Posts by Kristian Still

A different kind of hard truths

The first round of observations are either under way or out of the way. Feedback or coaching has presumably been issued or shared. There are other opportunities too, hiding in plain sight. And possibly, the #dontsmilebeforechristmas brigade, hyped-up and hyper-vigilant, are about to miss it too as the first term draws to a close.

Student feedback is a prickly topic when it comes to staff interviews (pupil panels). However, I am finding it difficult to understand why you wouldn’t seek the input or feedback from your own students. Horses and water and all at. Even where the relationships are fraught, this might be one of the few tasks that might start to rebuild relationships.

Certainly, I have found that exploring class expectations, my teaching, their learning and their attitudes to learning, has only led to more productive climates. It may be partly due to my formative teaching years at a post 16 college that I seek students view, but equally I have received as many a useful suggestions from thoughtful Year 7 or Year 8 students as A Level students.

I tried various feedback approaches; offline and online forms or surveys, simple conversation, forms, and have found hard copy a slim-line A4 feedback slips works well. For some unknown reason, students do not see it as a “form?” I then review and summarise the responses, offering one or two improvements, considerations or changes, I plan to make next term. I then start the new term reiterating that commitment.


By chance, last period on Friday afternoon, I stumbled upon a conversation between a teacher and their Year 11 wavering class. Together – we share our ambitions for the class and opened up the conversation for their input. Very little was forth coming.

With the teacher, we took the opportunity to issue the feedback form. The form took no more than 6 minutes to complete. I replayed the non-negotiables and facts of the situation (our school values, limited time to exams) meanwhile the teacher reviewed their feedback slips. He cleverly applauded their honesty and thanked them for their feedback. He sought clarification on what they enjoyed the most. (Smiles started to return to their faces as their memories kicked in). He then double checked the points they highlighted or queried before surmising.

He committed to;

  1. Sharing and confirm the success criteria of learning, at the start of the lesson.
  2. Offering a defined checkpoint question or mini plenary twice in a double lesson.
  3. He agreed to visit the resource area once a fortnight and also explained why this privilege had been retracted.

The process took 25-30 minutes. I left before the end, as he continued the conversation with students. I sense the students felt consulted and my colleague informed.

A timely reminder that teacher-student relationships are forever in flux. Being receptive is not an easy skill develop, it is fragile, and this frame adds reinforcing boundaries that can promote trust and respect.

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Postcards with Spark

There is a truck load of posts and articles on the use of praise; when to praise, what to praise, tiered praise systems, public or private praise, the fragilities of praise and praise or feedback? With all that in mind, when students or staff go that extra mile, I value hand written notes or postcards.

As Marshall McLuhan prophesised, the medium is the message. In other words, the medium you choose not only affects what your message says, but also influences how it is perceived. A hand written message communicates a personal investment (if only my hand-writing was as beautiful as Mrs French inked comments). It some how shares an unwritten message of gratitude. Students rarely get mail, a delivered postcard is therefore memorable and (unlike digital communications) some how semi-permanent. Unlike comments in books, they are also very public and reach a wider audience than just the recipient. For these reasons, I use them sparingly, though try and commitment myself to one or two postcards a week.

Creating personalised or subject specific postcards is a snip with Adobe Spark Post (free) and a Word template (which I will add to this post when the school server pops back up).

With the exception of “Power for Good,” the postcard examples shared here were made from Adobe’s built Creative Commons library, default themes, text fonts, colour palettes on a 3:2 size image. If there were fewer choices, I’d probably make my final decisions even quicker. After, I add the school values and logo and in less than 5 minutes, I’m done. Changing the Adobe theme, creates a new version of the postcard in just a matter of… done.

Save and download the images and add them to the Word template (on which we also share a safeguarding message). Replacing the existing image is easy with “right click and change image.” This keeps everything align for the double-side print. Run through the photocopier on card and trim on the guillotine. All that is left to do is write your comment.

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Buttoned down

There is not too much to say. That is the point. What you do say, needs to be meaningful (easier said than done for a chatterbox like me).

That is why, when you are not getting it quite right, you need honest and trusted friends to tell you. I am fortunate enough to have three trusted educator friends that can deliver that message.

From here on – I intend to conscientously “button down” my conversations (another borrowed phrase). To confirm with those I am conversing, that I have both communicated clearly, that the message was received clearly and understood (as I had intended). With so many fleeting conversations (as Headteacher) the opportunity for part-communication is a very real frality. Or as I was told this afternoon

Leaders are responsible for 200% of communication. What is said and what is understood.


Whole class marking and feedback

What, drawn, and talk of workload? I hate the word,

As I hate hell, all managers, and thee.

Have at thee, coward!
Teachers should not be goaded into unreasonable marking and feedback practice resulting in longer, unreasonable working hours. The wellbeing bells are ringing loud and clear. Marking with feedback can be easily over-empahsised (Teacher Workload Review Group.)
Marks – some are universal, some are policy, subject specific, even literacy specific. Green pens, red pens, pencils (so learners can rub out the marks), mark grids, matrices and codes. Marking is planning.
Feedback often interlinks with marks. Many laud Hattie’s recommendations, cautioned by Wiliams. Some of my common feedback conversations include the follow perspectives.
  • Feedback is like sushi – it is best when it’s fresh.
  • Quality over quantity – targeted to the success criteria. It needs to be meaningful.
  • Feedback is not always positive – even when it is designed to be so.
  • Students deserve time to digest the feedback and to respond to it. DIRT (Dedicated Improvement and Reflection Time) now common parlance.
  • Feedback should engage students to think deeply and be more work for the recipient than the donor. Hence I prefer questions to commentary.
  • Feedback that highlights a student’s strengths is as viable as corrective feedback.
  • Self and peer assessment are valid assessment processes.
  • Demonstrating the marking process is a viable strategy.

Whole Class Marking and Feedback

I read a handful of posts on whole-class marking, most referencing one Mr Thornton @MrThorntonTeach or Jodie Foster, and I decided to adapt the process to marry my own “marking with feedback” thinking and my students.


  1. Yellow highlighting identities where AOs are evidenced.
  2. Yellow area – specific feedback against the success criteria
  3. DIRT questions – provides opportunities for students to think deeply
  4. Orange highlighting – misconceptions.
  5. Red boxes – I think are self explanatory.
  6. GREEN DOTs (dot and circle) marks opportunities for student to identify and correct errors.
  7. Up arrows – opportunities to upgrade language.
  8. Polaroid moments – a borrowed phrase – thank you Mr Thornton


I prepared the AO and even added one of two words that I knew the students had struggled with. I then read the student books, making notes as I went. With the success criteria and the misconceptions – I wrote the “DIRT Questions,” and really enjoyed recording the “Polaroid Moments.” The original “cause for concern” changed to “working below the expected standard” (for that student).

I have asked the students for feedback on the process – I will add it to this post when it arrives. First impressions – the students engaged with the crib sheet and thoroughly checked their books.

They liked the process though found the sheets a little “bit much to take in.” They hadn’t made the connect between the yellow highlighted sections in their exercise books and the yellow feedback  box and DIRT task.

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