Educational leadership & learning

Archive for the ‘Books & research’ Category

Reflections on “Impact”

I have read through the latest Chartered College of Teaching journal over the past few weeks. “Impact” shares summaries of some recent evidence based research in education.

I set myself the challenge of picking out just one quote from each article to share with staff at outback school, to ask them to reflect on the one that resonates most with them a task this time. I didn’t quite succeed, but have not quoted from every article, so that there is still  reasonable amount and balance.

If you had to pick one idea, which would it be and why?


“Just as plants can be nurtured through gardening, so the brain can be shaped and moulder through teaching.” Sarah-Jayne Blakemore

“Effective teachers communicate clearly and concisely, with efforts to minimise distraction. For new learning to be acquired in an educational and meaningful sense, it must be connected to prior knowledge, which requires two way communication.” Paul Howard-Jones et al

“When we consolidate our learning, it not only becomes permanent, but accessing it becomes easier and quicker, demanding less conscious effort.” Paul Howard-Jones et al

“The need for engaging opportunities that challenge students to apply and test their knowledge in low-risk tasks that are free from anxiety.” Paul Howard-Jones at al

“In the absence of a one-size-fits-all prescription for effective teaching, teachers must constantly make decisions based on their own ideas of how learning proceeds and what they observe occurring in their classrooms.” Paul Howard-Jones et al

“Teachers can also provide scaffolding to help their students achieve success initially, and then slowly make retrieval more difficult as the students become more comfortable with the material.” Megan A Sumeracki

Cognitive Load Theory: “The cognitive load in a task is the amount of cognitive effort required by a person to perform the task.” Dominic Shibli

Intrinsic Cognitive Load: the inherent difficulty of the material
Reduce: breaking down content, sub tasks.

Extraneous Cognitive Load: the Load generates by the way the material is presented
Reduce: clear instructions, simple to complex sequencing, start modelling examples, students apply to new question / context.

Germane Cognitive Load: the elements that aid information processing

“If subject knowledge is incomplete, the student is unable to fall back on the long-term memory and the working memory becomes overloaded.” Dominic Shibli

“Threshold concepts…portals to new or transformed understanding.” Niki Kaiser

Six ways visuals help learning:
1. Support attention
2. Activate or build prior knowledge
3. Minimise Cognitive Load
4. Build mental models
5. Support transfer of learning
6. Make use of dual coding
Oliver Caviglioli

“To maximise the chance of learning new material, students’ knowledge of past topics should be committed to their long-term memory.” Caroline Creaby et al

“We know that sleep is fundamental for learning, memory consolidation and information processing, alongside restoration and repair of the body…insufficient sleep is associated with reduced attention, impaired learning, poorer academic performance and also mood and emotional deficits.” Rachel Sherman et al

“Students need to try new strategies and seek input when they’re stuck. They need this repertoire of approaches – not just sheer effort – to learn and improve.” Carol Dweck

“A Growth Mindset can make the difference between someone avoiding challenge and failure, and someone embracing it for the sake of learning.” Carol Dweck

“Where grouping by attainment is used, there is often conflation of the concept of ‘prior attainment’ with ‘ability’.” Becky Francis et al

“The goal of guided play is that children take charge of their own learning and teachers use their expertise to scaffold children’s learning by designing materials and providing prompting and feedback.” Rebecca Merkley et al

“Parents and teachers attitudes toward maths can influence their children’s mathematical achievements.” Beilock and Maloney

“Vocabulary is one of the strongest predictors of children’s educational success.” Tanya M Paes et al



Powerful presentations

How do people create and deliver powerful and inspiring presentations?


I have planned and taught tens of thousands of lessons during my career as a teacher.

I have planned and delivered hundreds of assemblies to pupils from age 4 to 11.

I have led meetings and presentations to staff, to governors, and to parents.

Most of these ‘audiences’ have been supportive and receptive, with the children usually being the most forgiving. I have made many mistakes and over time I proved my preparation and delivery.


In the last few years I have presented at a few TeachMeets and conferences.

I have found these far more challenging, more nerve wracking and every time feel like a bit of a fraud (who may well be teaching colleagues to suck eggs!)

I have had to think harder, more critically and not rely on natural style alone.

Nor can I rely on audience knowing me and having built up relationships over longer periods of time.

This summer I decided to take some time to research, learn and rethink my style of presenting. A key part of this was reading and reflecting on Talk like TED” by Carmine Gallo. Key points for me were

“Ideas, effectively packaged and delivered, can change the world”

Emotional – Novel – Memorable.

