Friday, 14 March 2014

Can I be that little bit better at.....improving the quality of students writing in my lessons?




Last month I wrote a guest blog post for Subject Support (which can be found here).  It looked at ways that as a PE teacher I can improve the quality of students written work in theory lessons.  Since then I have had a number of very unrelated conversations about this topic and worked with a number of colleagues on this same problem.  Although I am not a specialist in this field, I am still a huge advocate that I have as much of a duty to develop students reading, writing and general literacy skills as any other colleague.  Simply because I am a PE teacher should not be an excuse or reason why I should see this as the work of other departments (more often than not the English Department).  I feel it unfair that I should feel the benefit of their hard work and do nothing with my students to help support, reinforce or move students competence in this skill forward.  At our school we have a number of whole school literacy strategies that, as individual teachers or departments, we should be following to help develop students literacy.  This is a positive set of strategies and ones which are designed to raise standards.  They work and provide clarity for staff and students.  There is the worry though within my own thoughts that if we are not careful, ensuring we are incorporating such strategies, we make the process a bit of a 'bolt on'.

For a long time (since the Literacy in PE project found here) I have always thought that improving the standards of literacy within students should be something at the heart of teaching.  As a colleague of mine once said (and undoubtedly borrowed from elsewhere), "We are all teachers of English".  And he is right!  Almost everything I do in my theory lessons involves students either verbalising their ideas in a coherent manner or providing a written response to a task, question, problem or challenge.  Using sources, articles and various texts of varying complexities and varying length is also part and parcel of what I do.  With this much need for students to clearly communicate or interpret literature, I have ample opportunity to drive the standards of literacy forward within my teaching without the need to run for a whole school writing mat or PEED poster.  Now there are clearly limits to my expertise (as you will probably spot in the various grammar mistakes in this post!).  I am not even on the same scale as English teachers or literacy coordinators.  What I am able to do though is make how I design my lessons have a coherent message that literacy, particularly written responses, is of huge importance and something that I will strive my hardest to develop over time.  So with this specific focus in mind, can I be that little bit better at developing the quality of students writing in my lessons?  Hopefully the following ways might just be the first step in doing that.

Demonstrating great writing


Articles and texts

I am a huge fan of introducing various depths of reading in lesson.  I find the traditional use of texts books a great starting point for information, but ultimately find them limiting on what they offer in terms a broader spectrum of writing.  As a PE teacher I actively seek out various newspaper/media articles, scientific articles, extracts from books or even the odd research paper.  The amount of literature that is freely available for my subject is extremely vast and very rewarding.  Using, for instance, a scientific paper explaining how the use of carbon fibre as a material for making track bikes in cycling is a much richer source of information than using the generic text book.  The use of specific or key terminology is much more beneficial and models a much higher level of academic writing which I ultimately hope my students can aspire to reproduce.  As a teacher it is vital that students are exposed to such vocabulary so that they can then develop confidence in using them in the future.  They also contextualise the content that I am delivering and allow students to make meaning of some very technical information.  Articles are a fantastic way to stimulate discussion with students and can be unpicked very easily with the class.  Looking at how sentence structure and various tones are used can be as important to highlight with students as the content itself.  Choosing the correct text for students is incredibly important though.  Using tools such as the Google Reading Level Filter (see here) can help select user friendly material that is pitched at the various reading levels.  Taking the time to search, read and share such materials is excellent time well spent and has the potential to reward students writing immensely.  

Examples of excellence

If you have never read Ron Berger's 'An ethic of excellence' I would urge you to do so.  The book is an absolute gem of a read and clearly explains various steps to help develop the quality of students work.  Throughout the book Ron talks about his use of exemplar material with his current students.  The vast majority of this work is produced by students from earlier years.  The remaining materials are sourced from the field of work in which his class are studying (an actual scientific paper if his students are producing work within a science topic).  Ron uses these high quality exemplars as examples of excellence.  He uses them for many reasons but the one that resonates with me the most is how he uses them to help his students develop their writing.  Analysing these excellent pieces of work with his class allows them to be opened up to a world of high quality writing.  By sharing them with his class he is exposing them to a level of literacy and a variety of styles that they might not have ever seen before.  It's this level of inspiration that can help provide clarity for students when embarking on extended writing tasks.  The process of sourcing these examples is relatively easy and one that I encourage all of us to do.  Scan your students books and pick out brilliant pieces of work.  Look through assessment tasks and find high quality answers.  Revisit homework's or projects from previous years and pick out the best that students have submitted.  If not, look to industry to find relevant exemplars which can be used with students and provide sufficient challenge which they can aspire to.  If we aren't sharing high quality writing, do students actually know what it looks like?


Modelling......

Using the various texts, examples of excellence or your own written responses, we can model particular styles of writing or structure that would help our students.  Modelling work allows our classes to visualise and understand the high standard of work that we expect.  It can give students that clear example of what we are aiming for.  Models also provide an opportunity for us to demonstrate excellent structure, vocabulary use, styles of writing and use of grammar (among other things).  As a teacher I aim to model work as much as possible.  Using the white board to project an example or simply sharing copies as handouts allows me to talk through what makes this particular pieces of writing high quality.  The exemplar can also be a great tool and allow students to discuss, analyse and even rewrite some of its sections.  The model itself then becomes 'live' and evolves.  Where it is applicable, I also use a camera (or visualiser) to quickly take photos of students work as it happens.  Displaying this on the screen with students allows me to show high quality work being produced by one of their peers.  Doug Lemov talks about a similar technique called 'Show call' which involves a teacher randomly selecting students work to model via a visualiser during lessons.  The process shows how work is achievable and increases the quality as any piece of work can be selected.  Finally, some of the best models I have seen have been those produced by teachers themselves.  I'll talk more about this later in the next paragraph.

...deconstructing examples....

Although modelling work can be an extremely effective tool, it can also be seen as a step too far for a number of our students.  Occasionally students see these models and fear that this level of work is unobtainable.  They worry that the progression from their own style to this is too big a jump.  This is where a teacher can use their skill to deconstruct it with students and scaffold the process of achieving writing of this level.  At the lesson planning phase think about the model you will be sharing.  What stages did the writer take to get it to this level?  How did they plan this piece of writing?  What key features enable the writer to produce work of this standard?  How would you go about trying to emulate this quality?  Why did they use terminology or vocabulary the way they did?  How big a step is it between your classes current writing the model exemplar?   The key is to look at the model through the eyes of a student you teach.  If the answers to the various questions above result in too many problems or too high a level of challenge, it may require you to rethink your model.  Once the model is suitably challenging, the process of deconstructing it is very helpful.  Show them the process of how writing of this level was achieved.  Break down various sections of the text and build them back up.  Construct examples with your class on the board using the various stages so students see how the process works in action.  These phases of a lesson can produce the biggest lightbulb moments.  If you are brave enough, answer the question yourself in lesson.  Gather students around and show them what your thought process and technique was to construct your opening sentence, or your second paragraph, or your conclusion......  The list of options is endless.  Having such a live demonstration unwinding right there in front of them is a perfect opportunity for developing standards.  The process after that is how to scaffold.

