Don’t let what you do, get in the way of what you are doing well

ExpI wished I had been able to take a little more time to personally articulate how the first six weeks at The Wellington Academy have been. I know that I will never again get to experience this education adventure. It really has been the most exhilarating, yet steep learning curve of my career today and every day still brings with it new learning.

Not only am I learning about the intricate workings of the school, new systems, processes, culture, names, rooms, job roles, I am also acclimatising to ‘Academy,’ values. Working in partnership with The Wellington College colleagues is definitely one of the affordances of this partnership.

Day to day, I’ve been trying to build ‘buy-in.’ At the same time, trying to seed new expectations and teaching and learning practice. At a management level, conversations with staff, lesson observations, learning walks, organising meeting minutes, opening dept agendas. Taking on trips and visits, and over-seeing cover and exams. Leadership has been focused on data collection and integration; expecting greater integrity and accountability. All the time supporting colleagues adjusting to a new timetable and MIS.

Yet, it is still the one or two poor decisions or missed opportunities that provide the best opportunities to leadership and personal growth. I’m pleased that most of these mistakes I recognise myself, but occasionally you need a steering hand from someone more experienced to nudge. For most seasoned colleagues, I am sure you will attest that the higher up the leadership ladder, the broader your responsibilities and the more acute the accountability. You may not be directly responsible, though you are almost always accountable. Which brings me to the title of the post.

Don’t let what you do, get in the way of what you are doing well

I learnt today that it’s important, when building staff confidence, that no single action or decision, creates barriers to future success. Or as I was told, ‘Don’t let what you do, get in the way of what you are doing well.’ That no single action or decision should override the many things you’re doing for the greater good of the students and the school.

I have been a teacher for 13 years, a Vice Principal for 6 weeks and, at the age of 38, I have a lot more to learn about being a VP.

It may be a somewhat strange penultimate line, but I am hoping that one very inspirational and accomplished school leader might find it mildly amusing, and appreciate the warm sentiment.
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Teaching, the Design of the Building and ICT

How you do see teaching, the design of the building and ICT combining to create a thriving learning environment that enhances achievement. (Without Visual Aids)

Which came first, the teacher or the teaching space? After all, we all know that technology followed….

I have been debating and preparing the title (he says, glancing up) in preparation for ‘day 2’ of interview at a newly built, state of the art Academy (for the record, no, I didn’t get the post) however I did take the opportunity to broaden my thinking. At every opportunity I discussed the impact of their teaching space with colleagues, from across the breath of curriculum, online, over the phone and via email. I have spoken with Principals, Headteachers, Curriculum Leaders, teachers and learning assistants, consultants, students, Network Managers, architects, anyone that would listen and engage in dialogue really. Nearly every discussion contributed to the debate and almost without exception, every discussion emphasised, somewhere, the importance of ‘good’ teachers, educators or facilitators (TEFs). I was reassured although I doubt you are surprised? Therefore, if you were looking for a definite conclusion or composite answer, I hope you won’t be left dissatisfied with what can only be described, at best, as a summation of this investigation. This however, may be considered a success in its own right, considering simply trying to rank teaching, the design of the building and ICT in order of importance, left my audience often undecided or procrastinating when pushed for an answer. Even my first Twitpoll (n=52) demonstrated the complexity of the question.

  1. Teaching – 1.25
  2. Building Design – 2.23
  3. ICT – 2.44

How do I see teaching, the design of the building and ICT combining to create a thriving learning environment that enhances achievement? My approach towards an answer first encouraged me to assess the individual impact of these components before their collective alchemy. There is a presumption here of course, a presumption that the big questions had already been answered and decisions made. For example, what sort of education do we want to see in future? What sorts of learning relationships do we want to foster? What competencies do we want learners to develop?


Back to teaching, building design and ICT. Teacher learning and teaching has to been presented as the crank shaft, the driving factor for attainment. Whilst I would agree in this statement wholeheartedly, it is important that we also accept that the TEFs roles is evolving and currently at a faster rate than our profession is currently adapting. A role that may develop beyond that of a teacher and close to that of a facilitator, to perhaps collaborator or co-learner. I am uncertain as to whether or not a teacher is inter-changeable with a computer, but teacher enthusiasm is certainly not. I will let you debate the Sugata Mitra quote ‘a teacher than can be replaced by a machine should be,’vs the now infamous Sanders and Rivers (1996) article that argues ‘the single most important factor affecting student achievement is the quality of the teacher.’ Not their access to ICT.

