It is really difficult not to show off when your teaching is being observed.  The stakes are high and if you, like me, consider teaching an art form, you are metaphorically laying your soul out for someone to scrutinise.  Of course you want to show yourself in the best possible light.  Of course you want everything to go right…who wouldn’t?  We may do a little extra if we know our classrooms will be visited – it’s natural. Some may teach completely differently to normal when being observed. How can you separate blatant performance from reality?  Does it really matter?

This blog is about showing off unnecessarily (or necessarily for some!)  Putting on a show lesson – a one off.  In other words….NOT typical!

The kids know when their teachers are doing it.  They’re not daft.  The monotony suddenly gives way like a ray of light through the football marked window.  Resources suddenly appear on lots of different coloured sheets, there is a flashy presentation to match.  Those pupils that struggle are suddenly helped with some scaffolding and keywords sheets.  Absolutely EVERYTHING is announced by the teacher as if they are narrating the lesson as well as teaching it.  The coloured worksheets are loudly and unashamedly put down in front of the pupils.  You have never heard so many ‘WOW – that’s excellent,’ or ‘you’re making amazing progress’ (for underlining a title) or ‘let’s just flip back and check the objectives.’  You notice it’s ALL teacher….are the pupils as excited? Are they giving as much as the teacher, or is there an imbalance?  Every time you go to a pupil to speak, the teacher is suddenly there directing the conversation you were about to have, until you manage to break free and a pupil says to you ‘we never normally have lessons like this.’

Technically, everything this lesson should contain in terms of ingredients was right there loud, proud and totally in your face.  You notice though, that the pupils are not giving 100%.  They passively get through the lesson doing as the teacher asks, but not much else.  The pupils arrived to the lesson in dribs and drabs.  The T.A stares vacantly out of the window.  When students ‘get it’ they are given more of the same – even the pupils who understood it 5 minutes into the lesson.  Mysteriously, all the pupils are working on sheets – not an exercise book in sight.  As the teacher patrols the room, they stamp random pupil work with a smiling green frog that says ‘well done!’

OK – that example is totally fictitious and possibly a bit cynical but a couple of years ago, a teacher may have been able to get away with a bit of a performance in a lesson and be held up as a good example of teaching and learning.  Not any more.  It’s great to show off and vital when you want to show the best of your practice and share great ideas and pedagogy with others, but…..who are you showing off to?  What are you putting a performance on for?  What is the purpose? Why?

Teaching with passion and enthusiasm and enjoying what you do consistently can not be faked.  Neither can progress over time and ensuring good rules, routines and relationships are set up from the beginning.   Progress is a process.  It can be seen and is a pleasure and privilege to observe.  When the teacher asks questions, pupils answer confidently or feel challenged but supported.  The learners ask questions too.  The pupils know when it’s time to apply their knowledge.  They take pride in their work.  Learning and teaching is not binary….it cannot be switched on and off.  The relationships and expectations are constant – by observing, you are witnessing a very small part of a long journey.  You know it, the teacher knows it and the pupils know it.  When you see great teaching, you have no choice but to encourage the teacher to ‘show off’ their great teaching for the benefit of others.  Whether you are charismatic or quietly confident in what you do – solid, consistent typical teaching and the impact on learning can be seen without exaggerating teaching strategies, making different coloured worksheets or ensuring you have ‘included’ everything in the lesson like a tick box exercise or a recipe list.  It’s much deeper than that.  Get the basics absolutely spot on first before adding the frills.

I was looking into the psychology of showing off and there are many different reasons for it, and I’m sure we can all think of people we may have met that fit into each category – where would you place yourself?! – here are a couple of examples:

  • Those that show off to mask something about themselves or their performance
  • Those that think they are wonderful and HAVE to let everyone know about their talents
  • Those that genuinely are not showing off but seem like they are because they are so good

Putting on a performance can skew the whole school picture of teaching and learning if you are not really examining typical teaching or daily practice.  This can be avoided by following the steps below:

1) Think about the pre-conditions needed to secure progress over time – these should be great, staple habits in every classroom
  • Student engagement – attitude to learning
  • Recap, refocus and intervention – this includes written and verbal feedback
  • Effective explanation and modelling
  • Student application of knowledge
  • Appropriate pitch and differentiation
  • Questioning to check understanding
2) Have well organised lesson observations that serve only the improvement of teaching and learning
3) Do NOT grade the teaching – instead focus on strengths to share and improvements to master
4) Be thorough – to determine the true quality of teaching look at the teaching, the pupils’ work and the data
5) Ensure feedback to staff is a dialogue – be honest, suggest improvements – sometimes the dialogue might be tough but worth it

I have blogged about lesson evaluation here – click the link below:


6) Develop a no-nonsense approach to improving DAILY teaching – dig in, involve everyone!
7) Organise and encourage learning walks, open door events and informal peer-peer observations

I have blogged about our TEACHWEEK event here – click the link below:



Finally, my absolute belief in the fact that adopting great habits gives rise to excellent daily practice was written about here https://te4chl3arn.wordpress.com/2015/01/25/thats-just-typical/ and is my most re-blogged and viewed.  I really am passionate that we should monitor the the quality of teaching and learning to develop, share and improve it, not to point score and prove ourselves.  Be genuine – aim for great daily practice, keep planning fresh – know when it’s time to pull all the stops out WITHOUT having to put on a big performance!  Aim to be the teacher who delivers amazing lessons where the pupils say….’yeah – it’s normally like this in this lesson – that’s why we love it!

What an Inspirational Week!

Last week was so busy but really enjoyable!  I organised a ‘TEACHWEEK’ at school.  This involved an ‘open door event’ where staff signed up to visit colleagues’ classrooms to observe good practice, a teaching and learning market place, form activities and a series of assemblies.  The main aim of this week was to encourage a whole school dialogue about improving teaching and learning, to provide opportunities for staff to lead CPD and to launch and introduce the main concepts of adopting a ‘growth mindset’ during assemblies and form activities.  If you missed last week’s blog, you can check it out here…..


and the assembly is here……


I was a little overwhelmed by the positive reactions of staff to the open door event.  I wanted to improve the view of being observed and observing others, as for some, it had become quite a negative experience.  Therefore, it was great to hear conversations about what worked in the lessons seen…even for specific children.  It meant that staff were really valuing, evaluating and reflecting on the practice that they had directly observed. Every time I heard ‘I’m going to try that,’ or ‘he’s really good for you…how do you do it?’ or ‘I’ve never observed a lesson since my NQT year, it was great to do again,’ and finally ‘wish we could do this more often,’  It made me smile.  I hope we can build on this momentum, with the aim to be habitually in and out of each others lessons for CPD purposes and developing the use of IRIS within school.  We have so much to be proud of, but equally and realistically, much to improve……hasn’t everyone?!

Moreover, the marketplace we held was awesome!  We had some amazing CPD sessions delivered by staff who really put their very best practice out there for everyone to use and develop.  A few of the sessions were extremely creative!  The afternoon provided learning, laughter and  inspiration.  I got a few positive comments on the assembly and resources too from staff and pupils! One teacher said that during the assembly, a pupil she had battled with about ‘attitude’ had the grace to look over to her with a guilty look and acknowledge that he’d been a pain! Result!  Some staff have requested a copy of the image I used in the assembly to put up in their classroom…a lovely idea!  We are all on the ladder somewhere!

steps to success

I implore anyone who is reading (has anyone got this far?!) especially if you feel like your school has lost it’s way a little bit with data, data, data at the very top of the agenda dictating everything, to organise some kind of week/fortnight in their school that promotes teaching and learning and puts it truly back at the forefront where it should be.  Teaching and Learning, coupled to USEFUL data should be the driving force of every decision, every plan, every day, for every person in a school.  Not that I’m biased……but without great teaching and learning, you won’t get the great data.

We’re working on feedback now….have been for a couple of weeks!

In the week preceeding our TEACHWEEK – all the staff were consulted on feedback to pupils.  We have come up together, with a list of bullet points that we consider non-negotiable when it comes to giving quality feedback to pupils and how to signpost progress in pupils’ work more consistently.  What we have suggested as a body of staff seems like common sense, but when provided in a framework makes it more objective.  Expectations are spelled out in black and white, yet the framework is flexible enough for vital departmental idiosyncrasy.  The outcomes for this huge piece of work we have done on feedback and marking is ‘pick up any book, folder or portfolio and see development of learning.’  Equally, the pupils need to be addressing and deepening their learning as a result of the feedback.  Staff were further consulted about the framework at our marketplace and it was accordingly adapted.  We will revisit this at our staff CPD afternoon on Tuesday for some final consultation and tweaks ready to launch formally before Easter.  There has been so much consultation because it is important that we get it right for everyone – especially the children, but of course, it is a ‘work in progress’ and is subject to evaluation and review at any point.  My prezi for the original session launching the development of feedback and marking in school can be found here…..


….and I will be blogging about how we do feedback with all the documents and resources very soon!

The White Room

JUST A THOUGHT……What would teaching be like without resources?  No interactive whiteboard, no equipment, no i Pads, no computers, no Prezi, no PowerPoint, no nothing?  Just you, your class and your combined brain power.

I often wonder this, and when I do, my imagination goes off into my metaphorical white classroom.  An empty white room. No posters, no display….just me and my pupils to give life to the learning…..(OK, maybe I have a flipchart and marker!)

create reality

In fact, my planning often starts from this extremely weird place.  If I can get my point across in there….I can do it anywhere! My white room, as a concept, is in my head and never will be a reality thank goodness!  But I find it quite refreshing to strip my teaching RIGHT back to the basics for the sake of the learning.

I sometimes create my lessons from this strange ideological beginning, because it really helps draw out my passion and enthusiasm, fluent and clear explanations and anecdotes to keep my subject alive and inspiring.   I strongly believe the most substantial resource in the classroom is straightforward people power – the teacher, the pupils!  The learning is about questions, discussions and explanations.  I suppose you could call it Socratic learning, where the power of ‘talk’ and ‘inquiry’ puts key ideas and concepts on the slab to be dissected, de-constructed and built up again into real knowledge.

Don’t misunderstand, I absolutely love using a wide variety of ICT/resources/equipment – I have to.  But, I do not plan around the resource.  If I visualise the objective and flow of the lesson and the discussions/questions that will arise, and add resources in after, the lesson is more rigorous. The resources become purposeful and necessary, and not just time fillers or gimmicks that can sometimes get in the way of actual learning – for example, a three year old, 15 minute card-sort that someone from your department created.  You still use it because it is there and ready, it has reduced your workload….result! However- is it really addressing the learning?  If it’s not having an impact – don’t use it!

I also realise that some subjects are more suited to practical and resource based learning…..couldn’t imagine trying to teach some aspects of design technology or PE in the ‘white room,’ with nothing but teacher and pupils. You kind of need a lathe or a javelin. Yet, other aspects of these subjects really lend themselves to the socratic way of doing things.  The discussions and enthusiasm are still vitally important.  A lesson is like a good joke I guess…..it’s the way you tell it.  A really great teacher could get their point across in a meaningful way, anywhere!

I challenge everyone to step into their own version of the white room – have a switch off from ICT, resources and all things gimmicky.  Think deeply about HOW you make your pupils learn.  We ARE the ‘change agents’ (Hattie).

Finally I have to make the point about how unbelievably lucky we are to be so resource-rich.  I’m happy that we have fantastic ICT, equipment, texts and stationery readily available in the UK, and in some cases brand new school buildings.  We are so fortunate and our children need to realise how lucky they are.  Use resources well, wisely and for impact in learning gains!  #loveteaching

school in poverty

Evaluating Teaching

The first round of lesson observations, using my new system of ‘no grades’ was conducted in December, and having completed the analysis, I am actually quite pleased by how it has gone.  It was brave to ‘go for it’ and ditch the grades…..my school is in serious weaknesses and I wasn’t even SLT back then in December!  Previously, it has been ‘all about the grade ’bout the grade -no trouble  (that was reference to a song by the way if you momentarily didn’t know what I was talking about!) and before you had even discussed what was brilliant or needed improvement about a teachers lesson in their feedback…they wanted to know what number they were, me included when I was observed!  The grading system worked OK if you were a 1 or a 2……especially if you were consciously competent and knew WHY you were good, but it works less well, if you are NTI or worse.  A meaningless number for an individual member of staff is NOT going to help their practice no matter what!  Therefore I questioned the impact of giving lesson ‘grades’ on pupil progress, which is ultimately what we want to improve.  I was also a little concerned about ‘one-off’ showy lessons being performed, graded and the whole teaching and learning of the school being judged on this.

My first work on this started about 8 months ago.  I was doing lots of reading and research about ‘typicality’ and ‘daily practice’ and realised that if we were to improve teaching and learning, it’s what teachers do, day-in day-out that is going to make a difference.  I started thinking about how we could evaluate that and after much thought, I came up with six pre-conditions for progress’ that great teachers instil in their classrooms in abundance on a daily basis.  Things that you can’t really switch on and off for a lesson observation.  These six conditions are as follows:

  • Student Engagement
  • Appropriate Pitch and Differentiation
  • Effective Explanation and Modelling
  • Questioning to Check Understanding
  • Recap, Refocus and Intervention
  • Student Application to Demonstrate Learning

CPD with all staff defined each of these ‘pre-conditions’ and how they linked to progress in a lesson.  We spent some time together on questioning, student engagement and will be spending time this year on Recap, Refocus and Intervention – which is largely feedback, verbal and non-verbal.

I then looked at how PROGRESS DATA correlated with existing teaching and learning data….there was NO correlation at all.  You would think that good and outstanding teachers would achieve good and outstanding results. There was a huge gap between teaching grades and pupil outcomes. I also presented this to staff, so that everyone was clear.  We were saying our teaching was ok, but actually our results were not suggesting our teaching was OK at all!  Moral of the story – WHAT WE DO IN OUR CLASSROOMS HAS A DIRECT IMPACT ON THE SUCCESS OF OUR PUPILS!!  So I knew, that in the evaluation of teaching and learning we had to take account of data.  After each data capture, staff now receive a print out of their class results.   Staff make this data available during any observations and are encouraged to scribble any contextual information on the sheet – for example ‘attends revision each Wednesday.’  It takes 2 minutes and is a record of how each teacher has intervened.  It also identifies PP children so any gaps can be seen immediately.  As new data comes in, for each data capture, you should be able to track the progress over time and the impact of the teaching on the learning.

I then thought about pupil work, and during an observation (or any time) it is possible to look at the quality, sequence and progress in books/folders etc.  You can also see the effectiveness of feedback.  Looking at work and talking to the pupils about it gives a really clear indication of progress over time and opportunity for gathering some pupil voice.

So my three strands for judging the quality of teaching and learning are:

PROGRESS IN THE LESSON (using the six pre-conditions for progress)



When these three vital aspects of teaching are RAG rated and triangulated it gives a good indication of the typical practice but MOST importantly, gives a really good and thorough focus for feedback.  Teachers are recognising and talking about how these three areas are all interdependent.  It is LESS about the ‘number’ now, and much, much more about the open and honest conversations that have to take place in order to move forward.  For each strand, Red is defined as ‘does not support progress,’ Yellow is ‘with some areas for development,’ and Green is ‘demonstrating significant strength.’  SLT and middle leaders will be able to discuss progress from three different angles with data to justify evaluations.  Using this system we can also show progress over time for the teaching and learning in school too!  BONUS!

To test the quality of the system (and because I’m a bit of a geek anyway), I pivoted the difference in progress data from HT to FT against the RAG rating for the preconditions for progress.  The hypothesis being that if a teacher had ‘significant strength’ in their lesson observation, they would make the most pupil progress – it was a clear relationship apart from one anomaly! The greens were clumped at one side and the reds at the other.

No system is perfect, and there are some tweaks and adjustments I need to make – it is a work in progress that will develop as our needs change as a school.  This work has taken months – from staff CPD sessions to actually getting it out there to middle leaders, to ensuring that we are as consistent as can be when observing and giving feedback – the feedback from staff has been positive, and I look forward to working further on this reflective and informative system to ensure real, significant and robust developments in teaching and learning.