...and scaffolding work

In my eyes, scaffolding should be used up unto the point where the writer is ready to be set free.  The use of writing frames, PEED, success criteria and other techniques are a great to get the process initiated.  When scaffolding how to answer long answer questions (8 marks) in my lesson, I will frequently use IDEA as a way to structure their writing.  The process, supported by modelling and deconstructing examples, allows students to begin their writing.  It allows them to have a plan and thought process behind how they tackle the answer.  It also encourages students to think and plan in a way that they might not have initially thought of.  In a cognitive science role, it minimises cognitive overload and allows students to map out their thinking.  It makes the initial process clear.  The goal though is not to have the scaffold left on forever.  Nor is it to make the process of writing 'easy'.  My aim is to allow students to become competent enough before finally releasing them to create writing that is fluent, academic and rich in character.

Developing specific terminology

Many of the students that I teach in GCSE PE can clearly verbalise what they are thinking. The detail in their answers and explanation of meaning is really quite good when spoken to me.  They may waffle on or taper off but their ideas are generally sound.  Unfortunately a number of students I work with find it difficult to get this on paper in a coherent manner.  They struggle to produce academic writing and frequently use generic language or write how they speak.  As a GCSE subject we need to work hard with students to develop their vocabulary and use of specific terminology.  We then need to introduce them to a breadth of subject specific words that help develop the strength of their writing.  Apart from the various use of texts and modelling outlined above, how can I begin to do this?


Planning to introduce key terms with meanings throughout lessons or scheme

Some students have a limited range of vocabulary compared to peers and this gap can continue to grow throughout life.  Specifically identifying key words and technical terminology that is not only shared but explained and then used in context can be a simple way to increase the range of word use.  In our department we identify key vocabulary throughout the course and ensure that these are shared with students.


Keeping a glossary of terminology 

A simple idea in which a spare few pages at the back of an exercise book can be transformed into glossary of key words.  The key though is to ensure meaning is understood.  Too many times I have seen students misinterpret a word and confuse its meaning in written responses.  Once this glossary is populated, we then need to ensure students use them.

Focusing on these key words

Sharing them and even getting students to write new vocabulary in a glossary or similar format is fine.  As the teacher we need to not think of that as a job done but more importantly design opportunities for students to focus on using key words.  This can come in the form of specifying words that ‘must be included in your sentences’ or even as simple as underlining/highlight these new words in use.  The more frequently that students use this academic vocabulary the better.  The aim is for this level of language to become habit and for students to use it wherever suitable to support their written work.

Expanding general vocabulary 

Bringing in new subject specific terminology is high on most teachers’ minds (especially in subjects like PE or Science) but do we sometimes focus on this subject specific element and forget standard vocabulary?  Working with students to create ‘alternate words’ or synonyms for general language is very important and should be encouraged by us all.  Making lists that students can select from can be a great way to expand their range of vocabulary.  Simple things such as instead of using a word like ‘happened’, students select from a list including ‘transpired, occurred, ensued, materialised’.  Many teachers have shared examples using paint colour cards or 'juicy words' which students are encouraged to use.

Vocabulary Upgrade 

A great idea borrowed from @TeacherTweaks where students check their work before submission and look to upgrade the depth of vocabulary they have used.  A teacher may prompt students to improve 5 words used in a particular piece of writing.  Students may look to replace generic words with specific terminology or even expand general vocabulary as explained above.  The process can also be done in pairs or even through a wider forum such as gallery critique.



Redundant words

When working with journalists last year on a PE project, they were excellent at informing students to focus on 'redundant words'.  In their industry column inch space is extremely valuable.  When going through the editing phase, journalists will cut out words that simply aren't needed.  Many of these are common words such as 'the' or 'that' or 'and'.  Getting students to work similarly when writing is a great way to cut out the random waffling that occasionally takes pace.  After students have written out their answers/essays, have them re-read it and spot opportunities to take the word count down.  Can they restructure a long sentence into something move succinct by removing redundant words and reordering the order? 

Constructing sentences

Once students have begun to develop their vocabulary it is essential that they can use them in a coherent manner.  Constructing sentences for some can be a challenge in itself.  Our subject requires students to explain their understanding of specific topics very clearly. It also requires them to support their understanding with application and meaning.  We also have numerous definitions and key words that are required to be defined before contextualised within a sporting example.  Before the level of modelling and deconstructing working examples, are there any methods I can use to get students to begin to formulate high quality sentences?

Sentence starters – with a difference!

For a while now I have been very adverse to sentence starters.  I always felt the ‘generic’ ones that were shared around were too flat and uninspiring.  Essentially they provide a starting point for developing written responses, but I always felt they lacked challenge or freedom to be creative.  Do they really make students think about what they are writing?  Doug Lemov completely reversed my thinking with his post 'At First Glance: A Sentence Starter Adds Unexpected Rigor to Writing'.  In the post, Doug explains that taking the time to create challenging yet thought provoking sentence starters such as 'At first glance....' is a simple but powerful tool.  The unusual three word prompt, chosen specifically to challenge students, allowed them to articulate some very high responses.  What is the topic you are covering?  What response do you want students to write?  Can you create an interesting three word starter?



Four part process– defining words and creating beautiful sentences

Getting students to define and then craft beautiful sentences is a great skill.  There are a number of fantastic methods to help students structure and support students in the process.  One way that I have found incredibly effective is the four part process borrowed from Lee Donaghy (who in turn borrowed it from Helen Handford).  The process is excellent for defining a key term, idea or piece of terminology.  It forces students to take this point and create a structured sentence from it, incorporating the definition and meaning.  Students pick out the information being defined.  They then select a verb or process that will help link it to the definition.  The important element of the meaning is then added so that a full sentence can be read across the framework.  The process isn’t just finished there though.  The teacher models how to redraft it, constantly refining it so that the sentence becomes more academic in nature.  The process of co-planning and coaching the students helps them understand the requirements needed to build this definition into a response of very high quality.

Live writing

As I mentioned earlier, this involves the process of the teacher taking examples of writing as it happens in the lesson.  This can come from either students or from the teacher.  As students begin to compose their sentences, the teacher can take examples of these and share them with the rest of the class.  Through discussion, analysis and feedback, the sentence can be restructured and improved in front of the class.  The process involves all students via the co-construction of new writing.  It also clearly demonstrates the process of writing excellent sentences.

Excellent sentences

Share examples of sentences that answer a particular question or essay title.  Ask students (either individually or in pairs/groups) to rework these sentences until they are refined enough to become high quality.  Discuss the process of the redrafting and get students to explain why they changed the various components that they did.  The teacher could specify exactly what the students should focus on whilst reworking them (use of key terminology, redundant words etc) or simply allow them the freedom to adapt them independently.