  1. Create a ‘Twitter-friendly’ headline
  2. Support the headline with 3 key messages
  3. Reinforce the 3 messages with stories, stats and examples



  • “Unleash the master within”
  • “You stand a much greater chance of persuading and inspiring your listeners if you express an enthusiastic, passionate, and meaningful connection to your topic”
  • “A passion is something that is intensely meaningful and core to your identify”
  • “The first step to inspiring others is to make sure you’re inspired yourself”



  • “Stories stimulate and engage the human brain…narrative is the most powerful way to break down resistance”
  • “Stories plant ideas and emotions into a listener’s brain”
  • “Stories are central to who we are. The most popular presentations start with a descriptive and rich personal story”
  • “The noise level of modern life has become a cacophony, the ability to tell a purposeful story that can truly be heard is increasingly in demand”



  • Passion – Practice – Presence
  • “Don’t deliver a presentation, have a conversation instead”
  • Pace – Volume – Pitch – Pauses
  • Problems: fidgeting, standing rigidly, hands in pockets
  • “How you say something leaves as deep an impression on the listener as what you say”



  • Twitter friendly headline: What is the one thing I want my audience to know?
  • “Novelty recognition is a hard-wired survival tool all humans share. Our brains are trained to look for something brilliant and new” Dr Pradeep
  • “Relate your topic to the audience by teaching them something new they can use in their daily lives”
  • “Increase novelty in a classroom and you increase the dopamine levels of learners…Dopamine can be addictive – our goal as teachers is to get our pupils addicted to learning”



  • “The jaw dropping moment is when the presenter delivers a shocking, impressive or surprising moment that is so moving and memorable, it grans the listener’s attention and is remembered long after the presentation is over”
  • An emotionally charged event.
  • “The brain remembers the emotional components of an experience better than any other aspect” John Medina.
  • Props – Demos – Stats – Images – Videos – Headlines – Quotes – Personal stories



  • “Over the past century a sense of humour has become a highly prized personality characteristic” Rod Martin
  • “Humour lowers defences, making your audience more receptive to your message”
  • “Humour reduces hostility, deflects criticism, relieves tension, improves morale, and helps communicate difficult messages” Fabio Sala



  • “If you’re really concentrating, critically listening is a physically exhausting experience. Listening as an audience member is more draining than we give it credit for”
  • “The longer the presentation, the more the listener has to organise, comprehend and remember. The burden increases along with a listener’s anxiety”
  • “The rule of 3 simply means that people can remember 3 pieces of information really well, add more items and retention falls off considerably”
  1. Create a Twitter-friendly headline
  2. Support the headline with 3 key messages
  3. Reinforce the 3 messages with stories, stats and examples



  • “Paint a mental picture with multisensory experiences: deliver presentations with components that touch more than 1 sense”
  • Dr Mayer (Professor of Psychology): “Pupils who were exposed to multisensory environments – text, pictures, animations and video – always had a much more accurate recall”
  • “In presentation slides, use pictures instead of text wherever possible”
  • Never use more than 40 words per slide, and always aim for less: 5-15. Key words. 3 short phrases with pictures or a background. 1 theme per slide.
  • “Use visuals to enhance words”
  • “Help the audience to FEEL your presentation. Step outside the slides every once in a while. Build in demos, show products, ask the audience for participation”



  • “Don’t be afraid to express yourself – your authentic self”
  • “An inspiring speaker should move his or her listeners to think differently about their lives, careers or businesses. A great speaker makes you want to be a better person”


With presentations at Pedagoo Hampshire and Teaching and Learning Takeover coming up in the next 2 months I think it is time to return to my drafts, rethink and refine my presentations.

Transforming Primary Mathematics

I have spent time reading this informative and thought provoking book by  MikeAskew (@mikeaskew26). Below are some of the key points that resonated with me.


Contrary to popular opinion, most children rise to the challenge of ‘hard’ mathematics rather than shy away from it…dependent upon a particular style of classroom ethos, close attention to the mathematical challenges presented and support for children in their efforts.

The nature of teaching is, and always will be, an adaptive challenge, rather than a technical problem…adaptive challenges require solutions that have yet to be found. We need to work with a view of mathematics teaching as an adaptive challenge. That means trying out new ways to teach and in particular allowing pedagogies to emerge rather than imposing them.

Current practices establish norms about different abilities…Society at large also labels people.

To meet the challenges of mathematics teaching, ways of working in classrooms need to emerge through the joint activity of teachers and children. Learning does not only happen in the minds of individual children – classrooms are learning systems. By attending to how the classroom community grows and learns (teacher and children together) it is possible to create classrooms where children: engage with meaningful mathematics; learn that they can learn mathematics; develop socially and emotionally; realise the importance of inter-dependency.

