You are doing a fantastic job

It’s strange to say but I loved being reminded of school this Christmas Day. At the end of term a wrapped book-shaped present was placed in my pigeon hole. I didn’t open it then and there and so I waited till the 25th. Then, amongst all the family gifts and Cava and child excitement, I unwrapped it. The book was a really thoughtful gift.

I have started teaching mindfulness to Year 10s in September and this fits right in with that. But it was the card that came with it that made me melt.

img_0034It is so rare as a teacher that you receive such a meaningful thank you from parents or from anyone else. But what I really liked is that this student is not one of those to demonstrate how she is feeling. So without the card I would have had no idea she was profiting from the lessons and implementing what I had been teaching.

Now if this has happened to one my pupils then it has almost certainly happened to others too. But more than that, it must have happened to many of yours too. Which is something you teachers shouldn’t forget. YOU’RE DOING A FANTASTIC JOB -EVEN IF NO ONE HAS SAID THANK YOU FOR IT.


Would you dare to watch the TV in the last lessons of term?


Since we are now telling all pupils how important attending as many schooldays as you can, it would seem hypocritical to spend a day or two in the last week of term watching DVD’s and colouring in. Also if your headteacher happens to be predisposed to dropping in just to see how things are going on the last Wednesday of term you may not have considered slipping in a DVD and pressing play. But then again, you are screamingly tired and can’t even get order out in the right words.

Well fear not! Here is a plan that means you can educate, engage, play a DVD (well BBC iplayer) AND tick some boxes toward achieving your whole school literacy policy.

Next week I will be re-using an old plan that always worked well with Key Stage 3 classes. Thanks go to Julia Skinner (@theheadsoffice ) for her original idea of the 100 word challenge which this is all based upon.

I use the following resources:

  1. BBC iplayer and the Planet Earth 2 series, though a box set of planet Earth (1?) works just as well
  2. One pen and one exercise book per pupil

Here’s how it goes:

  1. I ask the class to write down 6-8 words that come to mind when they think of “deserts” or whatever the title of the episode is that they are to watch. They have to draw a line under those words.
  2. Then I tell them we are going to watch a DVD on this topic for about 30 minutes and afterwards they are going to produce a piece of descriptive writing on the landscapes they have seen and what happens there. (I emphasise landscapes because as a geography teacher, this works better than the animals they would go for without any guidance, but you could choose any other facet of the programme). I say they should write down some words and ideas for this during the DVD, but not many as actually watching and listening is more important than taking lots of notes.
  3. I stop the video with about 20 minutes to go of the lesson (ours last for an hour) and tell them to complete their piece of descriptive writing. The only two rules they have to follow are:
  • It must not exceed 100 words (I am strict on this)
  • They cannot use any of their original 6-8 words they wrote down at the start of the lesson

As this is the last lesson of the term chances for peer and self assessment are not available, but I know this idea could be extended further to allow for more redrafting and improving of their work.

But as a stand alone end of term lesson that both challenges my pupils to learn and think and is also a bit different, this has so far worked very well.

and it has David Attenborough in it – so you cant go wrong

The Coasting Teacher Myth

I should be wise enough not to let my anger rise just because of a mere education blog… I should be..

But this by apparently ‘The most influential  blog on education in the UK’ scratched a tender spot and I have to reply.

How the hell do you coast when you are faced with 30 children whom you have to teach and lead and cajole and re-teach and help and support and scold and listen to? At what time during the lesson are you coasting? Or are you coasting when are marking till late in the evening? Maybe you are taking it easy at the very moment you awake and your first thought of the day is “I haven’t photocopied those resources for lesson 1?” Maybe you are relaxing during the 3 hour “5 minutes an appointment” parents evening you had that started 10 minutes after a full teaching day?

Luckily there is a list in the article showing you how to spot a coasting teacher. Like a David Attenborough documentary we are shown all the characteristics that make up this mythical species. I think I know what these terms mean and so i have rephrased them


How to spot a coasting teacher?