Extended writing

There has become an increasing need for students within GCSE PE to produce extended writing.  The various 8 mark questions within the AQA paper require students to pool together a variety of topics or pieces of information and relate them back to a scenario character.  This requirement happens twice within the exam and requires a lot of thought from students.  Even if this wasn't the case, helping students develop their extended writing is such an important skill to learn.  As non specialists, are there ways in which we can support and teach students how to write longer pieces of work?


Make extended writing the norm

Our GCSE curriculum model has a strong core literacy strand.  As the terms go on, we ask our students to develop their writing piece by piece.  When they get into the third unit we ask focus on exposing our students to as many opportunities for writing longer pieces as possible.  The use of 6-8 mark questions within lessons or even open ended driving questions allows us to create opportunities for focused writing to take place.  The use of higher mark questions can also be an excellent tool for driving content and checking student understanding.

I.D.E.A – Writing longer responses

In the past, many of the students who answered long answer questions in our subject simply listed 6-8 points and believed this sufficient.  The requirements of the exam actually asks students to refine their ideas into a few points and explain them in detail.  It involves students seeing connections between various topics and comparing, analysing, evaluating and explaining relationships between them.  Writing frames can be incredibly beneficial to help structure this process.  Many people are familiar with PEED, but we use IDEA instead.  The process asks students to following the following steps:

I – Identify – The piece of information or aspect that they would like to talk about.
D – Define/Describe – State the definition or describe the thing you are focusing on.
E - Explain – In your own words, demonstrate that you understand the meaning.
A – Apply - Relate it to an example or put it into context.

Students plan out their written response using the framework as a guide.  When you combine the four elements, it produces the basis of a well thought out paragraph.  For longer answer questions (like the AQA GCSE PE 8 mark questions), this process can be repeated a number of times to explore different points. 
It is important to stress though that IDEA is the beginning of developing improved written responses.  After students have sufficient skill in various techniques, the framework should be removed to allow students more creative freedom in their writing.

So where now?

This is just the beginning and hopefully a step away from having literacy as a bolt on to our subject.  What we feel is that literacy is now a core component of our subject and the need for students to write has become common place.  We are still a million miles off and developing our own understanding of writing is high up on our priorities.  There are still elements of grammar, sentence structures and advanced things like nominalisation which are well above my understanding.  They are however areas that we are working hard to develop in order to make the way we support our students writing that little bit better.

Sunday, 19 January 2014

Can I be that little better at….knowing what high quality work looks like?



There are times when you catch up with a colleague in school and have a conversation that completely spins your thinking on its head.  Last week I had such a conversation with a fellow teacher.  There were a few emails about effective methods of feedback going back and forth between two colleagues.  Somewhere in the dialogue I was cc’d in to share my thoughts.  I did what was easiest and said I’d pop along to their classroom and have a chat.  I showed one of the teachers a few ideas and we spent a little time looking at how I have been using feedback questions.  I talked about how the method causes students to think and hopefully help close the gap between where they currently are and where they should be.  The method creates a dialogue between staff and students and is as easy to provide as simple comments.  I then explained that feedback should be evenly distributed to all students.  If not, those who have made a number of mistakes have far more comments/scribbles on their work than those that do not.  This can cause students to believe that if there’s a lot of feedback, my work must be wrong.  Instead I put forward the point that even the best pieces of work should receive equal amounts of feedback as we look to stretch and extend.  My colleague agreed.  Then he said something I had not yet thought of. 

“You and I could probably quickly and easily think of feedback to push work further and further, but does every teacher in every department know what high level work, answers and knowledge looks like?  What about PGCE/ITT/NQT students?  Do they have the experience to be able to extend every student?  Do they actually know what an A* paragraph or essay actually looks like?  You would assume that because we all have degrees we could, but I know from my own experience that in the first few years of my teaching, what I was probably doing in cases like this wasn’t that great”.

Within an instant a wash of memories came flooding back.  He was right.  When I remember back to my first few years of teaching, my ability to stretch and challenge was nowhere near as good as it is now.  I knew the topics I was teaching to an extent but could I really push those who were at the top even further.  Could I extend those students who seemed to have mastered the topic I was teaching them?  At the time these students either scared me or stumped me. 

If I was also being honest, did I actually know what high level work consisted of?  Do I even know now?  Am I able to offer the correct advice to make work actually great or is the guidance I give simply my own perceptions which may ultimately be incorrect?  Do we inadvertently teach them the wrong things when work gets to a certain level? 

When a student produces what in my eyes is a fantastic piece of work, would my colleagues (or even the exam board) agree?  If two students produced what seemed on the surface to be a very high level work, could I accurately distinguish why one piece was better than the other and what I could do to move it forward still?

Another point that passed through my mind was as a teacher, do we spend more time giving feedback to correct misconceptions?  What sorts of comments do we give those in the class who have suitably mastered the content we have provided?  Do we breeze past excellent pieces of work with a few ticks and a complimentary ‘well done’?  Is an A* piece of student work the end of the road where we can happily tick off ‘another student who will pass the course’ and not provide anything constructive in terms of advice?  Would we even know what to say to make it better?

My colleague also talked about the feeling of isolation in our rooms as we teach lesson after lesson.  Back in his early years he felt unsupported by his Head of Department and therefore muddled along himself, realising now that he was probably doing things wrong.  Did he at that stage know the depth of knowledge in his subject well enough to be able to guide students through to excellence?  Did he know how far he was expected to teach?  On his own with minimal guidance, did he know what a high standard in all aspects of his subject was?  No one had ever told him so he wasn't so sure.

All of these considerations had been ones that I probably had on a daily basis.  As the years pass on the experience and understanding of our subject probably covers over some of these as we learn what we should actually be doing.   Some of these probably still surface from time to time though.  I know I still have moments where a student asks me for advice on an excellent piece of writing and I have to take a minute.  And even then I worry that my advice would be nothing compared to say, an English teacher, for example.
So even now as what might be deemed as an experienced teacher, am I certain that I have the knowledge to know what a high standard of work looks like in every topic I teach?  Have I fallen into the monotony of teaching what is required to pass the course?  And do I have the ability to stretch even the most able students in my class?  Can I be that little bit better at knowing what high quality work looks like?



Examples of excellence – students
In the spirit of Ron Berger, keeping copies of excellent work from past students can be an absolute goldmine for future lessons.  We all know when we have come across a beautifully written piece of work that meets the highest criteria.  At this time, instead of filing away for moderation or assessment, keep a copy to use with other students.  These pieces of work can be used in many ways during lessons ranging from modelling, scaffolding and critiquing.  Demonstrating the depth of knowledge and necessary skills to produce work of this high standard can be an excellent teaching opportunity.  It sets the aspirational level and requirements needed to reach it.

