Problematic Words

A week ago on Twitter, I asked for words which offend. Although many offered the roots and the etymology – I feel that if words offend that is enough to avoid their usage. Obviously, this excludes their use by the people in which they originate and their contexts.

  1. Mumbo Jumbo.
  2. Voodoo
  3. N***** in the woodpile.
  4. Fear of kidnap by the slave trade.
  5. Juju (Used by people who don’t fall into the group)
  6. Is it Kosher?
  7. Too many chiefs not enough Indians.
  8. Hey, chief.
  9. Circle the wagons.
  10. Calling a spade a spade.
  11. Chinese whispers.
  12. Seminal.
  13. Exotic.
  14. Coloured.
  15. Half-Caste.
  16. Octaroon/Quadroon.
  17. Coon.
  18. Uppity.
  19. Nitty Gritty.
  20. The Mecca of…
  21. Going Doolally.
  22. Being an Indian giver.
  23. Eskimo.
  24. That’s mental (so ubiquitous now)
  25. Idiot/Moron (both literally categorical terms from eugenicists!)
  26. Stupid
  27. Crazy
  28. A bit autistic/OCD/schizophrenic
  29. Mufti day.
  30. Beyond the pale.
  31. Taking the Mick.
  32. Pagan.
  33. Jap.
  34. Red Indian.
  35. Gip/Gyp.
  36. Throwing a Paddy.
  37. Holligan.
  38. Having a quick pow-wow.
  39. Tribe.
  40. Paddy wagon.
  41. Tinker.
  42. Sitting Indian style.
  43. Drinking the Kool-aid.
  44. Cretin.
  45. Hysterical.
  46. Horde.
  47. Pikey.
  48. Chav.
  49. Hillbilly.
  50. Slavery to compare to anything which isn’t slavery.

10 Things I Wish Teachers Knew: GRT

This week’s piece comes from Kerry Brennan.
1. We may be unaware of the processes, policies, procedures, politics there is a language communication barrier. O.T, ANP, EHCP is a language we don’t understand until explained.
2. We may need special support with diagnosis and provisions. There are a high number of GRT with undiagnosed SEND without the language to push for ECHP and assessments. Our pupils can be punished for bad behaviour is a sign of the underlining Issue.
3. We may not have the luxury of laptops. We can’t afford the extortionate uniform prices that we are now made to pay. Know some of us are at a financial disadvantage.

4. To have a good support network for our children we want to get on with their teachers. But we find the jump from primary to secondary scary with little support or reassurance. We need to feel our children are safe.

5. We want our children to learn about their culture with their friends at school in a positive way. We want Gypsy Roma Traveller culture in history, dance cooking, languages, and, our values in every aspect of the curricula taught this benefits everyone.

6. Many of our children have responsibilities at home that include taking care of grandparents, siblings or parents. We live in close-knit families where elders are respected and seen as the heads of the families.
7. We have a shorter life span, lowest academic outcomes at every key stage, high infant mortality rate, low attendance, and the highest exclusion rates.

8. We are often targeted by local authorities, harassed by police, face discrimination on a daily basis this has been a generational struggle for our cultural way of life to continue and progress with society.

9. Please do make your self known to GTR families, be kind, listen to them. Be aware that they may be a bit hostile at first because they are waiting for you to judge them, they are waiting to feel patronised, humiliated at not being able to read to their child every night.

10. We as parents realise the importance of education and it’s possibilities however we may have had very little to no education ourselves. We may have never been to a university, we have and had no way of getting there. We have been isolated from educational progression. Ultimately we are scared.

The Best of Both Worlds

This piece is part of a leadership archive from one of the most authentic school leaders I have met, Jeremy Hannay. Jeremy is currently headteacher of Three Bridges Primary School and his work can also be found here.

Whose cooler – Superman or Batman? Who would win in a fight – Wolverine or Cyclops?

Growing up, my eldest brother and I loved to read comic books, and these were the sort of questions I have fond memories of us arguing about, each taking an opposing stance. That was until our younger brother started to read comics and joined in the conversation. At that point something changed for me. I went from truly believing that there were only two possible positions, to understanding that, firstly, perhaps there was another option we hadn’t considered, and secondly, it might be possible that we were all correct.

The world is full of these false dichotomies, where two opposing ideas are presented as being directly opposed to one another – or the only two options – when in reality they aren᾿t at all

This paradigm has been proven to me over and over again as a class teacher, school leader and doctoral researcher; solutions are rarely as simple as one idea or the other, and very often the truth lies somewhere in between. And education has its fair share of false dichotomies.

I’ve met many early years consultants who stare seethingly at me when I suggest that we need to provide more formal opportunities for reading, writing and mathematics in our nursery and reception. “That is not the way they learn”; “They need to choose their own learning experiences”; “Research says…more play, more self-initiation, more child-led…; etc etc…

Suggesting that children in reception should sit at desks to write, or on the carpet for whole-class instruction, is met with frustration and cynicism. These people believe that teacher-directed learning and child-initiated learning are mutually exclusive.

But at Three Bridges, we don᾿t think it᾿s so clear cut, and believe that a balanced approach involving both priorities is what’s best for our youngest learners. Not only is our way or working supported by recent large-scale research, it provides our disadvantaged pupils (baseline: 93% below, 60% significantly below) with the social, emotional and academic capital they need to flourish as readers, writers and problem solvers. It’s the structure of learning that provides them with the freedom to learn.

