Wednesday 25 June 2014

Lessons learnt from setting up a new Computing department

This post is a reflection on my last 12 months as the lead teacher of a new Computing department. As I transition to the role of Head of Department, there are many things that I have learnt, wish I knew from the beginning and things that I would do differently.


Curriculum- I would aim to teach a GCSE shadow structure right from Year 7. There is no reason why 11 year olds can’t start with Python. Even students with severe SEN including ASD have managed to write simple programs in Python. Some may argue the case for Scratch or Snap!(BYOB), but to be honest most kids will have used these a lot at primary school, things like LightBot and Blockly are a much better gateway to text-based programming. I would however only spend a short amount of time on these.

Likewise, teach your students GCSE theory up to GCSE level, most of our students understand Von Neumann Architecture and can convert between binary, hex and decimal. It just takes solid structures, but with the correct structure and support, the kids can learn anything.  

Teaching and Learning

Get observed lots, bad observations are good ones because they should inform how to improve. Observers (including support staff) often see things that you don’t see. My worst lesson observation was followed by a debriefing where I reflected with my line manager. We spent some time rethinking my pedagogy and how to deliver a lesson with lots of content. The result was that in the following observation, my line manager said that he observed the perfect lesson.  He shared some of the techniques with the rest of the school.

I can’t emphasise how valuable it is to work closely with your support staff and technicians; on any given day they will make the difference between a lesson that works and one that doesn’t.
Observe your peers in non-graded observations. Visit other schools, find the best people on Twitter or at Computing events and just ask to go and see them. Visiting other schools is always inspirational, either they’re doing great stuff that you don’t yet know about or vice versa. You’ll always end up leaving in a positive and productive mood.

Make a website to host all your documents, cover work and showcase material. Some like to use Google Sites. I value aesthetics so I use Weebly and combine this with Google Docs and Tiny URL. When students miss a lesson, their first port of call can be the school website. Some argue for a VLE or network, but nobody likes logging in and if your student is ill at home, a website is the easiest thing to access and Google Docs offers the most streamlined solution for hosting and sharing documents with colleagues and students.

Google Docs is also great for creating tests which mark themselves. I’ve heard a lot of good things about Edmodo, in that it corrects students answers too. I like the sound of that and may try it next year.

In terms of formative assessment, print out name tags for every student, Get some traffic light cards laminated and buy a class set of mini white boards. These will guarantee that you know what the students actually know during your lesson. According to Dylan Wiliam, what you do with this information is the difference between average and great teaching.

Logistics and Resources

We started the year in a temporary building with laptop trolleys. Regardless of your environment, every class needs to be inducted into conduct, rules and routines when using IT. Do not assume anything!

If you have a laptop trolley the induction should include:

  • Two angles-90° and 45°. The former is the screen angle for working, the latter for when you are talking. Closing the lid forces some laptops to go to sleep, so this should be avoided.
  • How to carry laptops-not by the screen as this puts stress on the hinge.

  • How to stow laptops in the laptop trolley, managing cables and ensuring the laptop is on charge
  • How to log off. If you close the lid midway through the log off or shutdown process, the next user will not be able to log in without clicking the subtle “switch user” button. Attempts will be met with “No log on servers available”.
  • If you have not bought a laptop trolley yet, opt for two 15 capacity trolleys rather than one 30 capacity ones. The latter are heavier and difficult to move.
  • Move the trolley to the classroom of intended use, not the laptops. This will reduce damage to laptops.

In a computer lab:
  • Entry routine: Where to sit at the beginning of the lesson-is the routine to log on then take a seat in the centre desks?
  • Moving around the room, must be on foot, never on wheely chairs as it inevitably causes silliness and damage to chairs.
  • Where to save
  • Pack up routine: What should a tidy Computer desk look like. Headphones stowed behind/on monitor, no trailing wires, chairs tucked under.
  • No open water by the computers. Or no eating/drinking at all-the same rules as a Science lab.