Examples of excellence – teachers and experts
How many times as teachers have we attempted to complete one of the tasks we set our students?  Ultimately I know that time amongst other things rarely allows us the opportunity to do so.  Using student examples therefore bridges this gap and creates a resource.  The problem here though is that students themselves are not as ‘expert’ in the subject as we are.  Their knowledge isn't as in depth as ours so the level of work they are producing reaches a peak.  Finding time or even an opportunity to complete the task ourselves provides an example of excellence that (I hope!) goes beyond the level required.  I know of teachers who actually do the same task as students in class at the same time.  Brilliant!  This higher standard of work again can be used in a multitude of ways in lessons to further stretch and challenge the work students will attempt.  And it doesn't have to end there.  In fact I think we can go further still and actually look for real experts.  If attempting to write a newspaper article, isn't it possible to gather a bank of actual articles from real journalists that cover a range of writing styles.  Just as used in ‘An Ethic of Excellence’, these pieces of work can be unpicked and help students go well beyond the limits of subject specific criteria.  We can use these to see what actual great work looks like. 

Teach beyond the curriculum
There are times when the curriculum or exams feel like they mould what and how we teach.  Worrying about meeting the ‘required course content’ set out by governing bodies or exam boards means that we sometimes focus on what is in front of us.  The numerous conversations I have heard where a teacher tells a student ‘You don’t need to know that, that’s college stuff’ do have elements of sense.  If grades and performance are ultimately how we are being judged by, why risk going off of the beaten track to teach something extra.  But surely we should be looking beyond our curriculum at relevant times.  Being aware of what the A/S or A level syllabus contains is a starting point.  What is the leap between GCSE and beyond and can we reach out and grab elements of it in our lessons?  Knowing what the higher level courses contain can help us understand the level of ‘great work’ students in our subject should be producing.  Can we go further still and pull in richer examples from the world of work?  Are there various sectors that tie into your subject that could push the learning further?  It is a brave thing to look at the curriculum as baseline of what should be covered, something which is seen as the minimum requirement.  It is a brave thing to use that as the foundation which can be built upon further to create a great curriculum which ultimately leads to great work.



Examiners’ report
Readily available after exams are the various qualification providers and provide a wealth of information.  They summarise the quality of answers from the previous examination which can help teachers work out what is missing from a high quality piece of work (at least in the examiners eyes).  The reports show various misconceptions and provide guidance of how to improve.  As a starting point for looking at what at least a full mark answer looks like, this can provide an excellent insight.

Collaboratively planning
There are too many times that teachers can feel isolated in their classroom.  With 5 period days, responding to emails, marking, assessments and so on, some teachers rarely find time to leave their four walls.  But if we are looking to see what a high quality standard of work looks like, using colleagues can be an essential resource.  When planning a task, think about what the outcome will be.  Using a colleague to unpick the criteria to meet this outcome can help immensely.  Collaborating to work out the set standard and truly identify what an excellent standard really looks like can be invaluable.  Having that extra piece of experience and knowledge can help you understand the requirements of what great work really looks like.



Dedicated departmental time
How often in departmental meetings do you spend actually looking at what high quality work in the current or upcoming topics is.  Do you spend time as a team working out what an A* (and even beyond) piece of work in this unit will be?  Do you bring along previous pieces of work from last year’s students and collaboratively critique it so all staff know what level we are aiming for?   Do you answer some of the higher level questions or tasks as a team, taking note of what content is essential to meet it?  Do you collaboratively analyse the various materials like the syllabus and examiners’ report to see how to develop students work further?  Meetings like these in the run up to new units can be a life line to both new and experienced teachers.  Are you confident that everyone in the department is knowledgeable, and fully supported, to know what high quality student work should look like?

Subject specific reading
I have probably spent the majority of my time this year reading about general teaching and learning and less about my subject.  Although in the pedagogical sense I haven’t plateaued, have I allowed my subject specific knowledge to do so?  Keeping up to date on your subject should be essential.  What are the new developments?  What has changed?  What new literature could be used with students?  How have businesses, jobs and the real world developed in your subject?  Keeping up to date in our areas of expertise is essential in helping us incorporate stronger and more challenging learning in our subject.



Cross moderation
Whether this is a set annual process as a department or a more flexible opportunity between colleagues, comparing and cross referencing students work can be incredibly helpful.  How easy can it be to pop to another teacher’s room with a couple of students books to quickly analyse?  Or even compare marking or assessment of a piece of work?  On paper it seems very easy.  In reality it means finding time.  But I believe it is time well spent.  Many schools create the culture where doors are open and observers welcomed.  But how about creating a culture where we can openly analyse the work of each other’s classes.  There is always a sense of nervousness and worry that pride/reputation may be at stake.  What if the work my students are producing is not as good as a colleague?  This shouldn’t be the case though.  If we can have people analyse what we as teachers do in a judgemental way in observations, surely the supportive analysis of your students’ books by a colleague should be a welcome opportunity.



Tuesday, 31 December 2013

Can I be that little bit better......in 2014?

2013 was the first full year engaging with Twitter and blogging.  It's been a little different from 2012 due to the fact I have a 1 year old.  Family time means that tweets and blog posts have slowed down a little (31 posts in 2012, 12 posts in 2013) and I have had to be more selective in what I can realistically get around to write.  Many things I have written have been either influenced by current reading or tied into my professional development.  Everything I have written though has been done so to make what it is I do that little bit better.  The response to many of the posts online has also been great and it has been nice to see various people have conversations around them.  As 2014 arrives, I thought it might be nice to reflect on some of the posts I have been most proud of in 2013.  So here is my top 8 from 2013





8 - The Great Big PBL and SOLO Mash Up

Towards the end of 2013, after reading An Ethic of Excellence by Ron Berger, I picked the brains of Darren Mead (@DKMead), Tait Coles (@TotallyWired77) and Martin Said (@saidthemac) and began putting together a plan to run a PBL project with my Year 11 GCSE class.  This has to be one of the best things I have ever done, and one experience that really made me reflect on the way I teach my students.  As a result of what I was doing, I was kindly asked to talk about this in a workshop at #PedagooLondon by the amazing Helene Galdin-O'Shea (@hgaldinoshea).  Here is a overview of how I ran my PBL project, including the 10 principles I followed.  Even if PBL isn't your thing, it may get you thinking about how you approach teaching and learning.  Read here





7 - Engaging students with texts

In March our school ran an INSET with a focus on literacy.  The day was all run in house (it's what we always do) and I attended a session which focused on how to get students to pick up a text before you even ask them to do anything with it.  How many times had I given out things to read but never actually thought whether they would actually do it.  This session made me really think about how I chose texts, how I presented texts and how I planned to get my students to read the texts.  The post summarises some ideas about how to do just that.  Read here.