The Personalised Learning agenda has a firm hold. Learning, teaching and ICT affords greater freedoms in which the students becomes the ringmaster selecting his own tools, managing his own performance, shared (if at all) with a select audience, who may or may not provide feedback (likes, stars or comments). This may be a possibility but our students definitely require guidance on how to access, aggregate, filter, configure and manipulate digital artefacts, resources and content.


Instead of a presumption this time, a statement. The school ‘the institution’ and the school ‘the building’ are not the same. The schools vision and culture should definitely be shared and celebrated through the building design, within the community and online, however a school is always more than the sum of its buildings. Point in reference Campsmount Technology College.

What constitutes the ‘design of the building?’ It is the environmental setting, the architecture, the combination of spatial and sensory qualities, the furnishings as well as the non-material qualities, the acoustics, colour, light. It is form, function and furniture as teacher tools. It is independent, peer-to-peer, de-privatised clusters, groups, cohorts and performance spaces. It is also prudent to acknowledge that designing a learning space is an organic and cyclical process, one that continues long after the building has been completed. It maximising the impact of the building to the maximum number of people in the community, Perhaps most recently, new designs are moving us from an ‘instruction paradigm’ to a ‘learning paradigm’ and technology can be an accelerant (it can also be an inhibitor).


The application of technology to building design can only be fairly assessed with reference to the learning space. In some cases, these opportunities have a direct relationship to building design. For example, wireless access promotes mobility whereas networked computing promotes assurance and processing power. In other examples, it is indeed the building itself we are trying to escape, here technology can offer exits to simulated worlds, immersive learning or augmented realities. It is not only what technology can offer now and tomorrow, but what is possible in the future. Using technology is not a pre-requisite for outstanding teaching, (nor an inspiring building) however accepting young people’s affinity and thirst for technology, it is knowing what technology, why, how and with how it can be most effectively used to raise attainment. Learning online (e-learning), mobile learning (m-learning), blended learning is carelessly defined. Removing the definition or prefix, demystifies it somewhat and makes it more readily available. Simply, it is learning. It is learning led technology and not technology for teaching and learning.

ICT for attainment is about empowering learner but also empowering teachers. Ultimately it is using data and feedback to transform learning and improve learning outcomes. It is using your E-resources to engage and information parents and community stakeholders. On or under budget of course.

In an effort to measure the importance of ICT, I stopped and asked myself ‘what the top ten trends in learning and teaching for the next three years?’ Consider it yourself for a moment…. How many of these trends do not rely on technology? None, one or two at best? How will the classroom learning be innovated?

  • Ebooks, open textbooks, open information.
  • Cloud Storage and Software as a Service
  • 1-2-1 computing
  • Mobiles learning (laptop, handheld or smart phone, personal response systems (PRS), real-time streaming, voting, AR)
  • RFIDs
  • Portfolios
  • Simulated environments
  • Accessibility assisted learning
  • Augmented reality
  • Games based learning (single player, multi-player, MMORP
  • Near field communication
  • Gesture based learning / immersive learning
  • Learning analytics

How do I see teaching, the design of the building and ICT combining?

Through aspirational teaching standards, and expert mentoring and coaching, creative timetabling, group management and excellent estate management. Through sustained professional development in collaborative professional communities with opportunities to experiment, develop and spread expertise within and beyond the school. I envisage a learning opportunity to exploit digital literacies with students supported as they adapt their learning capacities, their ability to work in and with innovative learning spaces, with one another, whoever, wherever they may be. Most importantly, I see the process of embedding technology into learning and teaching, within learning spaces and professional practice as an evolutionary process rather than a revolutionary one.

Which component has the greatest impact on teaching and learning

  • Quality of teaching (94%, 16 Votes)
  • Access to, and use of ICT (6%, 1 Votes)
  • School building design (0%, 0 Votes)

Total Voters: 17

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#LWF The Art of Enchantment

I do go on about it, but RSS feeds  are an excellent resource for ANY learner. Its just finding the most appropriate feeds. My RSS feeds bring a wonderful world of learning opportunity direct to me, to my Google Reader and via my iTunes account to my iPhone.

Last week it was Apple’s former chief evangelist, Guy Kawasaki, sharing his insight about the art of changing hearts, minds and actions courtesy of the #LWF vodcast.  Not only is he a very accomplished speaker, he is also very balanced and modest and his concepts of business ‘enchantment,’ make for great reflection. My education takeaways may not necessarily match Guy Kawasaki’’s ‘business’ insights, but is that not the point? The point is to interpret and apply, to contextualise and that is what I have tried to do?