Once students have been inducted, appropriate sanctions should be issued to encourage the correct conduct and routines.
Other notes:

You get what you pay for. Only trust the big brands (Dell, Lenovo, HP) and check reviews on Amazon

If you are tight on budget, you can get a lot of nearly-new IT equipment for cheap from or

Label and number everything with your own Avery labels or tipex. You can label your equipment with a room number, department and item number. I’d advise labelling anything that is not fixed i.e. laptops, chargers, headphones, portable speakers. It sounds petty and arduous, but this year we spent over £200 replacing lost/damaged peripherals. Damages was caused by both students and staff. Whilst this was either due to neglect or laziness (teachers having one charger at home and one at school), it can be avoided.

Student technicians-When you’re a small department, you need all the help you can get. Our school didn’t have a permanent technician, so I trained some students into the upkeep of laptops, installing printers, general troubleshooting of all things AV and Wifi. They were also taught  filming and photography skills. This means all events can be documented by students. Next year, I hope to train them to edit in iMovie too. Student technicians are also helpful to have at open days and on interview panels

Other helpers-There are lots of volunteers waiting to help you learn to program and run clubs for you. STEMNET and Code Club are a great source for CRB/DBS cleared helpers. A parent who works at an investment bank in Canary Wharf recently volunteered to come in and help me develop my programming skills. Sometimes all you need to do is ask, othertimes, the help comes to you.
Buy one of these organisers for only £11. It has a capacity of 500 sheets and once you create a tab for each of your classes, you will still have capacity for your form group, department, extension, spare sheets and helpsheet tabs. It has made teaching so much easier. I just do all my printing first thing in the morning, then carry this around with me.

·         If you need a book to learn Python and have never programmed before, I highly recommend Chris Roffey’s books:
book 1 cover

Lastly, teaching resources. Most of them are free and I have written extensively about these here.


Some Computing departments will have small budgets, particularly if you are a small school with only one or two cohorts of kids. Unless you have a full school, budgets will always be small. This section is mainly for those who have a budget of less than £1000.

Provided you have an IT suite or laptop trolley, forget the tempting gadgets and toys such as Raspberry Pi’s, Lego Mindstorms and Arduino’s. Spend most of your budget on training. There are plenty of courses on the Events page on the CAS network, some of them are free.

I know my previous statement about learning toys is contentious, but a class set of Raspberry Pi’s sounds good on paper, but really they’re just slow computers which need all the peripherals of a standard computer. When put together, they don’t sit well on a desk and are prone to damage. Even with a case, memory cards can break off and go missing, power leads can get pushed too far in. From what I’ve seen and heard, they’re great for kids to use as a learning tool/toy at home. But the classroom really needs robust computers. Not a worthy investment in my opinion.  


In finding someone to join your department, recruit early but don’t hire someone unless they’re absolutely right. I was lucky in finding a candidate on the third interview day that we held.

We run a fairly rigorous recruitment day including a code review, curriculum task (planning a SOW), teaching of a lesson, numeracy and literacy test. The last two perhaps are less significant, the main thing is the lesson that they teach, the subject task and the interview.

The main things you’re looking for are alignment with the school culture, subject knowledge and alignment with your own personality as you will have to work with this person for the next 1-20 years! The best advice I was given when visiting another middle leader was that there are some things you cannot change in a person e.g. their personality-“can you work with them?” is the big question.

Other big questions: If their subject knowledge isn’t quite where you need it, is the candidate trainable? Do they want to improve? In your interactions with them, do they give you energy or sap it out of you?

Top 10 Websites for GCSE Computing resources

There’s a lot of resources out there for teaching Computing. Finding resources is never an issue, there are anywhere between 10-30 new resources uploaded onto CAS every week. However, it’s sometimes difficult to follow a single scheme of work when presented with so many different resources. We also have our own preferences. The list below is based on the resources I have found most useful. This is by no means a finite list. There are many teachers out there who create resources but do not host these publicly or centrally on one single site. Those that do are listed below. Feel free to add more suggestions in the comments. Mr O Callaghan is a Computing teacher who loves pedagogy. Like David Didau, Alex Quigley and Harry Fletcher Wood, he is an outstanding blogger. He frequently applies techniques based on educational researchers and cognitive psychologists such as Willingham, Kirby and Wiliam. Wonderful site of resources and thinking from CAS master teacher Simon Johnson Self-taught Computing teacher Alan O’Donohoe presents his thoughts and resources for teaching Computing. If there is an example of someone who has re-defined himself from novice to expert, it’s Alan. -All round site covering Computing, ICT and IGCSE Not only does Matt Britland teach Computing, he does it with style. Great SOW and articles about EdTech. Multimedia (Video, PDF, Word Documents) A set of comprehensive resources for Computing, ICT and Creative Media collection of theory and practical resources. Resources which will help deliver OCR GCSE Computing. Some content is subscription only