Thinking about learning

“Learning…is more of a reaching out than a taking in. It is participation…The agent’s activity and identify are inseparable from his, her or its knowledge. Knowing is doing is being.”

It is the combination of the following 3 together that makes mathematical teaching powerful:

  • Learning as a collective activity
  • How learning involves becoming as well as acquiring
  • Integrating the maths that ‘emerges’ as children work on rich problems and investigations with pre-planned learning intentions

Being meaningful is not merely about relating contexts to their ‘real’ lives; it is a meaningful context they can ‘mathematise’. (E.g. Place Value in Market Stalls example)

Teachers often say that the children can understand the mathematics but cannot apply it, rather than question the assumption that there is a logical connection in going from the abstract to the application. Starting from realistic contexts and mathematizing these may help the reapplication of this mathematics to other contexts later.

How do we encourage a classroom community that is a co-operative collective rather than a collection of individuals?

Thinking about curriculum

There is little point in teaching something if 3 months later the children show no understanding of it.

Most skills in maths only make sense in relation to other ones, so picking the off in isolation isn’t the most sensible way to address them…Outside of school most learning comes about through engaging in whole activities rather than learning discrete actions or behaviours.

Reflective teaching needs to focus on the activity, the experience, of the learner, not on the actions of the teacher.

“Learning originates in the experiences of the learner, not those of the teacher.” (Bernie Neville)

If we want children to engage in maths then teaching has to be based around collective problem solving, more closely matching the communities of practice that learners are engaged in outside of school.

One of the biggest difficulties in teaching maths is the assumption that what the child brings is not significant.

Thinking about teaching

Teaching and Learning is somewhat mysterious and unpredictable and we need to accept and work with that rather than behave as though it were completely controllable.

Complicated systems: particular actions determine particular, predictable results

Complex systems: effects of particular actions are much harder, if not impossible, to predict. Gardens are typical examples as they involve multiple feedback loops that dynamically change the whole structure. The results of actions depend upon the actions, but they do not uniquely determine them.

Teaching and learning is a complex system: learning is dependent upon teaching but cannot be completely determined by it. Accepting this complexity is liberating. It means teachers accept things as they are and work from that reality, rather than wish things were different.

The role of a teacher is to optimise experiences of learning, and in doing so maximise the likelihood of learning.

Mathematical activity: mindful or fluent?

“Trying to solve a maths problem in a way dictated by the teacher is different from attempting to test one’s own hypothesis. The teacher who tells students to solve a problem in a prescribed manner is limiting their ability to investigate their surroundings and to test novel ideas.” (Langer)

We need to pay more attention to the process of coming to know rather than the end results.

Successful performance depends on engaging in co-constructing emergent mathematical activity.

Is our focus more on finding answers to calculations or more on becoming mindful of the underlying mathematics?

Do the children need to learn their tables? The point of being fluent in addition and multiplication bonds is not as an end in themselves, but how they free up working memory when tackling more interesting and engaging pieces of maths.

As learners become more fluent and confident so they become more engaged and involved in maths lessons.

It is the lack of experience that limits what children can do.

Asian children adopt addition strategies based on partitioning (e.g. 6 + 8 as 6 + 4 + 4) sooner than international peers.

Variation theory

VT provides a framework for thinking about how to maximise the likelihood of learning.

“Exposure to variation is critical for the possibility to learn, and that what is learned reflects the pattern of variation that was present in the learning situation.” (Runesson)

Directing the children to look for and think about possible connections.

Transforming the learner

“The primary aim of every teacher must be to promote the growth of students as competent, caring, loving and loveable people.” (Noddings)

Research shows that attending to relationships in maths lessons helps to raise standards.

Inequality of attainment in the primary years may be more a result of children’s different experiences than their ‘innate’ mathematical ability.

You find yourself in the flow with an optimum level of challenge that stretches your capabilities.

Build a classroom culture that emphasises listening to each other, working together and trying things out rather than waiting for the teacher to provide help.

Any worthwhile mathematical experience is going to lead at time to some difficult emotions: frustration, confusion and irritation. Confusion is a necessary part of learning mathematics and can never be removed from the process.

Building mathematical community

“A sense of belonging, of continuity, of being connected to others and to ideas and values that make our lives meaningful and significant – these needs are shared by all of us.” (Sergiovanni)

Mathematical communities needs to promote: trust, friendliness, inclusion as well as resilience, perseverance and curiosity, and be inviting, engaging and welcoming.

