Archive | June, 2013

Science: The art of explanation

23 Jun



Science is nothing without communication; science is about making observations and explaining them. So why do some scientists become TV stars, adored even by those who “don’t get science?“. My opinion is that along with an obvious passion for their subject they also are great communicators; they explain the science stuff well. The greats, such as David Attenborough, Brian Cox and the geeky, yet sexy, presenters of ‘Bang goes the theory’ have nailed it. They have made science accessible, interesting and fun because the average person on the street can understand most, if not all of what they are saying. We, as teachers, need to aim to communicate like this and, more importantly, teach our future scientists to do it too.

Science teachers, like all their colleagues, have their own way of explaining certain concepts or processes. Some teachers are brilliant at this and you find yourself regularly asking them for ideas on how to explain topics to Year 10.  I know there are certain parts of the syllabus that I look forward to teaching because they are tricky and I’ll get satisfaction from seeing the kids understand those topics due to my own special way of explaining it. This is one of those, ”I am an expert, I shall explain this to you and you will be amazed and eternally in awe of me” moments that I need to use sparingly. A better approach is to encourage students to develop their own explanations, models and analogies and then evaluate their relative strengths and weaknesses. I wish I’d kept a record of all the different ideas my students have come up with for explaining or modelling a scientific concept. My slant is usually if it’s a bit quirky, it’s far more likely to stick! I definitely recommend science departments compiling a shared list of ”effective ways to explain concepts”.

Models & Analogies

Science teachers use models and analogies regularly to assist with explanations. The Key Stage 3 strategy materials (links below) are definitely worth revisiting to reflect on the use of these tools in the classroom. I have selected some of my most commonly used models/analogies for a brief discussion:


Particles are such an abstract idea that I always get the molymods out as early as possible. My way around the scary technician who only wants them used for A level is to make up small packs for Key Stage 3 in resealable plastic bags with a little checklist of exactly the pieces that must be in the pack at the end (generally enough parts to show methane and oxygen (x2) converting to carbon dioxide and water). An alternative would be the little fluffy pom-poms you will find in the craft section of the supermarket.



Ask any adult and they probably remember memorising the definition but have absolutely no idea what it actually means in practice! Students have to see it in action, so I set them the homework of taking two slices of cucumber (or potato/peeled grapes) and putting one into a cup of tap water and the other into a cup of very salty water. They then try to explain their findings before and after learning about osmosis. There are many great animations of the process of osmosis but if students physically make their own model showing the different sized particles and the membrane (and possibly make their own mini animations using them) the level of understanding is deepened.

Electrical Circuits

Oh dear, I need a physics example. One of the best example as a non-specialist I have used is from the ASE book ‘The adventures of Charlie the coulomb’ to explain many features of electrical circuits. (  It allows progression from Key Stage 3 to 4 by introducing current, potential difference and resistance.

National Strategy materials on using models and analogies:

Starting points for explanations


How do I encourage students to explain what they are seeing?

I generally start by showing them something that will spark their interest so that they are eager to explain it. These are some of my favourites:

  1. The ‘fingerboiler pen’ ( ,
  2. The ‘passion meter’ (a round bottom flask with a bung and capillary tube in the top – a student is asked to hold the flask around the bottom under water in a glass trough. The more it bubbles, the ‘fitter’ or more passionate the person is. You control this because if you cool the flask first under a tap, it will bubble furiously but if you pre-warm it by holding it yourself, it won’t bubble at all!)
  3. The amazing floating globe (
  4. The Hoffman voltameter splitting water (
  5. The burning money trick (

These lessons are always focused on observing and discussing ideas for explanations before trying to write something individually. One of the most memorable science lessons I have seen was a year 8 lesson about thermal insulation. As students entered the laboratory they were given an ice cube and the instructions to preserve it for as long as possible. One student immediately put the ice cube under the cold tap, another left it on the desk whilst another wrapped it in their blazer. The students were asked to justify their tactic and explain the findings of the class.

My favourite explanation still has to be the reactivity series explained using students who are going out with each other. This obviously works best if there is a back story and you can exploit this, but the general idea is that you represent the non-metal as a girl in the class and the metal as a boy and ask them to stand at the front of the class linking arms. They are now ‘bonded’ or going out. The more reactive metal will be represented by another boy in the class – you may decide to go for a bigger, beefier young man or one who is a bit feisty to be more reactive, or go for one who is comically tiny in comparison with the first boy. Either way, the more reactive metal has to gently nudge the other boy out of the way and take his place attached to the young lady.


