When will schools learn?

There was a very interesting discussion and debate on the teaching and learning culture in schools and how it impacts on staff morale and wellbeing on @ukedchat tonight.

Discussion came up about how schools expect so much of teachers, but put the pressure on by focusing on attainment and the things that Ofsted require rather than focusing on the things that the children in each school context actually need.  It was clear that those partaking in the discussion were very much in favour of the latter and challenging the ‘status quo’ that Ofsted bring.  Yet, why is it that the feeling from so many is that schools are sapping dry our dynamic teachers and forcing them to abide by ‘standards’ set by external bodies?  When will schools learn?

Continuing my reading tonight in, “The Learning Powered School” I came across the section called, “Learning versus performance cultures” (Claxton,Chambers, Powell, Lucas, p. 37, 2011).  This was perfectly timed.  They ascertain that, “Several recent research papers have found, paradoxically, that pupils do better on their tests when they and their teachers focus on learning rather than on performance and achievement” (Claxton, Chambers,Powell, Lucas, p. 37, 2011).  What a massive claim.

So, the research suggests that if schools focus on learning, achievement and attainment will end up being higher.  What are we doing then?

Why are schools still allowing Ofsted to control every movement and every policy, whereby adversely affecting the outcomes for all?  Surely, if we focus on the learning and ensuring our pupils remain at the heart of our decisions, everything else will fall into place.  Clearly, there are things that Ofsted require to be in place which schools should adhere to – the sensible things.  However, it should not permeate the culture of schools and narrow their focus so much that it impacts on the wellbeing of all involved.

Leaders need to be braver in their stance.  They need to be sure that any policy and practice being implemented is what is right for their children – they then need to be ready to fight for that stance.  I’ll say it again, if children are truly at the heart of policy and practice, you can’t go far wrong.

Claxton, et al, continue to cite other research that proves where teaching children to ‘learn’ will have more impact on achievement then always focusing only on the ‘end result’ (SATS scores may be the case).

The moral then?  “Building students’ confidence in their own capacity to learn turns out (not surprisingly) to boost their examination performance.  On the other hand, several studies have found that narrow pressure for results – ‘achievement pressure’ in the jargon of the trade-is not an effective way of raising results” (Claxton, Chambers, Powell, Lucas, p. 37, 2011). This research took place before  2011 – why are schools still overwhelmingly focused on attainment at the ‘end’?  What will it take for everyone to listen and learn?

Schools need to begin looking at the wider and ‘long-term’ picture…creating children ready to conquer the world that awaits them…giving them the skills to be confident learners when they leave our gates…to become life-long learners, resilient, brave and ready to learn from their mistakes.


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The “joy of the struggle”……

“So when parents say – as they often do- ‘I just want my child to be happy’, here is one of the best pieces of advice.  Help them, and get their schools to help them, to discover what it is that they would love to be great at.  Help them discover the ‘joy of the struggle’: the happiness that comes from being rapt in the process, and the quiet pride that comes from making progress on something that matters.  And help them to understand and develop the craft of worthwhile learning – how to make best use of imagination, reasoning, concentration, collaboration, and so on. That is what BLP aims to do”

(Claxton, Chambers, Powell, Lucas, p. 26, 2011).

Today I finally watched ‘School Swap – The Class Divide’.  It is a question I have often pondered,- what differences there are between the state and private sector (besides the money) and the impact on the learners.

No matter what school or context we are in, the quote above is so very apt.  Children must become confident in themselves as learners.  They must be given the tools and strategies to succeed in an ever-changing world, where success is defined not by the society we are in, but by them as individuals.  If we as schools can provide them with a ‘toolkit’ for success (so to say), then we can help prepare them for the setbacks, challenges and obstacles that will surely come their way.  They need to be equipped to bounce-back stronger, more resilient, focused and purposeful to persevere and try again.  The moment they give up, is the moment that we, as schools, need to think what more we could have instilled in them to want to endure and be fortitudinous.

I love the idea of the ‘joy of the struggle’.  How often have we seen our pupils suddenly light up with the realisation that they have finally conquered a skill they had been working on for what ‘seemed like ages’?  The discussion that can be had with pupils after this happens is even more enlightening.  They do explain the ‘process’ as challenging, yes, but exciting.  Exhilaration is apparent in this process-the concentration that is applied to keep trying, to keep practicing and then to  finally get it right.  It is the excitement of the challenge and  ‘error making’ that we need to embed in our children – allowing them the confidence and safety to make mistakes and then to learn from them, apply them and try it all again.