  1. They move with all the energy of a stone trough – They are so genuinely full on exhausted you should be grateful they haven’t phoned in sick
  2. They are happy not to fulfill their potential – They are desperately trying to maintain some sort of work life which taking another responsibility with no extra time would destroy
  3. They feel under attack by any new initiative – You should think through your latest management issue and whether the improvement in learning it creates actually balances out the extra work it creates
  4. They see progress as a threat – Define progress
  5. They toe the line but reluctantly – They haven’t the confidence that their head teacher and leadership team will see any questioning of new ideas as anything other than subordination
  6. They have a closed-door policy – Your observation policy is threatening not supportive. Sort it out
  7. They spread negativity like Japanese knot-weed – Because they lack the confidence to speak to you (see 5) they talk to other teachers about changes to their work day. Its what people do in the staff room.
  8. They say ‘full circle’, ‘when I qualified we …’ and ‘mark my words’ – They have built up years of experience in the classroom (maybe more than the leadership team) you should value this.
  9. They pride themselves on being dinosaurs. They know that how things were done ‘back then’ still has some relevance and you shouldn’t throw all past knowledge out for the latest fad some new assistant head teacher has just introduced to the school at the least training day.


Sorry for the red font and the block capitals. but sometimes their symbolism is apt

Finally, I have written this myself and not paid someone else to write my own posts for me on my own blog 😉

Putting #TLT16 into Practice

You know what CPD can be like: if you’re lucky you get a bit of inspiration. A cracking new way of getting them to learn. One you haven’t thought of before. You scribble your ideas furiously onto the hotel logo headed paper, unwrap a wannabe fox’s glacier mint and treat yourself to some sparkling water from the middle of your round table. You stretch back and wonder how much the course leader gets paid. This nugget you will change your teaching forever.

24 hours later and you are battling with year 8. Who has and who hasn’t done their homework? Is that a forged note in her planner Mary is showing you? What did the head of year say about Kyle’s home life? Should you challenge him on his lack of effort? The bell goes and you remember you are on duty. That nugget will just have to wait till next week before you implement it.

Then next week comes and….  you can fill in the rest. The cheap headed note paper ends up getting buried further and further down on your desk and is eventually binned in July with only a snip of your regret going with it into the recycling.

Except I bring good news.

I have just used an idea I heard at #TLT16. Not a life-altering 360º change or anything. Just one small, simple rather obvious thing that I have used and watched have effect. I have a year 9 tutor group. They are lovely. They behave well most of the time and are a happy cheerful and polite bunch. i am proud of them. However they have been getting louder and louder when i take the register and i keep having to stop and ask them to be quiet and it wasn’t having any effect until ….

Lindsay Skinner was talking in the closing keynote about language and words teachers use or don’t use. She said that we shouldn’t say “Please be quiet” but the slightly more forceful “Be quiet”. I do exactly that and now they are quiet all the way through (nearly). I haven’t changed the tone of my voice , nor am I shouting. I have just dropped the “please” from my statement and it is so much more effective

20+ years of teaching and I am still taking advice on something as basic as taking the register. Just shows you good simple CPD can work. As John Tomsett said in the first keynote “Avoid using shiny new ideas that you don’t understand. Instead embed and improve what you do already.”

My original post on #TLT16 can be found here


Have applied 3 times but never got to a TLT event before. I loved it. As a result i am relaunching this old unattended and unused blog. I wanted to write something quickly before I even got onto the weekend marking, so things were fresh and as yet untainted by time pressures and skepticism. Below is a write up of my notes from yesterday. I have included any ideas I think I could actually employ in my teaching and their learning. I am following John Tomsett’s excellent advice from the opening keynote of not trying out ideas I liked the idea of but didn’t understand. I’ve been teaching more than long enough to have my own good ideas and practice.