thedenniglessons Ms Dennig also teaches Computer Science to her year 7’s. Lovely slides which break down complex abstract ideas into more concrete accessible ones.

gcsecomputingbalcarras A great collection of videos and websites which will take you through OCR’s GCSE My own website where I share every resource that I use in lessons. There are links to Zipped Files and Curriculum plans.

Bonus link: This is not a website, but rather a list of websites which are useful for teaching Computing from KS1 to KS4

Saturday 3 May 2014

Open questions and lesson starts

I cam across two excellent blogs about "Do Now's" and lesson starts in general and it made me realise that a lot of my lesson starts involve closed "Do Now's". I suppose I have fallen into the trap of closed question Do Now's because it makes for quicker and easier marking/assessment and suits Computing quite well. Computing is a science afterall and so asking students to do closed problems like you might do in Maths seemed to make sense.

I then realised when I read the aformentioned article by @HFletcherWood's, that having closed questions probably encourages plaigirism and the belief in only one right answer. It also means that the activity by definitioncannot be low threshold and high ceiling-this is a big problem. Having also attended further training on Python programming, I realised that for many problems there is more than one correct answer.

  Some example Do Now's from a unit of work about Python

My aim for next week then is to plan more activities where there is room for more open responses. I also think this will help slow down the pace somewhat. Often, I feel asthough I use Do Now's simply because it is school policy. I try to rush through all the correct answers, albeit using lollypop sticks to keep kids on their toes. The rush stems from me wanting to start the main activities. Perhaps this is a result of me feeling that time is tight. I lose 10 mins every lesson simply through taking out and returning laptops from a trolley. After a 3-5 minute do now and 5 minutes feeding back, that leaves 35 minutes for the rest of my lesson. I would usually try to plan something meaningful, challenging, with a solid outcome and genuine learning. At the end of the lesson, I'd also like to do extended plenaries and exit tickets, but realistically this is sometimes just not possible, hence why the start of my lesson is rushed.

Slow down, do less, do it better

After observing lessons and thinking about the burnout at the end of last term, I promised myself to slow down, do less and do "it" better. Having tried slower paced starts, I find that students are less confused; simply slowing the pace slightly allows them to process the new material and perhaps frame their questions more carefully.

In my next post, I hope to talk more about open tasks and questions that I have tried.

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.

Monday 6 January 2014

Using pupil feedback to improve teaching

At the end of every lesson, I try to evaluate my teaching. I've even thought about giving myself DIRT on my timetable so that it's not just the students who are doing explicit improvement and reflection. Towards the end of a major unit however, it's difficult to evaluate how effective your teaching has been. Of course, I could look at test results, but sometimes the test doesn't catch everything. It may tell you that your teaching of x, y and z was ineffective but it won't tell you why. This is where pupil feedback can help.

Laura Mcinerney once asked the daring question, "Should teachers publish the test scores of their classes"  . I wondered what would happen if I published the pupil feedback of all my classes. It has certainly forced me to reflect more honestly and openly about my own practice.

You can find the original pupil survey here: . I have been selective with the publishing of my results, generally ignoring repeats and responses where students replies were too general and not actionable e.g. "Mr Lau was great".

What could Mr Lau have done differently / better:
  • let us figure out what has gone wrong with our code.
  • Maybe give us more time to actually try ourselves rather than watching the board quite often. I also think it would be useful to sometimes have a quick break from python and try something else like scratch for one lesson
  • Explain coding simpler and talk a bit less so we have time to get the work done better.
  • he could have showen a demo of what he wants us to do
  • Mr lau could have simplified the technical language.
  • come round to every one
  • Maybe explain in more detail.
  • Explane more clearly
  • put more computing lessons on the time table.

