Grandmothers and Sucking Eggs. It doesn’t have to be patronising…

Teaching grandmother to suck eggs is an English language saying that refers to a person giving advice to another person in a subject with which the other person is already familiar.

I know you knew that. It’s a joke! I know you knew it was a joke. It’s a meta joke.

I’ll get my coat…..

I clocked a twitter person recently protesting that, as far as they are concerned, ‘Rosenshine is patronising’. This was met with applause. I found that odd. Lots has gone wrong there. ‘Rosenshine’ is basically short for ‘a set of everyday practices that teachers use to good effect’. This is basically the core of what Rosenshine’s principles represent: a record of the things that experienced, effective teachers do when they are engaged in instructional teaching: modelling, sequencing concepts in small steps, scaffolding, asking questions, guiding practice…. you know the stuff. If you’re an effective experienced teacher, why would it be patronising for someone to write down a list of things you’re doing so that, perhaps, others could learn from you?

I’m going to guess that people who find this patronising largely feel that way for three reasons:

a) They were presented as if they were new or the teacher didn’t know them.

b) They are presented or perceived as a complete description of teaching… when, in reality, we know there are other things to think about too.

c) They appear too obvious to be worth discussing or given any status – like we’re all a bit above describing our craft in functional everyday language.

I think it ought to be possible to get over all of these things. To start, let’s focus on the ‘nothing new’ issue, as I explored in a recent post on this theme:

If you’re presenting ideas to experienced teachers, of course it pays to acknowledge that experience. Rosenshine – to use his principles as just one example – is explicitly not new. Even if people are new to hearing about his work, the ideas Rosenshine describes are absolutely not new. If someone says ‘isn’t that just teaching’.. so some extent, yes it is. But that doesn’t mean it’s all common sense that every teacher just knows and nails every day.

Importantly, Rosenshine isn’t telling you what to do.. he’s just reporting some findings and suggesting some patterns of behaviours of teachers that, from his research and reading, more effective, more successful teachers seemed to have in common. That is true of all education research. And if all feels a bit beneath you, well, in my experience, the more functional and grounded we get, the more progress we make in doing things better. We can intellectualise some of the bigger ideas and concepts in education – but classroom dynamics are all about details of speech, tasks, resources, routines. Let’s embrace that.

If teachers are skeptical or cynical about being presented with ideas in CPD, it might well be because they’ve been burned too many times with egg-sucking presentations. But, I would also hope that experience brings with it the maturity and capacity to allow for some enthusiasm from others. There was a wave of recent twitter enthusiasm for mini whiteboards. Why? Because they are awesome. How better to get a sense of every student’s thinking all at once? But nobody is making you use them or telling you they are new. And yet, here was a twitter-grump giving it the full eye-roll emoji with – not like we haven’t been using them for 20 years. Why the need for that? If someone discovers the band you’ve loved for 20 years…. is it really offensive that they share their new-found enthusiasm? Let people have the moment. Embrace the enthusiasm.

I’ve seen a couple of people who’ve felt somewhat sidelined when newer, younger teachers were invited to present ideas instead of them.. which to them implied a lack of respect for their experience. I can sympathise with that feeling but I’d still encourage people to be charitable to those who are simply sharing ideas. Being overlooked can be distressing but it is not the fault of the ideas – talk to the people running these things and ask or offer to take the lead on a future occasion.

On the flipside of this is a message to people presenting ideas. It pays to make it explicitly clear when sharing your thoughts and enthusiasm that you might not be the first person to hear of the ideas and that some people you are talking to will know all about it and may well be quite skilled and experienced already. This is for two reasons: a) it shows some respect to those people who have been around the block a few times and b) unless you do this, they won’t be listening to what you say in any case; in fact they may well be actively antagonistic – for good reason. Just watch the tone; engage people in giving their perspectives before assuming they’re starting from zero. And above all, emphasise that we’re largely improving what we do already rather than necessarily doing new things.

If both sides of the egg-sucking scenario do their bit, we have harmony and can get on with discussing those ideas. We can all suck those eggs just a bit more effectively, let’s face it.

But you know this already, apologies. etc.


  1. Of course no one element in Rosenshine’s is new; what is new is the fact that he had the temerity to curate the principles into one place. It’s the blend that’s the important thing, that’s what makes it distinctive.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Again, your post presents a lot of what I encounter in schools, here in Australia, half a world away…

    There seems to be some idea, especially online, that it’s better to criticise than to simply let someone have their say – as in “the squeaky wheel makes the most sound? It’s like some people think by challenging others continually, they will raise their online profile – and maybe they will, just doesn’t seem to me that this is for the “right reasons”?

    A second trend is that, it’s always the most recent research that we have to quote – again, more online than in person, I’ve found and experienced… Most recent might not be the highest quality research study, maybe it is, maybe it isn’t? I guess my point is that – agreeing again with you, Tom, Rosenshine is making suggestions based on observations of effective teachers and teaching practices.

    There’s a reason it’s still being used and discussed = it works a lot of the time. Rosenshine’s principles are, for some teachers, especially in terms of reminding us all about clear communication of new knowledge and strategies. I still quote Rosenshine’s work, and subsequent replications of his work in more current terms – and I also quote your book, Tom! Thanks for writing it and for this blog post!


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