#PoetryPromise November: Mametz Wood by Owen Sheers

#PoetryPromise is coordinated through Poetry by Heart with the aim of promoting and spreading the love of poetry. My #PoetryPromise for 2015 is to share a favourite poem of mine every month through my blog. My choice for November is Mametz Wood by Owen Sheers.



I have blogged before about the importance of Remembrance to me, and I make no apologies for citing this poem by Owen Sheers again. Whilst the War Poets bring alive the horror and reality of the Great War as voices from the past, this poem captures better than any other the connection between our present and that harrowing conflict. As a culture, it is our duty to continue to reach back into ourselves and listen to the notes that those who lost their lives sing back to us…and remember.

Mametz Wood
by Owen Sheers
For years afterwards the farmers found them –
the wasted young, turning up under their plough blades
as they tended the land back into itself.

A chit of bone, the china plate of a shoulder blade,
the relic of a finger, the blown
and broken bird’s egg of a skull,

all mimicked now in flint, breaking blue in white
across this field where they were told to walk, not run,
towards the wood and its nesting machine guns.

And even now the earth stands sentinel,
reaching back into itself for reminders of what happened
like a wound working a foreign body to the surface of the skin.

This morning, twenty men buried in one long grave,
a broken mosaic of bone linked arm in arm,
their skeletons paused mid dance-macabre

in boots that outlasted them,
their socketed heads tilted back at an angle
and their jaws, those that have them, dropped open.

As if the notes they had sung
have only now, with this unearthing,
slipped from their absent tongues.


Watch Owen Sheers read this poem at The Poetry Station

What is leadership?

When I started this blog, I called it “Teaching: Leading Learning” because I believe the role of classroom teacher and school leader are closely connected. In both cases, you have a group of people and you want to take them from one situation to another. You have to enact change. There are several ways you can accomplish this:

  • Authoritarian: 
    • Classroom situation: I am the teacher. I am in charge. This is what we’re doing now, whether you like it or not.
    • Leadership situation: I am the boss. I am in charge. This is what we’re doing now, whether you like it or not.
  • Apologist: 
    • Classroom situation: I know this is boring. I don’t really like it either. But it’s on the exam specification so we have to do it; let’s just make the best of it.
    • Leadership situation: I know this is ridiculous. I don’t really like it either. But the DfE have said we have to have PRP so let’s try to make the best of it.
  • Values driven: 
    • Classroom situation: this is brilliant. This is why I got into teaching in the first place. Let’s have a look at it together…
    • Leadership situation: this is brilliant. This will improve all of us, make us more effective and help the kids. Let’s have a look at it together…

Last week I ran a twilight session for aspiring leaders in school, exploring the question “what is leadership?” I used the connection of teaching and leadership to help try to understand different models of leadership, and how they might apply in school contexts.

Model #1: The Bus, or “who before where” (Jim Collins)

Jim Collins advises leaders to start with

Jim Collins advises leaders to start with “who” not “where” (source)

Most people assume that great bus drivers (read: leaders) immediately start the journey by announcing to the people on the bus where they’re going—by setting a new direction or by articulating a fresh corporate vision.

In fact, leaders of companies that go from good to great start not with “where” but with “who.” They start by getting the right people on the bus, the wrong people off the bus, and the right people in the right seats. And they stick with that discipline—first the people, then the direction—no matter how dire the circumstances.

(Jim Collins: Good to Great)

My NPQH was full of this stuff (see my blog here) – it seemed like every other resource I read was about how to initiate competency proceedings to get “the wrong people off the bus”. Fortunately, the metaphor has been comprehensively annihilated by Kev Bartle in BUS-ted: The Great Leadership Myth and more recently by Dawn Cox in Are you on the bus? The destructive education metaphor. To summarise my main objections:

  • A bus only has one driver; everyone else is a passenger, no matter which seat they’re in. This is not how teams work.
  • It assumes people are fixed commodities – either “right” or “wrong” – with no capacity to change, develop or grow. Dweck would have a field day.

There are many other ways in which this is an insecure approach – one of which is that the “where” matters too.

