Thursday, 16 March 2017

IMMOOC Short blog challenge - Catching 'em all

Creating a culture of permissible innovation is challenging so how do you capture the innovation that is going on? 

I regularly have a number of conversations with teachers who are buzzing after a great lesson where they've tried something new, or reflecting on what to do differently next time when it didn't quite turn out as planned, that aren't captured or shared. It would be a real bonus for our community of teachers if these could be spread further than the corridor space or their own rooms.

Here's my thoughts (nothing innovative) but I'd welcome yours. Please comment and share:

  • A staff group or personal blog
  • 'Wow' wall in the staffroom
  • 'Pineapple' lessons (staff offer a lesson for others to visit)
  • Weekly briefing meeting item - staff share something that went well (or didn't!)
  • A shared Google doc or Google form
  • Video 'Big Brother diary room' setup
It would be great to create a list of innovative ideas to capture that we can all use so please comment below.

IMMOOC Short blog challenge - Dreaming out loud

Driving to school this morning and One Republic's Dreaming Out Loud came on. The title struck chords with me (excuse the pun), particularly given the recent swebinar of the IMMOOC I'd just watched.

I love working with teachers and children who dream out loud.

Those who challenge the norm; those who consider that there might be another way of doing something to make it even better;  those who know that ticking boxes isn't enough; those who ask 'what if?'; those who try (and succeed) to make every learning experience perfect for each individual; those who dream big on behalf of their learners; those who make dreams come true because teaching is their dream job.

IMMOOC Short blog challenge - I'm a champion

I'm not really, well, technically.

I am however a little addicted to the gym and that's where I had my champion moment. A fellow regular gym user, who is a ripped and muscular personal trainer, helped me squeeze out the last few reps of the lat pulldown and as he let go said "You're a Champ".

Then something odd happened. I heard my automatic inner response immediately counter with "not with my back, my knees". That's the odd thing. I heard my automated response. And I didn't like it.

What's wrong with considering myself a champ? Do you know what, I'm going to train as if I am. I know I'm not technically a champ and I know it's extremely unlikely I'll ever be a champion bodybuilder, but why should I automatically generate barriers or excuses? I go on about Growth Mindset at school and expect children to use 'yet' on the end of almost every sentence and yet my seemingly innate response is one of reasons why I can't do it. My unconscious inner self is a hypocrite. Well, my hypocritical, excuse generating inner friend, you're not welcome any more. Pass those dumbells.

I wonder how many children already have an inner voice that limits them. How do we, as teachers, ensure that the genuine positive feedback we give them is heard over their inner voice? How do we develop their ability to monitor and control the volume of their inner selves? At what point do children genuinely, internally believe the growth mindset message, rather than just putting a crowd pleasing 'yet' on the end of every sentence?

I don't know the answers (I'm not a champion at this either) but my increased awareness will make sure I consider the internal barriers that both I and others may put up and how we create a genuine Growth Mindset culture within our children.

Wednesday, 8 March 2017

MOOCing - Blog 2:

So this is my second blog post as part of the Innovators Mindset MOOC #IMMOOC.

Before I get into this, I'm pleased to say that I've already learnt two things:

1. I have to take notes of all the content from the videos that I want to talk about - I've learnt that I can't rely on my memory. I'm sure this reflects the quality and quantity of nuggets from George and guests rather than my slowing mental capacity.
2. In a house where both adults are teachers there are no working pens or pencils in order to take said notes. How is this?

Having watched the second video in the #IMMOOC series I thought I'd focus on one element of an Innovator's Mindset: Resilience.

Here's a couple of definitions and I think they link nicely to a thought I had during the video about the range in innovation amongst teachers within the same school. My mind conjured up a continuum (originally I used the word 'spectrum' but felt that continuum was a more expectant choice) of staff from those who have no intention or interest to innovate through to the almost 'head firsters' - innovators taking risks without considering the outcomes. 