Work towards building and creating shared goals and values, rather than imposing rules and regulations that create an orderly class but not a community.

Learning needs periods of incubation – over more time.

‘Sharing’ needs the vital component of ideas and solutions being built upon by other learners.

Tasks, Tools, Talk

Maths not based on procedural fluency but involves understanding means learners are active constructors of knowledge, not passive recipients of it.

Setting up tasks with a certain amount of uncertainty is a way to make learners engage mindfully and bring their sense making to the activity.

Introducing models (10 frame, numberline, arrays…) takes time. Learners will only appreciate them through repeated exposure, and it takes them different time to take them on as tools for thinking…they need to be part of the pedagogical furniture of the classroom.

Talk is central to maths lessons…it mean mathematical vocab becomes part of classroom discourse.

Making sense of problems by explaining them to someone else, putting them in your own words and comparing your answer with others all help meaning to emerge.

Thoughts on “Liminal Leadership”

“LIMINAL LEADERSHIP” by Stephen Tierney

Building bridges across the chaos…because we are standing on the edge.”

“External pressures and forces may restrict you but they do not define you. You are defined by your “why” and the integrity with which you pursue it.”

Stephen has 30 years of experience working in education: as a Teacher, Subject Leader, Deputy Headteacher, Headteacher and now Executive Headteacher of an all through multi-academy trust. He is Chair of the Headteachers’ RoundTable Group and is part of the SSAT’s (Schools Students and Teachers Network) Vision 2040 Group. He shares his thoughts and learning regularly via his blog ( and on Twitter as @LeadingLearner.

I have collated some quotes / ideas from his book to share with different groups within our own school, namely: Senior Leaders, Governors, Middle Leaders and Teachers. The content below is what I have shared with them.

All of the points below are directly from Stephen’s book. They may not fully make sense in the way I have summarise them, which is why I would highly recommend you read his book.



  • If you’re going to focus on something in a school, teaching assessment and learning seem a pretty good bet.
  • Creating a truly great school takes patience. Ultimately, truly great schools don’t just suddenly exist. You grow great teachers first, who in turn, grow a truly great school. A truly great school grows like an oak tree over years.
  • Being prepared to live with the uncertainty of a far from perfect judgment is part of developing a new, more informed perspective. Judgments become framed more within the context of lines of enquiry coming out of data, observations, book scrutinies and discussions.
  • When you own the changes you make, it is surprising how quickly they are implemented. Teachers want to get better; they also want to have a say in what getting better is for them.
  • Part of the liminal world created for leaders by being more informed is managing the tension that uncertainty brings.
  • Testing is an imperfect way of judging the knowledge of a child, capability of a teacher or value added by a school…What does the evidence look like over time and from multiple sources?


  • Authentic leadership is rooted in a complex merging of awareness and knowledge of self, values and beliefs.
  • The ability to deal with complexity, see the bigger picture and manage the tensions between different competing demands is important for leaders…making connections between disparate parts and weaving them into a coherent picture.
  • It is a challenge to manage the tensions and expectations of early headship: how do you prove you are a capable leader whilst not falling into the trap of doing everything yourself.
  • One of the biggest challenges for leaders is how to connect people to the bigger picture so they can make sense of the job they do, how it relates to others’ work and the vision of the school.


  • Invest time in coaching. Coaching is about building trust; it’s a longer term commitment to helping a person be the best self they can be.
  • People are more likely to follow when we do with rather than do to.
  • Highly emotionally intelligent, literate and resilient…taking their team with them through challenging times.
  • Explaining and emphasising the vision and goals.
  • Reservoir of hope and optimism, maintaining high morale, positive relationships and a sense of togetherness.
  • Engine room of school improvement. Their induction, ongoing education and authentic opportunities to lead will play a large part in whether a school is successful.
  • Appointing staff is one of the most critical roles you have as a headteacher.
  • Authority – Capacity – Accountability – Responsible – Consult – Inform.


  • A job is something you do for money. But a career is something you do because you’re inspired to do it. Chase your passion not your pension.
  • Too much time on the edge leads to exhaustion.
  • Rebalance education, with a greater emphasis on drawing out the person…the whole person is the whole point.
  • Communities function on reciprocity and forgiveness. Schools only work because staff, often and generously, go the extra mile…Relationships are built on the numerous small emotional deposits made over many years.


