Commitment and respect

As a teacher, I was always looking for inspiring narratives to challenge and inspire young people to be better, braver more determined. I curated a Youtube play list and created a “Challenge and Inspire” page on this blog some five years ago. I am still adding to that collection.

Read any “stepping into headship” type article, book or howto, and communicating through assemblies will almost definitely be on the todo list. Last week I shared the boy who harnessed the wind, I look forward to sharing the two latest additions below, one on commitment and the other on the more difficult topic to resource – respect. A word or warning, you can not help but be moved actions of Sergeant Mrk Dolfini.


Alessandro “Alex” Zanardi is an Italian professional racing driver and paracyclist.  Ex Forumla 1 driver Zanardi had to give up the sport because of a deadly crash on 15th september 2001, after which both his legs needed amputation. But setbacks don’t stop winners from achieving glory. Zanardi re-invented himself, refused to give up – becoming a Paralympic star and also getting behind the wheel of a race car again. On 16th september (exactly after 15 years) he won Gold medals in the H5 category road cycling men’s time trial and mixed team relay, and also silver in the road race. After his Paralympic victory Zanardi commented

Normally I don’t thank God for these type of things as I believe God has more important stuff to worry about. But today is too much. I had to raise my eyes and thank him. I feel very lucky, I feel my life is a never-ending privilege.



Respect is better exampled than it is discussed.

12-year-old Cody Green always admired the strength and courage of the U.S. Marines. Last month, it was the Marines admiring the strength and courage of Cody. To honor his undaunted optimism and long-time struggle with leukemia, during which he beat the cancer into remission three times, the Indiana fifth-grader was made an honorary Marine.

On the evening of Friday, April 28th Cody’s lifelong fight was finally coming to an end. It was then that Sergeant Mark Dolfini chose to give Cody a very special gift. Attired in his full dress blue uniform the Marine Sergeant took his post outside the dying young man’s room and remained there –on guard– from 7:00 PM Friday night till 3:30 AM the next morning. Sergeant Dolfini only left his post because he felt it was time for the family to be alone with Cody who eventually passed away later that day.

Semper Fidelis – always faithful.

qr code

Adventurer or Voyager

This post has been baking in the thinking-oven for near  on a year now, following a 2015 TES post – Summer homework assignment went viral. The original assignment had many interesting challenges and a really good balance of creativity, reflection and education and back in August when I read about it, I save the article and put a challenge reminder in for a week before the broke up for summer.

A good deal is different since last August. Not least that I have moved counties and the summer holidays started a week early. Nevertheless, up popped the reminder and I set to work on the “2016 Summer Challenge” over the weekend. I have tried to retain that light-hearted balance, reusing a good handful of the original challenges, however I have switched out a fair few challenges as well to promote our school ethos, extend school learning from this academic year or in preparation for September. I have also added one of my favourite maths tasks, weighting, measuring and cooking American style pancakes. Second, as I now work in an all-through school, I designed two sets of overlapping challenge programmes – Adventurer or Voyager crossing the Year 4 – 7 and Year 6 – 9 year groups. I have not proscribed included the target audience on the challenge sheets, rather left it up to students to select which sheet they want to attempt (glass ceilings and all that jazz). Lastly, I have added one additional twist. Given our ability to auto-schedule posts on our website I have scheduled the release of five additional challenges. Look, lets be honest, John Hanke (Niantic CEO) does not see me as a threat however I do hope that our students and summer-holiday-weary parents will enjoy themselves. I know the students enjoyed the American style pancakes homework.

Editable 2016 Summer Challenge

I do think that it is important to personalised both the challenges and challenge sheet, marrying them up to your school, hence I have made the editable document available. If you swing back in September and I will tell you how it went.

John Hanke, Niantic CEO, creators  of Pokémon Go” developer Niantic, likes it.



Inspirational speaker – Jay Young

Jay_youngThis Friday’s Year 11 ‘Drive to the finish line’ assembly was led by an inspirational young man, former elite gymnast and aspiring stuntman, Jay Young.

Just two years on, and following eleven months of gruelling physiotherapy, Jay is commanding the respect and attention of our Year 11 students. Not a whisper could be heard in the theatre as Jay retold the events of his tragic accident and challenges of living life as a quadriplegic.