Daily dose

A typical day for us involves a morning of more-structured English and maths programmes, characterised by whole-class and mastery-group instruction, followed by a free-flowing afternoon with opportunities for make-believe, experimentation and unstructured group play.


Our English programme includes a teacher-led session using the Sounds-Write approach for quality-first phonics, and an active and integrated Talk for Writing story time. We vary the activities that follow. There is a whole-group writing session, and break-out mastery groups for learners who need more-focused time with an adult. The idea is to bridge the gap between our high- and low-performing learners that is traditionally seen upon entry to Year 1.

Pupils start writing on individual lines, before moving on to four-line tramlines as the year progresses. This transition is supported with our custom-made whiteboards and books, and is guided by our teachers’ professional judgement. Pupils are encouraged to be independent and select their own writing tools, in addition to regulating their partner-talk using speaking frames, which foster talk in complete sentences. There is reading of high-quality and creative texts with a focus on reading for meaning, in addition to pupils engaging with books they can read independently.

In line with the rest of the school, our children learn to make inferences, predictions, and connections. They create mental images and identify text features. They learn letter-formation, handwriting control and the joy of being able to express themselves using the written word, all while building their vocabularies and creative voice through oral and written approaches deeply embedded within the Talk for Writing pedagogy. Our youngest people go on to leave our school among the best in our local authority.

Seeing the joy on their faces when they have taken an idea in their heads and purposefully written it down for someone else to read is tangible evidence of ‘literacy as freedom’.

Question time

In maths, we use adult-led instruction via the Singaporean method. It’s an approach we use throughout the school and one that complements our beliefs about quality-first pedagogy across all subjects. Children are introduced to a problem while sitting on the carpet, and through concrete materials and pictorial representations they are skilfully questioned in order to determine multiple solutions. They talk to each other and have many opportunities for oral formative feedback.


Then pupils work on practical, hands-on activities at tables, slowly building towards using more abstract concepts such as numbers and symbols, as preparation for lifelong learning. They discuss cardinality and ordinality, rational and irrational counting, number bonds to 10 and the use of 10-frames for numbers to 20. It is crucial that all of the children leave with strength in making connections, finding patterns, a well-rooted number sense and the ability to communicate and articulate their thoughts.

Our afternoons, however, closely resembles other foundation programmes. We have a strong emphasis on child-initiated activity, play, make-believe, art, music, and movement. Our children typically play at self-chosen activity stations or tables, both indoors and outdoors. This offers them a range of materials to stimulate language and cognitive development, with open-ended and themed activities such as finger-painting, sand and water tables, a dress-up area, a puppet theatre, blocks, cars and trucks.

Here, our teachers are primarily supportive rather than directive, engaging individuals or groups in conversations about what they are doing or plan to do. They introduce themes, often based on the children’s interests, and discuss key concepts such as numbers, shapes, colours and vocabulary that connect to greater learning.

Meeting in the middle

This congruence between thoughtful teacher-direction and child-initiation is seamless. And, most importantly, our children are happier than they have ever been. No love of learning has been lost – if anything, it is on a steadfast rise. Where we used to put limits on learning, they now have the freedom to express themselves and make meaning of the world using language and conventions.

For years we’ve been told it’s either teacher-directed or child-initiated learning – that you have to choose one or the other, that they’re mutually exclusive. But we must have both. When woven together by talented and passionate teachers, they operate in beautiful harmony. Our children often enter the school with limited social, emotional and academic capital, but they leave our early years setting from a position of joy, confidence and creativity.


They have a bank of nursery rhymes to draw on, a variety of stories and language features with which they speak and write, phonics and language skills to support reading and meaning-making, and the capacity to collaborate with each other and adults in magical ways, happily moving their learning forward as independent, courageous and talented young people.

Formal agreement

Four reasons to use Talk for Writing in the early years…

1. It provides secure start
Every early years child becomes a writer when they learn a story orally from beginning to end and intelligently investigate its components to form initial ideas about grammar, punctuation, and sentence level work.

2. Innovation is encouraged
After learning a story orally, children invent their own versions. The way in which they learn to copy, transform and combine ideas forms the building blocks for all creativity.

3. It᾿s great fun
Pupils absolutely love learning and retelling a story using actions and different intonations. Reenacting the giant from Jack and the Beanstalk or huffing and puffing along with the Three Little Pigs is engaging and effective for everyone.

4.  Research backs it up
This approach is rooted in recent and relevant research, considering both how we learn and how early years children begin to write (Chambers, Cheung & Slavin, 2016).​

Inclusion – BSL, Deafness and Leo the Lion.

Being included is essential, seeing your self in books it necessary and being embraced for being you.
Although deaf culture is vital, I am not denigrating that at all. I want to point out that deaf people are a linguistic minority, and if everyone in our country signed using the nation’s official language life become easier for everybody.

Last week I spoke at the Solihull head teacher’s conference, where I met Mark Mitchell who told us that he was inspired to write this story after his pupils challenged him. Here is the summary:

Leo is excited… it s his BIRTHDAY! His friends are invited, the party is planned, and all he needs to do is some shopping. But buying a few party treats can prove quite tricky when what comes out of your mouth isn’t what you want it to be! Will Leo ever be able to get what he needs? Will the shopkeepers ever recover from meeting him? One thing is for certain… the party will be a ROARING success!!!