Middle leaders

  • It’s getting everyone working in the same direction which makes the biggest difference.
  • Act as a pivotal point, ensuring vision and goals are implemented day by day.
  • Powerhouse of innovation and organisation and act as standard bearers…think creatively, open to radical ideas and enjoy solving problems.
  • Right attitudes plus high aptitude are multipliers; their impact is the product rather than the sum of their parts.
  • Time spent on high quality professional development is never wasted.
  • One of the biggest challenges for leaders is how to connect people to the bigger picture so they can make sense of the job they do, how it relates to others’ work and the vision of the school.
  • ·Social capital is about connecting people. Great people working together and increasing their skills and knowledge is fantastic but it is how we put all this capital together for the benefit of the pupils that puts the final piece in the jigsaw.
  • To develop a culture you need the early adopters and champions, but cultures only embed when there is mass participation.



  • Education is an act of love; it is an act of giving to each and every child.
  • Never lose your passion for what happens in the classroom; learning, pedagogy, assessment and curriculum will continue to fascinate you.
  • Coaching is about building trust; it’s a longer term commitment to helping a person be the best self they can be.
  • Great professional development improves teaching in order to impact positively on pupil outcomes.
  • We need to know what each teacher is good at and what they need and wish to improve.
  • We can all fall into the danger of deciding “this is good teaching because I am a good teacher and this is what I do”


  • See lessons as part of a phase of learning: sequencing and structuring the learning.
  • Clarity of focus on Learning Objective.
  • More focus on ensuring gains in learning and less focus on activities and completing tasks.
  • Adapting lessons based on prior assessment.
  • Collaborative planning and discussing teaching assessment and learning.
  • Don’t plan lessons, plan learning.
  • Find out what the pupils know and don’t know and teach accordingly.
  • Life after levels is primarily a curriculum issue not a data one.
  • Less assessment for leaders, more assessment for learners.


  • Professional capital assumes good teaching: – requires high levels of education and long training – involves wise judgment informed by evidence and experience – maximises, mediates and moderates online learning
  • Social capital is about connecting people. Great people working together and increasing their skills and knowledge is fantastic but it is how we put all this capital together for the benefit of the pupils that puts the final piece in the jigsaw.


  • “Classroom teaching is perhaps the most complex, most challenging and most demanding, subtle and nuanced activity our species has ever invented” (Shulman).




  • As politicians become more and more frustrated by the lack of impact of their efforts, external accountability is ramped up.
  • There is a place for accountability but it needs to be far less pernicious and much more focused on supporting schools struggling to help pupils progress.
  • The data leviathan has to be tamed.
  • Over the past two decades, externally driven accountability has been one of the biggest drivers of leaders’ and teachers’ behaviours…often brings the fright, fight or flight response to the fore.
  • A few one hour tests in Year 6 cannot hope to tell you everything about a child’s education during seven years of primary education. Cue the narrowing of the curriculum. In terms of accountability, primary school assessment is now in such a mess that it could be almost a decade before a coherent system could be established.


Exceptional Leadership in Primary Schools

This book about Primary Headship by Bill Laar (2014) made a fascinating read for me at the start of my third year of headship, and still being early on in my professional learning and development journey. I found it particularly interesting to read the number of case studies of successful heads, who had thrived in their complex roles: journeys that were inspiring, strategic, driven and innovative. Whilst there were differences in context, size of school, leadership style and approaches to the schools’ development, there were also a clear number of common threads. I have summarised some of the main points / messages from the book in the sections below.


“Recent educational reforms have called for a radically different type of leadership: visionary and innovative, intellectually rigorous and enquiring, analytical and evaluative, competent in the management of the complex business of institutions, creative in the professional development of personnel, outward-looking and active in the making of professional networks”


Characteristics of exceptional Primary Leaders

  • Forward-looking and an inspirational vision of schools with the potential to instil in the children a positive concept of themselves and a belief in their ability to flourish in the world
  • Effective management of teaching and learning which enriches and transforms learners
  • Creative professional development of staff which improves teaching and learning
  • Innovative curricular design and provision
  • Strong partnerships with parents and the wider community
  • Courage, self-belief, determination and tenacity
  • Sharply aware of the growing complexity and demanding diversity of the role
  • Highly intelligent, sharply analytical, with the capacity to evaluate and understand the significance of information and data
  • Effectively distribute school leadership
  • Motivate staff, maintain moral, exploit capacity and provide high quality working conditions
  • Independent thinkers, wary of official dictat, open-minded, flexible and adaptable to changing circumstances
  • Self-aware, self-critical, rigorous, thoughtful, reflective and introspective
  • Ready to investigate and study innovation and development elsewhere
  • Remaining dedicated teachers at heart, emphasising the centrality of teaching and learning
  • Driven people with a consuming belief in the value and importance of their role and school
  • Humanity, optimism, compassion and belief in others