Writing (and not writing) explanations

In order to develop written explanations, I have used the following ‘thinking frame’ template in many different ways. I believe it originated from the Cams Hill Science consortium and was picked up by the Science National strategies to be included in their Key Stage 3 key ideas materials. It enables students to develop their explanations by first considering the key terms and diagrams (such as particle diagrams or chemical equations), then putting those ideas into bullet points before finally writing a full paragraph. These paragraphs work particularly well with ABC peer critique (outlined below).



Although we want students to be able to write clear paragraphs to explain scientific processes and concepts, explanations are really just about demonstrating your understanding.  In order to mix things up a little, rather than always expecting a written paragraph, I often ask students to explain using diagrams ‘explain the process of digestion using a cartoon strip’, models, flow charts or just the fewest words possible.

My final ideas are used across many subjects in many different ways but I still often forget how much fun explanations can be when students are asked to explain for a particular audience. Those that spring to mind are ”explain the difference between global warming, the greenhouse effect and climate change to my gran”, ”explain elements, mixtures and compounds to a six year old” and ”explain the process of peer review to Jay Z.“

Explanations are key to understanding science. It is important to judge your audience before explaining anything. In particular, what prior knowledge, attitude and experiences do they have which will influence how they make sense of the explanation? Both teachers and students should consider this when explaining a subject to their particular audience.  I try to use practical examples or familiar scenarios as often as possible and vary the explanation techniques to ensure lessons are as accessible and interesting as possible.


How do you develop a strong learning culture amongst staff (part four)?

16 Jun

This week has been quite an exciting one at school. For the first time since I began my post in January, teachers are getting the chance to shape the vision we want for our school’s learning culture in the forthcoming academic year. On Wednesday, we are abandoning our usual after-school training sessions; instead, we are going to hold an internal mini teach meet and staff are genuinely excited – if not a little nervous – about getting involved and sharing what they’ve been trying out with their classes this year. A couple of weeks ago, I read a great celebratory post from @headguruteacher about the CPD market place they set up at his school for their May INSET to celebrate all the great things that have been happening throughout the year. What a great use of INSET time! You could sense from the piece how excited his staff were for the opportunity to share what they’d been working on with their colleagues.

This is @headguruteacher’s recent post:

I know from my own experience that the market place format works well because that is what the local borough use when the lead practioners share their research with other colleagues. It’s a much more active form of CPD as you are able to speak with colleagues and question them on their processes and methodologies. I was interested in my school having the opportunity to listen to a range of colleagues sharing their classroom practice and so the decision was made to hold an internal teach meet. As I said last week, not many teachers at my school are on Twitter (the numbers are slowly increasing) but they have heard about teach meets when a few of us attended our first #TMLondon in May and one of our colleagues fed back to staff during our weekly briefing.

For some of you, having an internal teach meet is not the most revolutionary of CPD ideas, but it is a big step for us and exemplifies the changing culture at school. We have had to put some teachers on the reserve list because we’ve had so many teachers sign up to present! This leads me back to the core aim of all of the teaching and learning butterflies, which is a bottom-up approach to teacher development.  In the past week, I shared with staff some taster videos of the ideas from last week’s post: a staff book club; a marginal learning gains notice board; a teaching and learning staff blog; and an internal #pedagoofriday. Teachers seemed to appreciate these videos with quite a few emailing me or stopping me in the corridor to talk about them – hopefully this bodes well for the staff vote at the end of the week!

Releasing the butterflies: week two

In the coming week, I’ll be sharing more teaching and learning options through the Video Scribe taster videos. At the end of the week, staff will complete a simple Google Docs form where they will decide which options they believe will have the greatest impact on our school’s learning culture next academic year. At the end of the form, there will be space for teachers to share an idea they have which they want to include for September.

M.O.T. Learning Walks

2013-06-05 15.14.58

One of the things I did when I joined the school in January was to go and visit the classrooms of every teacher in the school (about 70)! This was a great way for me to get a feel for teaching and learning at the school. It was decided that the focus of the learning walks would be independent learning and stretch and challenge. After reflecting on these walks, I feel that I missed a trick: there were many brilliant things going on in classrooms which weren’t explicitly commented on because they didn’t meet the specified criteria for these learning walks. I had this niggling feeling that I had limited the usefulness of these walks by deciding in advance the rigid focus. This was confirmed for me when I read @fullonlearning’s post on carrying out observations. She advocated taking the M.O.T. approach – ‘More of This’. This approach works to change the nature of lesson observations and the vital post-observation conversation. Who hasn’t experienced at some point what Zoe outlines below?

