no additional resources at our disposal)?  Share your thought-provoking ideas in the comments box.

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The future leaders challenge

Is leadership greatness beyond our reach? Many would have us think so! But the great leaders are everyday people willing to put themselves forward, to do the everyday, day after day, in order to make a change.


But how many great leaders are out there, secretly loitering in the corridors or recesses of school classrooms that don’t perceive their own potential, or believe in their own ability? What are the barriers that hold people back?

At a recent women in leadership event, I discovered some startling facts about women in senior leadership roles. For a profession dominated by women, only 38% of them aspire to headship roles, and women in those roles earn significantly less than their male counterparts! Why is this, and is this why so few women become head teachers?

There are many barriers that prevent women stepping up:

  • The sandwich effect, looking after young children and / or caring for elderly parents
  • Risk associated with increasing accountability measures in schools
  • Lack of good, visible role models
  • Inflexible leadership progression routes and unclear succession planning
  • Blockades created by governors and stakeholder organisations

The list goes on, however the one barrier that sticks in my mind and it is not necessarily a gender issue but a common human flaw, is that we tend to support, encourage and champion talent that looks like us and who we can relate to! But that is not a sound basis for developing future leaders. These barriers should be challenged but in a way that generates thought-provoking discussion about cultivating leadership talent that will create schools that foster dynamic, resilient and prepared learners.

Jill Berry, a former head is one person challenging the barriers women face into leadership roles. Together on episode 22 of the Inspiration 4 Teachers Podcast Show Jill and I discuss how removing some of the leadership barriers can cultivate an environment where talent can flourish.

Episode take-aways:

  • How current leaders can create a talent environment where aspiring leaders are nurtured
  • Enriching professional development
  • Strategies for building relationships

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Employing marginal gains theory to enhance pedagogical approaches

Searching for 1% improvements to teaching and learning!

My throat strained under the excessive screaming and my arms pumped with wild hysteria as I cheered the GB cycling team on to gold at the 2012 Olympic games, but what impressed me the most was the behind the scenes dedication and determination to achieving excellence. 

We have since discovered the secrets to the GB cycling team’s tally of gold medals. It began with a commitment to embed marginal gains theory into every aspect of the GB team’s performance. In short, marginal gains were Sir David Brailsford’s ambition to focus on the small changes in cycling performance that would lead to greater overall excellence and therefore winning.

But can the same concept apply to teaching and the pedagogical approaches we use for learning?

If you categorise every aspect of teaching and learning, you would swiftly have a list of points as long as the hippodrome cycling track! So where to begin? Developing a list of pedagogical approaches most meaningful to learning and determining how your teaching practice fares against each outcome is a daunting prospect and one difficult to quantify. I have deliberated this challenge and developed a model based on marginal gains theory. We can use this model to enhance our pedagogical approaches that lead to transformational learning.

• Evidence – The list of pedagogical approaches fundamental to learning is endless, but which of them are scientifically proven to work? Without strong evidence that these pedagogical approaches support learning to the highest possible standard, you could be trying to change and improve the wrong approaches to learning. I recently investigated which revision strategies actual work to aid learning. I quickly discovered that of the ten most used strategies only two of them actually work, so why not focus on developing, improving and refining the revision strategies scientifically proven to work? So I did and produced a short video and series of resources to help my students.

• Model effective practice – If you are looking to improve an area of your teaching, chances are you need to know what to get better at for the benefit of learning and what you are working towards. So ask yourself, does the wheel really need re-inventing? Or do you need to make slight modifications to the wheel to improve its overall performance? Look towards and connect with other teachers, not necessarily in your own school, that are demonstrating excellent teaching and learning. Share best practices and embed what works into your pedagogical approaches to learning.

• Focus – Follow One Course Until Success, but you can’t achieve that without clarity of vision; which pedagogical approach do you want to improve and therefore achieve? As teachers we do not work in a silo, we have a team to work with on a daily basis, so re-enforce the purpose of the pedagogical approach for learning with your students. If they don’t buy into the learning then the impact will be significantly less. Sir Chris Hoy understood with complete clarity his role within the GB team, to win; and those of his support staff, to help him win! On a daily basis you lead and work with a team of students, so build and foster relationships and above all clarify how you will work together to achieve their success.

• Reflect – Did it work, did it not? The latter is often a better scenario because it forces us to identify and clarify alongside our vision what went wrong, what can be improved and with frequent nudges you can make a greater shift over time. I’m ten years down the teaching line and I am still adapting, pivoting and refining. I can’t control every element, but I can try my hardest to be the best at what I am, and that is an inspirer of minds, a provocateur for learning.

• Refine to excellence – Develop your suite of scientifically proven pedagogical approaches that work. Make changes that improve and drive learning and then repeat the process.

Using John Hattie’s top 11, of 138 influences on student achievement, could provide the basis for selecting which pedagogical approach is going to have the greatest impact on overall teaching and learning. Applying each approach against my process model, should provide you with the basis of a system to achieve your own gold medal level of teaching and learning excellence. A great example of marginal gains in action is discussed on episode 21 of the Inspiration 4 Teachers Podcast Show, with Educating Essex start Headteacher Vic Goddard.

Episode take-aways:

• Strategies that lead to willing parent engagement and participation

• Employing marginal gains theory to enhance pedagogical approaches

• Allowing young people to fail in order to progress

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Image by @IanStuart66Image by @IanStuart66

This is my first ever post on Pedagoo!

After a career in Community Education and Social Services, I decided to return and train as a Primary Teacher, following my probation year I worked for an Education/Care resource for three years and for the past year and a half I have been working in an ASN school.