Then I began to focus in on one group on this spectrum: those who begin to innovate but then return to the safety of the known and the norm. As a leader I am still surprised by this. I feel time had been spent investing in moving these people to a point of willingness to innovate, in fact in some instances innovation had started but then they stop.

But why? What's going on?

Maybe it's baggage.


What is the teacher bringing to this scenario that they are already carrying? Have they been keen previously to 'innovate' only to have something change - the system, the expectations, the leader themselves - that has meant the innovation was squashed? Are they afraid of leaving colleagues who are friends who are maybe settled further to the left of the continuum? Do they feel they can't match the perceived 'better' innovation elsewhere? So many potential factors, some more easily recognisable than others. What is stopping the desire to innovate being an intrinsic part of them as teacher?

The concept of support and space was discussed as a strength of leaders, at least for those staff who responded to this style. Some staff would prefer more support and less space. Moving all staff along the innovator continuum above perhaps requires leaders to know their staff as well as they expect teachers to know their children. Easy to say. What about those who refuse to engage in innovation or even disrupt the efforts or enthusiasm of others? 'Culture' is often identified as a key component of leading an organisation and I am not going to disagree with this however sometimes even the panacea that is 'cultre' struggles with this small percentage. The key is to remember that this is a continuum and there will always be variance within a staff popoulation. 

In a paper entitled 'What works best in education: The politics of collaborative expertise' John Hattie uses the phrase 'earned autonomy' to describe the space given to those staff who can be trusted to achieve the outcomes. He describes 'in-school variance', and the tolerance of it, as a key barrier to better pupil outcomes. 

Can this be applied to innovation? Should it only be staff who have already proven that they can get the outcomes, that children and schools 'need', that are only given the space to innovate? I think there is a delicate (and difficult) balance here. It's wrong to assume that teachers who aren't achieving required pupil outcomes aren't keen to innovate, nor for the opposite to be true. In fact it could be the case that the 'head firsters' are innovating at the cost of pupil outcomes. It comes back to knowing individual teachers. 

Also, if only allowing innovation after outcomes are achieved, innovation, or innovating, risks becoming seen as an extension activity - something to do after you've completed the 'basic work', when in reality it's possible that the basic work could be completed more effectively if innovation was employed.

So what has all of this got to do with resilience?

For staff to feel confident enough to innovate, to step out of their safe zone, resilience has to be an integral part of both them and the school culture. It is something that many teachers expect of their children so should be modeling themselves; the same applies to leaders' expectations of their teachers. 

BUT....taking the definitions of 'resilience' above do we want teachers to 'spring back into shape'? Surely this reflects those staff who stop innovating. Perhaps this is because they don't embody the 'resilience' in the second definition. The ability of a teacher to bounce back from adversity, when things don't go to plan, whether it be an innovative trial or even a lesson, reflects their ability to be, and remain, further to the right of the continuum - they are less likely to return to the safety of non-innovation. Leaders need to reflect this definition in their expectations of teachers - not all innovation is going to be successful and leaders have to understand this. 

I have no doubt that 'resilience' is a key component of an innovating teacher but let's be precise about what that means, what our definition is, so that we all share the same language and expectation. Which means no springing back into shape!

Wednesday, 1 March 2017


So, I've signed up for (and started) my first MOOC! Having read The Innovator's Mindset by George Couros and signed up for his regular thought provoking emails, when I saw the opportunity to join in some deeper thinking about using innovation in education I decided to push myself and sign up.

This is the first blog as part of my MOOCing and based on week 1 of the IMMOOC. I haven't blogged for ages and it's a bit rambling but here goes...

The fact that George was joined by John Spencer and AJ Juliani was an added bonus as I'm a big fan of their work also. Sorry Katie Martin, it's nothing personal but I haven't come across you yet!

