Friday, 7 February 2014

How 5 good habits can lead to excellent teaching and learning

I recently had an observation with my line manager. I used to dread observations, especially when being judged by an expert teacher. I think the thing that even the most experienced teachers fear is an Ofsted inspection. Having received positive feedback for my recent lesson observation, I looked back on what I did and realised that most of it was automated, I do these things every lesson without thinking.

I came to learn about these techniques through our head of CPD (@HFletcherWood) whose numerous techniques come from the books of Doug Lemov and also talks and inset by Dylan William (See Youtube for a taster). By automating these good habits, we can free ourselves (literally and mentally) to address student's queries more effectively. Since the beginning of the year, I have managed to automate 5 techniques which have had a huge impact on my teaching:

1) Start the class with a "Do Now"

This should have a low threshold for entry and plenty of room for growth. My example was simply to state what you like/dislike about the following posters and to suggest improvements.

2) Positive framing (Catching them when they're good)

By using positive framing; only announcing names of people who were doing the right thing, it encourages those who are slow to start. "I can see James has started jotting down some ideas...I can see Megan has put one point for improvement". Within 30 seconds, everyone is settled, they all have opinions and are scribbling away. This is the most challenging class in the school. Those who looked like they had finished were asked to suggest improvements to the posters or think of general rules to make the posters better.

Compare that to negative framing where you call out people's names for being slow to start, "Ryan, you've been in here 5 minutes and you still haven't got out a pen...Janet, why are you walking around?". This type of framing adds a negative vibe to the lesson and may also lead to confrontation.

3) No hands up and no opt out

Asking only students who put their hands up is probably one of the worst habits you can get into according to Dylan William. The shyer students never get to contribute, those who are feeling a bit lazy will simply opt out and those with their hands up will get frustrated when you don't pick them. Using nametags or lollipop sticks on the other hand keeps the class on their toes.


In combination with Doug Lemov's "No opt out", it ensures that all students will contribute when asked to give an answer. If a student answers "I don't know", you can respond with "I know you don't know, I just want to know what you think". Every student has something in their head. If they're still hesitant, simply reinforcing that there is no right or wrong answer will build their confidence and even the shyest students will usually contribute an answer.

Extra tip: There are times when the question is so difficult that there is a good 30-40% of students who do not know the answer and do not even know where to start to think. In these situations, it is a good idea to do a "Think-Pair-Share". A think pair share with a written outcome means you can quickly see if the majority now have an answer to give or if you need to go from pairs to fours to widen the pool further.

4) Student routines

All the aforementioned are teacher routines. As a Computing teacher, you will appreciate that we have one big distraction in front of every student, their own screen. For some teachers, they dread laptops or a lesson in the Computer lab as it just leads to students going on Facebook. Social networks aren't even blocked in our school, but a student has never gone on a social network in any of our classes as far as I can recall simply because the consequences are so severe. Some teachers also find it difficult to get students attention. I would recommend asking students to close their laptop screens to 45 degrees on a countdown of 3-2-1. Some people call this "pacman screens", I've heard of teachers literally holding up a hand in the shape of a pacman which seems quite novel and efficient. I just call it "45"-efficiency in routines is important!


By having routines for handing out folders, getting students' attention, you make your life as a teacher much easier. Expectations are clear and students do not need to think about their actions, they just do it and in turn you're making their lives easier. By having clear consequences for not following the routines, most students are quick to latch on.

5) Ending with an exit ticket

Ending with an Exit ticket is the quickest way to find out what students have learnt in your lesson. No student can leave the room before giving you their exit ticket. With these little slips (No smaller than a Post-It Note and no bigger than A5) you can quickly spot misconceptions and it also helps plan the start of your next lesson. It's one of the most efficient forms of assessment. Some teachers sort these exit tickets into piles, one for those who will be rewarded with housepoints next lesson, one which is the average pile and the last pile is the one where students simply "did not get it". The last group can also be pulled up for a quick lunchtime mastery/catchup session before your next lesson with the class. As mentioned earlier, these piles go directly to inform your planning. Very quickly you can plan for the top and the bottom.

