Deeper, cleaner, leader, learner, coach
Deeper, cleaner, leader, learner, coach

Deeper, cleaner, leader, learner, coach

First I wrote about my introduction to Clean Language, – Deeper, cleaner, leader and then some early reflections of employing Clean Language as a novice coach Deeper, cleaner, leader, coach. Now I am back to thinking, as a pastoral leader and learner, hence deeper, cleaner, leader, learner, coach.

Clean for education

Clean Language and Clean Feedback in education for Caitlin Walker, started with children “beyond the school system.” Although very successful, award winning in fact, you get the sense that Caitlin Walker felt Clean Language had more to offer the wider world than just education.

‘In about bout six sessions you’re gonna teach me, how to teach you.’ – Caitlin Walker

Now, that may well be the case. However, the lens I applied to Clean Language in this post was as a teacher (teacher exposition, understanding an clarifying students responses, connections to Cultures of Learning routines) and as a learner (impromptively demonstrated by my daughter) as a pastoral leader.


As Caitlin Walker outlines, her work with learners offers an affirming, if anecdotal, case study and I was struck by her reflection that Clean Language enabled her students to teacher her… how to teach them.

When she’s learning her best, it’s like an idea has to come into a pond and then like all the ripples have to go flat again before the next idea comes. We’ll Miss, you’re just chucking stones at her okay.”

Student in response to Caitlin Walker

Having invested professional development time visiting and working at a Catch22 Alternative Provision unit, I recognise and applaud her award winning work.

After twelve months work with these young people, Caitlin Walker offers a range of reflections and observations during various online interviews and sessions such as, students exposed to Clean Language began to ‘self-model.’ The quote above would support this. Students started to work towards being self-organised collaborators and Caitlin Walker also posits that there was recognisable influence on student’s meta-cognitive abilities and learning processes.

I can see why Caitlin Waker was keen to see Clean questions used more widely, though there is definitely a place for this coaching approach in schools and classrooms.

In coaching, through metaphor clients are able to explore their beliefs and values, fears or anxieties, and draw insights from that. Why should that be any different in schools, in classrooms, when learning? In all subjects and especially in subjects that require explanation or interpretation (I have no evidence for that , just a gut feeling). Although application to any learning situation, imagine a student removed from a lesson, expecting to be chastised, being asked… When you’re learning at your best, you’re like what? Now that would be an interesting opening question?

When you’re learning at your best, you’re like what?

Last night I was discussing behaviour for learning approaches in schools with David Rogers and this connected to Saturday morning, when I was watching Caitlin Walker explain Clean Language on a video from 2007. Across the room, Freya (7) was playing Roblox.

The example Caitlin Walker used to share Clean Language was – “When you’re learning at your best, you’re like what?”

Without prompting, Freya responded. “I’m focused.”

The video then explains that when working with students, Caitlin would usually get the students to map or draw what learning looks like – when you’re a really good learner. Or draw a metaphor for ‘learning at your best,’ – the example encountered later on in the video is a soaring eagle.

“And when you’re learning at your best, what kind of environments allow you to learn really well?”

Again, unprompted, Freya chips in with “Silence.”

CW: “And where do you work at your best?”

Freya is on a roll now – she looks up from her computer screen. “Probably in a classroom. At the table.”

CW: When you’re learning at your best what kind of environments can prevent you from learning? (a few prompts).

Freya: “Definitely when people are talking to me. Especially when we are using the iPads and laptops. When things come on the screen, the other students say “well this is come up on my screen and what do I do.”

CW: What kind of skills do you have as a learner, when you’re learning really well.

What kind of skills do you have as a learner:

Freya: “I am greater depth for literacy and I am learning my multiplication tables.” (She may have missed the point here).

CW: When you’re learning at your best, what is important to you?

Freya: Concentration

When you are working at your best, what beliefs do you have about what your learning.

Freya: No answer.

When you’re learning like that who are you?

Freya: No answer.

CW: And when you’re learning really well what’s your relationship to others and the world around you?

Freya: I like to work with other people, [see looks over at me] You know that don’t you. I help them out a lot. I am always helping people out.

When you are learning at your best you are like what?

Freya: I… I am like… i’m like a cheetah running away from a lion – I am working so fast.

I found the whole exchange rather curious and enchanting. It clearly showed me Freya’s preference for quiet / silent working, the importance of ‘greater depth working’ and helping other. The meaning of her metaphor was clear.

Going back to my thoughts about behaviour systems in school. Having these questions skill at hand, could support a very different kind of restorative / reflective approach.

Learning at your best – using the metaphor / drawing

Caitlin Walker highlighted that, in some schools, the teachers had then taken on Clean Language for the class. In one classroom, the teacher had placed a picture of a soaring eagle on the display – as an aide memoire.

When students where distracted or off task – rather than instruct the student to “be quiet,” she would say “for you to be that soaring eagle, what could you be doing right now, to be a soaring eagle like that?” A non-confrontational prompt with significant meaning.

I could see Clean Language questions contributing to:

  • setting (and understanding) a class climate
  • pastoral and restorative conversations
  • supporting vulnerable students; low attainment on entry, Year 11 exams stress, low literacy
  • build ‘anchor’ for exam performance
  • sharing and using feedback more purposefully

Any other ideas?

Six months on, I am finding that I am using Clean Language daily.

The response I use most frequently in English lessons is “And what else?” In some lessons, students have gone on to add four, five, six, seven and even more additional points / depth to their answers.

Teacher: How would you describe the character of Iago?

Student: As a “master manipulator.” (It is on a lot of the lesson slides / handouts.)

Teacher: And what else?

Same student: Janus-faced (It is on a lot of the lesson slides / handouts.)

Teacher: Great. And what else?

Same student: Machiavellian (Again, on a lot of the lesson slides / handouts.)

Teacher: Boom. And what else?

Same student: A virus.

Teacher: And what else.

A longer pause…

Same student: Needy

You get the point.

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