Analysis and Response: Students have raised the issue that I help them too readily. Whilst a growth mindset and persistence is abundant in the majority of our students, it appears that in my teaching, I could demonstrate these learning habits more by helping students less, offering more waiting time and responding with questions rather than answers. Several students also thought that explanations could be clearer; teaching computer programming for the first time, I think this is to be expected but I will try to observe more experienced Computing teachers. Key words and language was also raised as an issue, so I think a Vocab list for each unit would be helpful. On the positive side, many students replied with “nothing” on the improvements list with the last comment of putting “more computing lessons on the time table” brightening up my day.

What would you like Mr Lau to do more of
  • Letting us work on our own, a bit more .
  • more of prasing people
  • Demonstrate code before sending us to do work.
  • more work on your own
  • come round to more people
  • explained things and use more visual things like pictures

Analysis and Response: Firstly, Praise praise praise, it’s an invaluable currency. Secondly, many students preferred working on their own. I think I have done paired programming for several reasons, firstly because the research suggests it can be the most effective way of coding:

The second reason is because our laptop trolley rarely has a full class set of working laptops. However, I will certainly pilot more independent working and solo tasks next term. 

What would you like Mr Lau to do less of
  • Speaking to the whole class about something a few people have got wrong.
  • work sheets
  • stop showing people what to do if they are stuck.
  • Keep on showing us the board
  • To do less talking when teaching and to pick people to come and try the code on the interactive smartboard.
  • canstant doing hardcore lessons may be sometimes we could fun lessons
  • I would like to get on with the work straight away on the and have a learning objective on the table
  • stopping the how class when only a few people need to know things
  • speaking less at the start and giving us more time to practical work time.
  • dont explan to fings at wons

Analysis and Response: Early on in my career, I had a lot of helpless handraising. This was partly to do with my teaching and partly due to the culture of the school. I decided to combat this by judging when it would be appropriate to stop the whole class. If a student asked a question that I thought the whole class could benefit from hearing the answer to, I would stop them. No teacher likes repeating themselves afterall. It appears that my students don’t like this strategy as I am stopping the majority in order to help a small minority. I therefore plan to get around this by helping Student A with their problem, then when Student B asks me for help on the same problem, I could direct them to Student A. If Student C asks the same question, the chain continues. Whilst there are clear literacy issues (perhaps distorted by the use of computers and their association with txtspk), the last student makes a point about working memory and helping students remember. This reminds me of Willingham's work on helping students remember and learn.

Any other comments
  • stop 5 minutes early to put the computers away
  • computer science is fun
  • Thanks Mr Lau I am getting Better .
print("Thanks Mr Lau again")
I think i need a new account sorry :( i will try to remeber please dont give me a detention soryy
  • It was very useful to work in partners and also rate and and have your own work rated.
  • my mum is impressed
  • Computing is such a unique subject to learn in a secondary school and I am so happy to participate in it as it is intresting, inspiring and useful if you want to have a future career in game making or something like that.
  • I have really enjoyed computer science this term I have had fun playing and exploring around laptops. Making chat bots and having challenges I have learnt a lot about computers and how they work. I am looking forward to doing more work this term and learning different things.
  • I have really enjoyed codeing i really like it some times i do it at home with my dad because he enjoys it to just like me.
  • PLEASE show us how to do spreadsheets through the medium of dance like in your old school.
Analysis and Response: Timing is an issue for me. I need to fit in an exit ticket, house points and packing away. That's a good 10 minutes before the end of a lesson. To close on a bright note- clearly computing is having a positive impact on many of our students. The highlight for me is the student who wrote a print command in Python in her comment!

How useful was this process for improving my teaching in general? I think it provided a great deal of stimulus for reflection and improvement. Using Google forms, I also managed to sneak in an exit ticket, which I quickly evaluated using conditional formatting.

As a result, some students will be due housepoints, whereas others will need mastery classes. 

After all this analysis, hopefully I can put some of these ideas into practice and feedback on the process. 

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!