Closing thoughts

When you get the dreaded Ofsted call, remember that there is no way that any teacher can change their teaching style for one lesson observation without seeming un-natural about it. The kids spot it, your observer spots it and you just end up running around the classroom sweating whilst trying to do a load of things you've never done before. Yes, I've been there loads of times, in fact probably for every single observation in my first 6 years of teaching! It took a school culture which does not believe in "performing for observations" or "pulling out an outstanding lesson with lots of gimmickery" which really changed my practice. The most important lesson I've learnt this year (mainly from my amazing head of CPD), is that in order to be excellent, you have to practice (and practise) excellence everyday. As your good habits become automated, you end up freeing up some of your mental capacity and therefore you are able to do even more for your students.

Tuesday, 24 December 2013

Reflections on 2013

This post was inspired by and in response to Lalita Raman's initial Reflections of 2013

What are you thankful for in the current year?
First and foremost, I am thankful that our baby boy was born happy and healthy on 27th July 2013. Moving back to the UK from Seychelles was a big decision and a daunting one; I was unsure as to whether I should do temporary/short term supply work or go for a full time contract. This decision was particularly tricky (financially) given that my wife is self-employed and we would be welcoming a new member to the family. Luckily, I found a full-time position at a school which I really love. I work with amazing people every day; they are constantly teaching me knew things and I have enjoyed sharing some of my skills with them too. I'm happy and my stress-levels are fairly low compared to what they had been at my last two places of work. I also have the support from a very knowledgeable and inspiring PLN. For all of this I am eternally grateful and thankful.

What are you proud of?
I am proud of my wife for giving birth at home without painkillers or any form of medication. It was very emotional, but I don't think we would have done it any other way.

I am proud of my students, many of whom have now graduated from University and some of them have chosen to pursue teaching as a profession. Many are still in touch and when I meet some of them in the street, they're so pleasant and mature. I think we did something (or indeed many things) right at St Marylebone School, so I am proud of what we did there in terms of educating the leaders and citizens of tomorrow. My current students also continue to amaze me with how motivated, inquisitive and imaginative they are, so I am proud of them.

I am proud that I got accepted onto Google Teacher Academy (second time lucky) and got to meet some truly inspiring people. The ideas we exchanged at GTA UK were innovative and inspiring and I look forward to applying what I've learnt.

What memories would you like to carry forward?
The happiness and relaxed culture of Seychelles-it reminds me that sometimes there are some things which are just not worth getting stressed out about. The creativity of St Marylebone and the rigour and curiosity of my current school are other positive things I'd like to carry forward.

What would you want the year 2014 to be?
A happy year, a year of change, a year of revolution. Let's not talk about resolution, what we need in many areas of our lives is revolution. One thing I learnt at GTA UK was that we cannot change the world, but we can certainly change our world. So speaking personally, I want to be less consumeristic and more realistic. I want 2014 to be a year of questioning and reflection; why am I doing things in a certain way? What if I did things differently? What can I continue to learn from others?

What can you offer to the coming year?
Free Computing resources, anything I have used I will share, as I did at the end of this term (  ). I can offer my time and advice to those willing to learn, share and exchange (about technology, computing and teaching in general) and I can offer more rejections to demands which would be "nice to do" but are not going to have significant impact on my teaching or my students' learning. I can also probably start to offer advice to parents of newborns!

I invite you also to share your reflections:
What are you thankful for in the current year?
What are you proud of?
What memories would you like to carry forward?
What would you want the year 2014 to be?
What can you offer to the coming year?

Sunday, 3 November 2013

What do all outstanding teachers have in common?

What I'll be trying on the first day back Part 2!

I will start this post with a bit of pretext at the macro level. If you want to skip this, jump to paragraph 4.

I once worked in an inner-city London school, it was a non-selective school and so had a full comprehensive mix of students from the surrounding burroughs. 18 years ago, the school had 45% achieving 5 A*-C's at GCSE. For the past 10 years, the figure has been above 80%. Today the figure is 93%, yes that includes English and Maths! The headteacher once asked us the rhetorical question, "How did we turn it all around?" Answers varied from: Excellent teachers, small class sizes, a good leadership team, investing in the building, recruitment, teaching to the exam etc.

Her answer: "Whilst all of those things are important, none of it can happen without behaviour management. It doesn't matter if you recruit the most innovative and passionate teachers if bums are not on seats in lessons". In many schools across England, you can walk into a classroom before the teacher arrives and there is chaos...the teacher then has to spend 5 minutes instilling order.