“We can employ as much reassurance as we can think of in the form of…

‘It really IS developmental, there are no judgements here’ OR…

‘Remember, I’m not using the criteria to form any judgements in this, so don’t worry’ OR…

‘The lesson observation format I’m using doesn’t allow me to look for evidence that could be used to grade the lesson’

…BUT until a reflective and developmental culture is established (and even after it is), it is worth remembering that it is likely that it may always feel, for the person whose lesson has just been observed, that the ‘grading elephant’ is present in some guise in the room.”

You can read the full post here:

So, in light of this, teachers will get a chance to vote on whether they would like to adopt a M.O.T. approach where they set the agenda for what the observer is looking for and it is up to the observer to think where more opportunities could be built in to enhance already-exisiting good practice. I’m hoping that this will lead to a more open culture where staff stop feeling like they are being constantly judged.

Best Practice Pocketbook

Pocketbook Showcase Staff Learning Culture

A few weeks ago in conversation with @TeamTait, he shared that he was trying to produce a glossy termly magazine celebrating all of the wonderful things that were happening at his school. He was keen to promote Woodham Academy as a beacon of good pedagogical practice in his region. Unfortunately, my school is not overflowing with surplus cash at the moment – which school is?! – but when discussing this with the rest of SLT, we thought there might be some merit in producing an annual pocketbook for staff which highlighted the strengths of each department and include some individual case studies of teachers who were trying to embed an element of pedagogy. There have been numerous conversations this year where teachers have approached me asking ‘Who is really good at (insert teaching strategy) that I could go and see?’ This got me thinking: how do we know who is good at what? How do we share this information? At this point, I want to make explicit that this is not about saying ‘this is an outstanding teacher as judged by Ofsted’; rather, this is focusing on helping teachers working on their own marginal learning gains to go and see other teachers who are developing something similar. Fingers crossed there are enough teachers willing to be featured in the pocketbook : if the response to our internal teach meet is anything to go by then this idea might get a ‘Yes’ at the end of the week.

Open Classroom Week

2013-06-05 15.17.04

Following on from the pocketbook idea is Open Classroom week. I saw on TES Resources that @TeacherToolkit has created a sign for classroom doors which indicates to other teachers when visitors are welcome into the classroom.

I really like this idea because I think it will lead to a more open culture. In my last school when I worked with Mel, it took about two years of a relentless focus on CPD to change teachers’ mindsets on ‘being observed’. What’s really good about my old school is that people were always informally popping in and out of other teachers’ classrooms – but it takes time to create this kind of culture. It’s about feeling safe from judgement. For this to work in our school context, I don’t want teachers to feel pressurised to open up their classrooms. Ideally, each term, there might be several teachers who agree to open their classroom with one or two classes for a week. This is much more manageable and realistic; however, I would love to get to a point where we could operate an open classroom policy throughout the whole year. I think this teaching and learning option will only work in combination with the other ideas mentioned on this blog. I really hope teachers go for this idea because there is so much to be learnt from watching our colleagues, particularly when they are teaching the same students as us. It makes us reflect on our own practice and question the reasoning behind why we use certain activities or ask particular questions. Anything that gets us to be more reflective has got to be a good thing!

Borough hook-ups

2013-06-05 15.15.29

Working as an AST with Mel was fantastic and one of the reasons why being an AST is such a great job is because of the opportunities you have to work with other schools. It is easy to forget that classroom teachers with no position of responsibility might never get the chance to see what is going on in other schools. If you’re a head of department, you might attend borough meetings and speak with other teachers to share ideas. However, once you stop being an NQT in my borough, there’s no clear system for arranging to speak with other colleagues in the borough. Since January, I’ve had three members of staff ask me if I can help them get in touch with teachers from other schools. Yes, I can pick up the phone and try and arrange this but I think there needs to be a more structured and fair approach. At the moment, teachers at my school are very concerned  about National Curriculum changes and are understandably worried about planning new SoWs for the whole of key stage three. Oh, and don’t get us started on the new GCSEs! Where is a teacher to start with all of these changes? Yet how much easier might these changes be to put into place if you could work alongside colleagues with the same subject expertise but working in another school across the road. What I’d like to do is try and set up a link for each department to be able to talk, share and collaborate with another department in the borough. This opportunity mustn’t be linked to the TLR you hold: anyone should be able to benefit from a borough hook-up. This could be a vital addition to our learning culture. It’s very easy to get bogged down in the daily mundane tasks that need to be completed; having a fresh pair of eyes that can empathise with what needs to be done could make a real difference to teachers.