Model #2: The Jungle Road, or “where before what” (Stephen Covey)

Can you see the wood for the trees? (source)

Can you see the wood for the trees? (source)

A group of workers and their leaders are set a task of clearing a road through a dense jungle on a remote island. Their task is to get to the coast where an estuary provides a perfect site for a port. The leaders organise the labour into efficient units and monitor the distribution and use of capital assets – progress is excellent. The leaders continue to monitor and evaluate progress, making adjustments along the way to ensure the progress is maintained and efficiency increased wherever possible. Then, one day amidst all the hustle and bustle and activity, one worker climbs up a nearby tree. The worker surveys the scene from the top of the tree and shouts down to the assembled group below….“Wrong Way!”

From Stephen Covey (2004): The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People

This is a great story to remind us of the difference between leadership and management. As Bennis and Drucker summarise: “the manager does things right; the leader does the right thing.” Skilful management is very important to ensure schools run efficiently and effectively, but leadership is about setting the direction. If the leader in Collins’ bus metaphor is wrong about the direction, the whole vehicle could be heading for a low bridge or a wall – and then all the people, right or wrong, in whichever seat, are in for a shock.

Model #3: Geese

Leadership lessons from geese (source)

Leadership lessons from geese (source)

I’ve always loved this idea, which I initially came across on Tom Sherrington’s blog Leadership Lessons from GeeseTom summarises the lessons we can learn from the super-efficient V-formation used by migrating geese:

  1. Geese: the V-formation gives geese 71% extra power; they fly 71% further compared to flying alone. People: we are more effective when working together towards common goals
  2. Geese: a bird leaving the formation quickly returns. People: it’s tougher to go it alone. Playing part in a group is safer/more secure.
  3. Geese: the lead goose rotates. Each goose takes a turn. People: we need to share leadership. We all need to shoulder responsibility and do our turn on the front.
  4. Geese: the geese in the V honk from behind to encourage the leader to keep up their speed. People: we should encourage those that lead us by challenging them to do their best and cheering them on.
  5. Geese: a wounded or sick goose will be followed down by two other geese to protect it until it’s ready to rejoin the flock. People: we need to stand by each other in difficult times.

This is great, humane way to think about leadership as a team exercise. It reminds me of team pursuit…

Model #4: Team Pursuit

Laura Trott, Dani King and Joanna Rowsell in full flow

Laura Trott, Dani King and Joanna Rowsell in full flow (source)

I remember the Team GB women smashing their own record three times in one day at London 2012, including in the gold medal ride. They recently caught and overtook the Russian team at the European track championships to take gold by a lap. It’s a testament to the marginal gains approach, where every member of Team GB’s cycling programme trains every aspect of their performance to perfection. Zoe Elder has made the most of this metaphor on her excellent Marginal Learning Gains blog – more of which later! – and I think Doug Lemov‘s Teach Like A Champion comes from a similar angle. Team pursuit is the closest humans come to geese flying in a V – and it has valuable lessons for us too. As with the geese, the lead rotates to that all members of the team share the workload. The lead rider shields the others who sit in the slipstream behind; all members of the team are working in complete harmony towards the same goal, with and for each other.

The team work together to minimise drag (source)

The team work together to minimise drag (source)

What’s particularly great about the team pursuit is that the time for the team is taken from the last rider over the line: the team is only as good as its slowest member. This is why development and training is important. We must support and improve all members of our team to do their best, not rely on individual superstars. We need to ensure the way we teach in our classroom sends them off to the next lesson in the right frame of mind, with the right attitude – minimising drag for our colleagues. And the culture we set in our schools should be one of continual improvement, training each aspect of our performance to perfection, whether we are staff or students, in order to achieve excellence.