Listening to the conversation between these four was easy. I agreed with almost everything but maybe this isn't a good thing. Given I've read books by George and AJ and John I need to make sure I'm challenging myself and not sat in some self-righteous echo chamber. The other problem I found was that the points were discussed so thoroughly that anything I thought of to add in a blog post was covered!

During the discussion the quote below was mentioned:


This resonates strongly with me. The playing of 'the game of school' was also discussed and watching children conform, stop asking questions and display dependency on the adult spouting at the front is depressing. (This is the reason that I am a big fan of Ian Gilbert's 'Thunks' and the Philosophy 4 Children program, which research shows positively impacts on academic performance as well as encouraging children to identify, ask and answer deep questions.)

But does simply ensuring children continue to be curious mean we haven't failed them?

Surely children need more than this. There's the obvious academic 'stuff' that's needed (if only to achieve grades which, whether we agree with them or not, unlock future possibilities) and then beyond that...what? Just curiosity? Is being curious enough if you don't know what to do about it? An example mentioned in the discussion of astrophysicists never stop being curious even as their own understanding increases indicates the importance of remaining curious but it surely can't just be curiosity that improved their understanding. The ability to frame appropriate questions, to follow a logical and structured path of 'research' to begin to answer the questions as well as the ability to synthesize, analyse, compare and contrast and relate to, and recall, previous understanding etc. are key skills that support and in term fuel curiosity. 

So what are the implications of this?

It strikes me that if we allow children to be spat out at the end of an education system just being able to recite facts then we have indeed failed them. There's a lot of talk about future jobs and employers wanting skills over knowledge so, if this is accurate, education needs to ensure we aren't failing our learners by using them to meet performance targets and tick boxes. Allowing children to remain curious, and providing them with skills to use alongside their curiosity, seems essential to me but in this day and age of increasing scrutiny, accountability and public shaming of 'underperforming' schools it takes a brave leader to resist playing the game of school results.

So where does 'innovation' sit in this over scrutinised world?

As the guys said in the session, our educators have to make education work for 2017 - take Netflix and Blockbuster Video as an example. It's not about doing 'new' stuff, it's about doing what works well better and more relevantly for our modern learners. This is innovation - adapting our techniques, structures, policies and curriculum content to best suit the learners we have in front of us day after day. If we get this right then I've always believed that the outcomes, held so precious by outsiders but only a small measure of the complete child, look after themselves. Curiosity, innovation and it's only week 1!

Friday, 23 October 2015

Review - The Art of Being A Brilliant Primary Teacher by Andy Cope and Stuart Spendlow

Image courtesy of

The Art of Being a Brilliant Primary Teacher is, well, brilliant. It is a rare shining star in the galaxy of ‘improving teaching handbooks’ - it’s written from experience and celebrates the brilliant job that is Primary Teaching whilst recognising that it is one of the most physically and emotionally demanding roles. And, perhaps most importantly, there is no tick box, formulaic approach to becoming ‘outstanding’. Hence the title I guess ‘The Art…’
There are boxes though, and in a twist that reflects the authors’ style, they are ‘thinking inside the box’ boxes (you’ll have to read the book to find out why). There’s also amusing pictures, jokes, quips, anecdotes…
Therein lies the brilliance of this book. There are some meaty concepts covered in 9 easy and fun to read chapters, reflecting the understanding of the value of a busy primary teacher’s time. And on that note, you won’t be doing more. In fact you may end up doing less but brilliant-er; the key here is that you will be making the changes, fundamental changes, based on internal reflection facilitated by Stu and Andy’s humorously thought provoking content and not just attempting to apply some irrelevant one-size-fits-all solution.
Deliberately written to provide to the point advice and provocation, this is a must read. Not only is it a real passion stoker (professional and otherwise!) it doesn't take much of your precious holiday time to read through. If you or other teachers you know are in need of rediscovering the art, the passion or the core reason that teaching was the chosen vocation, then this book is a must-read.
There’s little else to say really when Stu and Andy’s paragraph sums it up so much better than I can do:
It’s grounded in pure realism; it’s self-challenging in that, when combined with a little bravery and risk taking, it will refresh your teaching until retirement day.
Oh, and in the words of Stu and Andy, ‘if you ‘get it’ then you will sense a whirring of something somewhere within...If you don’t ‘get it’ there will be no whirring and you will feel slightly irritated by squandering yet another tenner on a book that doesn't work.’