Customize the introduction

Never present the exact same presentation twice, never send the exact same CV to two different application. Personalise.

Achieve Likability

Avoid ‘Pan Am’ smile, make a Duchenne smile. Smiling with your eyes, conveying a spark of confidence and joy. Dress for a tie. Under dress and you will give your audience the impression of not caring but overdress and you will give your audience the impression you think you are better than they are. Dress like your audience and build rapport. Show your passion, reveal who you are.

Achieve Trustworthiness

First, you trust others and then they trust you.

Trust others. Default to ‘yes’ attitude. Always think how you can help the other person. (Prototype – more of that later.) Be a ‘baker’.

Eaters want a bigger slice of an existing pie; bakers want to make a bigger pie. Adapted Kawasaki .


Make things Deep, Intelligent, Complete, Empowering, Elegant. Great products make you more productive. Make it appealing. In the case of education, how do we make ourselves, educators, or our lessons DICEE? Guy Kawasaki introduced the concept of a pre-mortem? An exercise in envisioning the potential pitfalls of your product, of why it #failed. In education, a strategy or even the teaching itself.

Launch Simple Stories

Tell a great story. Stories with purpose and relevance.  Use salient points, give meaning to numbers by putting them into a context your audience can understand. In education, don’t talk about percentages, show the students names or iconise the data. Here, 82% of girls passed the exam compared to 73% of boys.

100 students

Social Proof

Guy Kawasaki introduced the concept of social proof. His example,  was white ear buds of the iPod. As soon as you saw more people using white ear buds you thought more people are buying iPods. How do we add social proof in schools to show that learning or positive behaviour, for example, is the aspiration? This is one question I need to consider.

Invoke reciprocation

When you do something for someone, let the other person should thank you. Don’t simply say ‘you’re welcome’, say ‘I know you would do the same for me’. I believe this has a strong connect to the ‘default to yes’ aspect. Answer your email, your @ and DM (in Twitter) quickly.

Presentation Skills

10 slides. 20 minutes. 30 point font is a fair model, that is, if you are not Guy Kawasaki.

A bad presenter can make a 10 slides presentation feel like its lasted 40 minutes. A good presenter can present 40 slides, but make it feel like its only been 10 minutes.

Less is often more, especially when you want to make your presentation memorable.

Enchant Up

If your boss (client) is asking you something, do it right now. Prototype fast. Deliver bad news early…. .and even better than early, deliver it with a solution.

Enchant Down

Do the dirty jobs. Do them with your team.

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When to Abandon Lessons Plans

The 7a to Hillsborough

The first lesson of a new scheme of work. A shiny new Year 7 Scheme of Work and  new topic, Narrative Poetry. We had organised a few students transfers and it was on with the work. Incidentally, as a result of the transfers, (2 girls moving up to 7a2, with 1 girl moving down to 7a4 and 2 boys coming down from 7a2) the groups was now gender balanced 12M /13F but with the brightest girls moving up, and boys joining us, the dynamic change was already noticeable.


It was very clear from the introduction that the class were not keen excited by the thought of poetry. The banausic groan gave it away when I introduced the topic. How could I take these students on a learning journey when they didnt even want to leave the comfort of their own know-how?

Not to digress, before moving on, I asked the students why they didn’t like poetry, getting the students to physically write their complaints on the board; to give my attention more sincerity and their views greater importance. The finished mural was saddening. Their experiences of reading, writing and having to sing ‘nerdy, geeky, rubbish, boring and complicated,’ poetry left me with a wall to scale. I needed a spark to ignite their interest.

Luckily, having presented the tragic events of Hillsborough ’89 as a seminar task at University  (PE and Sports Science Degree) and as a Health and Safety case study at Key Stage 5 (BTEC National in Sport) I had selected the powerful ‘The Ballad of Hillsborough’ as my first  narrative poem. However, was it ever going to be enough to merely share and enjoy this poem with an uninspired class.

Introduction Task: Explain what happened at the Hillsborough Disaster using the Powerpoint provided?

Where is the discovery? The arrrha moment?

I looked at their disappointed faces and at that moment I abandoned the traditional / obvious ‘What happened at Hillsborough Stadium….., how does this poem share the feelings….., ‘what is narrative poetry,’ lesson plan and went with emotion, mine and theirs.

"Who, what, where or why – Hillsborough? Anyone?"