6 - Making revision work

For a few years now, a colleague and I have run various 'How to revise' sessions for the students at our school.  These have come in the form of assemblies, parents information evenings and classroom based lessons.  A lot of it has been based on various principles batted around in books/internet, but this year I thought I would look at actual methods that we could use that work.  The post looks around some cognitive science/psychology ideas, combined with a few teaching and learning strategies I magpied, that came together to create one of the most effective revision lessons I have ever run with my GCSE classes.  I still use this now.  Read here.





5 - Can I be that little better at......planning lessons?

No one has ever really taught me how to plan and deliver classroom based theory lessons.  If you're wondering why, it's because I am a PE teacher and most of my subject is practical based.  PE teachers around the world will probably hate me for saying this but......I actually prefer teaching classroom lessons.  In fact I love teaching them.  They are the thing I look forward to the most every week.  So as part of my T&L role I did some pretty in depth reading, covering authors from Petty, Hattie, Wiliam, Hook, Bjork, Cullan and Willingham.  I condensed their various principles of planning great lessons into one post.  I still refer to it now!  So here are the 15 things you should think about when planning lessons.  Read here.





4 - Can I be that little better at......using cognitive science/psychology/neurology to plan learning?

Nothing has interested me more over the years than how our brain works.  In particular, this year I have really read up on how our memory works.  I still know there is a lot to learn, and am fully aware that some of the findings so far might not be exactly as we first thought, but having a basic understanding of how our brain functions can be a vital tool as a teacher.  In this blog post I summarise 11 cognitive science/psychology/neurology principles that we should be aware of if we want to help students remember what we have taught them.  Read here.





3 - Can I be that little better at......helping teachers yearn for the vast and endless sea

This one hits my top three because of the emotional attachment I have to its content.  My responsibility in school, my involvement in our Teaching & Learning group and general interest in pedagogy has meant that I have worked with a lot of teachers over the years.  Some of this has come in the form of collaboration, focus groups and professional development.  Others have come where I have been tasked to coach or support teachers who require their practice to be moved forward.  At #TMCowes, I was asked by the lovely Claire Doherty (@wclou) to kick the evening off.  I chose to talk about how we can all be that little bit better at what we do.  This is an overview of my speech and talks about how we can all play our part in moving our teaching and learning forward.  Read here.





2 - Can I be that little better at......making feedback more effective?
Part 1
Part 2

2013 was a time that I thought about feedback....A LOT!  I had read so many great posts through Twitter and turned many a page in educational books but really wanted to unpick the mechanics of how to give effective feedback.  This was a 2 part post which I delivered at #TLT13 on 19th October.  I looked at the three angles of feedback: The teacher providing it, the method they choose to provide it and the students receiving it.  It covers lots of reasons why the feedback we give sometimes never gets acted upon.  It pulled out principles from Willingham, Wiliam, Nuthall, Hattie, Berger and Carless.  It also includes my own student research within school.  It's one of my proudest posts and one that has definitely had the biggest impact in my classroom.  Links are above.





1 - Creating a culture of critique

My favourite post of the year.  Back in April I delivered a morning T&L briefing to all staff talking about using the process of Critique to improve students work (and make all elements of feedback better).  It is inspired by the work of Ron Berger and had input from Twitter teachers such as Martin Said, Russell Hall, Tait Coles, David Didau and the amazing Darren Mead.  It pulls apart the process of Critique into 7 stages and has a huge amount of links and resources throughout.  Even if you don't go all out and use everything, the various stages will definitely tweak how you teach.  Read here.


So there you have it.  All that there is to say is it's been a fantastic year.  One that has seen my own practice finally going in the direction I want it to.  I hope 2013 was equally as good for you all and may it continue into 2014!

Sunday, 24 November 2013

Can I be that little bit better at......helping teachers yearn for the vast and endless sea?

Last month I was very honored to be asked to kick off the evening at #TMCowes.  I love events like this as it brings together like minded individuals who want to improve and make a difference.  My talk on the night was about how we as individuals can make a difference to our own teaching.  Intertwined with that was how we can go back to our schools and help others make the steps they need to improve.  As teachers we work within a larger organisation, and as a member of that, we have the responsibility and the ability to make things better.  So, my chat (which goes off on many tangents) on the evening was titled 'Can we we be that little bit better at helping teachers yearn for the vast and endless sea'?


To begin with....




During the end of my second year of teaching, there was a job position made available for an expanding team within our school which sole purpose was to work with our AST and develop teaching and learning.  As you can guess, I went for the job which was being described as a 'Learning Innovator'.  The position was a dream job for me at the time and gave me a real opportunity to have an impact in the quality of teaching with colleagues.  The interview process was brilliant and involved an open presentation section in front of all of the other candidates and the selection panel made up of three middle leaders.  The presentations were excellent and as all predictable stories go, I was last up.  If I am honest, I was very hesitant because I had just seen what everyone else had said and as you would expect, doubted if what I had to say could match the quality already demonstrated.  I gave it a good go and a number of minutes later, finished my vision and waited for the panel to pose questions.  Would they quiz me about my strategic planning, the roll out of my ideas, the way I would monitor its impact?  There was the usual pause before the then head of RE, known for her straight talking, simply looked at me and said "Bloomin' heck Dave, you'd make a bloody good used car salesman!"  And with that I embarked on a journey with an amazing team to develop teaching and learning.  

Now, before this fairy-tale story goes on, the job has made me learn a lot of things.  I have found out over the years that ideas can't be forced onto people.  I've learnt that what seems like a great idea might not actually be one.  Sometimes what we want to embed doesn't actually impact other teachers so it doesn't become embedded.  What I presented at my interview was a prime example of this, and something I will embarrassingly divulge later.  My point is this, doing the job for a number of years taught me something that I didn't know it would at the start.  It taught me that if we want people to drive teaching and learning whole school, the idea of one person with a one size fits all model, doesn't always work.  Yes we need whole school improvement and consistency, but proposing a strategy needs everyone to be involved, to have ownership and to feel that the process is of value to the teaching and learning in their classroom.  Teachers are smart and no amount of 'used car salesman' qualities can ever convince them to do something they know won't work for them. 




So over the years my thoughts about teaching and learning have changed numerous times.  We all do it and it's a natural process.  I've read, I've discussed, I've researched, I've made up my mind, I've changed my mind (repeating this process over and over again).  The last two years have been a particular turning point and the engagement with social media in the form of Twitter has meant that I have instant access to support, research, experience, debate and ideas.  There are days where my head is spinning with thoughts about teaching but I wouldn’t have it any other way.  Experience allows me to filter the wheat from the chaff.  I love the profession and want to be the best I can be.  Not for pride or status, but to make a difference and have an impact with the young minds I work with.