The book teaches basic sign language, and I’m always up for sharing and promoting anything that fosters inclusion. Check it out:

Claiming Back £ – 3 ways.

Student Loan Repayments.

Did you:

  1. Teach biology, chemistry, physics, computing or languages (not including English) during the 2018 to 2019 financial year.
  2. At a school in an eligible local authority during the 2018 to 2019 financial year – check which places are eligible
  3. are currently employed as a teacher at a state-funded secondary school in England
  4. spend at least 50% of your contracted hours teaching one or more eligible subjects
  5. complete your initial teacher training (ITT) course in or after the 2013 to 2014 academic year

Then you can claim back the student loan repayments that you made while employed as a teacher in the 2018 to 2019 financial year (The financial year so this is April 2018 to April 2019).

This what you’ll need:

  1. The exact amount of student loan you repaid while employed as a teacher during the 2018 to 2019 financial year (get this from your annual student loan statement, your P60 if you only had one employer or all your payslips from this period). You should be able to access some of your information here also
  2. Your National Insurance Number
  3. Your bank account details
  4. Your 7-digit teacher reference number – you can get this from your school, the certificate you got when you qualified, or from the teacher qualifications helpdesk
  5. The academic year in which you completed your initial teacher training
  6. Your passport or photocard driving licence to prove your identity using GOV.UK Verify – if you’ve used GOV.UK Verify before, you’ll just need your sign-in details

Head over to if you are eligible and if not share with your networks.

Claim back £2000

While you are here if you taught maths or Physics in the same period you can claim £2000.


Sorry, if none of this applies to you. However, if you haven’t claimed your tax back (people are receiving cheques up to £600 back) on you union subs and chartered college membership do that here.



PART 6 – Building Trust in a Culture of Skepticism – EQ

This piece is part of a leadership archive from one of the most authentic school leaders I have met, Jeremy Hannay. Jeremy is currently headteacher of Three Bridges Primary School, and his work can also be found here.

This article aims to explore HOW we lead – what resources we draw upon – if we aim to build a culture of trust.

I recently read an article about the meal replacement company, Huel, one of the fastest growing companies in the UK.  In their office, in giant black letters on the pearl white wall, is their key slogan: ‘Don’t be a dick.’  When I’m asked how we lead differently at Three Bridges, I often simply reply – ‘I try not to be an asshole.’  Not being an asshole can be one of the trickiest parts of leading an organisation (even for this happy headteacher!) – but it can make all the difference (and I don’t always get it right).


It’s a Tuesday morning – I have just walked through the door and sat down at my desk after my 40 mile drive to work.  I have a million and one things on my mind, have opened up my long list of things to do and just started crafting a reply to a difficult email I received, attempting to avoid an escalation.  Then there is an inevitable knock at my door.
First – I am THINKING – ‘this better be really f*&^*(& important’
But my response is: ‘Morning 🙂 How are you? :)’
This conversation goes a number of ways, but often is something like: 
‘I’m wondering if you had a chance to look at the email I sent you?’ (The one they sent me 5 minutes ago or last night at 11pm).
Now – I am THINKING – ‘You know I have just arrived – and I haven’t even been here 5 minutes :|’
But my response is: ‘I’m really sorry, I haven’t had a chance yet.  What’s up?’
‘It’s just that I’m not sure everyone knows what’s happening for book day – and maybe you could send an email to everyone reminding them of the day, etc.’
Now – I am THINKING – ‘You have got to be f$%^& joking. You have fingers, a keyboard and a computer – if you think that people don’t know, YOU SEND THE F$%^&* EMAIL! You had time to send me one!’
But my response is: ‘Oh Dear! Let me do that with you right now.  It completely slipped my mind.  Thanks for bringing this up.  And – hey – next time, if communication seems light, please do feel free to send it for me.’

Obviously – this is a slight exaggeration of my inner voice.  I am not always a complete monster.  But – when I am not under the gun, it’s easy to be nice.  When you’re under pressure – which as HTs in England, we are almost 99% of the time – it is much harder to perceive emotions, manage emotions and act in emotionally appropriate ways.  Our responses, appropriate or otherwise, define the relationship with our staff and the smooth running of the school (or not!).

EQ: Our Emotional Quotient

Our Emotional Quotient is our ability to recognise our own emotions and those of other people.  It means being aware of body language, tone, background, strengths and struggles.  It involves having a cultural awareness (ex: how we express our dissatisfaction in Canada is actually quite different that in England). Having a well developed emotional intelligence is another piece of the puzzle, when trying to build a culture of trust.

Perceiving Emotions
How in tune are we to our own emotions – how mindful are we?  In the example above, I was conscious of the fact that the email I was sending initially was of a very sensitive nature and my response was important.  This meant that I needed to be hyper-vigilant when interacting with others so that my stress and anxiety did not become theirs.  Perceiving emotions means being aware of your own emotional state and discerning the state of others through their own verbal and non-verbal queues. If someone comes in angry or frustrated, I meet them with compassion and care.  Everyone is fighting a battle we know nothing about – and I always hope that when I am angry or frustrated, I am met with the same care and compassion I give out.