I think we sometimes don’t let this ‘struggle’ go on for long enough…we often give answers away too easily.

Correct answers and praise that come with little effort may hinder our children’s future ‘learning’ more than we know or understand.

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Teaching children ‘how’ to learn….

I have begun reading, “The Learning Powered School” by Guy Claxton, Maryl Chambers, Graham Powell and Bill Lucas.  As you can probably tell, I’m doing a lot of reading and researching around ‘learning’.

Learning is central and core to everything that we do as a school – but yet, are we actually teaching children ‘how’ to learn?  Our aim is to create children who become ‘life long’ learners, ready for the transition to secondary school (from primary) and to become confident, resilient, tenacious 21st century citizens who make a positive contribution to society.  We should be teaching children ‘how to learn’, how to be independent, how to seek out knowledge and find answers to their questions.  Not only that, but we should be ingraining in our pupils the desire to succeed, reaching goals that they set themselves and knowing how and what to do to achieve the steps to attain these targets.  We should teach them how to make mistakes with resilience, fortitude and ‘bounce-back-ability’, how hard work, practice and effort pays off and that failure only comes when we stop trying.  These values have to become a part of the fabric of the school, part of the language, the environment, the structure and processes that everyone takes part in.

After reading chapter 1 of ‘The Learning Powered School’ it seems that what we have begun establishing in our school, resonates closely with what this book and its research is about.

At the start they establish that, “students who are more confident of their own learning ability learn faster and learn better.  They concentrate more, think harder and find learning more enjoyable” (p. 2, 2011).  Further, mirroring the vision for our pupils at school, “Schools need to be educating for life-long learning.  Pupils need to have learnt to be tenacious and resourceful, imaginative and logical, self-disciplined and self aware, collaborative and inquisitive” (p. 2, 2011).

They explain that there are ‘5 Core Beliefs’ about ‘Building Learning Power’.  Preparing children for the tests of life, building up a spirit of resourcefulness and resilience within pupils, building up their confidence to succeed and navigate in an ever-changing world, that intelligence is changeable and not fixed and finally that Building Learning Power will be challenging, achievable and essential (p. 2-3, 2011).

Again, much like what Hattie says about learning, it seems very common sense.  So why aren’t all schools on board?  We need to forget (or at least not make it ‘the’ priority) about attainment and league tables, but focus on the children and their learning.  But herein likes the problem…for this to happen, schools need to be brave and go against the status quo.  If ‘learning’  is at the centre of everything, we can’t go far wrong; everything else will fall into place.

Surely, teaching children how to ‘learn’, helping instill key learning traits and equipping them with an understanding of what effective learning looks like, will be key to successful schools?

How do you ‘teach’ children how to learn in your school?

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#LoveTeaching…Why I’m Here and Why I’ll Stay…

I’m responding today to the #LoveTeaching theme.  How I came to be in teaching and why I love it…

Teaching wasn’t what I had imagined when I was in high school.  I thought I was going to be the next Jane Goodall, or I was going to go and live with some remote Tanzanian tribe and be a journalist/anthropologist.  Yes, that was what I wanted to do.

I went to University on a writing scholarship and had been asked to be a part of their volleyball squad (in those days, volleyball took up most of my spare time).  Quickly, volleyball fell off the schedule as I realised that professional volleyball wasn’t where I was going to make it, so I focused on Anthropology, Sociology and Writing.  Half way through my degree I moved to England.  While I was finishing my degree over here, I began looking for a job.  I ended up in a small headteacher’s office, explaining why I would be a good candidate to be a teaching assistant in an EBD school for boys.  A week later, I began my new role.Screen Shot 02-13-16 at 11.28 PM

It was this school, or rather the pupils and staff within in it, that fueled my desire to get into teaching.  I worked with boys between about 7 and 14.  They were tough, challenging and didn’t want to let anyone in.  To be honest, not much teaching ever went on as the boys were more intent on causing as much trouble as possible, but it was when you had those ‘breakthroughs’, when interest was sparked, that still to this day make my hair stand on end.  Realising that I could and was making an impact on some of these boys began my journey into teaching.

While there, after completing my undergraduate dissertation on ‘Rewards and Sanctions in an EBD School: A Case Study’, I began my PGCE.