But there are days when the million other things that we have to deal with can cause us to feel we aren’t doing our job as well as we could.  Occasionally the endless deadlines and paperwork mean sometimes thinking about lessons and improving teaching takes a back seat.  At these times teachers probably don’t need criticism about their teaching or ideas to be imposed.  Many of us are reflective enough to know things aren’t good enough.  Instead they need systems or mechanisms in place to support them.  Personally I am skilled enough to know when my lessons aren’t up to scratch.  And like other teachers at these times, I need to know that I can be better.

Now I understand that sometimes a stronger intervention needs to be taken with some staff.  Sometimes these colleagues are unable to analyse areas that they need to improve on.  But as a whole school focus, whatever systems or CPD programmes we put in place, we need to encourage all teachers to focus on being that little bit better.  Can we create that culture among staff to themselves become growth learners who are striving to improve?

So ‘what’ have I learnt that might help others?



So back to my own experience.  When I was an NQT I had a fantastic mentor.  There were times when we never saw eye to eye but I was always encouraged to take control of my development.  At the right times I had her experience shared with me so that I could make the steps forward.  Other times I was given opportunities to go forward and seek answers for myself.  I never had a method or idea forced upon me.  I wasn’t told ‘you have to teach this way!”  Of course I had examples and ideas shared, but the process she took allowed me to develop into a reflective practitioner and skilled me up to analyse what I did.  As an NQT mentor now, I try to follow a similar process.  It’s not simply telling NQT’s what to do, but showing them how to reflect, analyse, improve and move forward.  We need to instil that innate culture early on in their career so that they continue for years to come.  Only then can we hope that 10 years down the line they are still demonstrating that growth mind-set to continue to go forward and improve.



My NQT year also shared with the best piece of advice I have ever had if I want to continue to keep improving: “Stay away from the vampires in the staffroom.  They’ll suck the life out of you”.  Now we all know individuals (not just in teaching) who have to put a negative spin on everything and are reluctant to involve in change.  And for years I would stay away from them in order to keep myself positive and keen to improve.  But it is these people that we need to encourage.  We need to make them see that the daylight isn’t such a bad thing.  Instead of categorising them and avoiding them, we need to be bringing them back to the core purpose of teaching and help them find that spark again.  Their opinions and arguments actually help make whatever policy or strategy that is being rolled out stronger.  Listen to them and then challenge them to respond.  It may take time, it might be tough, there may even need to be difficult discussions, but getting all staff to regain that infectious bug of teaching and learning is a crucial thing.



Why is it though that teaching & learning and our own development can stutter or take a back seat?  Well there are numerous things that happen that just seem to get in the way.  It seems as teachers we get beaten by a lot of sticks.  There can be weeks or months when the constant data trawls, target setting, paperwork and so on seems endless.  Time for T&L seems to be eaten up in an instant.  Now I understand the importance of these and how many are non-negotiable in schools.  But I truly believe that we shouldn’t be overwhelmed by the stick, but instead we should be looking at what sticks.  We should be focusing on the students and investigating methods that help learning stick with them.  Time doesn’t seem readily available on occasions, but the importance of reading, researching, collaborating and practicing methods are essential if we are to drive T&L up.  If we are to drive whole school teaching and learning with every teacher, things need to give and more time needs to be allocated to what really matters.



Teaching and learning can also be influenced by things outside of our school walls.  Unfortunately there are these guys.  Ofsted.  I rarely talk about them.  Their influence and effect on numerous teachers (including myself) have made very competent individuals do things they wouldn’t normally do.  The biggest worry though is what Alistair Smith talked about at #TLAB13.  He said that there is something much worse than Ofsted and I tend to agree.  He labelled this monster the ‘Ofsted whisperers’.  Filtering back to schools and talked about in staffrooms are the various myths about what the big ‘O’ are looking for.  These have many teachers scrambling for their lesson plans and adding things that are never usually there.  The myths change the way teachers teach and all of a sudden our focus isn’t what the students need, but instead is what ‘they’ might want to see.  This is where we need to be brave and remember what our job is.  We need to focus on the T&L that works for the students we teach, in our lessons, for the subjects we know so much about.  We need to be conscious that we don’t become tick box robots, influenced by the whisperers, but instead be confident enough to do the right thing for those in front of us.



And then there is the ‘bandwagon’.  There are times when new ideas sweep into the profession and take the classroom by storm.  Some are absolutely fantastic and have a huge impact on learning.  Some are distorted, slimmed down or misinterpreted and lose their power.  And there are those which have no effect or benefit to learning at all.  A number of times, we as teachers become too focused on the ‘what’ and ‘how’ of a method.  When time isn’t always readily available to really scrutinise something new, we simply want to find out how to use it before adding it to our repertoire.  I have been on both sides of this conundrum.  During my presentation (which I talked about earlier) I inadvertently launched learning styles on our whole school.  I will say no more!  Over the last few years I have also trialled numerous approaches and methods in my classroom.  Both as you will guess each had mixed successes.  What I have learnt though is not to be on the bandwagon.  Instead I aim to become the man, who in the picture, is stood on the tracks beside the train.  This man in my opinion assesses the ‘why’ of a method before using it.  If we are to engage all staff, especially those who need it the most, we need to not just throw the ‘what’ and ‘how’ their way.  We don’t need to bamboozle or muddle teaching with numerous gimmicks and strategies.  Instead we need to either explain the ‘why’ to them (the benefit, impact, potential) or skill them up to do this analysis themselves.  Simplify the teaching and use what works.





This year I have been privileged to have heard a number of inspirational teachers speak at conferences.  At #pedagoolondon, the amazing Kev Bartle talked about bringing on the ‘Trojan Mice’.  This speech constantly goes through my head and has had such a powerful influence on my thinking.  Explaining it here won’t do it justice, but one thing he talked about was how little ideas, driven from the bottom up (our classrooms) can grow and become a powerful driver in whole school teaching and learning.  His speech empowers teachers to go ‘guerrilla’ and try things.  He encourages the sharing and collaboration of ideas.  It recognises that teachers are professional enough to choose methods that work for students, rather than having ideas forced upon them.  This can be a powerful message to engage those colleagues who need support.  By challenging them to trial and investigate ideas themselves, or collaborating them with others, we can take that small step to bring T&L back to the forefront of their thinking.




There have also been calls to ‘reclaim your classroom’ from some quarters.  Now I don’t picture scenes from Le Miserable with barricades and revolutions.  Although I agree that we should be given the responsibility to take ownership of our development, I don’t think things are as bad as that.  What I do agree with in this call is that we need to focus on what works well for us and our students.  If teaching and learning is the number one thing for a teacher, can we set up systems that free up time for teachers to focus on it?  Reclaiming your classroom to me is releasing the shackles that may be the reason that some feel held back.  It’s about giving individuals the autonomy to focus on what works best for them and the students in their subject.  I know I may be repeating this point but I really think this ideology can be a great thing if structures and systems are in place to support it.