Managing Emotions
Reflection is a large part of leadership.  Managing emotions is really about reflecting on our own emotional responses and their potential consequences – both positive and negative.  Sometimes I want to scream – sometimes I want to hug.  Both have consequences.  Knowing when and where those responses are best – beginning with the end in mind (as Covey would say!) is as important with our emotions as it is with our operational decisions.  In addition to this, managing emotions is also about how we support others to do the same.  As school leaders, we recognise student behaviour as something that needs to be modelled and taught – however, often with adults, we lose that thought.
We ran a staff meeting last year where one of the exercises was to do some mindful tasting – to take a raisin and roll it around in your mouth for a minute.  What texture did it have?  What did we notice about it?  Did it have a taste? Did it change at all over the minute?  The point was to be reflective and appreciative of the moment. How often do we just shove food in our mouths so we can get on to the next thing?  When was the last time we actually mindfully tasted our meals?  It was about living in the moment and appreciating life.  It was also about managing our emotions – that everything changes when we take a minute to pause – reflect – respond.

Acting in Emotionally Appropriate Ways
You are a weather maker.  In our buildings, when we are low – when we are stressed, anxious, panicked – the staff reflect that.  Acting in emotionally appropriate ways is about exercising control over which emotions guide our actions.  Are you in control?  When you are responding to a person or situation, who is it about? Is it about you?  Is it about them?  Is it about the children?  Something else?  This is EXCEPTIONALLY IMPORTANT to unpick.  Our default answer is almost always ‘it is whats best for the children.’  I challenge that.  I challenge both that we always act in the best interests of the children (we can’t be mother Theresa all the time!) and the notion that children must always come first.  We are soil people.  Often, to take care of the children, we need to take care of someone or something else.  We need to take care of the people that take care of our people.

When Ofsted called a few weeks ago, I was out doing some work in another school.  A member of staff anxiously asked if I was coming back NOW.  I said no.  I’ll be back in time for lunch, talk with the staff and we’ll go about our day as usual.  The school I was at graciously offered me a swift departure – I said no thank you.  What was most important to me in those moments was that my response was not a reaction to the situation but a response that has been practiced 1000x over in my mind.  I have seen schools and leaders go in to complete panic-mode after ‘the call’.  Staff get wound up, miss their lunch, stay until midnight to re-back boards or mark book or plan flawless lessons.  I did not want that in my school.  I wanted staff to enjoy their lunch, go home early and rest, and the school to not be ‘on show’.  The two days Ofsted was due to visit also weren’t going to be changed either – it would send the wrong message to staff. I had pre-planned visits with HTs from Wiltshire and then further abroad from Germany and Belgium.  They went ahead.  If the staff saw me cancelling visits, stopping the school show, not supporting other schools – they would also change.  That is not what I wanted.

I don’t take care of children anymore.  Teachers take care of children.  We take care of the teachers so that they can take care of our children.  How is it that you would want your teachers to be supporting our pupils – when they misbehave, when they are struggling with learning, when they don’t understand, when they need more or different or special – when things in their life stink? We don’t want them to be a dick.  Show them what that looks like.

I recently read a blog by a new HT after their first year that said one of the things they had learnt was the courage to call out poor practice – when they saw it.  While I am sure this has the best of intentions about raising standards and supporting development, I see it as inherently flawed. There are times that staff come to me with gripes about other staff – someone is not pulling their weight, they’re not doing what’s right or they feel frustrated with their level of commitment to something.  The easy thing for me to do is call them on it.  But the easy thing and the right thing are often not the same.  This is where I like to go deeper – ask WHY.  See things from that teacher’s perspective.  What is causing the performance issue – what is causing the complaining teacher to be dissatisfied?  Alignment, balance and harmony come from a series of complex relationships within and between staff and their lives outside of work. The worst thing I can do is respond immediately (unless it is VERY serious).  The best thing I can do is listen – pause & reflect – and respond later.  Acting in an emotionally controlled and appropriate way – this is not situational.  It is a constant. It means pausing your thoughts in the now for a better, more nuanced response later.  This is the essence of not being an asshole.

The next blogs will look at other resources we draw upon, including Pathfinding & Problem Solving as well as delving more deeply in to Creating the Weather.

PART 5 – Building Trust in a Culture of Skepticism – ALIGNMENT

This piece is part of a leadership archive from one of the most authentic school leaders I have met, Jeremy Hannay. Jeremy is currently headteacher of Three Bridges Primary School, and his work can also be found here.

By now, it’s likely you’ve read the beginning of my series on Building Trust in a Culture of Skepticism.


This word is attributable in my leadership journey to Kevin Graham, a high school Principal with the Hamilton Wentworth District School Board in Ontario, Canada.  He was one of my facilitators on the Canadian version of the NPQH, known as the PQP (Principals Qualification Program).

Kevin used this term frequently.  At the time, I understood it one way – today, as a Headteacher, I see it in a new light.  Really – my ability to lead others is based primarily on trust, and this trust is founded a a number of factors – with the largest, arguably, being alignment: are what I say and what I do congruent?  Am I being authentic, genuine and honest?

There’s no sense walking anywhere to preach unless our walking is our preaching.

It is one of the reasons I host so many people at Three Bridges each year – my voice should be a whisper – my school – my practice – is the amplifier.