My first teaching job was in a small school where I had to teach years 3 , 4, 5 and 6 in one classroom.  Talk about differentiation!  I was expected to do daily lesson plans for every subject and I was differentiating almost twelve ways in every lesson.  Looking back, I’m not quite sure how I kept it up, but it was definitely what gave me a solid grounding of teaching and learning. Back then, I realised that planning ‘lessons’ wasn’t the way to go, planning the ‘learning’ based on what children did and didn’t know was how to keep progress moving for every child.  From here I was accepted onto Fast Track Teaching…I knew from the beginning that I wanted to become a headteacher.

I moved through a few schools and leadership positions, completing both Leadership Pathways and the NPQH and eventually becoming a facilitator for the Middle Leadership Programme for the NCSL.

Finally, I ended up here in headship.  I love teaching, but being able to promote change for an entire school is incredible.  I have learnt so much along my journey, both what to do and what not to do.  I’m still learning every day, but every day, no matter what obstacles are in my way, I truly enjoy every moment.  Fortitude is what gets me through…that and a smile.

People always ask how I am ‘always’ smiling…the truth?  I absolutely am in love with what I do.

Why will I stay in education?  For those smiles that I receive every day from both the children and the staff..the moments when a child’s eyes light up when after making lots of mistakes, finally get it right…learning alongside everyone about what we can do to improve…teaching character through values like resilience, tenacity, grit, bounce-back-ability…and seeing them being used.  Watching teachers try something new and getting it right…being inspired and motivated every day…My list could go on and on…

What I would say to a new teacher or someone thinking of going into teaching?

This will be the most challenging job you could choose…don’t do it if you have any doubts about it, it is hard, you will live and breathe it…but if you decide to teach, it is the best job in the world.  It can be the most fulfilling and rewarding job as well…you decide.  You must put in 110% every day that you are in front of the kids…you will become the best actor and refine every theatrical strategy you have ever been taught…but every child will look up to you and learn from you, you will be their main role model, therefore you must think about every move you make and every word that you use.  You will be more influential than you realise.  But to continue to love your job and remain passionate about teaching, it is vital that you maintain a work-life balance.  This is key.  If you enjoy ‘life’ away from school and ensure you give yourself time to reflect and refresh, you will be a ‘great’ teacher.  Don’t let others determine what your work-life balance will look like, only you can control it.  Don’t be afraid to challenge the ‘status quo’ – be brave and always put learning at the centre of everything you do.     If you take care of your health and wellbeing – you will be more effective.  You will make a difference to every life you touch…

#ShineOn! #BeExtraordinary! #BeALeaderNotAFollower




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Are you an ‘extraordinary’ leader?

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Having read a few @staffrm blogs and various Tweets today, it has reminded me of the importance of being ‘true to oneself’.  Often, we find ourselves in situations where our persona changes, or we alter our personality to fit the circumstances.  You all know exactly what I mean.

I have learnt many lessons, that being genuinely YOU will bring you greater joy than if you hadn’t let who you ‘are’ shine through.  In fact, if you are trying to fit in by not allowing your true ‘self’ to shine through, then your happiness will suffer.  Also, you can only keep up an ‘act’ for so long before the cracks begin appearing.  If you aren’t accepted for who YOU are, then either the people you are with, or the place you are in, isn’t right for ‘you’.

As a leader, the fact that you are ‘unique’ and ‘different’ makes you stand apart from the rest.  Most leaders have dominant character traits that make them ‘extraordinary’.  Great leaders don’t hold back – their true, genuine self is what makes them influential and inspirational.

This term our theme at school has been about being ‘extraordinary’.  This means being ‘extraordinary’ learners, friends, and leaders.  It has made me think about how I have demonstrated being ‘extraordinary’.

Are you an ‘extraordinary’ leader?  Do you compromise your ‘personality’ or your ‘character’ to be that leader?

Be You…..’Extra’ordinary…and #ShineOn!


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Where did the ‘learning’ go?

Teachers are entering a brave new world.

Assessment should begin looking very different to when we lived in a ‘level’s’ world. Formative assessment should interweave every lesson, where the ‘feedback’ from pupils helps teachers to deliver focused and specific lessons based on the ‘needs’ of their children.  Learning should be at the centre of every lesson.