And this is one of the reasons why in October this year we ran #TLT13.  The Teachmeet movement and various teacher led conferences give people the chance to meet and discuss pedagogy.  Many are out of school hours and not directed time but so many are well attended.  Teachers look to focus on things that matter to them, taking away what they need and having discussions that will help them move their practice forward.  As a colleague of mine said after #TLT13, “It’s helped me fall back in love with my craft”.  And that’s simply what it’s about.  But can we create this spark within schools and with all teachers?


Why though?



The big question though is why?  Why should we be so concerned with continually getting better?  Why should we do anything different?  Why should we be trying to be that little bit better?  And when we feel ready, why should we go out and help our colleagues.  Well because you are reading this or you heard this speech at #TMCowes, you yourself are probably already on a journey of improvement.  You are already actively engaging in moving your practice forward.  By doing so and monitoring the impact of it, you are benefiting the students you teach.  You are playing your part in improving teaching and learning and know your school, its departments and teachers better than anyone outside of its walls.




Now when I was growing up I never thought about being a teacher.  I was inspired by many, but it never crossed my mind as a potential career choice.  My main sport which I played for years on end was Basketball.  My hero was Michael Jordan.  We would stay up late into the night to catch live games and see coverage of the NBA play offs.  The best job in the world in my eyes at an early age was being a professional Basketball player.  Something happened during college that made me completely change courses and rethink my career.  Now as a teacher, I look back and think it would have been nice to fulfill my dream, but I genuinely believe I have the best job in the world.  I think that as a teacher we work with amazing people and shape the lives of others.  We do this job because we love working with young minds and guiding them through their education.  I now no longer want to be a Basketball player.  Instead I want to be the Michael Jordan of teaching.  This is a guy who had set backs, had responsibility, had failures, had successes, had days of continual practice and days of victory.  His ability to learn and develop from every situation is something I try in some small way to emulate.  It's this mentality that we need to develop across the school.





The reason so is because of the students and making a difference.  I am all aware that this isn't always the case though.  A few years back in my own teaching I had an arch-nemesis.  A student who I think came into school on the days I taught him, simply to destroy it within 2 minutes.  There are days when teaching and learning probably falls off of our radar and we instead start to self doubt or wondered if there is any point.  There is though.  I had a student who by many was seen as 'off of the rails'.  He would be in the head of years office on a daily basis and that look would appear on teachers faces when his name was mentioned.  I worked hard in my methods to ensure that when I taught him, I provided an opportunity for him to achieve.  In return, this student worked his socks off and engaged with the subject.  He continuously resubmitted work, sought advice and asked for feedback.  When it looked as though he wouldn't do well, he walked away with an A*.  School is about building these relationships.  It's also about sharing the passion for our subject with students.  On those days when things have gone worse than expected, I have seen teachers brush themselves off, look at what they do in lessons, evaluate their approach and come back the next day that little bit better.  I've been there myself many a time.  These teachers make me want to be better and its this development, even on a small day by day scale, that has the impact in lessons with the students we teach.




Jamie Portman kicked off #TLT13 and made me think about the value of school.  His school unfortunately burnt down in 2009.  For 3 months, students at his school were taught in a shared Primary school, a moth-balled Special School, rooms in a Youth Club and office spaces in a local wood yard.  What he learned from the experience was incredible and has stuck in my mind since his speech: 'Buildings don't make a school - the community does'.  What we do on a daily basis probably makes it hard to see this.  We use the same facilities every day and rely on the resources and systems in place.  This situation made every member of staff at Jamie's school have to think on their feet to deliver low energy - high impact T&L methods into these relocated lessons.  The story is inspirational and one we can all learn from.  For me, it points out the fact that when everything else is gone, the teachers (as well as the students, parents.......) are really what matters.  Adapting on a daily basis, reflecting on lessons and actively seeking to be better, in the various situations we face, is inspiring.  Therefore our development and improvement is critical.




We as teachers can also be powerful at creating environments for students to produce great things.  Sometimes we need to take risks to make these things happen.  In 2012, I sat in my front room and was dazzled my the Olympics.  In particular I fell in love with cycling.  Then a very dangerous thing happened.  Knowing that in September my Year 11 GCSE PE class would be moving onto science, technology, ICT, role models, media and sponsorship in sport, I planned out and ran a PBL project.  It was a risky and to some, a stupid thing to do in an exam year.  The project itself was a huge success.  I learnt so much from it and realised that even if I never used PBL again, there were so many elements that will improve my teaching.  What if I hadn't taken the risk?  Would I still be doing the same old thing?  It also brought about one of my career highlights.  During one of the presentations, one of the girls spoke a sentence before breaking into tears in front of a packed audience.  The pressure had got to her.  I ushered her partner to continue the speech and see it through.  Stepping up to the challenge, her friend continued the talk.  Without any signal or signs, the girl who only seconds before felt she couldn't continue, picked up at her next speaking section and delivered a presentation that differed completely to moments before.  Confidence oozed and I was one of the proudest people in that room to see a student overcome a massive challenge and finish what she had started.  Students can do amazing things and it's us that has a huge influence on that.  Worth remembering on days when we feel lost!


The work of Ron Berger and his book 'An Ethic of Excellence' also strikes a note here.  If you have never read the book I would highly recommend it.  If anything is going to reinvigorate you as a teacher, this will.  If you can't wait, I would urge you to see the You Tube clip of Austin's butterfly.  What it does is remind us that with our highly skilled intervention in the classroom, and setting up a culture and ethos with students, we can help them create some truly beautiful work and make a difference to their lives.  We all remember our favorite teachers, and more often than not, it was because they cared enough to make us the best we can be.




Back to reality and I understand that with all of the reasons and pep talks that sometimes we can feel very insignificant.  I have been there myself and even wrote an email a few years back to a well known educational writer when I felt lost.  At this time I couldn't make sense of teaching and was frustrated most days with what I was delivering.  In my eyes I was simply not good enough.  In the email I asked numerous questions.  At one point I even asked how to become a 'superteacher'.  The response I got was that I shouldn't be looking for this.  It's a myth and doesn't exist.  We see others do amazing things in public, but rarely do we see this amazing teachers have off days. We all have them and we are all human.  All we can do is focus on making ourselves better through focused development.  Looking back now these are incredibly wise words.  I felt worthless compared to some amazing colleagues, but instead of this holding me back, I learnt that I can only control what I do and need to focus on precisely that.  



If we are going to be better, we can do no worse than listening to the (adapted) Stephen Covey quote and keep the main thing the main thing.  Maybe that should be part of the message we use with all staff.  Forget what doesn't work, forget all of the gimmicks.  Instead strip back all that you do and have the bravery to focus on the main thing.  Focus on how to make yourself that little bit better.  Focus on making the learning in your classroom, and ultimately across school, the best it can be today.  Then plan for tomorrow.