Hosting Teach Meet Ealing

2013-06-05 15.05.54

Last month, Featherstone High School hosted the first borough teach meet and it was such a good event. Lots of teachers coming together and forging links. Based on conversations I had at the teach meet, I am welcoming some visitors coming in next week to talk about SOLO taxonomy and I know of other schools who have made follow up visits. We were all in agreement that we much preferred this kind of CPD than the standard borough fare we get (sorry Ealing!). This will be the last idea I share with staff; by then we will have had our internal teach meet and they will have considered the other ideas that could shape our learning culture. If our school hosted Teach Meet Ealing next year, this would be such a symbol to everyone at our school that we had come a long way. I have this idea that this time next year, our staff will be standing up confidently sharing their classroom practice and inspiring others to try something new. I know that we have a great bunch of teachers at my school: all we need is the opportunity to shine and to be given the freedom to take some risks in order to become better teachers.

There’s a fabulous quotation from John Wooden, the American basketball coach:

“You have to apply yourself each day to becoming a little better. By applying yourself to the task of becoming a little better each and every day over a period of time, you will become a lot better.”

Our journey starts here: next week I’ll know the direction staff want to go in based on their votes. Let’s put our best foot forward and see where all of this takes us!

Part three: How do you develop a strong learning culture amongst staff?

9 Jun

Last week, I ended the post by stating that developing a strong learning culture is of utmost importance because it will help all of us at my school to be the best teachers we can so that our students experience great lessons every day. @ICTEvangelist has made this great poster which I agree with wholeheartedly.

Consistently good is outstanding

If you’re delivering high-quality lessons on a regular basis, then you have to be someone who takes their job pretty seriously. You’re not someone who is interested in getting a one-off Outstanding grading; you’re more interested in looking at the bigger pcture and creating sequences of lessons that help students to reach their potential. Make no mistake: being this kind of teacher takes commitment. It means not cutting corners and spending time thinking of new and better ways to teach topics you might have taught countless times. However, great teachers enjoy immersing themselves in getting better because teaching, to them, is not just any old job. It’s a passion (and I choose that often over-used word deliberately).

Releasing the butterflies

Tomorrow, I will be going into work and sharing with staff several ideas that we could implement that would help us to create a strong learning culture and be ‘consistently good’ teachers every time we open our classroom door and welcome in our class. Ideally, I would like staff to be so excited by all of the options for next year that they choose all of them! I want to do all of them: but it’s not up to me. As I’ve said before, there’s no point doing anything if you haven’t got that crucial staff buy-in. In two weeks, staff will have voted for how they want to shape their own development in the upcoming academic year. This is a really exciting stage for us and there’s a feeling in the air that change is afoot; our head began in September and I started in January to take up a newly created AHT role for teaching and learning development. Change can be a scary business though. Not many of us like to be taken out of our comfort zone but we must if we are to become better.

To get staff excited about the options on offer next year, I wanted to create some taster videos rather than write a boring email with all the options listed. To make my videos, I downloaded the Video Scribe app and got cracking! I LOVE this app. It’s so easy to make animated, fun videos with little technical knowledge. By the end of Friday, I’d made all of the videos so, apart from the new action research CPD model discussed in the last post, all I needed to do is decide which ideas to unleash first…

Staff Book Club

Book Club

The CPD model discussed in the last post involves all staff at school but I want to have an option for those members of staff who are really interested in pedagogy and are willing to invest extra time in reading about teaching and learning. Two things have led me down this path. The first was during my Skype conversation with @TeamTait. He told me that at his school they are going to leave a surprise gift of a nicely-wrapped book in ten teacher’s pigeon holes – no strings attached. The hope is that the teacher will read it and then pass it on to a colleague. I think this is a lovely idea – and who doesn’t like a freebie?! Alongside this, on Twitter recently, @EduBookChatUk has been created after many tweets about books that we’ve enjoyed reading and has made us think about our practice. It is currently being hosted by the fabulous @kerrypulleyn and the first discussion gets underway on Wednesday 19th June; any teacher can join in and discuss the chosen book. This time they will be discussing Switch: how to change things when change is hard by Chip and Dan Heath.