John Tomsett (@Johntomsett ) – Keynote

  • Avoid using shiny new ideas that I don’t understand instead embed and improve what I do already
  • Use metacognition when going over mock exams and with a visualiser write down what I am thinking when I read the questions in the paper
  • Remember most pupils don’t use a pen outside of school so train them in writing a lot in 90-120 minutes
  • This slide of his on achievement is excellent ach

Andy Tharby (@atharby ) – Questioning

  • Get into a routine of using mini quizzes and questions as lesson starters to revisit last lesson, last fortnight, last half term’s work
  • Sequence these questions (and all questions) carefully to fit in with new GCSE spec demands on knowledge and skills
  • Include ‘crackerjack’ questions that cover more than one topic
  • Can I design a subject question template for GCSE topics like his one for English?template

John Tomsett – (@Johntomsett ) Assessment and progress

  • Concentrate more on dragging them all to the highest understanding than differentiating in lessons
  • Don’t talk about high, mid and low ability/ attainers instead say high mid and low starters
  • Overarching principles of assessment photo ……Assessment must improve learning (do all our KS3 topic assessments do this?)
  • Progress is relative… hard work and changing rates of development can have different effects. This shows how lower started pupil can pass higher starter. bell-curve

Stephen Lockyer (@MrLockyer ) – Challenge and Differentiation

  • Get pupils to self regulate their work. They should learn to how they could improve. (Maybe get them to argue with each other whose work is the best and why)
  • Convince pupils they are doing really well maybe working above their target level
  • I like the idea of every major piece having an audience, but in geography who is that audience?
  • Keep an excellent example of the end of topic piece of work to show next year’s pupils. My colleague is thinking of doing this via photos on a blog so it all also works as an online “praise website”
  • Get pupils who have understood to help explain to pupils who are still trying (geography expert photo?)
  • Beat the drum – publicise high achievements as much as possible (be unBritish)

Lindsay Skinner (@lindsayjskinner )- Keynote

  • One of the key peaks of attention in lesson is about 5 minutes in. So maybe start with one of Tharby’s quizzes and then 5 mins in hit them with a key introduction
  • Slow speech down when either it is a key part of the lesson or when you are dealing with a particularly tricky piece of bad behaviour
  • Leaving words out increases informality – consider that when giving instructions (and maybe adding one or two in when telling off)
  • Using anecdotes in class may help pupils see the teacher as a human being and treat them as such.

Nelson Mandela

I was at Wembley in 1990. Mandela came on after an afternoon of dull music. We clapped and cheered and clapped and cheers and shouted so long. I saw Nelson Mandela in the flesh and heard him speak. It was and will always remain one of the most important moments of my life. so here below are some resources which may be useful in your lesson to tell pupils about this man, who more than maybe any other gives us hope into the 21st century

If there was a prophet in our era it would be Nelson Mandela, & if Nelson Mandela was not in our era he would be a prophet”-@TamimBarghouti

Nelson Mandela This links to a short powerpoint that i put together last night. It has some pictures and quotes, a link to one of his speeches and some more of his quotes. All done in a rush. But so as to have something to tell the children. what could I do that was more important than that?

This link takes you to Channel 4 obituary/tribute to him (10 minutes long)

Ferghal Keane of the BBC and his obituary on Mandela

And this one to a collection of headlines and front pages from around the world

This is his life in photos from the Guardian

something simple I learnt this week 2

I like to arrive early to school to make up for the fact that I never quite do as much work as I should in the evenings (TV, children, chores, twitter etc etc). Normally I am running around, sorting out things I really should have organised and completed the previous week. Also 2 days a week we have a whole staff briefing 10 minutes before registration takes place. So as a general rule, I go to my classroom, turn on my laptop, set up lesson one and then leave to somewhere else to get my work done. This means I see one or two of the earliest arrivers in my tutor group and then return to a full room of coats, bags, pupils, screaming, phones, mp3 players, fights to be nearest to the radiator, shouting and general disturbed mayhem.

However, one cold day this week I thought better of going back outside again (its a mobile classroom) and stayed at my desk to do some marking. So I remained in our form room as one and all arrived. This in turn had a lovely effect on the atmosphere in the room. There was more calm and less mayhem. There were just as many phones and mp3’s, but no fighting. I had a few quick chats with my tutor group, all initiated by individual or groups of pupils and all positive. The register was much easier and I am sure they all left for period 1 in a much better “learning frame of mind”

By mistake I was a better tutor that day 🙂