Source: Multivox

There must be a way of having an orderly school with learners ready as soon as they enter a classroom. As a headteacher, she decided to find people who were strict, I will define this as teachers who could manage behaviour no-matter how challenging this was by applying a firm and fair behaviour policy, consistently every time.

She firmly believed that all kids inherently want to rebel. If you ban the use of MP3 players in lessons but allow it at break, one way of rebelling is walking into a lesson with your headphones on. However if you remove that barrier altogether by banning MP3 players within school time or within the school gates, you take that out of the equation. The mere sight of an MP3 player resulted in confiscation.

With this philosophy in mind, she set a strict uniform policy and her staff enforced it down to the minute details. It was an all-girls comprehensive and girls were only allowed to wear a blue, black or white headband. A child who might want to rebel would wear a pink hair accessory. The thing is there's a great difference in how much this rebellious act disrupts learning. In one school a child rebels by listening to music in class in another school a child rebels by wearing the wrong colour hair accessory. Clearly in the latter the impact to learning is minimal, yet students are still temporarily rebelling in the same way that any child wants to rebel at some point in their school career.

On the micro level, if you walk into any classroom of an outstanding teacher who generally delivers good or outstanding lessons. What do they have in common? If it's one thing that I've noticed in my 7 years of teaching it is this; they all exercise complete control of the classroom environment. Students know what is expected, "how things are run" as it were. They know exactly what is and what is not acceptable and that is because the teacher executes a behaviour management policy fairly and consistently. That is all. On top of that the teachers will differentiate, ensure marking is timely, actionable and specific, use a variety of assessment strategies, use lots of praise and constantly challenge their students of course. However, as a new teacher, I certainly remember focussing on all these other things, ticking all the boxes on the Ofsted-ready lesson plan. In hindsight, I should have started the year focussing on one thing- behaviour management. My school had a behaviour management policy, perhaps at times it wasn't explicit enough. Indeed, I have been in schools where there isn't a behaviour management policy or it is just very fluffy. If this is the case, you need to develop your own. Be explicit, train the students in it, be fair and consistent in its application. Even if "student X" is normally a "nice kid", if they talk when you are talking, you have to give a detention. They may cry and it may hurt you inside a little the first time you have to do this, but it will pay dividends later in the year. Why? You may ask. Why does my classroom need to run consistently like a machine? And does this mean there will be a room full of compliant robots with no creativity?

No. Quite the opposite in fact. Structure liberates.  If you want to see this in action, visit a dance or drama class at any leading school. The routines, rituals and behaviour management is always solid. Yet the students are able to be happy and creative learners all the same. When students know what is expected of them, they do not need to expend emotional or thinking time deliberating their actions and behaviours. They know what is expected of their behaviour, so they can focus on their learning. They can go from remembering and understanding all the way up to Analysing, Evaluating and Creating much quicker and their learning is much richer.

Indeed, differentiated worksheets and creative lessons cannot work without a controlled environment. It took me six years of teaching to realise this. I thought teaching was all about "teaching engaging lessons". In a way I was partly right, but in order to get there I needed to manage behaviour and exercise full control of my classroom first. "Engagement" is a dangerous aim to have and in an inner-city environment, you think that engagement is your ultimate means for success. "If I can engage everyone with exciting content and delivery, then students can learn and make progress". I still believe in this somewhat, but it is not the be-all and end all to an outstanding teacher.

I wanted to write this in August in time for teachers starting in September. If I were to give advice to any teacher starting a new school or simply a new year. I'd tell them that for the first 2 weeks, focus simply on behaviour and learning names. The lesson activities which introduce your subject are important, but without total engagement and control, it doesn't matter how fancy your slides are that you spent 6 hours preparing. Tom Bennett's top ten behaviour tips is essential reading if you don't have a week to read a book. Likewise, all his resources are worth dipping in to.

These two documents from Edutopia are also worth printing out and reading on your commute to school (unless you drive of course!)

10 Tips for Classroom Management (PDF)


If you are a member of SLT, help your teachers by designing an explicit behaviour policy that cannot be misinterpreted. Sweat the small stuff and make sure that teachers are applying it consistently. It will make your school a more pleasant place to be in and no, it won't hamper creativity. My first inner-city London school had a Performing Arts specialism and was recently awarded "Teaching school" status. There was no lack of creativity there and no, I don't think it  will impact negatively on student happiness and well-being. It makes perfect sense when you look at Maslow's hierarchy.

