Tag Archives: teaching and learning

Reflections from Teachers’ Book Group

1 Jun

It’s that wonderful time of year again. Exam classes leaving and everyone wants to claim some of your precious gained time. My favourite aspect is that I can take time to reflect on the year and start planning what I’d like to focus on next year and STILL travel to and from work while it’s light!

We tried out a few new things this year and my favourite has been a teaching and learning book group. This has been shared by some fantastic bloggers from @shaun­_allison to @dan_brinton but I’m going to share a few points that you might want to consider if you are thinking of setting up a teaching book group.


Is it worth it?

If in doubt about whether it’s a good idea, stop doubting. It is. A book group is amazing for more reasons that you may have thought.

  1. It makes staff feel valued: They get books of their own, an opportunity to learn something new, to consider different viewpoints and share ideas.
  2. It will set off a buzz: There may be things people strongly agree or disagree with, techniques people have never thought of before or research that completely changes the way they think and teach. This buzz will spread as teachers start discussing things they have read or sharing ideas they have tried out.
  3. It is ongoing CPD: Just how ongoing might depend how book group members read it – do they dip in and out regularly or do a last minute readathon the weekend before the meeting! However, is does mean that throughout the year, each teacher will spend a considerable amount of time reading, trying out something new or reflecting. This is like being an NQT again but hopefully without the constant feeling of exhaustion (I don’t think that was just me!) Our book group has been composed of staff from a range of departments and experiences, including a member of SLT, but all have been in that stage of their career when their impact is apparently at risk of levelling off. (There has been a lot of discussion about this idea and the graph below but this post is not the place for it, see @pedagog_machine’s post  http://bit.ly/1SR3iRC) I think the injection of thought –provoking reading and discussion is a great way to avoid this and get on the dotted line on the graph below.
  4. It is great value for money: Yes, there is a cost implication but when it boils down to it, you are investing in your staff and when you compare the cost of buying a few books to the cost of a day’s external training, factoring in the cost of cover, it is actually pretty cheap.


From David Weston’s (@informed_edu) presentation at Research Ed 2014.

Points to consider

So having run a book group for a year, there are a few points that it would be useful to think about:

  1. Budget: One of the selling points already mentioned is that a book group offers good value for money, but there is still a cost implication. I started by working out the cost per person based on a range of books, including a couple that were more pricey and others that were mid-range. The next question is where the budget will come from – does it come under CPD, or is there a library budget that could cover some of the cost?
  2. Keep or loan: The ideal scenario is for the book group members to be rewarded for their investment of time by being able to keep the books, but if the budget is really tight, perhaps you could buy a smaller number of each book and have a couple of smaller book groups that run on a rotation basis? That way, when they books are finished with they could end up in the library for other interested staff to refer to. Perhaps if this is the model you decide is best for your school, you could allow each book group member to choose their favourite book to keep at the end of the year. An alternative to keep the cost down might be to team up with a couple of local schools and agree to each buy a couple of sets of books that are shared between the three schools.
  3. Rules: This has been a tricky one for me. The idea of setting up the group is that the members are agreeing to commit to reading a book per half term but this has not always been possible. Staff may leave, take on a new responsibility or just not stick with it and this can be quite frustrating for whoever is leading the group. It isn’t possible to avoid this completely, but I have found it better to order the books after each meeting rather than buying them all in at the start of the year. I have also made a point of ensuring that the meetings are arranged and books distributed with a holiday available, for those people who don’t read as much during term time.  I have also found it helpful to send out a reminder email a couple of weeks before the meeting for those last minute crammers!
  4. Book selection: This can be the most fun aspect but it is worth doing a bit of research before choosing your book each time. You may want to take into account the particular development priorities in your school, the areas of interest of your group members or the type of book that you read previously. As mentioned above, you may wish to order the books throughout the year and this can give you a chance to ask your book group to vote on the next book they would like to read. Our books for this year are listed below and some were popular with everyone, while others gave polar opinions.
  5. Sharing: Think about how you can share the findings from the book group. This is a fantastic opportunity to ask book group members to write a short article for a staff bulletin, post resources on a sharing board or even to ask people to run a short CPD session (like the Fifteen Minute Forum discussed by @shaun_allison in his fab book ‘Perfect Teacher-led CPD’ http://www.crownhouse.co.uk/publications/product.php?product=873). Another really effective strategy is setting up a blog for the book group so that staff can share their thoughts on the books with the rest of the school.


Book Selection

Teach like a champion: Doug Lemov

Full on Learning: Zoё Elder

The Hidden Lives of Learners: Graham Nuthall

Embedded Formative Assessment: Dylan Wiliam

Mindset: Carol Dweck

Practice Perfect: Doug Lemov, Erica Woolway, Katie Yezzi

The Lazy Teacher’s Handbook: Jim Smith

Trivium 21C: Martin Robinson



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: http://headguruteacher.com/2013/05/28/the-kegs-cpd-market-place/

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: http://fullonlearning.com/2013/05/27/even-better-if-we-specifically-focused-on-what-went-well/

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

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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

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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

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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!

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