To be active like that all day every day for as long as you can remember and to suddenly have that taken away in a split second is difficult. –  Jay told our Year 11 students.

Jay broke his neck during a routine dress rehearsal at Legoland, Windsor back in March 2011. And whilst he himself is still adjusting to life as quadriplegic, he sees the value in sharing his daily challenges and experiences. His modesty and openness was powerful, humbling, and over whelmingly inspiring. Jay’ simple message – pursue your dreams with conviction and do not take for grant the simple things in life; a hug, scratching one’s own nose, sending your own text messages and removing an annoying eyelash. No pyrotechnics, special effects, not even a whizzy Powerpoint deck, just hard reality, facts and a drive to live life to the max.

Both staff and students left the assembly re-evaluating their own goals, inner strength and values. Truly humbling, truly inspiring. We hope to being Jay back to The Academy soon to contribute to our Humanutopia programme running this year.

Jay is keen to access a wider audience and work with as many young people as possible, schools and youth organisations in particular. If you are a teacher or school leader and would like to bring Jay to your school, drop me a note and I will put you in touch.

qr code

I love it when a plan…

…comes together.

(Doo do do doooh, doo doo doooooh….)

Take one regular lesson, on a regular Thursday, on a regular topic. Add a little Triptico magic, some fantastic, thoughtful, precise and quick witted questioning from a adventurous teacher and bam – there you have it, an Outstanding ‘lesson opening.’ Yes, it really is that easy doable? Doable? Not exactly blogging of the highest order there, not exactly David Didau, Tom Bennett , Alex Quigley, (no preference order fellas) anyway, but ‘doable’ really is the most suitable adjective. Not just doable, but time efficient too. Impact on your lesson introduction in the time it takes to write a multiple vote question with one question guaranteeing you at least five minutes student engagement and interaction or your Triptico licence fee back!

Like David muses, Outstanding is not some mythical, esoteric and fleeting high point in one’s teaching week, it is summation of the many things we do, to make our teaching strong. It is the ‘knowledge of our students and the relationships we’ve lovingly established over months or years. It’s the routines we’ve set up and the massively high expectations we’ve communicated.’ And yet, before some can be established, can be routine, it must first be attempted. So – how does one re-bake this Outstanding opening.

Step one – download Triptico and select Class Count, another-free-resource from David Riley.

Step two – write an open ended question / vote with more than one right answer. The impact of many options and rights answers is to be explored. A pedagogy research project that I will be asking Mr Elliot to investigate and present back to the English dept. Of course you could write a closed question, I’m not against close questions and assess prior learning.


Step 3 – consider the possible answers in advance, prepare phase two questions ready for deployment.

Step 4 – invite the students to vote as they enter the class. (As I have been asked – tapping the IWB as they come in)



Step 5 – hold court. Ask more questions. Ask which students voted for which answer. Students have to engage or the number of respondents does not match the scores on the board. Numeracy pops its head in as Class Count can convert to percentages if you click the icon (nice work David). Deploy the follow up questions.

You answered ‘Language,’ (Student X). Why did you not answer ‘Structure,’ afterall it seems to be more popular?

Who voted for ‘Character?’ Explain why that stood out for you?

Did I miss any options?

What was most impressive was Mr Elliot facilitation and guidance of a debate between two students who have voted differently, but didn’t quite have the skills to debate their preferences themselves. Skillfully guiding the students through to a mutual and respectful, disagreement.

Why might you think that is Chloe?’

Can you see why Amanda did not vote ‘Character’ like you did Chloe.

I would have been pride of that achievement.

Now I do not know how it ended, but I am hoping it went something like…

We are about to have a look at ‘Themes’ in the book Heroes – I wonder how the vote will stack up at the end of the lesson?

If you are going to complain and position that I should have stayed longer before loosely chucking the ‘O’ word around, you may be right, but for now, I am grading those ten minutes as Outstanding. Students were engaged, every student took part (so no, the question could not be differentiated). The Class Counter question was open, and required both analysis and prioritising skills before the students could answer (and that did cause a bit of a bottle neck), with the follow up questions both probing and challenging. Learning was rapid fuelled by controversey and wanting to prove oneself more right than the next student.


We are very lucky, at The Wellington Academy every classroom has an IWB. Ironically, Triptico (free) and Triptico Plus, only a few quid, really makes the most of them.

qr code