Source: Wikimedia Commons

Students cannot attain self-actualization, they cannot learn effectively and efficiently unless they feel safe first. Consistent behaviour management through rules and routines ensures a safe learning environment in which teachers can teach.

If there is anything more important than behaviour management, I'd love to hear your views. I under-valued this aspect of teaching for so long because I didn't want to be the strict/mean teacher. However, having applied my school's extensive behaviour policy this year, I'm happier and the students are happier and we're making great progress together. It's a refreshing change!

September 2011

Technology makes us better

Technology has been blamed for many things recently. But overall, I believe technology and social media is a force for good. Technology enabled the Arab Spring nations such as Egypt to co-ordinate their revolutions and also broadcast the institutional atrocities for the world to see and act on. Similarly, Wikileaks has enabled us to see the injustice that is taking place in conflict zones. It forces the government to take action and be better. It forces us to reflect, morally as well as professionally.

For teachers, we are able to network with the millions of teachers across the globe who are facing similar challenges, successes and learning points. We can share our findings, discuss solutions and take action, collaboratively. Examples of these collaborative efforts include: #edchat, #ukedchat, #RSCON3, and #140edu

For athletes, technology enables them to run faster, jump higher, be more efficient and effective in training and competition. The list of professions and uses goes on but there are also potential pitfalls or "traps":

  1. Over-reliance on technology
  2. Abuse of technology
  3. Technology as a silver bullet

Over-reliance on technology is not good. Examples include, becoming dependent on Spellcheck, SatNav, E-mail, Social Networking, Weather, Apps and any mobile technology. In some circumstances, these aforementioned technologies may not work or may be simply inappropriate. The classic empty battery syndrome and being lost in the middle of a city or even rural setting is a classic.

This reminds us that we should not abandon our traditional tools, techniques and technology and we should always have a backup/contingeny if our tech fails. In some scenarios e.g. courtrooms, airport security, using technology might be banned and occasionally, paper is still quicker and more effective.
Take marking for example, from experience, if you send a student electronic feedback, they generally act on it less effectively than say if you give them a printout with annotations scribbled all over their work. This "traditional" marking, feedback, formative assessment works more effectively. Don't ask me why, maybe it's because students can easily ignore or skim an e-mail, but when red or green pen is scrawled all over their work, they want to reprint it. They therefore improve it and then give you a new version.

Abuse of technology has been exemplified by the News of The World phone hacking scandal . To some extent, Wikileaks has also been accused of disclosing classified locations, which some terrorists could use as targets. The recent riots and looting in London was also coordinated using Blackberry Messenger and Twitter. However, on the other side of the coin, what's the best way to detect, prevent and address technology abuse? Using technology is the answer. I'm not a fan of an Orwellian State, but occasionally technology can be used to prevent further crime and abuse of technology.

The third and most important potential trap is seeing technology as a silver bullet. I am still not entirely convinced that iPad's belong in the classroom. Partly because, it still presents a rich-poor divide issue. There will inevitably be schools and students who cannot afford this technology and therefore access is unfair. Secondly, I still believe a lot of technology use is a gimic. Is it applicable to the real world or are we simply making teaching look good? What actual learning is going on? Yes, experiment and innovate, but do not become reliant on technology and do not believe that simply by investing money into new technology, all your problems will be solved. We still need students who can reference and read books, follow paper trails. There are millions of books un-digitised, holding a wealth of knowledge out there. Alongside, digital resources, these are extremely powerful tools for the future. On their own they can only take us so far, but integrating the old with the new and I believe our lives and learning will be greatly improved.

Tuesday, 2 August 2011

Matt Damon's thoughts on teachers and educational policy


Monday, 1 August 2011

Five things students say they want from education

5 Interactive Technology

4 Teacher Mentors

3 Innovation

2 Choice

1 Real World Application and Relevancy

Number One and Two will be my focuses for next year!

Via EschoolNews


Reform Symposium 3 #RSCON3 - An overview

The last 3 days was a blast, I kind of fell into RSCON3 accidentally, I noticed most of my educator friends on Twitter were posting the hashtag #RSCON3 quite excitedly. Being relatively new to Twitter, I had never heard of the Reform Symposium and I wasn't quite sure how it would work. To sum it up in a sentence,

"RSCON is a collaborative educational e-conference which transcends time zones, countries and subjects."