I had expected at least one student in the group may have heard about it, or know where it is, possibly one of the football fans, I don’t know why I did, they weren’t even born, their parents may have not even met, but I did. Spurious answers showed willing, but nothing concrete. Abandon the abandonment. Where now?

"What clues can you unravel from the poem?"I asked trying to be mysterious.

With as much sincerity as I could muster, I read the poem and the questions flooded in. Again, the students showed willing but they needed some concrete to grasp and that’s when I noticed that the natural layout of the class created a penned –in area at the back of the class (picture a back row of chairs with minimal space between them and the back wall). With minimal manipulation, I created a funnel that lead towards this space with a few chairs acting as the turnstile. 25 students quickly became a crowd and I became Jack, Sheffield Wednesdays longest serving turnstile operator, albeit more amiable.

We quickly gave the students their own roles, fans, fathers and sons, whilst holding back 5 students enthusiastic but late die-hards. Jack proceeded to recreated and narrate the events leading up to kick off and at the same time operated the turnstile.

Excited, vocal, the class crowd  hustled and bustled towards the entrance. They walked down through the turnstiles, with one or two turned away for being too enthusiastic (merry). Those who got in were pretty tightly packed, watching the match, facing the pitch wall, cheering at the game.

As the final fans arrived, late, (including the enthusiastic die-hards who had managed to slip in), they were told,

"Remember, its a Cup Semi-Final, you wouldn’t want to miss anything."

As the late comers jostled forward it was getting uncomfortable. Space was tight, and I admit the ‘die-hards’ were perhaps a touch enthusiastic, when one of the girls squealed / screamed.

"STOP!….. STAND STILL!" I affirmatively commanded. Thinking, got it about right….. "Listen."

I n a soft voice I requested "Slowly move back, back towards the front of the class. Take your time."

Whispering in the ear of two of students "Hold on. Wait here."

When back at the front I asked the group if we had everyone. Of course we didn’t. The students pointed the students at the back of the class.

"I am sorry. They didn’t make it."

"What do ya mean they didn’t………. oh."

We put the classroom back together and took the opportunity to re-read the poem. Students applied what they had just experienced to the narrative of the ballad and then the questions reined in. Which lead to more questions, which showed me just how keen these students were to learn about what they no longer saw as poetry. (Chocolate covered broccoli? I hope not).

With time running out fast, I told them that ‘we’ still had a lot to uncover and that we would be collaboratively building a wiki resource on the Hillsborough Disaster on the VLE next week. That is all set up and we are ready for round 2.

One reason to abandon a lesson plan is when the preface on which it is written, is inaccurate. These students did not come to class wanting to learn about narrative poetry, any poetry for that matter,  but they were open to being inspired. Once inspired they challenged me! 20 questions in 4 minutes, that was tough going and I didnt know all the answers.

When you next plan a SoW or lesson, rather than focusing on what has to be learnt, think how can students experience ‘what is to be taught’ and inspire them.

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The Hillsborough Ballad

The Liverpool supporters
Were given the smaller end;
Crammed behind the goal mouth,
The fans were tightly penned.

Penned, penned in their thousands,
Penned in under the sky
No one there had reckoned,
That ninety-six would die.

The barriers all buckled,
They couldn’t take the strain.
The cheers of jubilation,
Turned into cries of pain.

And when at last they noticed,
The police unlocked a gate,
But the exit was too narrow,
And they’d opened it too late.

The nation watched in horror,
Stunned with disbelief
As the shadows from the goal mouth
Stained a football pitch with grief.

An inquiry has been opened
To find out who’s to blame.
But for those who lost their dear ones,
Nothing will be the same.
For nothing brings the dead back,
Post mortems, flowers or prayers,
It’s like reaching the top of the stairwell
And finding there’s no stairs

That drop down into darkness,
Goes down and down and down
And grief’s black water well there,
Inviting you to drown.

Never to see your loved ones,
Or hear them on the phone,
It’s hard to believe when it happened,
That you’ll never walk alone.

But down at the Kop at Anfield,
The goalmouth shows it’s true,
The scarves around the crossbar,
Are knotted red and blue.

Despite divided loyalties,
Liverpool loves it’s own,
And every tribute there proclaims,
You’ll never walk alone.

Not by the banks of the Mersey
Nor down the terraced streets,
Beneath the great cathedrals,
A city’s warm heart beats.

And now in the cold spring sunset,
The liver birds aflame,
The phoenix rose from the ashes,
A city can do the same.