Headship and Leadership

  • Committed to developing children into assured, accomplished and positive social beings, constantly learning and achieving
  • Create, articulate and engage others in a guiding vision which ahs been profoundly considered, wisely informed and gives an inspirational view of the purpose and mission of the school
  • Be inventive, at the cutting edge of things, leading a team to search for, evaluate and try out the new
  • Binding staff together in a shared purpose, and regard their calling and work as a form of sacred trust
  • Transformational leaders: moving a school forward to be the best it can be, fully serving the interests of the pupils, through the shared endeavours of individuals
  • Welcoming and encouraging professional debate, constructive criticism and evaluation: creates a climate of reflection, celebration of achievements and treats setbacks as momentum for fresh endeavours
  • Calls for a firm sense of purpose, dedication, self-awareness, and a readiness to seek out advice and to learn from others’ practice
  • Importance of positive leadership. Working alongside people, identifying their skills and capabilities and building on them.
  • High expectations and refusal to accept anything less than the best
  • Putting together a strong team, committed to the success of the school, rich in potential, eager to learn and advance their professional development
  • The role and genius of the effective head lies in their ability to draw together staff in the creative enterprise of providing effective education
  • “The leader and staff of a new school must create their own history, culture, climate and vibe, and this is extremely hard and challenging work. There is no place for the faint-hearted”
  • “You are not paid to run a commentary on the disasters and tribulations visited on your school. You are paid to change it”
  • “Leadership is about identifying what it is you need to get done, identifying the best people to get it done, putting in the resources that will help them get all the systems in place to enable them to achieve the targets, empowering them to get on and do it, but coming back to make sure they are still on focus.”
  • “Leaders must have the conviction and determination to do what has to be done, based on hard, strenuous, mature reflection and judgement, for the good of the school and the betterment of the children.”
  • “We must be constantly about self-improvement. That must be the purpose that drives us – that inspires us”
  • “There are times, when in the face of hostile opposition, your convictions can waver…but that cannot be the way of Headship. You must remain true to your vision and beliefs, even if that may be personally bruising at times”
  • “Mastering leadership only comes over time, from reflection and response to practical experience, from a readiness to learn from mistakes and setbacks, from a commitment to collaborative professional endeavour, and from a learning disposition in a school that is a thinking organisation”
  • “I am a great and unremitting enthusiast for the school”
  • “A major part of headship is facilitating expertise and creating the circumstances, conditions and support so that highly skilled professional teachers can exercise their craft to the very best of their ability”
  • “The truly hard part is recognising destructive dissent, negative behaviour, unprofessional conduct and then dealing with it. This aspect can make headship an isolated and lonely occupation”
  • “One of the most critical challenges to leadership is persuading staff to embrace your vision, especially where there is a need for substantial change or where staff are resolutely resistant or ill-equipped to manage new directions”


Teaching and Learning

  • Having gifted teachers in an enriched school context, providing memorable learning experiences, is more likely to produce enduring and worthwhile consequences than having excessive testing, unremitting evaluation, and a narrowly focused curriculum
  • Schools are committed to ensuring that every pupil reaches and maintains the highest academic attainment possible
  • Help children to become reflective, self-aware, resourceful people, at peace with themselves; able to communicate with, relate to and get on with others
  • Imbuing children with a passion for learning and life
  • High quality teaching without exception
  • High expectations that provide worthwhile, appropriate and differentiated challenge for learners
  • An emphasis on meta-learning, which enables pupils to make sense of their experience of learning and to take increasing control over its planning, monitoring and regulation
  • A climate and systems conducive to learning
  • Want teachers who are flexible, adaptable, creative in their thinking, passionate and enthusiastic in all that they do
  • “Teaching has become more complex and challenging and only practitioners of the highest quality will serve”
  • “Charismatic, hard-working, organised and intelligent people can inspire children to enjoy learning and achievement”
  • “Meta-cognition – the capacity to examine one’s own learning, to identify what makes it effective, to master the strategies that underpin it – is absolutely essential to the effective learner