I started out on Day 2 by tuning in to Principal El's keynote speech and was immediately blown away. Here was a world class speaker, delivering 45 minutes of non-stop 24-carat educational gold. And I'm sat in my study listening in for free. In the meantime, 170+ educators from around the world are also chipping in, sharing links and setting Twitter on fire with the #RSCON3 tag. It was almost too much to keep up with and once the talks are uploaded to, I'm sure I'll be going back over a few of the talks that I missed.

Other highlights are presented on my previous posts (below), but it's worth noting 6 key themes which were covered in most talks:

  1. We need to be more free and flexible with the curriculum to ensure students can be creative
  2. We do not know what technology the future holds or indeed what the future looks like
  3. Both teacher and student learning is becoming more collaborative
  4. The more we share/retweet, the more we learn
  5. We need to prepare our students for failure and how to learn from failure as well as success
  6. Have fun-Teaching is the most exciting job in the world.

For the exceptional closing keynote by Steve Wheeler, there were over 200 proactive administrators and teachers tuning in from practically all the time zones across the globe. I begun to question how many world experts you can fit into such a conference. The answer? I'm not sure, but I think RSCON is probably more scalable than any other conference even (say) TED, given that there is no physical size constraint. So, that leaves it to us and all our peers/colleagues to make RSCON4 even bigger and better! Here's a hashtag to get us started #RSCON4. 

Sunday, 31 July 2011

Key learning from Steve Wheeler's Closing Keynote #rscon3

Thanks to Steve for an awesome talk, I've been following him on Twitter for a while, but his talk was one of the most enlightening and refreshing talks I've heard for a while. Alongside Principal EL and Guy Claxton, they would definitely go on my dream panel discussion!

Some highlights (Full slides at the bottom):

Some other nuggets:

For mobile learning policies and indeed any school policies, get parents on side first.

For mobile learning policy and AUP in new technologies, get students to help write the policy. They are intelligent and will have much better ideas than teachers and other adults

We all agree standardised testing needs to go. What can replace it? How about ipsative assessment-measuring against previous attainment.

We should blog, as it helps crystallize ideas.

Full slides below:

The concept of Web x.0 is blowing my mind right now!

For more gems, follow Steve on Twitter @TimBuckteeth His full details are also here:

Teacher 2.0 by Steve Hargadon #rscon3 @stevehargadon

Thanks to Steve for an awesome talk at RSCON3. It was clear, concise and inspirational.

Here's a quick summary of the 6 steps to Teacher 2.0:

5 Tips

Catch up on all the talks at  

Reform Symposium 3 (Day 2/3) #RSCON3

What I learnt from RSCON3 

This is pretty much a summary of my Twitter activity @Lauwailap1


  • Ask students to show what they've learnt, but do not stipulate the medium. They can present back however they want, a 3 minute chat, presentation, video, dance etc
  • Give them freedom, but also give them structure
  • Innovation Day: Students choose their own project. Let students choose what they want to do and they will do it well.

Lisa Nielsen

Ask the Q: Are you better today than you were yesterday?

George Couros and Dr. Alec Couros: Why Schools Should Be Like a Family Restaurant

  • Create a warm and welcoming learning environment
  • Talk to every student you walk past, never ignore a student.
    • It's all about the relationships
  • In the family restaurant analogy: "Understand the customer"
  • Constantly re-assess the menu, i.e. constantly assess what you're doing.
  • Have fun
  • Let individuality shine through
  • Get out there and mingle-connect with peers, teachers

Principal El

  • Never give up: Persistence overcomes resistance
  • Teamwork makes the Dreamwork
  • You (the teacher) are the one to make the difference
  • If the government can't get it right, we just run our own schools. We have to fight for our children and our schools.
  • Make sure students are not over-confident. Make sure they are still working hard. They must believe that they need to take responsibility. But they also need to know that when they fall, you will be there to pick them back up.
  • Tell students "You can be me, because I was once you"
  • Let students know that you can choose your behavior, but you cannot choose the consequences.
  • Excellent teachers move ordinary children to do extraordinary things
  • Flexibility=Creativity
  • We need to give up control so that students can grow
  • Failure will be a part of their life. Students must embrace failure, they should own failure. Pick up and move on.