Two wonderful friends introduced me to Twitter and I began following a wide range of people tweeting about education and educational issues. I discovered #pedagoofriday. I spent many an hour smiling and sometimes laughing out loud at the many brilliant things that class teachers were tweeting about. Mostly, wishing that I could come up with similar ideas!

Earlier this year, I attended the #pedagooprimary event, it was great and I loved meeting other people. Throughout my varied career, I have always loved meeting new people and finding out what things they were doing and, in the main, trying to steal their ideas!

So I took the first step and thought I could organise my own Teachmeet! I blackmailed a few friends into presenting and in turn they roped other friends into presenting, and someone was even brought into the fold through Twitter! I even thought of my own presentation, albeit, not as fabulous as the others. A colleague and friend baked cupcakes (always a good bribe for people attending).

I just wanted to say to everyone, if you want to get involved, just do it! Even if you have five people attending, it is the sharing of ideas and contacts that can make the sometimes lonely job of a teacher so much more and can have an enormous impact on your teaching and learning. Thus benefiting the people we all do this job for- the kids!

Development of Research into Professional Practice

You choose the seat furthest away from the front so that you can talk to your friends and take the mick out of the speaker (I’ve witnessed this enough from others to know it’s not just me). You write notes to each other, whisper and attempt tasks with minimal effort to both get a laugh and avoid looking stupid. Educated professionals can be the worst students because, like the students they teach, they are often gifted and bored.

Just because we are older does not mean we are suddenly capable of learning without limits. We are human. As humans, we get frustrated and bored when faced with unproductive learning experiences. Just like that PP student from a poorly educated family sees no point in learning to write academic essays, teachers who see no immediate purpose to their professional development will find it difficult to engage.

After being subjected to three hours of CPD dedicated to underlining dates and titles (I’m not joking), I can understand very well why pupils whose prior learning is not taken into consideration, pupils who are not challenged or directly engaged through contextualised approaches and pupils who are gifted and bored may get disruptive. We study learning in the classroom to improve outcomes for students and then sit teachers in rows and expect them to respond like sponges to the research presented. This is not the case at every school in the UK. There are many wonderful examples of excellent environments for teacher learning. Unfortunately, such environments are the exception and not the norm.

This week, I visited the Houses of Parliament to celebrate the launch of research commissioned by the Teacher Development Trust. The research tells us what inspired, actively involved teachers already know. Teachers, like all learners, need time, clarity and structured outcomes; they need opportunities to collaborate as professionals in order to hone their trade; teachers need to study pedagogy and subject specific literature to inform their knowledge and practice. Learning needs to be purposeful, high quality, contextualised and continuous.

Many teachers (despite the CPD on offer in house) already make time, set themselves clear goals and develop extensive learning communities through social media and events. This happens out of a desire to improve and takes place in teachers’ own time.Would teachers need to take professional development into their own hands like this if the development on offer ‘in house’ was adequate?

The research produced with the TDT is a great step in the right direction to guide CPD leaders towards doing the right thing. However, professional development leaders (both internal and external) may need to look at teachers as the disillusioned learners they most likely are. Barriers to learning that have built up over years of poor quality CPD will need to be carefully removed if cultures and beliefs are going to change.

As a CPD leader, a learning coach or CPD provider, how can you reengage the disengaged? I am training a team of future coaches over the next six weeks. We will be unpicking this question as part of the process. I will reflect as we go but for now, here are some ideas linked to the research.

“Achieving a shared sense of purpose is an important factor for success.”

Link to the full report

Step 1: Listen, observe and get to know the context

“A didactic model in which facilitators simply tell teachers what to do, or give them materials without giving them opportunities to develop skills and inquire into their impact on pupil learning is not effective.”

One size never fits all and generic approaches rarely inspire. Getting to know your learners shows that you are investing time in them as human beings. When we make connections with other human beings, we find it easier to learn from them. This is true of students of any age. If you are delivering professional development in any form, questions first, imparting knowledge later. Nobody likes a “know it all” but when you respect, connect with and feel respected by that “know it all”, you are more likely to engage in what they have to say.

Step 2: Collaborate

“…successful facilitators encouraged and/or helped teachers take on a degree of leadership of CPDL, and, according to the strongest review, treated them as peers and co-learners. This relationship enabled successful facilitators to share values, understanding, goals and beliefs with participants, but also to challenge them successfully.”

Knowing what learning is helps. If observation of lessons is going to make a difference, you need to be able to dissect the learning that is taking place and develop a clear path towards successful outcomes for both teachers and pupils. Teachers often complain about being observed by leaders that are poor teachers, which leads them to distrust the conclusions given about the lesson observed.

Targets for improving pupil outcomes should come from knowledge of pedagogy and subject related issues rather than a list provided by an outside agency. Use subject and pedagogy knowledge to question lesson observations against teachers’ intended outcomes; work together to develop future steps based upon formative discussions. Do not have improved practice in one classroom, or indeed one lesson, as a single end goal to professional development. Have the teacher recognise this process as something that can have an impact upon the wider school community. Develop coaches and CPD leaders as well as better teachers. Plan long term goals together.

Step 3: Follow up on improvements

“…create a rhythm for CPDL, regular school meeting times such as departmental and phase meetings are used as opportunities for following up and tracking learning from CPD sessions.”

The “not another initiative” staff will be provided with ammunition if professional development conversations are one off and never followed up. No matter what fiddly bits of school life must be done, make sure that time is planned in advance to review learning progress. Teaching and Learning is the core business of any school. Keep it at the core. Deep learning does not happen in one off lesson observations and feedback. Continuous professional collaboration can result in a deeper understanding of specific learning targets but not if it is at the bottom of the “to do” list.

Cross-posted from The Learning Geek