Alignment is first and foremost about your ‘why’.  Articulating this is often a very complex piece of work.  Simon Sinek writes and speaks about this.  We can all describe what we do, and many of us can talk about how we do it – but recruitment and retention, performance and standards, people going the extra mile or giving up before the job is done – is most often linked to the compelling and honest WHY.  Why are we doing what we’re doing – and how is it linked to what we believe about ourselves, our people, our community, the purpose of education and our vision of the future?


When staff morale is low, performance is poor, people are leaving – it can often be traced back to a misalignment with our WHY (and theirs!).  Have you compellingly articulated your WHY – so well that it becomes a common language in your school?  Other staff speak it and live it – not because it has been drilled in to them, but because they share it?  When you hire people, is your interview set up to find the alignments between your school and the person you’re hiring?

Let’s take marking as a practical example.

I am someone that talks a lot about my belief in staff agency and autonomy.  I believe that professionals can only truly flourish in an environment that encourages reflection and self-direction, coupled with development and research opportunities.  Having a marking policy that prescribes code, colours, frequency, and content is misaligned with agency and autonomy.  So I don’t have one.  The policy says:
‘Written feedback will only be used when the teacher determines that it is the most effective and relevant type of feedback for the subject/lesson/pupil or context.’
In other words, when a teacher thinks written feedback is the best form of feedback, they’ll use it.  When they don’t, they won’t.  That is alignment.


Unpicking your beliefs – your WHYs – is an important leadership task.  If you haven’t done it, do it.  It is important that we know ourselves before we try to lead others.  This helps us define our why.

What are your core beliefs about education? About humans?
What gets you out of bed in the morning – what excites you, inspires you?
What is your story – how did you get here?
What phrase will define your life?
How will people describe you at your 80th birthday?
What makes you come alive?
What are your strengths?  Where do you add the greatest value?
How will you measure you life?
What will your legacy be?


I didn’t need to survey other schools, talk to the LEA, or see what Ofsted wanted.  None of that matters.  I believe in agency and autonomy – I believe in trust – I believe that people are fundamentally good and want to do their best – so I write a policy that says that.  We got rid of marking when most people were still debating what colour to highlight mark in – not because I was trying to be controversial or a dissident – because I believe in alignment.  What I believe, what I say and how I act must be aligned.

This goes for everything in the school.


If I say that I value family and work life balance and a member of staff comes in to my office and asks for a day to go to their child’s graduation – and I say no – people don’t get upset with the rules – they get upset because what I say and what I do are incongruent.

If I say that I trust them, and then ask them to submit planning, evidence everything, scrutinise their books – even if I call it something nicer – like a ‘book celebration’ or ‘learning look’ – if what I say and what I do (and really, how they FEEL based on what I do!!) are misaligned, things will never run smoothly.  Being a values-led school is equal parts what you believe, how you behave and how people feel.  Often, the last part gets left out.  Lots of fancy words on walls – but as Mary Myatt says, these values need to be lived, not laminated.  Alignment.

There is no greater influence on leading a culture of trust than alignment.  Exploring how your values intersect is also complex.  You might believe in trust, but also believe in putting children first.  How do you negotiate this?  I want to trust teachers, but also want the children to have a world class experience.  If I just let teachers do anything, standards will drop and pupils will suffer.  At the intersection of trust and pupils is support and development of staff.  Brining your beliefs to life often lies in support, development, research and collaboration.  This takes time.  Alignment doesn’t need to be overnight.

Remember the cathedral?  If we say that we want to eliminate the marking-in-books nonsense because we believe in teacher agency, it is important we are transparent with the process.  This is where we’re going (cathedral) – and this is how we’re going to get there (the plan) – but we won’t be there tomorrow.  But know, that when we do get there, it will be together.


If you want to build a culture of trust – it starts with alignment.  How aligned is your walking to your talking?

PART 4 – Building Trust in a Culture of Skepticism – DEVELOPING SOCIAL CAPITAL

This piece is part of a leadership archive from one of the most authentic school leaders I have met, Jeremy Hannay. Jeremy is currently headteacher of Three Bridges Primary School, and his work can also be found here.

This post is to unpick some of the ‘replacements’ for traditional school inspection (branded as improvement) after having explored PART 1, 2 and 3 of my series on Building Trust in a Culture of Skepticism.

Collaborative design of the instructional program is a pivotal piece.  However, complacency with an approach and a rigidness to change is a great way to destroy trust in any school.  In addition to this, we know that teachers learn incredibly well when they are dialogic – supported to use their social nature to discuss, dissect and debate learners and learning, pedagogy and practice.  So – what frameworks or systems do you have in place in your school to facilitate this type of focused conversation.  How are teachers connecting about your instructional programme?  Do they have a voice in refining it?  Improving it?  Changing it?  What about the impact of your instructional programmes on learners/learner groups?  Is there a mechanism for teachers to lead on that process?  How are teachers encouraged to contribute to the improvement of the school?