What have you got to lose? Apart from another tenner maybe.

A Year in Brunei

It's official. I'm rubbish. I wrote this in August 2015 and never got around to posting it, which is becoming a common theme. Please be warned that there are gratuitous references to dry boxer shorts and chicken ass (not necessarily related).

Almost a year to the day my family and I arrived in Brunei to start a new adventure based around my choice to work in an International School a long way from home. I thought it timely to share some reflections on our year.

Here goes, and in no particular order:

1. Goodbyes don't get easier
We've had the opportunity to share our new life with both sets of parents. There is a huge sense of excitement when our mums and dads are due to visit, not just because we don't see them for big chunks of time but also because we get to re-live the excitement of our new life, with them. Giving them the opportunity to experience, first-hand, the culture and lifestyle we have refreshes our enjoyment of it and (fortunately) both sets of parents' support for our venture was cemented, lots of worries put to bed. We are, after all, only a plane flight away - and once you're on the plane you're on your (long) way; it's easy, if not a little boring! Sending parents back home, and leaving them after returning to the UK during this summer holiday is, at best, highly unpleasant. Strangely, leaving the UK to return to Brunei this summer seems to have affected us more than last year. I guess there's less excitement about the unknown, less 'new adventure' excitement to temper the separation emotions. We know the reality of the months without seeing family. On reflection, next year we'll fill our holiday time better so there is less downtime to get emotional.
Please don't think we're sitting here crying ourselves to sleep every night (far from it), it's just that the initial separations are still hard, create doubt and make us question what we're doing - and experienced colleagues tell us it never gets easy. I guess that makes us human so it's probably a good thing.

2. 'Look Dad, a Pangolin'
Image from
Looking back on the places we've been and experiences we've had it's difficult to believe it's only been a year. We've visited places we could only dream of before, from Bali, Bangkok and Brisbane to Singapore and Manila; some with work, some for holidays and others for school residential visits and even just a shopping trip in Singapore. We've all seen amazing creatures, eaten unusual things (chicken ass anyone? It was an error and not one I intend to repeat!) and been to incredible places and when my son pointed out a Pangolin, an animal we hadn't even heard of before living in Brunei, it struck me just how much we've broadened our own and our children's experiences.

3. Multicultural living
Brunei is a Muslim country. I hadn't had much experience of the Muslim culture or in fact many others (I'd never even worked in a 'multicultural' school) before moving to Brunei and thankfully I'm not naive enough to pay attention to the almost racist, stereotypical images portrayed in the UK media. There are large numbers of Chinese, Philippine, Indonesian and European 'immigrants' living happily alongside the Brunei people, who I have found to be the friendliest, politest and respectful people - they could teach the rest of the world some valuable lessons (not though when it comes to using seat belts to keep children safe in cars). I've never felt threatened or even unwelcome - I wish I could say the same about walking around at home. My eyes have been opened to being a minority; it's odd to be stared at. Maybe being a 6' 2" lump of white man doesn't help but my 7 year old blonde daughter also gets a lot of attention.
If you want to see what living in Brunei is absolutely not like, watch an atrocious 'documentary' made by an Australian journalist clearly trying to create a name for herself. On second thoughts don't bother.

