Contemporary educational ideas all teachers should know about

Key ideas from different sources.
Key ideas from different sources.

As I was looking ahead to starting a new job as Headteacher, I was thinking about all the conversations we were going to have about learning.  To a large degree I wanted my teachers to be as up-to-date as possible within their own subject domains. They should know the latest OfSTED position ( eg with Moving English Forward or Mathematics: made to measure ) and be up to speed with exam specifications and assessment requirements.  Subject knowledge and subject-specific pedagogical knowledge were going to be key drivers of everything we would do.

However, in order to fuel the collaborative effort of reaching the ambitious goals we had for the school, we needed to establish a shared conceptual language for talking about teaching across the school as well as within departments. This post is based on my ideas at the time in 2014…..

Inevitably, different teachers will have engaged to different degrees with certain ideas depending on the books they’ve read, conferences they’ve been to and blogs they’ve browsed through and the content of their PGCE or other ITE programme.  It strikes me that it would be a huge benefit to us all if we’re more or less on the same page when we’re discussing contemporary ideas about pedagogy, learning, assessment, motivation, neuroscience and so on.   I don’t want people quoting half-remembered snippets from a Dylan Wiliam thing they attended years ago or citing Hattie effect sizes as absolute measures or talking about Growth Mindset, never having engaged with what Carol Dweck has actually written.

One of my first actions will be to buy a ton of books to stock the staff CPD library.  I want to make it easy for everyone to read the books that will inform our discussions.  Already, we’ve bought in copies of Dylan Wiliam’s Embedded Formative Assessment, Hattie’s Visible Learning for Teachers and Martin Robinson’s Trivium 21st C.   But there is so much more for us all to absorb and share.

Over the last two years, I’ve found that I can engage much better with the ideas in some of these books when I’ve seen the authors express their ideas directly – either in person at a conference or through some of the video material on the internet.  In this post I’ve gathered some of the videos that I’ll be recommending that all of my staff engage with at an early stage.  Each one links to a key academic or thinker and their ideas.  Of course, there is also the growing world of teacher bloggers and teacher authors to engage with too and I’ll be promoting general engagement with all of that material – especially the people on my blog roll.

However, to ensure we have strong common ground, I want to focus on a few key researcher-writers and their work:

Visible Learning: John Hattie – the idea of measuring impact

John Hattie’s work provides an important insight into the nature of educational research and the notion of measuring impact.  The idea that some strategies can be shown to have had more impact on average over time relative to others is crucial and his general message about the implications for teachers and the profession is very strong.  This video, (with a counterpart Part 1) gives a very good idea of Hattie’s thinking.  Of course, the effect size concept is problematic and is open to misinterpretation. We’ll need to have that discussion – but people will need to know the principles first.


Formative Assessment: Dylan Wiliam

Dylan Wiliam is someone most people know of even if they haven’t engaged directly with him or his work.  His website is packed with materials to browse through.  He has been leading the way for the last two decades in getting teachers to think about what they’re doing and why. Inside the Black Box was a revelation when we first encountered it back in the 90s.  However, following the national adoption of AfL 10 years ago, lots of the ideas have become rather distorted, spawning various superficial AfL gimmicks or misconceptions about the meaning of ‘formative’ – but I firmly believe that every teacher should know very clearly what Dylan is saying.  Alongside his recent book, I think that videos like this could help us to establish a good shared understanding of what we mean by formative assessment and feedback and what these things can look like in practice. (Video updated after the one posted originally was removed from youtube).

 Lessons from Cognitive Science:  Daniel T Willingham

The field of cognitive science is giving us ever greater insights into how learning works.  There are lots of people in this field but Daniel T Willingham does a very good job of making the ideas accessible and relevant to our school experience.  This book, Why don’t students like school, is a must-read. He provides a handy summary in the concluding chapter which gives a feel for the key ideas and their implications for our practice.  In particular it gives a firm steer in terms of the discourse around thinking, memory, teaching factual knowledge and the need for conscious effort and feedback to secure improvement.

photo (73)
A great summary of Daniel Willingham’s book provided in the concluding chapter.

This interview with Tom Bennett for ResearchEd 2013 gives a superb insight into Dan’s thinking:

I’d also recommend watching this gem of video where Dan explains why learning styles don’t exist:

Robert Bjork and Desirable Difficulties

On YouTube there is a whole series of fascinating short videos where Robert Bjork explains some key findings from his research into memory.  From these you can get an idea of his findings and the general idea of ‘desirable difficulties’ necessary to secure long-term memory, possibly at the expense of the sense of short-term progress.  This clip is a good introduction but I’d recommend watching them all.  If we can all talk about storage, retrieval, interleaving and so on, we’ll be in a better place.

An Ethic of Excellence: Ron Berger

Ron’s book is an inspiration to many people who read it.  The attitudes that is promotes are so powerful, providing significant food for thought as we look at shaping our ethos.   A specific example is shown through this classic Austin’s Butterfly video about the power of critique.  It’s the spirit of it that is most crucial – that we shouldn’t accept mediocrity from any student; we should have aspirational goals for everyone and use specific techniques to enable students to reach them.   I’ll be referring to Austin’s Butterfly a lot – as I have done in a couple of blog posts here and here.

 Guy Claxton and ‘below the line’ learning

I find that Guy Claxton is often misrepresented as being ‘anti-knowledge’ or his ideas are adopted by evangelicals who elevate Building Learning Power to the level of some kind of concrete theory of learning that must be followed almost on principle.  For me, Guy’s ideas and his mode of presentation, provide a useful provocation to question some of our assumptions about what we learn, how we learn and why we learn in certain ways.  The idea that pedagogy could be devised to deliver a deep, knowledge-rich curriculum that simultaneously gives space for students to develop certain dispositions that might serve them well in the future – is inviting. It might be difficult to deliver without losing one or other aspect and that’s the challenge. But the idea is sound and certainly worthy of debate in a school.   To me, Guy is promoting ‘knowledge AND dispositions’, not one or the other. Here he is:

 Carol Dweck: Growth Mindset.

Growth Mindset is so in vogue at the moment, it is natural for anyone who has been hit by a bandwagon to approach this cautiously. However, as with Guy Claxton’s ideas, there is great power in considering the extent to which  student attitudes to learning are influenced at every level of the school – in all of the messages we give in public and in the classroom.  The issue of labelling students such that they have their horizons limited or are lulled into complacency is very common; we’re all guilty of it to some degree.  Here Carol is setting out the key ideas:

Pygmalion Effect: Robert Rosenthal

This video tells the story of some research that shows the power of teacher expectations. It links in with Hattie’s research – as this is one of the highest effects he cites.  Higher teacher expectations lead to better outcomes.  Obvious? Well – it’s worth watching this to see how teachers can change their interactions with students leading to better outcomes when their expectations are raised deliberately.

There are four areas where teachers act differently if they have higher expectations:

  • Climate: They are simply ‘nicer’ to the students.
  • Input: They teach more material – because they think it is worth doing
  • Response opportunity: They give students more time to answer and more opportunities to ask or answer questions.
  • Feedback: They clarify their expectations more thoroughly and expect better answers.

 Doug Lemov:  Practice and Rigour

I’d like my staff to know about Doug Lemov and his two books: Teach Like A Champion and Practice Perfect.  Of course the American context is different but there is huge merit in engaging in several of Doug’s ideas.  Strategies like 100% or Right is Right show how very high expectations and rigour in discussion can be achieved.  His ideas about teachers’ practice are also very interesting – we won’t get better as fast as we could if just repeat our mistakes over and over again in lessons.   We need to rehearse and practice specific strategies until we do them better.

Martin Robinson: The Trivium 21st C

I have already sent my staff a suggested reading list and this wonderful book was at the top.  I’ve written about the book in this review and I am very excited about working with my staff (and with Martin’s Trivium network) to explore how the ideas behind Grammar, Dialectic and Rhetoric can be brought to life in the classroom and beyond.

@SurrealAnarchy Martin Robinson's wonderful book
@SurrealAnarchy Martin Robinson’s wonderful book

Lesson Study

The NTEN Lesson Study Cycle.
The NTEN Lesson Study Cycle.

I’d like all of my staff to know in principle what Lesson Study is and how they could engage with it if they choose.  I might use some of my own posts on this to get people started but, beyond that, there is a wealth of literature we can access via NTEN and other sources.    The first step is to make sure everyone knows about it. (Update:  NTEN is now known as the TDT Network.

There are lots of other ideas we’ll need to wrestle with together – ideas about Behaviour Management, technology and assessment  for example. The goal should be that we’re always seeking to make sure the latest thinking is made available to everyone and that everyone does their best to engage with it.   That way we’ll have the most fruitful discussions about taking the school forward.


  1. Hi Tom, As a newly appointed primary AHT responsible for CPD, I sat down this morning to begin sorting and collating video clips and reading lists ready for the new year. The first e-mail I opened was the link to your fantastic blog and you have done most of the work already!!! Thank you. Reading your blogs and keeping up to date with the social media debates that they have encouraged has really supported my own CPD and helped me think about the most effective way to support staff. My new role is a continuation of my previous role in school, but with a bit more oomph, and I really appreciate all that you share and the time you take to do it. Good luck in your exciting new adventure, look forward to reading all about it! Many thanks Wendy Smith Earlsdon Primary Coventry

    Date: Mon, 18 Aug 2014 06:26:39 +0000 To:


  2. Hi Tom, thank you so much for taking the time to put this together. I’m going to share this post with staff as soon as we get back. You are right about using videos to supplement the books – we’ve been running a pedagogy book club this year and some concepts are more tricky than others so video could be very helpful. Last year, the book that got the biggest thumbs up from staff was Zoe Elder’s Full On Learning and lots of talk around Ron Berger’s Ethic of Excellence. This year, we’ll be reading Practice Perfect, Trivium 21st Century and Why Don’t Students Like School?. We’ve also joined NTEN to develop our use of Lesson Study so really looking forward to a great year. Good luck in your new school – look forward to reading about your new endeavours!


  3. This looks like a fantastic compilation, thanks for pulling it together. Three thoughts immediately spring to mind:

    1. Just to reiterate the importance of subject knowledge and subject-specific CPD. What about directing your Heads of Department/Faculty to set up a smaller and subject-focused version of this list for their department? Making sure that they don’t focus solely on exam specifications and ‘how to be outstanding’. So, for physics for example, they might want to look at Robin Millar’s work on teaching energy.
    2. There’s a risk here (which I’m sure you’ll manage) – that you buy a load of books and, after an initial burst of enthusiasm, you find in 18 months’ time that you’ve created… a pile of dusty books somewhere. One thing my own work and research has shown is the importance of mediating relationships for adult and professional learning. So along with the books and the clips, I’d suggest you’ll need someone in your school to take the lead in developing a culture of professional development, the establishment of or engagement with intra/inter-school networks and professional communities (cf., and considering how external (i.e. outside hierarchical structures) coaching and mentoring could support teachers’ engagement with this material. In terms of practical measures, the first (and easiest) thought is some sort of book club.
    3. Just a question – did you select these books/authors because you agree with what they say (and, if so, would you expect all your staff to go along with them)? Is there a particular philosophy or ideology that underpins your choices, that you would be able to articulate? Or will your portfolio of suggested reading include the more controversial, outlandish, dissonant or disputed?

    Thanks again – now off to read the ones I’m not familiar with!


    • Thanks David. All good points. I agree totally with Number 1. I do expect that – too much edu-material is very generic when the subject specific is often likely to have the greater impact. With 2, we’ll be setting up a CPD structure where there are champions and time slots created for all of these ideas to come off the page. I’ve chosen the material because I think it represents some kind of canon of educational thinking with ideas that have some longevity; a typical teacher ought to know what each of these people is saying. I do agree with them all so I suppose, collectively, their ideas add up to a philosophy – I’ll need to articulate that elsewhere but it’s forming! At this point, I am less interested in bringing in a range of deliberately challenging ideas because I’m more concerned about establishing a baseline from which we can all move forward. However, I’m not shutting anything down; in time I fully expect my school to be a hot-bed of debate about educational thinking with ideas from all angles.


  4. That is terrific, Tom. In particular I was blown away by the Hattie video. I’ve read Visible Learning for Teachers and found it terribly obtuse. I haven’t yet read Visible Learning and the Science of How We Learn so am hoping when I get round to it that the joint authorship might make a difference. However, the thing about this video is that it’s the opposite of the rather directionless musings in VLfT, very much to the point, and right there is the beginnings of a strong evidence-based argument for what I think you and I agree on about the dangers of the knowledge/skills, traditional/progressive debate. He is standing there with a slide with high effect sizes for behaviour, teacher clarity, spaced practice, Direct Instruction, worked examples, Piagetian programmes (CASE etc), self-questioning, co-operative learning etc. (ideas from both sides) and talking about high expectations, getting children to raise their game, teachers taking charge but not just talking at children. For a bit, Hattie was ubiquitous, but then he seemed to slip from favour. I think it might be good to go back for another look with the benefit of a better perspective e.g. on the issues with effect size and meta-analyses. Almost September. Best wishes.


    • Thanks for this comment. I agree re Hattie. I’ve heard his methodology and findings reported indirectly in a horribly distorted manner. In particular, on all these factors, he is only saying he’s measured what has happened historically – not what could happen in future – eg re class size and homework. But, beyond the effect size concept, I find his more general message the most compelling and he’s great to listen to for a bit of self-belief, rigour and drive.


  5. This is a concise and useful starting point for anyone interested in or responsible for the development of colleagues. You have done the hard work; thank you. I will certainly use parts of this to promote the areas I want to develop this next year and will share it with others in the hope that they will do the same. It is so important that as professionals we keep up to date with current thinking and practice and encourage and lead others to do the same. There are still too many teachers who think that once their NQT year is out of the way they don’t need to read another education based article unless it is an exam spec. or curriculum change document. I am hopeful however, that there is a change on the way and twitter and bloggers are playing an important part in sharing ideas and research – long may it continue.


  6. Time/focus/expectations…..I assume that you have arrived at your current level of knowledge and excitement, with respect to edu-theory, over a significant amount of time, and as part of your own development within the context of KEGS? Whilst I can see your wish to bring everyone on staff up to the same level of familiarity with these ideas, I wonder how long that will take, and if that process would distract from the many other tasks/development needed?

    I wonder how daunting it is for your new staff to read this blog. I also wonder if initially you might need to start by ascertaining where the school/teachers are at now, the path the school has taken to get there, and where that trajectory might go anyway… you yet know where the most immediate needs are with respect to school/teacher development? I’m not thinking negatively, here, but suspect that a good school (which I’m sure your new school is) may well already be on a trajectory of good practice which would be a very good starting point for development, and I am concerned that the expectation of the above blog is too ambitious and possibly unnecessary……?


    • Hi. It’s a good question. I do have some idea of the level of engagement my new staff have with these ideas – it’s a patchwork. I wouldn’t have done this completely cold without having spent time talking to people. My goal is to provide a filter to help people focus on a few specific ideas when there is actually a vast ocean of material to consume and engage with. The response I had to my initial reading list last May was very positive – people were generally pleased to have that kind of direction. I’m not in a hurry – different people will engage with the ideas at different rates – but I hope to create a CPD structure where teachers have the time to discuss these things properly.


      • Thanks. I am suitably reassured…….(blogs have more room for explanation than tweets, but, still it is often difficult as a reader to get a clear enough picture of the situation being described to get the context right)…..


      • A fantastic summary and introduction to a range of important concepts.

        As regards engagement, would you allow me to borrow some of your words to host on the staff development area of school’s VLE (with accreditation and links to your blog of course!)?


  7. Thanks Tom. What an inspirational bunch! Such a great way to inspire your staff to think and to understand what sits beneath your vision. As leaders we need to share some of the milestones that have shaped our journey so that people know where we have come from and why we are all travelling forward in a particular direction .
    Someone commented that this may be daunting for staff but I disagree. It is clear and honest and most people want that insight and clarity. Great job.


  8. […] Over the last two years, I’ve found that I can engage much better with the ideas in some of these books when I’ve seen the authors express their ideas directly – either in person at a conference or through some of the video material on the internet. In this post I’ve gathered some of the videos that I’ll be recommending that all of my staff engage with at an early stage. Each one links to a key academic or thinker and their ideas. Of course, there is also the growing world of teacher bloggers and teacher authors to engage with too and I’ll be promoting general engagement with all of that material – especially the people on my blog roll.  […]


  9. I suppose one way to balance all of this ‘daunting not daunting’ issue is to invite staff to direct you as to what matters to them and what texts/ideas/materials they would like you to engage with to understand where they are coming from.
    I think the danger with a new head is that they come charging in and people feel knocked for six or undervalued. On the other hand, it can be great to have a real headTEACHER really engaging with leading the teaching and learning agenda. In a secondary school, is it right to assume that heads are sometimes removed from leading teaching and will have a senior colleague placed to do that? So setting the aspiration and leading that can be fantastic. and morale boosting all round.


  10. It all depends what teachers end up doing. If you overwhelm them with all this reading, with the high likelihood that they it will make no difference, you will drown them. My advice is to trust the teachers and mostly leave them to teach. Make sure you are not getting carried away and forgetting the reality in the real world.


    • I think you underestimate teachers’ appetite for developing their understanding. To a large extent teachers are left to get on with teaching – but if we’re going to talk about improving teaching, a shared understanding of some key ideas will help us.


  11. Tom I am really looking forward to how the story develops!

    On rewards, having read and thought so much about rewards and intrinsic / extrinsic motivation including having had the pleasure of hearing Dan Pink speak on the subject – your stand out point for me in your post on behaviour has to be “Rewards associated with behaviour are problematic; the rewards need to intrinsic – through the affirmation of teachers and peers or the positive experience of learning and being able to participate. We can’t get into rewarding students through extrinsic rewards simply for doing what is expected .”

    On growth mindset – looking at Carol Dweck’s work recently, two particular points she made in an interview really struck a chord with me d may interest you- the mindset of the teacher..and that outcomes are natural byproducts of engaging in good practice.

    I have included fast links to where she talks about these points in my own post here.


  12. I’d like to comment on “below the line” teaching. It is an interesting and genius idea. This concept will create knowledge and character for the students


  13. I thinks this is great Tom, and extremely helpful. Many thanks.

    This is perhaps a side-bar, but I can’t help but feel that current the educational discourse seems to be narrowly focused on T&L. As important as it is.

    After 10+ years as a teacher, in August I begin a new non-teaching post at City-Year UK, a social enterprise / edu charity, with a particular focus on what ‘we’ see as a ‘whole-school/whole-child’ (WSWC) approach to education. I’m saying all this, in no way to criticise the post, again I think it’s GREAT and will be checking out much of the materials. I guess what I’m saying is, I think there is a space for more of what you might call ‘Pastoral’ thinking in the current dialogue, thinking that considers the needs of the ‘whole-child’. For many of the young people I teach, simply making it to school and being in their seats Mon morning, is a huge success! These young folk are typically described as the ‘low attainers’.

    I hope to lead some research at City Year, which looks at exactly how we can better engage so-called low attainers. Thinking beyond the ‘taught curriculum’ that is; thinking about broader whole-school areas, and detail ins HOW our school systems and structures can better bring about instrinsic motivation in young people….I kind of ECM 2.0…maybe?

    But perhaps that’s on the cards for you. I can imagine you simply want to secure a firm footing/point of departure from which to start all these convos. Either way I’m sure you’re doing a great job, and your school are luck to have you!



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