Wednesday, 25 November 2015

BYOD - A viable alternative

There were a lot of people at the National Academies Show today who asked me for a copy of my presentation, and whose names and emails I didn't have time to take down (really sorry! Other people waiting to speak behind me!), so here, for those of you who are gluttons for punishment and want to go through it a second time, is the thing...

Saturday, 10 October 2015


I've read a lot of really good blogs recently about teacher well-being, and what a tough nut it is to crack. Depending on whether you come from a leadership point of view or a chalk-face view, you will have different interpretations of where the problems lie, and what the solutions might be.
@kevbartle talked recently about the tokenism of some approaches (free tea and coffee anyone?), or the tick-box approach we are often forced to adopt by external agencies who also want to be seen to be "doing something" to solve the problem. Surprisingly, none of them seem to work. Surprisingly.

For what it's worth, here is my contribution to the debate. I hope it gets to the nub of the problem:

The first given in the debate is this: The business of schools is to produce students who, be it through good exam results or just more ambition, self-respect and belief, are ready for the outside world. We are there to give them "life chances" in the jargon. In a utilitarian view of education, they are the product which feeds the economy, and the product has to be top-notch. From a more humanitarian perspective, students are individual humans whose contribution can improve society if we have done our job well.

The second given is that our job as teachers and school leaders is to deliver that. The ultimate needs of the students must come above our own. Unfortunately, this very often includes the needs of staff well-being, or the needs we may have as normal human beings to have a life. We have chosen a career which, if we let it, can degenerate into a massive black hole for all our energies.

In this context, my contention is this: If students are the products of the system, we are the craftspeople who shape the product. We, and I realise I am risking derision for my choice of words here, are tools. If you're happy for me to carry on with this analogy, it works like this: A craftsman chooses how well he keeps his tools. He can buy them cheap, use them until they wear out, and then just get rid of them. Or, as is the case with real craftsmen, you can look after them carefully, keep them sharp, and produce excellent work with them for a long time.

For me, the well-being debate boils down to this: As a school leader, do your actions contribute towards wearing the tools out prematurely or do they contribute towards keeping them as sharp as possible for as long as possible?

To make my point, under which of the two categories would you place the following activities?
  • Free tea and coffee at break-times
  • Creating support systems around the school (ICT, SIMS, First Aid, school comms etc) which just work reliably day in day out
  • A reliable and easy-to-use VLE
  • Time to meet in teams to plan lessons together
  • Audits of lessons, learning objectives, marking etc
  • Staff socials
  • Timetables which minimise split classes, room changes, etc
  • Timetables which give staff time to socialise and discuss daily problems
  • Setting up a staff well-being committee
  • Staff freebies, such as health insurance or discounts on well-being services
  • Thinking hard about any new initiative, and whether it adds to or distracts from the "main thing": Teaching and learning.
To me, anything which allows teachers to teach more effectively and more efficiently is a sharpening tool: Anything which gets in the way of that is blunting the effectiveness of the tool. Ultimately, that will have knock-on effects for the outcomes we produce as schools.

Monday, 6 July 2015


Very swift blog post following on from a session I delivered to this year's (inspiring!) #PedagooLondon2015 conference...

Apart from the sheer joy of getting to meet forces for positivity such as the likes of @Kevbartle, @hgaldinoshea, @Edutronic_Net@joeybagstock and several other personal heroes(!), the conference gave me the opportunity to reflect on my own practice, collect my own thoughts on how well it was going, and be realistic in my appraisal of the major obstacles I was facing. Through the ensuing debates about the validity of what I was proposing as a pedagogy on Twitter, you'll see there were plenty of questions which are hard to answer over 140 characters, so if you would like to engage in debate and discussion, please feel free to email me, or leave a comment.

If anyone wants some practical help with implementing the nitty-gritty of this stuff in their school, I'm sure mine will be happy to release me. Probably for a fee. Don't go thinking I get a cut of it neither!

Anyway, here are the slides...

Flipping the classroom using mobile technology

Monday, 6 April 2015

Boss It! - A guide to planning and writing outstanding exam essays

Our English department at school are great, and they really do create some great study aids, as well as fantastic acronyms and scary posters. Frankly, they don't get the credit they deserve!

So I've decided it's my mission today to get their fantastic-ness out there to all of you who are either revising for exams, or trying desperately to get your students  to do so! This video follows on directly from my video playlist on effective revision strategies which I shared last week, and which is based on the latest research into cognitive techniques. hopefully it will help.

But once you've learnt your stuff, you can easily score an extra 10% in exams (in my humble opinion) by having a system for planning and writing essays as comprehensively as this.

Please share far and wide, and let me know what you think...

Revision planning

A series of videos put together from material researched by the ever-generous @chrishildrew.

Hope this helps students to revise effectively...

Sunday, 4 January 2015

Principles of a good work-life balance in teaching

Over October half-term I wrote a blog about how teachers could reconnect with themselves as people, in order to start looking for that elusive work-life balance thingy they all talk about. As we approached New Year and I indulged in the usual reflections about the year, I came to two conclusions:

1) 2014 had been extremely kind to me and my family;

2) My job as a teacher hadn't dominated my thoughts about how good the year had been.

There are lots of ways to read that, but I think it means that for me, considering what an excellent year it had been professionally (ALPS1/2 for A levels, FFTD for GCSE, major show within the Faculty, and lots of particular success stories for individual students which, while they didn't look overwhelming on paper, were significant milestones for them personally), I had also managed not to make my work the be-all and end-all of my perception of happiness. Other things have mattered more, and I think that's a great thing. Maybe it even represents personal growth. Wow.

Anyway, for this quick New Year's post, I thought I would share a few of the fundamental principles I've found helpful in the search for that balance, for no other reason than the fact that, in my opinion, a balanced, healthy teacher is a more effective teacher. Here goes...

1) Remember that some jobs are fundamentally incompatible with day-to-day family engagement: Accept this and work around it

2) Never put the quality of your life in the hands of someone else: You won't like their version of what your balanced life should look like

3) Elongate the timeframe in your search for balance: think about it over a term rather than a day or a week: What does your ideal term look like?

4) Make sure that your balance contains elements which nurture you physically, emotionally, spiritually and intellectually

5) Sweat the small stuff rather than big gestures: There is a huge difference in perception between how important you think a big gesture is, and how important others think it is. There is often a similar disparity between what you might think of as a little thing, and how much help it has been to someone else. Apparently, my offering to do someone's detention duty for them in the last couple of weeks of last term was a gesture which meant a massive amount to them at the end of a crippling term.

6) On that theme, be kind:  Not just generally a nice person. Look for opportunities to bestow kindness on others, without judging how deserving they are. Do it in secret as much as in public: The well-being benefit is as much for yourself, and these acts come back to you all the time. Actually looking out for the kind things other people do for you is equally a great way to become a more positive person: It takes your focus away from the negative, and it helps you deal with it much more successfully when the negatives arise.

That's it. Short but sweet. I hope that 2015 is your happiest, most balanced year yet.

Copyright: Scott Adams, Inc.