4. Brunei Life
Whilst we didn't have any real idea about what we were getting ourselves into, living in Brunei has exceeded our expectations. The weather is a consistently warm (and humid!) 32ish. It's amazing how easy life is when you don't have to spend time debating whether or not to take a jumper! Shorts and flip flops are generally the daily requirement when not dressed for work. Sweating is more of an issue - apparently you never get used to the heat and humidity, you just get used to sweating! Any slight exertion can leave your shirt sopping wet. Never before have I appreciated the benefits of air con and a dry pair of boxer shorts.
Brunei as a country is stunning. The jungle is amazing, the range of different noises, the blanket of warmth and having monkeys, snakes and spiders in your living space brings it's own excitement! Mosquitoes and sand flies in particular are a downside but it seems that the body reacts less over time.
Cost of living is low, meaning we can do the things we couldn't in the UK. Simple things like eat out once (or more) a week and a trip to the cinema for all of us costs the same as one ticket back home. Fuel costs about £12.00 for a full tank and an attendant puts the petrol in for you! It wasn't quite the same experience filling the hire car in the UK this summer.

5. Planes like buses
Given the importance and frequency of air travel in this region, the impact of a plane tragedy is something that hadn't struck me before. I guess it's that old frame of reference thing but being in Brunei when the Air Asia and Malaysian Airlines tragedies occurred gave them meaning I'd never considered before. Suddenly those numbers and names of passengers gone in an instant move from being a passing sadness and sympathy feeling to real people with real families who may well be at my school.
This also extends to natural disasters and, in particular this year, the Nepal earthquake. We have a strong contingent of Nepalese families in school and we actively sought information to make sure everyone was OK. It was a very worrying and difficult time and gave me some idea of how horrendous it must be for families in these situations.

6. All work and no play?
Very quickly the realisation that work is work no matter where you are in the world dawned. My new job, like all the others I've ever had, is busy. There's always lots going on in such a large school and plenty that I want to do. But, and here's the big one, the absence of an unknown inspection instantly reduces stress. There have been stressful times, and it's not all plain sailing, but there's a definite easing in anxiety in doing the right things for the children, rather than external visitors.
I never thought I'd say it but in some ways I missed OfSTED. I had come, 5 weeks previously, from a frantic UK state school actively under the impending cloud of an OfSTED visit (which ironically never came!) where accountability was high on the agenda. Due to the nature of my new school, this is a totally different situation and one I'm slowly adjusting to. That adrenalin shot of dotting i's and crossing t's sharpens everyone's focus to make sure the little things (and some big things) are the best they can be and, whilst I felt we'd all burnt out from over adrenalin production in the UK, I suffered withdrawal symptoms. In many ways though I think a little accountability is healthy and so I intend to hold on to a reasonable level but less than schools have to cope with 'back home'.
My career history has almost totally been in the 'harder' end of the scale of schools. I love the difference that schools make in some children's lives and in low social economic areas this can be huge, so expected to miss this feeling. What I've come to realise is that the children who need you most are the ones you're currently working with. If you 'get it', if you have botheredness as Hywel Roberts would say, you go the extra mile for whichever children you've got in your school regardless of economic position.  Children are children and I love working with them.
In terms of work/life balance I'm not sure there's much difference. The weeks are full on busy and most nights there's some work that I choose to do, either staying later at school to get it done or working at home. Either way, I'm choosing to do it - not feeling like I have to, just in case there's a phone call tomorrow lunch time, and, at the end of every day, it's warm and sunny (mostly) and the shades go on for the drive home. I love that feeling and can feel my soul lift.

There's lots more I could bore you with but, in essence, this has been one of the best years of my life. Seeing my children growing up with friends of all nationalities and not seeing someone for their culture or religious beliefs, away from the narrow minded bigotry of some aspects of UK society, is heart warming. Being able to take them diving, to tropical islands, shopping in Singapore, up to the rainforest canopy, cycling down a volcano, surfing in Bali to name but a few is just incredible. And to do the job I love, for the genuine reason of improving children's lives, without vote-desperate politicians and egocentric inspectors, means I'm a better professional and a better father.

My children and friends in the sea, in Bali at sunset.