Building frameworks of social capital is another way to build trust in your school.  You’re already hiring the very best people, growing and developing them in meaningful ways, designing your instructional program with them.  Now it is time to support their growth through social networks – collaborative learning. And while I think spaces like Twitter have scope for this, it isn’t really what I am referring to.  I am talking about practices like:

a – Learning & Lesson Study
b – Teacher Research Groups
c – Open Lessons

Learning & Lesson Study is a model of collaborative development and social capital that comes from Japan.  It involves a team of teachers (usually 3) creating a wave of research lessons (usually 3) that have research questions, case pupils, a knowledgeable other (often a person, journal article, or resource), and teachers directly focussed on the learners and learning rather than the teachers and teaching.  It allows teachers to have a view into the learning they don’t often get.  When the research lesson is complete, teachers interview the case pupils for their views and then retire to a review and planning session for the next lesson. This is a brilliant way to focus conversations on learning, allow new teachers to have a surgical view of a teaching approach/program, refine accepted instructional practice, and try out new ideas based on their experience or research.

Teacher Research Groups (TRG) are often a group of teachers involved in a collaborative learning team.  They are usually from different schools (but don’t have to be) and contexts, exploring an instructional approach or strategy together through dialogic facilitation.  The facilitator is a knowledgeable other – or very experienced in the subject matter being discussed.  This supports facilitating and managing the conversations.  There will typically be ‘gap tasks’ for each group member to be exploring in their own setting, some form of observation, a debrief by the teacher, a facilitated conversation about the learning and the collaborative planning for the subsequent ‘gap task’.  There would usually be 6 meetings per year (sometimes more, if it is within your own school).  Another great way to expose teachers to thinking, reflectivity, the instructional programme, and help them defend against misconceptions or common ‘malpractice’.

An Open Lesson is very similar to a TRG, but as a ‘one-off’.  There would be a pre-lesson discussion hosted by a knowledgeable other, where they may be outlining a focus of study for the observers or the particular approach the observers will be seeing today.  Then an observation – often in the classroom, but other times through video feed or recorded lesson – followed by a facilitated talk and plan for action afterwords.  THe teacher of the observed lesson will often discuss their own views on the learning and research before participants can engage them in discussion about next steps and learning.  This is not a critique of the teacher or their teaching.  This is an open opportunity for learning.

There are many other forms of social capital (collaborative development).  Learning Rounds and Spirals of Inquiry are examples of evidence-based practices that are collaborative and developmental rather than evaluative.

The key questions here are which frameworks of social capital do you have?  And how do they facilitate cultures of trust?  You can also see how lesson observation becomes to school improvement as marking is to feedback – it’s a way…but probably the least effective in comparison.

True school improvement is a social enterprise – when the whole becomes greater than the sum of its parts.  It’s called synergy.  One of the most powerful catalysts in a school.  If we want our classrooms to be filled with enquiry, collaboration, discovery, courage and creativity, we must put our professional people in those same conditions.

PART 3 – Building Trust in a Culture of Skepticism – PERFORMANCE MANAGEMENT

This piece is part of a leadership archive from one of the most authentic school leaders I have met, Jeremy Hannay. Jeremy is currently headteacher of Three Bridges Primary School, and his work can also be found here.

If you have read PART 1 on Leading the Instructional Program
(Synopsis: If you want to get rid of the BS, the first step is collaboratively building your instructional program for coherence, clarity and confidence so that every member of staff can articulate how learners learn and how you teach – this is often the key to driving up results, too!) 

and you managed your way through PART 2 on MONITORING & SCRUTINY

(Synopsis: there are much better ways to build commitment and confidence once you have collaborated on instructional design – often those things we need to monitor and scrutinse become obsolete after collective agreement and collaborative development)

then you are ready for the third instalment of my series on Building Trust in a Culture of Skepticism.  This blog will focus on what is often referred to as Performance Management – what I refer to as Professional Growth & Development.

The first thing that’s important is we speak the same language.  What does performance management look like in practice in most schools?  It is often a combination (or triangulation) of a few aspects.
1 – data: usually from pupils’ attainment and progress, including end of key stage and national tests as well as internal school data.
2 – books: some level of information about the progress/quality/contents of your pupil’s books
3 – observation/learning walks: information from your most recent (or series of) observations, learning walks, etc.

There is also a target setting and evaluation component – often heavily revolving around pupil data (attainment and/or progress).

The next aspect to consider is WHY we have such a corporate approach to performance.  Really, it is the overly simplistic view that there are two types of teachers: good ones and bad ones.  Good ones have a deep impact on pupil achievement and bad ones have little, no, or a negative impact.  Therefore, if we can measure what they do, we can find, celebrate and curate the good ones and get rid of the bad ones.  The trouble is, teaching is a lot more complex than that.  As are our schools.  One only needs to look as far as the United States to see the damning reports of the invisible impact of trying to improve teaching through narrow performance measures.

There is a place in every school to discuss pupil data – where did they start, where have they been, where are they going and what can we do more or less of to help?  Are there patterns – generalisations – we can see? Any surprises with groups of pupils?  Data is a great servant, but a poor master.

There is also scope to discuss books and professional practice – but that was the topic of PARTS 1 & 2.  There is a place for everything – but these things should rarely be at the centre.

So let’s think more deeply – what is required to ensure every child succeeds?  Surely that is at the heart of performance management – student success as a result of teacher development.  The answer to that question is not simply a ‘good teacher’.  Pupils don’t succeed because of one strong teacher – they succeed because they have a series of teachers that are great.  And we cannot improve the group by focussing solely on individuals.  Performance Management is really about supporting the growth and development of both the individual teacher AND the collective group.  This requires teachers that are intelligent, committed, inspired – coupled with intentional social structures that facilitate professional learning – completed by the ability to use that professional learning to make decisions that impact directly on learners and learning.  Simply put, we need the best people working together to learn, with the agency to enact decisions for the school, their classrooms and individual children.