Continuing Professional Development

  • They see the school as a place of learning for all, with teachers permanently involved in the learning process themselves
  • The importance of ensuring all staff have a profound understanding of primary education
  • Learning and instruction-centred leadership can provide powerful structures to support, develop and enhance professional capacity
  • Teachers need to be perennial learners, continually trying things out and reflecting on what they are doing and its outcomes for the children’s learning
  • Empowering staff to feel capable of taking on new challenges and to benefit professionally from every experience so that they are constantly learning, growing and developing
  • Coaching in classrooms encourages a sense of partnership and mutual evaluation
  • Actively nurture the leadership capacity of staff
  • People only learn leadership by actually leading, by seeing duties, tasks and enterprises through to successful conclusions
  • Performance Management is rigorous, robust and linked to learning
  • A culture of shared learning and team commitment
  • A highly informed understanding of what makes for effective learning, derived from constant observation, analysis and classroom based research
  • Heads should spend a major part of their time in classrooms, mentoring and supporting the teaching and learning
  • The development, support and advancement of staff needs to be a priority in a ‘training’ school
  • “The development and training of teachers is inescapably one of the most important functions of headship”


Assessment, Monitoring and Evaluation

  • Assessment is at the heart of good teaching and successful learning
  • If teachers are to provide effectively for continuing progress and achievement they have to be minutely informed about the stages of pupils’ learning. Data from systematic tracking and assessment is essential, as it provides critical feedback and commentary, for both teachers and pupils
  • Formative assessment is central to the teaching and the children’s learning
  • An understanding of how to establish, maintain and learn from reliable and rigorous systems of evaluation
  • A precise knowledge of how each child is doing and what each child needs. A high value is placed on intelligence about the child’s performance, aptitudes, strengths and learning needs
  • Committed to the effective management of rigorous assessment and evaluation
  • The capacity to access, analyse and interpret relevant and important data and use it for the benefit of the school as a learning institution
  • Evaluation systems focus on the quality and effectiveness of teaching and its impact on the work and outcomes of learners
  • “It’s about peer assessment, self-assessment, defining clear success criteria, understanding the purpose of what you are teaching, teaching the children to be assessors and evaluators of their work, attainment and progress.”


Curriculum and Environment

  • The quality of the curriculum is one of the major determinants of a school’s worth
  • Offer the children a rich, highly relevant and up-to-date curriculum, a stimulating and enticing environment, and diverse opportunities for learning
  • The school environment should be an irresistible stimulus to curiosity, exploration, experimentation and constant learning
  • “A significant part of learning is dependent upon experience…a broad, enriching and inspiring curriculum is more likely to help pupils attain and achieve, particularly in those core areas”
  • We have a curriculum designed to stimulate the children’s imagination and curiosity by engaging them in programmes of practical, relevant and challenging activities…we pay equal attention to getting the basic curriculum right and ensuring its relevance and value to the need of learners of all abilities”


Partnerships with parents and the community

  • Relations with parents are crucial to the successful education of their children
  • “School must have a social conscience, and be organisations that are able and ready to contribute to the wider community”



  • Policy is formulated and implemented, so that accountability is expressed in a formal and methodical way
  • Being wholly transparent and open to governors’ evaluation


“Primary Heads. Exceptional Leadership in the Primary School” by Bill Laar is published by Crown House Publishing Limited (2014)

Creating a culture where all teachers improve

I have read “Leadership for Teacher Learning” by Dylan Wiliam this holiday. It was the sub-title more than the main title that really grabbed my attention:

“Creating a Culture where all teachers improve so that all students succeed.”

Having worked in a range of schools over 20 years, with many colleagues and having been privileged to visit numerous other schools I think the importance of school culture is one of the key drivers that make a difference. Supportive, compassionate and challenging: encouraging and empowering all staff to be life-long learners: this is the type of culture I endeavour to promote and help flourish.

Dylan Wiliam discusses that the main job of school leaders is to improve the work performance of those they lead…developing the classroom practice of teachers”. Leading by walking about, leading by engaging in regular, open, low risk, professional conversations, leadership by ensuring time and resources are available to support teacher’s professional development and understanding, and leadership by ensuring staff are partners in that on going professional development.

How do leaders improve the quality of teaching? Wiliam suggests two main ways: by replacement or by improvement.

Only a few years ago the approach favoured by the local authority in which I work was very much based on the first of these. If a teacher’s practice was not good enough on a consistent basis and pupils’ learning was suffering they advocated a swift process of working that teacher out of the school. I have never felt entirely comfortable with this approach, given that we work in education, which surely is about people learning and working to transform their capabilities, particularly when you take into account the 10,000 hours to become expert at anything combined with the fast paced changes in education which can make us all feel like novices every few years.

Over the last few years with a decreasing number of teachers staying in the profession, the local authority have realised that there is not a pool of ‘Good / Outstanding’ teachers sitting at home waiting for a vacancy, and have been far more supportive of improving and developing the teachers we have. This for me is why “Creating a Culture where all teachers improve” is so crucial, and if done well hopefully also motivates teachers and gives them far greater job satisfaction.