These two ideas got me thinking about how brilliant it would be to have a staff book club. We have a very proactive librarian at school and she has agreed to help fund the purchasing of five teaching books for twelve members of staff. The book club will meet in the library once a half term to discuss how the ideas in the book could shape their classroom practice. There will be tea, coffee and biscuits available to make it feel more relaxed after work (we all know how a cuppa and good biscuit can make the world of difference to people’s attitudes!). It was very difficult deciding on which books to choose; in the end I decided to choose books about developing classroom practice because I hope to encourage teachers of all levels of experience, not just middle leaders. The five books that we will read – if the book club gets the thumbs up from staff – are:

Zoe Elder’s Full On Learning
Claire Gadsby’s Perfect Assessment for Learning
Andy Griffith and Mark Burns’ Outstanding Teaching: Engaging Learners
Jim Smith’s The Lazy Teacher’s Handbook
Isabella Wallace and Leah Kirkman’s Pimp Your Lesson

The last session in the final half term will be a chance for book club members to reflect on all of their reading. To give more teachers a chance to get involved in the book club, membership is only for one year. Hopefully, those first recruits will enjoy the experience and spread the word so that other members of staff might want to join the following year. What’s really important is that these books will have sparked the interest of these teachers and that they are committed to continuing with their reading.

Staff teaching and learning notice board

In our staffroom, we have a few boards up and not one of them is devoted to teaching and learning. There’s a few crusty posters, the cover board and some NUT information. That’s it. Not the most inspiring environment to get staff enthusiastic about teaching and learning. I’ve seen on Twitter recently some pictures of other schools’ teaching and learning boards. @ASTsupportAAli has a Share and Replace board for teachers to pass on resources to each other – a great idea!

Share and Replace board

I’m thinking of having a theme each half term based on marginal gains. The idea would be that staff would take an A6 card pinned onto the board and share something they were doing to improve their use of questioning or explanations. Zoe Elder, a.k.a. @fullonlearning, blogs about marginal learning gains at She identifies eight marginal learning gains: expectations; anticipation; feedback; questioning; error seeking; autonomy; agency; and affiliation. I would like to choose six of these to explore during the year. By the end of the half term, there could be a whole board full of great ideas to try out. Let’s hope staff vote for this idea!

Teaching and Learning Blog

Shakespeare blog

Blogging is such a great way of reflecting on your practice. Writing them down into some sort of coherent form can be tricky and time consuming but extremely worthwhile. Alex Quigley, a.k.a @HuntingEnglish, celebrated his first blogging anniversary this week with another eloquent post on the importance of blogging. You should definitely read it, if you haven’t done so already.

Now I don’t think staff would vote for them all starting up a new blog – that’s a huge investment – but they might vote for the idea of an internal school blog which features guest posts from a range of teachers at school. Our school uses Frog learning platform so we can easily set up a blog on our learning platform. What we choose to blog about needs careful thought. After talking with a few colleagues, there seems to be a consensus that we enjoy reading about success stories but we also appreciate teachers sharing when things haven’t quite gone to plan. The thing we’re looking for is realism. It would be great for a teacher to blog about something they’re trying with their class and share the highs and lows with us. I wonder if there are enough teachers at school who will be willing to blog and vote ‘Yes’ for this in two weeks…? And you never know: maybe one of those teachers who writes a guest post might just end up catching the bug and setting up their own blog to share with the rest of the world!

Pedagoo Friday

Pedagoo Friday

My final idea to share with staff this week will be to introduce them to #pedagoofriday. At the moment, there are about 15 teachers at school who are on Twitter for educational reasons but there are many who are still not convinced about joining (I’m trying @batttuk!). This means they are missing out on sharing their best teaching moments during #pedagoofriday. I thought it might be a good morale boost to introduce a school #pedagoofriday but in what format? I love using the hashtag to follow all of the good news stories on Twitter on a Friday – it really cheers me up. Luckily, I came across a website called Todays Meet (no apostrophe, it’s not a typo) when Mark Allen, a.k.a @edintheclouds, talked about it in his #TeachTweet video last month.

Here’s the #TeachTweet video from @edintheclouds where Mark shares all sorts of digital gems.