With this in mind – we need to focus less on managing our professionals and more on developing them.  Imagine trying to grow the very best plant – you can measure the individual seeds, monitor them, scrutinse them, collect data on them, observe them – but if you neglect the soil, they’ll never flourish.  They will forever be a fraction of what they could have been.  We have spent too much time enthralled with the seed at the expense of the soil.  We need to be Soil People.

With this in mind – in order to truly impact upon student achievement and success – we need to develop incredible teachers that have a deep interest in their own growth.  They must feel aligned to both the school’s priorities and their own professional interests.  There is a body of positive research developing around Teacher Led Learning Projects (Dr Carol Campbell) and teacher led research and its impact on teacher development and student achievement.  At Three Bridges, teachers are in control of their professional learning.

Every teacher has an Annual Learning Plan.  This is characterised by lines of enquiry that form micro-research for the year.  The teachers create 2-3 questions – one of which is directly related to a school development priority and the other (1-2) are more personalised professional development questions.  Teachers carve out their rationale for formulating each question, their growth strategy and timelines with a Professional Growth Partner.  This is a middle level leader that is not their phase/team leader. They meet half termly with their growth partner to have a coaching conversation – to support them on their journey and keep them on the right track.  There is no better way to get fit than to commit to going to the gym or for a run with someone else.  They meet termly with me (aaaahhhhhh!!! The terror!!) for another coaching conversation, exploring their views on the impact that answering their questions is having on both themselves as a professional and (depending on their position in the school) their children, their phase, the whole school and/or other professionals.  This helps keep a focus on professional growth and student success.

And guess what – they love it.  We have teachers examining the impact of Philosophy for Children, the fine arts, reading for pleasure, early reading strategies.   They’ve been looking at the impact of Forest School on writing.  It is remarkable.  We have also funded a third of the staff to pursue master’s degrees at their request.  We have created wider research groups exploring metacognition and reading for meaning.  The teachers see growth and impact beyond the immediate data – actually, they are highly skeptical of immediate impact.  They are in it for the long look – beyond today or this term.  They are interested in the indicators of long term, sustainable impact. Our results – never been stronger.  Our children get a series of incredible teachers – they move from strength to strength – rather than from the nervously compliant to constrained creative.

Our teachers have Annual Growth Plans, Professional Growth Partners, Coaching Conversations, Micro-Research – they’ve got Learning & Lesson Study, Open Lessons, Teacher Research Groups and a series of unconstrained opportunities to lead their own learning, disseminate that information to others and – most importantly – infinite room to grow. We’re not interested in one tall, strong, beautiful flower.  We’re Soil People – we want a Great Garden.

PART 2 – Building Trust in a Culture of Skepticism – MONITORING & SCRUTINY

This piece is part of a leadership archive from one of the most authentic school leaders I have met, Jeremy Hannay. Jeremy is currently headteacher of Three Bridges Primary School, and his work can also be found here.


Even typing those words makes me feel ill.

Lets first think about the sorts of things we monitor and scrutinise:  books, planning, learning environments, displays? Road traffic? Lots of things, I’m sure.

How do we typically do this: collect in books, have planning collected in folders, complete the ever-popular learning walk.  Sometimes with colleagues, sometimes without.  All of this takes a great deal of time – for teachers and senior staff.  Someone asked me last week how I have time to fit in everything – because I got rid of the BS.

Now, let’s think about WHY we feel the need to monitor and scrutinise our professional people – all of which I understand and can think of times it would be useful.

a – its about performance.  I feel that if I don’t have my eye on what’s happening, performance will decline or derail.

b – its about consistency.  I feel that if we are not checking up on teachers, they’ll deviate from the ‘game plan’

c – its about standards.  I feel that while they may be doing their very best and following our instructional programme, it still may not be good enough.

d – its about cpd.  I feel that when I intimately know what teachers are doing, I can plan better cpd for them.

My question isn’t: are these ‘whys’ important – I don’t think there is anyone that would argue that performance, consistencies, standards and development are bad goals – what I am hoping we can begin to ask ourselves through this series is: is there a better way/a less invasive way/a way that emits trust rather than strength/a way that puts our professionals at the centre rather than the edge?

In virtually every situation, the answer to those are YES.

An important factor in leadership is where you look first.  I have heard lots of leaders look outward – performance is poor because the teacher has poor subject knowledge (I know there is a good argument for this in secondary, but this is a primary HT remember!).  Or the ever-popular ‘pace.’  Things are just too slow.  I am sure we could all think of a million other reasons why a lesson has gone awry.  However, its rare that I hear introspection.  This isn’t going well because we missed some opportunities for support.  This seems less strong because they haven’t been inducted well, haven’t been involved in lesson study, open lessons, team teaching.  You see where I am going.  When we point fingers at teachers, teachers learn to point fingers at children.  It is the worst kind of culture.  A ‘within someone else’ culture.  Now – sometimes the teacher stunk.  It happens. Sometimes I stink.  However, when things are off the first thing we should be doing if we want to build a culture of trust is assume that the teacher is doing everything they can to be great.  So when its less so, the only finger pointing that should happen is back at ourselves.  Is there a way we could support better?  Develop them more sustainably? How can we #LeanIn to this teacher to help them soar?  Performance is about hiring the right people (intelligent, passionate, committed, aligned professionals) and then placing them in the very best soil to grow – which means surrounding them with experienced, selfless, supportive educators that understand adult learning.  This requires some modelling and training, too.  But far more often than, teachers flourish when they’re in the right soil.