Okay, so how?




Many people have blogged about Professor Dylan Wiliam's keynote speech at the SSAT conference.  The points that he makes are incredibly powerful and sum up much of what I have talked about so far.  In his presentation, Wiliam talked about how to raise the quality of teaching.  He talks about how it takes 10 years for expertise to develop.  Unfortunately, teachers slow, and most teachers stop improving after 2 or 3 years.  We do this, as he says, because in the first few years, teaching as an environment is challenging.  As we grapple with the job, we continue to improve.  As we get comfortable with routines and management of our lessons, we then begin to coast.  He highlights the point again that as individuals we need to spend 10 years deliberately practicing and improving what we do in order to become expert at our job.   But when do we realistically stop?  Have we taken our foot of the gas.  Do we get to the stage where we think that what we do works, so lets just continue to go with the flow?  If so, it is important that we get this message out there.  We need to personally think about the long haul and embark upon this journey.  Once we are on it, we then need to get colleagues on board as well.  Wiliam finishes by saying "If we create a culture where every teacher needs to improve, not because they're not good enough, but because they can be even better, there is no limit in what we can achieve if we support our teachers in the right way".



So how can we go for 10 years?  Well obviously setting goals that far ahead is too vague and very unrealistic.  Instead we can learn from Sir Dave Brailsford and the ethos behind Team GB and Team Sky.  I am sure you are all aware of the now familiar phrase of 'marginal gains'.  Brailsford and the team believe that if he can make 1% improvement with the riders, the equipment, the materials, the facilities and the training, it will collectively have a greater effect in competition.  As teachers we can also learn from this and look to improve our own practice 1% at a time.  Focusing on our planning, then our feedback and then maybe our questioning  to find those improvements can have a profound effect overall on the quality of our lessons.


I have also been lucky enough to attend a GB seminar where the not so familiar term 'compassionately ruthless' is also used by Brailsford.  With each rider, they are asked the following questions and asked to think about what it will take to be the best they can be.  This as a combination can be a structured and manageable way to get teachers to think about their own development.  Its flexibility means that it can also be an excellent addition to coaching as an approach to moving practice forward.



A phrase being used a lot within my school is 'Leadership at all levels'.  The approach by our head is to empower every member of staff to lead practice across the school.  Now this doesn't mean that every member of staff has to rewrite whole school policies and lead INSET.  Instead it focuses on taking responsibility and leading in the classroom, with colleagues, with departments, with students and so on.  The focus is to hone in on what we do and become drivers of it with others.  Now the flexibility of this combined with the empowering nature has seen many colleagues feel they can step up to make improvements, even if it is only in their own classroom.  A simple phrase it may be, but a powerful idea it is.



The Butterfly Effect is a (chaos) theory that flutters around how small actions can potentially grow with unexpected results.  However, in a school context and used in a structured way, it can be used as an opportunity for staff to take the ideas/practice from their classroom, and spread them among colleagues. As teachers we need to be encouraged to try new things, develop them and reflect.  We need to be encouraged to collaborate and share these ideas with colleagues.  We need to provide an environment where everyone feels they can have an input and contribute.  The beauty of this is that an idea may only resonate with a few staff.  That is perfectly fine.  For those staff their practice has been refined.  The effect also has the potential for ideas to spread further and invigorate many more, some of whom may have been on the fringes of development for a long time.  Are we able to provide a platform or create a culture in our schools where this theory can be implemented?  Involvement, empowerment, autonomy and collaboration in a very simple approach.


But why limit it there?  Discussions about teaching & learning and the collaborative approach to this doesn't have to be restricted to just your own schools.  Social media such as Twitter provides an almost 24/7 full access to debates, discussion, ideas, support and reading.  Showing the impact of its use and dispelling myths can open upon a fantastic resource for personal improvement.  Many teachers may not be as savvy or willing to engage with new technology, so is there a way we can bring Twitter to them?  Many schools share blogs of the week collated from the network or summaries top tips that were shared on it?  Is there a way that we can engage as many teachers as possible with it in a productive way?



Maybe it is up to you to take the responsibility and embed these strategies tomorrow?  Can you be the champion among your fellow teachers to start them on this journey of improvement?  Are you able to set things up?  Are you the first cog in driving that culture of learning with your peers?  Are you able to help them see the 'why' and not just the 'what' and 'how' surrounding teaching methods?



There are many ideas and opportunities that can be low energy but high impact (as Jamie Portman says).  It could be as simple as driving T&L in your own department.  Maybe creating forums like a 'Bring and Buy' where teachers come together to discuss pedagogy?  Anything that can be put in place to get teachers to engage with professional practice and look at ways to be that little bit better.


With all of the great blogs, articles and books out there, can we encourage teachers to engage in further reading?  In my own experience, there is so much quality out there but too few staff grasp this opportunity to further their knowledge.  A huge part of this is simply down to time.  Updating your staff library, showcasing some inspirational educational books, or even creating an in house book club could all be simple to launch.  As part of my role within school to do this very thing, I set up Edssential in an effort to get more colleagues increasing their professional reading.



Or at a larger scale, can we become Phil Jackson (who)?  Jackson is probably the greatest Basketball coach of all time and worked with the immense talent of Micheal Jordan and Kobe Bryant.  His ability to work with others and combine all of the details towards a final target meant he had many successes.  Can we be a leader like he is and use coaching methods to increase discussions and support among staff?  Can we make teaching and learning the number one thing being talked about and coached within your school?





And this comes back to the main point.  Can we firstly be that little bit better in our own teaching, and then secondly, go forward and take as many of our colleagues on a similar journey.  This is where the Trojan Mouse, the 'Reclaim your Classroom', the Butterfly Effect and all the other things I talked about come together.  Can we be the reason why teaching and learning improves?  I believe it's most powerful when it comes from within, and even more powerful when it is fostered through a classroom up approach.



It's not simply good enough anymore to have a one size fits all approach.  Various methods, initiative and strategies from above probably still have their place.  Many monitoring procedures and policies are probably still essential.  But if we want to drive real change, we need to be the ones who go into school tomorrow morning and make the difference.  We need to be the ones who start the process off by embarking on our own journey of improvement.  We need to be the ones who begin the sharing of ideas and collaboration with fellow staff.  We need to be the ones who drag those teachers who have stepped away from improvement along with us.  They are our colleagues and we are a collective group.  Telling them what to do or how to do it is not always what is needed.  Instead we need to help others to want to improve.  We need to be the first step in creating that culture where people 'want' to improve.  Trying to set up those discussions, whether at planned in house events, or even by the photocopier are so important.  As Antoine de Saint Exupery once said, "If you want to build a ship, don't drum up the men to gather wood, divide the work and give orders.   Instead, teach them to yearn for the vast and endless sea".  So there you go.  Can you be that little bit better at helping teachers yearn for the vast and endless sea?