All you have to do is label your ‘room’ on Todays Meet and it generates a URL. The room can stay open for two hours or for a month, depending on what you are using it for. When you post a comment, it joins the room’s feed. I think this website will be a great way for staff to share their #pedagoofriday moment with their colleagues. Hopefully, if they get into the spirit of our internal #pedagoofriday, it might lead them to join Twitter and share their great moments every Friday. All I need now is a catchy name…

So that’s it for next week. I can’t wait to see what staff choose. I hope it generates a buzz around school and gets teachers talking and thinking about the best way to support their own professional development. Next week they’ll be a few more ideas to share with staff. Fingers crossed that staff like these changes. You can’t please everyone but you can give people options. There’s a great line in @davidErogers’ post this week -!/2013/06/im-not-outstanding-teacher-and-this-is.html – about supporting teachers’ development.

Teachers are a mixed ability group of learners and it always amazes me that we treat teaching staff differently to children.

Hear, hear! When planning a lesson, I think of the 3Cs: choice; challenge; collaboration. The same goes for devising professional development opportunities.

Part Two: How do you develop a strong learning culture amongst staff?

2 Jun

In my last post, I compared the word Ofsted to Voldemort since I was sick and tired of hearing the word and wanted it to be banned from conversations SLT have with their staff. I believe categorically that bandying the word Ofsted around a staffroom has no positive effect on a teacher’s performance in their classroom – hence why I alluded to the Voldemort comparison. However, after an exchange with @kevbartle, I’m having a rethink on my previous position.

Perhaps banning the word from staffrooms isn’t the way forward; this could suggest that teachers are frightened of Ofsted. Professor Dumbledore wants Harry to use Voldemort’s name. In the first book of the series, The Philosopher’s Stone, he is adamant that Harry should ‘Call him Voldemort… Fear of a name increases fear of the thing itself.’


Who would mind having the professor in their classroom?

However, back in the world of teaching, I don’t want conversations about professional development and what makes excellent teaching dominated by what Ofsted claim is ‘Outstanding’. A different tack could be to push Ofsted to the sidelines and concentrate on what is important for the teachers and students in our own schools. When they do come along, we’ll deal with their presence then but, rest assured, we’ll know that what we’ve been focusing our energies on is getting it right for our students and not for an inspector.

So if we agree that Ofsted should not dominate the agenda, then it’s left to us teachers to push forward our own professional development. Last week, I stated that I would be trying to create a culture where teachers would have many different opportunities to develop their practice rather than big showy policies and initiatives. The idea was that lots of small changes can culminate in big changes.

Getting staff on board

Changes ahead

In this final half term, I will be sharing with staff all of the options we could have available to us for next year; crucially, it is up to staff to decide which ones they think will make a positive difference to their professional development. There’s absolutely no point in me promoting an idea if there’s no buy-in from staff. As mentioned in the previous post, I do have to reign myself in from time to time! This week I’ve been pondering on the best way to get staff to contribute to creating a collective learning culture and responding to the ideas truthfully, without fear of any reprisals.

At first, I was going to send a daily email to staff with one of the ideas and get them to vote on whether they thought it would be beneficial to developing our practice. After discussions with several colleagues, the consensus seemed to be that some staff might not feel like they could say ‘No’ if I knew who they were and might think they were ‘mood hoovers’ (to borrow a phrase from @MsFindlater!) So it was back to the drawing board… I thought perhaps using Survey Monkey might be an alternative but I don’t want staff to be given a long list of options without having time to mull them over. I also want staff to have space to include any comments – positive or negative – so that I can get a good feel for what staff are thinking. To choose the right method of communication, I did what I should have done all along and called an expert – step forward @ICTEvangelist! He advised me to still use emails to share ideas but then use Google docs at the end to gather both quantitative and qualitative feedback from staff. He reminded me that asking teachers to vote on an idea daily for the next two weeks might be a tad irritating to some!!!