But who has all the answers? Who can say confidently and accurately everything that every teacher in school needs to change, adapt or stop doing to become highly effective? I certainly don’t claim to.

“In education, just about everything works somewhere, nothing works everywhere.”

Part of a leader’s role is to offer advice, to engage in professional dialogue, to suggest other colleagues to talk to or to observe, but also to listen and learn from colleagues. Everyone I have worked with has taught me something.

I think it is also important as a leader to summarise some key external research (which can often be contradictory) as objectively as possible, and synthesise it with internal collaborative analysis and evidence. This is a process which can take time, and it would unfair to ask class based teachers to undertake this whole process.

As a professional learning community in a school we need to ask questions about our pedagogy and the impact this has on pupils’ learning. We need to investigate together and analyse what we find, before clarifying the main development points and refining (not whole scale changing) our professional practice.

Wiliam focuses mainly on describing how successfully formative assessment can be used in teacher learning communities to identify and explore those elements which will have most benefit on learners and learning.

“A focus on formative assessment focuses on aspects of teaching that will have the greatest impact on student achievement.”

This has to be a collaborative approach between teachers and leadership and teachers, as he states that “attempts to tell teachers what to do are bound to fail”.

Wiliam describes how difficult it is to predict what every child will learn during a lesson, and that the end of the lesson they are likely to have learnt and understood it in the same way that the teacher perceives it in their head. This is why formative assessment is so valuable, to find out what they have learnt, how they understand it and what steps they need to take next on their learning journey (which may be more deliberate practice to reinforce their learning).

“We need to review what our students have learned regularly and frequently…before moving on is applicable to any learning”

Ericson et al (1993) defined deliberate practice as a “highly structured activity, the explicit goal of which is to improve performance. Specific tasks are invented to overcome weaknesses and performance is carefully monitored.”

In my roles I have undertaken a range of observations and drop-ins to classes to watch and listen to pupils working and learning. Often the most valuable of these are when I observe with a colleague, but we always ensure a professional dialogue with the class teacher takes place afterwards. The focus is not on making judgements, or just picking faults, but is often on trying to together analyse what progress in their learning certain pupils have made. What is the evidence? What did we see and hear? Are we in agreement?

I often tell colleagues that I am in a privileged position (and should be able to spot more) as I am able to sit down and watch, listen and engage in different conversations of my choosing. For class teachers, with 30+ pupils, trying to teach the lesson, manage the classroom and systems, deal with all the queries and questions, manage the resources, respond in real time to the learners… it is very challenging to have insight into how all the learners have fared. This is one reason why working with colleagues on peer observations / team teaching can be so valuable and enlightening.

Richard Dufour (2004) identifies three ideas that are central to the formative assessment approach:

  1. All students should be learning
  2. Teachers work collaboratively to solve problems. “Significant advances have been made by treating failures as system failures rather than as failures of individuals”
  3. The work of professional learning communities must be focused on pupil outcomes


Definitions of Formative Assessment

“All those activities undertaken by teachers – and by their students in assessing themselves – that provide information to be used as feedback to modify teaching and learning activities.” (Black & Wiliam 1998)

“Assessment carried out during the instructional process for the purpose of improving teaching or learning” (Shepard et al. 2005)

“Frequent, interactive assessments of students’ progress and understanding to identify learning needs and adjust teaching appropriately.” (Looney, 2005)

“The process of seeking and interpreting evidence for use by learners and their teachers to decide where the learners are in their learning, where they need to go and how best to get there.” (Broadfoot et al. 2002)


Other quotes from the book I found interesting

“In the future, young people will need higher levels of achievement than have ever been needed before, not only to find fulfilling work, but also to empower themselves to thrive in an increasingly complex world.”

“Teachers vary considerably in their effectiveness in promoting growth in student achievement, so improving the quality of teachers is essential to improving student achievement.”

“Help focus the development of teachers on aspects of their practice that will have the greatest impact on their students.”

“The relationship between instruction and what is learned as a result is complex. Even when instruction is well designed and students are motivated, increases in student capabilities are, in general, impossible to predict with any certainty.”

“Clear evidence that having teachers engaging in an enquiry cycle where students’ needs are identified, and solutions are then proposed and developed, can be effective.”



Embedded Formative Assessment

I found this book by Dylan Wiliam (@DylanWiliam) a very interesting read this summer. Although it was published in 2011, it still makes many strong and well argued points.

Below is my summary of these I am sharing with my staff in September. I hope you find it useful.

Embedded Formative Assessment


Tag Cloud

%d bloggers like this: