@teacherhead Update #1. October ’18.


This is the first of what I hope will be a half-termly update, highlighting trends and ideas that I pick up in my work across various schools and colleges and through my engagement with online discussions, blogs, conferences and publications.  It will also highlight some of the content on this blog that has gained the most traction.   It’s not attempting to be a comprehensive summary – just some key highlights that I think teachers and leaders might find useful.

Teaching and Learning

Learning as Generative: 

This is the idea that has had the biggest impact on my thinking recently.  It’s the failure to make learning sufficiently generative that characterises most of the weaker lessons I see.  Essentially it means making sure all students have the opportunity to demonstrate their retained knowledge and understanding by generating some form of response based on their own recall.  They need to demonstrate this to themselves as much as to the teacher so they can answer their own question: How well do I know it? How well can I do it? How well do I understand it?

This is explored in the G of Shimamura’s MARGE: Generate, from his excellent short book I  summarised in this blog post: Introducing MARGE: A superb ebook about learning by Arthur Shimamura.

It is also explored in the superb book Understanding How We Learn by Yana Weinstein, Megan Sumeracki and Oliver Caviglioli.

Oliver has also produced this superb poster summarising work by Fiorella and Mayer: there are lots of ways to enact generative processes: (and a quick round of applause to Oliver for the goldmine that he has produced here…see the link below.)

Download here. 

I think that instead of retrieval practice leading to a fairly narrow response in the form of declarative quizzing, we should think of a wider range of generative processes and talk explicitly about them.

Principles of Instruction.

I’m thrilled that Oliver (who features a lot in this blog!) has updated his Barak Rosenshine graphic to align with my re-ordering from this blog: Exploring Barak Rosenshine’s seminal Principles of Instruction: Why it is THE must-read for all teachers. It remains very firmly the most easy-to-access high-quality basis for discussing evidence-informed teaching and I love this new graphic:



I absolutely love the recent #WritinginScience Symposium organised by Pritesh Raichura. He introduced it here: https://bunsenblue.wordpress.com/2018/10/03/writing-in-science-a-symposium/. The two post by Ben Rogers and Ruth Walker are excellent -exactly the kind of blog post I love- a bit of deep thinking backed up with real examples of putting ideas into practice.  Here’s how Pritesh introduces them;

Compact Guides

I’m delighted that the Chartered College has now launched a series of short blogs -with pdf download versions – written by Sara Stafford, a former colleague of mine, and me. There are five series planned and two are already live.  The full set is only accessible to members but others will be made available to everyone in due course: https://my.chartered.college/category/compact-guides/


There’s a lot more people talking about curriculum – which is great.  The Chartered College Impact magazine Issue 4 was full of great articles on this and they can now be accessed here: https://impact.chartered.college/issue/issue-4-designing-a-curriculum/

Increasingly I am invited to talk to schools about curriculum design, both at a macro level – subject time allocations and timetable structures – but also at the level of fundamentals.  I had a big response when I tweeted this thought;

It’s an interesting phenomenon that SLT folk have often learned to care deeply about what GCSE grade each child gets – but not what they’ve learned. Sometimes leaders don’t know the texts, the parts of history, any geography or science topics but they know PP Boys’ P8 is -0.35.

Some saw this as having a pop at leaders. It wasn’t meant to be; it’s just a symptom of the system we operate in where grade outcomes mean more than learning content. However, I do also think leaders should take much more interest in the content of each subject area and see it an important part of their professional learning.  The more you know about what is in the curriculum, the more precise you can be in the support and challenge you provide; it also helps to keep focused on the right things and to inform good decisions about the use of interventions.  What exactly, are students meant to know?  What does the text selection in English say about our school ethos? I think these things matter a great deal.   A good place to start for any review is to find out what each curriculum area currently delivers and see how it all fits; how the curriculum is actually experienced by students.

Where schools are sharing their planning, I’m so impressed with the ‘defined curriculum’ models that are emerging.  There’s a lot of great thinking here:

This by Jon Hutchinson is superb:  https://pedfed.wordpress.com/2018/09/29/beyond-knowledge-organisers-building-the-best-curriculum-in-the-world/

There were also some superb examples shared at the By Leaders for Leaders event mentioned below including the Mastery English curriculum at Didcot Girls and the ‘Defined Curriculum’ at Greenshaw High.  I also love the work being done at Turton High School to ensure that the curriculum is build on secure principles from the bottom up in every area, with real depth, using the Trivium as a common framework.


I feel that the paradigm shift I talk about here is starting to happen, more and more. Schools are questioning their practice and are starting to move in the right direction:

  • Fewer data drops – schools are asking whether they need all this data?
  • Debating the value of statement bank progress trackers, can-do lists and various other excessively clunky systems
  • Talking about a diet of feedback instead of marking
  • Trying out using whole-class feedback. This is taking off in a big way.

There is still a long way to go.  A comment I often get is that the schools don’t need the data but the MAT Board needs it.  I question that ‘need.  Time for more MAT boards to get onboard!  If it’s CEOs driving this, they need to stop.

Intervention Culture is also slowly changing. This blog series by Becky Allen is fabulous -a must-read. Pupil Premium is not working: https://rebeccaallen.co.uk/2018/09/10/the-pupil-premium-is-not-working/

My blog inspired by Ruth Walker’s ‘e-coli’ post: To address underachieving groups, teach everyone better clearly resonates with people. We’ve gone too far down the intervention ‘extra-mile’ road and it’s refreshing to people to be encouraged to refocus on making their core practice better.


Communication: Middle leaders and Senior Leaders

Something I come across quite often is a communication gap between members of SLT and middle leaders.  I discover quite often that, with a bit more clarity about expectations and some ‘checking for understanding’ things would flow much more smoothly with less confusion or, at times, bad feeling.  Typically this arises where SLT members discuss an idea in some depth and then share it with middle leaders via line management processes.  However, the middle leaders haven’t always had the same opportunity for discussion and don’t know the full rationale or realise how a decision was reached.  It can also result in different middle leaders getting slightly different versions of the message, a message that can feel more like a directive than is intended and can leave some middle leaders feeling they’ve got less autonomy  that the SLT think they’ve given.

The solution: SLTs should be more aware of this danger and give middle leaders more opportunity to engage with the debates and/or walk through the exact message more precisely.  They should also check back: what has been understood by this? Are we on the same page.  Middle leaders should probably be bolder and ask more questions: if it feels wrong, check that you’ve understood the intentions. Also, if you don’t like something it’s useful to have a better idea to offer – to be on the front foot.

Tight focus, followed-through: 

I was so impressed with the content of the inaugural conference organised by By Leaders for Leaders led by Will Smith and several of his Trust colleagues.  The main message I took away is to follow-through and make significant commitment to embedding change, focusing on a very few specifics.   As someone guilty of doing too many changes at once at coming unstuck, this makes a lot of sense.  This slide from Will captured the spirit of the event:  Courageous and deliberate.  And All Over It.



There’s been a lot of twitter angst over silent corridors and exclusions.  I find the online debate frustrating because contexts vary so much and you end up with people deciding schools must be like prison when actually they’re happy, lively and joyful.   At the same time, exclusions do present our system with a challenge and we need to look hard for solutions to supporting schools where behaviour is challenging or where they serve especially complex communities.   I was delighted to have contributed a title to the excellent Pinball Kids research project launched by the RSA.  I would urge all the people debating behaviour to get involved with this:

Solutions and reality checks in the exclusion/inclusion debate. #pinballkids

And finally….. Popular on the blog

Great Teaching.  The Power of Expectations.  The popularity of this post surprised me.  I think it’s an empowering message; as teachers we have so much power to raise expectations and drive standards just through the attitudes we adopt and the way we insist on things being the way we want.

Lessons that misfire. Good intentions + bad theory = poor results.-  This blog was shared by Dylan Wiliam and Christine Counsell which, in my book, is the jackpot.

Know my name! A basic entitlement.    A simple idea that seemed to make sense to people.  I  still see it all too often; teachers unsure of their students’ names having difficulty as a result and causing some offence in the process.

Very Finally…

The Learning Rainforest passed 6500 sales on its first anniversary.  I’m super grateful to anyone who has bought a copy.  You can see a preview here: The Learning Rainforest: A model for great teaching and learning.

Order here from Amazon.

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