The first ‘butterfly’: enquiry-led action research

This year, there have been eight twilight sessions spread throughout the academic year. Previously, the school has had an INSET everyone-in-the-hall model so teachers have responded well to moving to a twilight model. Teachers have been able to sign up for sessions that interest them. Afterwards, teachers have duly filled in their CPD evaluation forms which let SLT know whether they thought the session was useful to them. However, as we draw a close to this academic year, some teachers have been questioning what true impact all of these twilight sessions have had on their practice. We all know what it’s like: we have the best intentions in the world to try out that great idea we heard about but fast forward a couple of weeks later and more important things like year 11 controlled assessments have gotten in the way…

The first step to creating a strong learning culture is to move to an enquiry-based CPD model. Five strands have been identified as being important to teachers at the school: improving student collaboration; developing high-quality teacher and student talk; creating high-impact interventions; designing lessons that are challenging for all students; and implementing feedback models that encourage students to respond to targets. A teacher will choose one of these strands and create an enquiry question focusing their action research on one class. There will be four CPD sessions and teachers will work in a small group of around 12-15 teachers for the entire year. The group will be lead by two lead learners. It is hoped that focusing on one aspect of pedagogy for the entire year and sharing ideas with other teachers who are working on the same thing will lead to a more sustained change in classroom practice. In each of the sessions, the group will be set a challenge by their Lead Learners and will have to feedback honestly how it went with their class. The premise of the action research is based upon marginal gains. Do one thing really, really well before moving on. Too often we ask teachers to become better teachers without giving them the time to make changes, see what works in their classes and reflect on why these things have a positive impact on their students. Teachers have seen too many initiatives come and go without having the time to embed any of them.

Deciding on the lead learner pairings has been really tricky. Who do you choose? There are many teachers at school who are recognised in the staffroom as being great at what they do but there are also a number of teachers who have the potential to be brilliant if given the chance to shine. Bearing this in mind, the lead learner pairings have one teacher who has experience of delivering training and one teacher with less experience who perhaps might lack the confidence to lead a group of teachers by themselves. It is hoped that the lead learners will find this a rewarding experience. Furthermore, we know that the best schools are always looking to build capacity and perhaps some of these Lead Learners will one day be leading on much larger projects across the school. Ideally, if this model is a success, I would like to expand the Lead Learner programme where they can undertake research into something that interests them. After reading about @Head_stmarys’s Research and Development communities and @kevbartle’s Pedagogy Leaders, I’m keeping everything crossed that our school can become as innovative as theirs.

Here are the links to the two programmes mentioned above:

So that’s my first little ‘butterfly’ that I hope teachers will think can make a positive difference to their professional development. There are more ideas to come but I started with this one first because it encapsulates what all of the ideas have at their core: developments led by teachers; time given for professional dialogue; and a true spirit of enquiry!

I finish this post by going back to the wise words of Professor Dumbledore. In the fourth book, The Goblet of Fire, Dumbledore is charged with the task of keeping staff and students at Hogwarts calm now they are all aware of Voldemort’s return. There is an anxious atmosphere with everyone wondering when Voldemort will land at their door. It is up to Dumbledore to keep spirits high and remind his staff and students just how powerful they can be when united for the common good. It’s business as usual at Hogwarts, despite the looming presence of Voldemort.

We are only as strong as we are united, as weak as we are divided. Lord Voldemort’s gift for spreading discord and enmity is very great. We can fight it only by showing an equally strong bond of friendship and trust. Differences of habit and language are nothing at all if our aims are identical and our hearts are open.

Dumbledore’s message is one that all of us in the profession should be mindful of in these turbulent times. Ofsted aren’t going away anytime soon so let’s concentrate on what really matters in our schools: being the best teachers we can be so that our students experience great lessons every day.

the dignity of the thing

Christine Counsell's blog

Stack of Marking

Where the world comes to learn about me and my fabulous teaching.


things I notice in schools

Learning Geek Journey

Joining the quest for finding, sharing and leading learning ideas!

Leading Learner

Headteacher at St. Mary's Catholic College, Blackpool. Fascinated by learning & leading. Love collaborating and seeing new practice. Involved in SSAT Redesigning Schools & Vision 2040 Group.


What inspires - and exasperates - me about education


Most Influential Blog on Education in the UK

Monkey Learns...

Small changes can make a big difference!

tait coles @Totallywired77 - PuNk Learning

“Authority is supposedly grounded in wisdom, but I could see from a very early age that authority was only a system of control and it didn't have any inherent wisdom. I quickly realised that you either became a power or you were crushed” Joe Strummer

Thinking on Learning

Small changes can make a big difference!

Class Teaching

Finding & sharing teaching 'bright spots'

Full On Learning

Because learning is too important to be left to chance

The Confident Teacher

Developing successful habits of mind, body and pedagogy.

The Blog

Small changes can make a big difference!