The previous statement should be a given, but when you think back to the way we were teaching (or the generic structure that shape many lessons), lessons have become so formulaic and confined, where we have been teaching to the curriculum, to the units that came next…not to our pupil’s needs.  Lately we have been discussing this as a staff, thinking about how our new assessment system gives us the freedom to ‘back-track’ to ensure that every child has secured key skills.  Why are there still so many children who make it to the end of primary school, but have major gaps in their learning?  Have we all been too concerned with working ‘through’ the curriculum rather than focusing on securing the ‘learning’?

It is a difficult transition to be given such freedom to change the shape of the lesson, to focus on the ‘learning’ that is necessary for the pupils within the class.  Therefore, there is truth in the fact that teachers require bravery and courage to do what is right, to focus on ‘learning’.  It may mean that the certain criteria that Ofsted so often look for are no longer visible, but if that is what it takes to put learning at the heart of the classroom, then how can we go far wrong?  It can be difficult to go against the ‘status quo’ – this is why fortitude and resilience are so crucial.

Hattie comments, “that feedback is critical to raising achievement is becoming well understood, but that it is so absent in classroom (at least in terms of being received by students) should remain an important conundrum” (p. 152, 2012).  What has happened is that we have not given enough time and commitment to the two-way process of feedback, which in turn is why it is so apparently lacking in classrooms.  But why has the process taken so long to embed?

In concluding Chapter 7, Hattie considers, “it could be powerful to move research beyond descriptions of types of feedback towards discovering how to embed ‘bet fit’ feedback not only in instruction, but also to help students to seek it, evaluate it and use it in their learning and towards teachers receiving feedback from students such that they then modify their teaching.  This may require a move from talking less about how we teach to more about how we learn, less about reflective teaching and more about reflective learning and more research about how to embed feedback into the learning processes” (p 152, 2012).  This should be the process – planning learning and next steps based on the feedback from each lesson.  When and why have we ever deviated from this?

Let’s get learning back at the core of everything that we do in schools.

Be brave, be bold and do what is right for your children.

As Hattie establishes , “reflective learning”…..let’s get back to what matters.



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Teaching pupils how to give feedback…

As part of Assessment for Learning, the use of peer and self evaluation has become a standard part of classroom practice.  However, is it being done effectively and actually helping children progress in their work?

Di Pardoe gave our school a few tips to help generate more effective feedback, such as the use of trios and ‘book on top of book’ marking.  Trios (pairing children in threes rather than twos) has had a visible impact on the discussions that take place in the classroom. Previously when classes were observed, you would have various ‘pairs’ of children not exchanging ideas, whereas when children are grouped in ‘trios’ the ideas that are generated tend to be more substantial.  Three children add a different dynamic to a group and it does help to elicit more discussion.

Another simple idea is to get children to put their book on top of their partner’s book and to self and peer assess their work together.  This way the pairs discuss the things that work well and the things that need to be improved based on success criteria.  This simple change, ensures that children are focused on one piece of work and can discuss the ‘next steps’ together rather than in isolation.

Hattie discusses the importance of teaching children how to give feedback based on prompts and key questions.  He affirms that, “students and their peers regarded giving and receiving peer feedback to be a potentially enriching experience because it allowed them to identify their learning gaps, collaborate on error detection and correction, develop their ability to self-regulate, including monitoring their own mistakes, and initiate their own corrective measures or strategies.  A major message is that the positive value of peer feedback requires deliberate instructional suppport (such the use of Gan’s model) of the three major feedback levels and associated prompts for each level” (Hattie, p. 150, 2012).  Therefore, it is essential that teachers model and coach pupils through effective feedback.

This is where visualisers become an invaluable resource. They can give teachers the chance to model how feedback can be given.  Through the use of scaffolds and prompts, children can learn to provide useful, focused and ‘learning’ centred feedback’ that can improve the learning of all involved.

Hattie makes reference to Nuthall’s (2007) research which suggests that 80% of verbal feedback comes from peers (Hattie, p. 147, 2012).  This highlights the importance of teaching children how to give effective feedback.  If we just expect children to know how to provide feedback, then teachers are actually doing more of a disservice to their class than not engaging in such activities.  For feedback to be useful and seen as a positive experience, teachers must model ‘good’ feedback and provide the pupils with scaffolds, frames and prompts to help guide and coach them through the feedback process.

What does peer and self assessment look like in your class?  How do you teach children to give effective feedback that will help (not hinder) the learning process?


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