Consistency is less an issue when the instructional programme is clear.  As an example, we have anchor charts in our school – A1 paper hanging on washing lines that are co-constructed with the children during the lesson that hold the key learning.  It would be impossible to come to Three Bridges and not be immediately struck by this consistency.  However, we don’t have an ‘Anchor Chart Policy’.  I have never conducted a learning walk and fed back to teachers about them.  At first, it was a collaboratively designed, intentional instructional approach.  (I use that work on purpose – intentional – nothing happens by accident at Three Bridges!) But now – even staff that weren’t around for that decision years ago – they all do it.  Often the things we’re looking at for consistency – don’t need a policy or playbook.  How do they know where the staffroom is – they follow the crowd.  It’s important to them that they eat collectively – so they watch closely and follow the lead of others.  When it doesn’t take hold – ask WHY.  Don’t enforce – seek first to understand.  Is your expectation meaningful?  Do they feel its meaningful?  Has it been explained to them?  Typically, when things aren’t consistent its because (and it means its likely us that needs to change, not them!):

a – the teachers find it a waste of time

b – its never been clearly explained and agreed

c – it was a solution to a problem that doesn’t exist anymore

d – its time:impact ratio is off (marking is a great example of this…something you can spend hours on and get very little return from)

Leading an #IncredibleSchool means being open to change – yourself.  It’s hard to lead change in a school if people feel you are unwilling to change your views.  When you show them the blueprint of the cathedral you’re building – and the extension in the third year is on the kitchen, but they think it should be on the living room – be OK with that.

When thinking about standards, the key question is often about skill or will.  Skill we can often fix with the right supports.  Will is harder. I often imagine myself in a scenario where they have tenure – and no matter what, cannot be fired.  It changes things.  I have to think about push and pull – how can I get them to come with us?  My default setting is that we rise together. Instead of observation, consider micro-views.  2 minute lesson looks.  If the instructional program is clear, you’ll know immediately upon entering a lesson what success looks like.  In 2 mins, you can listen to teaching, talk to a child quickly, take a look at a table of books.  Doesn’t take much more than that.  No notepad, no clipboard, no laptop.  Just a friendly visit.  And if things are problematic, a behind the scenes document that supports the development of the teacher – at pace, with humanity and humility.

CPD should rarely be reactionary.  Strong leaders know their staff and can anticipate where new things will be a struggle and where struggle will be for people that are new.  If we are constantly responding to what’s wrong, we’re never moving forward – always stuck chasing our tails.  Expect that some concepts, strategies or approaches are going to be more challenging and plan it in.  Don’t wait for things to go wrong and try to recover.  Have streams of development – streams for new staff and those for more experienced staff.  Involve as many people as you can in school and staff support – doesn’t just need to be those with titles.  Know your strengths and develop areas of struggle.  In race car driving, when you see a crash you don’t slow down – you hit the gas.  Middle level leaders can support and broker CPD for today’s challenges – we need to keep our hand on the heart of the school and our eyes to the sky.

Books: is there a way that books could be consistent and high quality without collecting them in and feeding back?  Is there room in your school for a walk-in clinic, where teachers can self-refer?  Teachers are often their harshest critics.  Do teachers feel threatened by the scrutiny/do they do extra prep for it/is it a true reflection?  What if teachers all brought their worst example to a team meeting and then brought their most improved back a few weeks later, so everyone could have a laugh, time to collaboratively think/reflect/plan for success and then share it?  Perhaps this improves consistency and standards without being at gunpoint. Everyone wants to succeed – have we given them the chance?

Planning: how clear is the instructional programme?  Who are they planning for?  What if the plan is great but the lesson is not?  Are teachers getting time to plan together? Are they able to rehearse questions with each other and anticipate common questions/misconceptions?  If the school has a clear instructional programme, the sequence of the lesson and its components should be clear – and time is best spent thinking about deeper questions, like: what is it I want them to learn (responsive teaching), how will I know if they have learnt it, what will I do if they already know it, what will I do if they struggle to learn it?

When decisions are made collectively about the basic expectations in the school between teachers and leaders, you’ll find that compliance monitoring and scrutiny becomes obsolete.  Books, planning, environments, displays all start to become routine.  I know at Three Bridges, despite my intervention, it actually becomes quite competitive and collaborative.  A display needs changing – teachers from across the team swoop in and get it done in 45 mins (with the mind of out doing the one down the corridor!)  Most follow the crowd – if its meaningful use of time.  If expectations are not being met, its often better to ask WHY first – chances are if you’ve been doing something the same way for a long time, it needs to change – not them.

If you have created a culture where teachers have a true voice, you’ll see commitment soar. No need to monitor as closely or corporately.  Teachers are their own biggest critic – give them a low (or no!) stakes opportunity to learn, improve, grow – and watch them take off.  Self-referral, professional growth partners, coaching conversations, research lessons, lesson study, teacher research groups – these are all more powerful mechanisms for standards, consistency, performance and development.  I’ll talk more about them later in the series.