Model #5: The 3As (Alan McLean)

The 3 As as cycling metaphors depicted on Marginal Learning Gains

The 3 As as cycling metaphors depicted on Marginal Learning Gains

The wonderful Zoe Elder, of the aforementioned Marginal Learning Gains blog, introduced me to Alan McLean’s 3As of motivation:

The first one is Affiliation, which is basically a sense of belonging, a sense of being valued, connected, and the opposite of that is alienation.The second one is Agency, which is basically self-belief, a sense of competence, a sense of self-efficacy, a sense of control. I know how to do this job…The opposite of Agency is apathy. And the third one, which is the centrepiece of them all – the most complex one – is Autonomy. I keep mentioning Autonomy because it’s gold dust. Autonomy is self-determination. How much scope or trust do I have? How much scope do I have for self-determination in my job or in my classroom? And the more self-determination, the more autonomy you have the more motivated you will be. The opposite of Autonomy is anxiety, where you’re overwhelmed, you’re so pressurised or you’re discouraged.

Alan McLean: The three As of motivation

Both Zoe Elder and Alan McLean apply the three As to classroom situations, but as I indicated at the start, in my view they apply equally to leadership positions. The development of affiliation, agency and autonomy in teams is key to their success – and this has to stem from the leadership. All three are needed; without one, the others cannot flourish.

Model #6: Start With Why (Simon Sinek)

Simon Sinek's Golden Circle (source)

Simon Sinek’s Golden Circle (source)

I really like Simon Sinek‘s take on humane leadership. He’s done a couple of great TED talks on the topic: why good leaders make you feel safe and how great leaders inspire actionIt’s in the latter talk that he describes the “golden circle” and explains how the norm for leadership is to communicate from the outside in, starting with what you do then how you do it before expecting a change in behaviour. In teaching this may be “I teach French (the what) by using target language techniques and interleaving reading, writing, speaking and listening practice in curriculum planning (the how).”

More influential, argues Sinek, is values-driven leadership which communicates and is driven from the inside out, starting with why: “I teach French because I fundamentally believe that learning languages is the key to inter-cultural understanding and will help produce more tolerant global citizens. To do this I ensure that I interleave reading, writing, speaking and listening practice in the target language so the students feel immersed in the language and the culture of French-speaking nations.” All teachers have their own “why” – it drives them to put up with the pressures and tribulations of the job and keeps them going. For me, it’s about social justice and creating a fairer society. You can read about that here.  If you can articulate your “why” then it gives you the core values that will allow you to lead effectively – lead a class of kids, a team, or a school.

Model #7: the Cathedral masons, or having a sense of purpose

Why do you do what you do? (source)

Why do you do what you do? (source)

HT to Bodil Isaksen for putting me on the trail of this story:

“A man came across three masons who were working at chipping chunks of granite from large blocks. The first seemed unhappy at his job, chipping away and frequently looking at his watch. When the man asked what it was that he was doing, the first mason responded, rather curtly, “I’m hammering this stupid rock, and I can’t wait ’til 5 when I can go home.”

”A second mason, seemingly more interested in his work, was hammering diligently and when asked what it was that he was doing, answered, “Well, I’m molding this block of rock so that it can be used with others to construct a wall. It’s not bad work, but I’ll sure be glad when it’s done.”

”A third mason was hammering at his block fervently, taking time to stand back and admire his work. He chipped off small pieces until he was satisfied that it was the best he could do. When he was questioned about his work he stopped, gazed skyward and proudly proclaimed, “I…am building a cathedral!”

via Bill von Achen (source)

Bodil’s tweet perfectly sums up the application of this story to education:

It’s up to leaders and teachers to provide that sense of purpose in the endeavour of schooling, so that the knackered teacher last lesson on Thursday knows that chipping away at comprehension skills with Year 9 is worth it. It’s another block in the foundations of the cathedral. And it is worth it, as Sarah Findlater’s wonderful blogpost Building beautiful cathedrals shows:

As teachers, we work hard crafting the small part of our students’ life that we share, but more often than not we will never see the end result, who they will become. We have faith that the cause we are working for is a great one so we continue our crafting and our job is done. On with life.

Sarah Findlater (source)

Each of the models of leadership has something to offer. As with all things, we take a little from one model, a little from another. We adopt and adapt until we make them our own. And we go on teaching: leading learning.

#TLT15: Getting attitudes right

We’ve been working for a while on getting our attitudes right. We didn’t need excellent blogs like these from Heather Fearn and Tom Sherrington to know that effort and hard work are the key to success. I’ve blogged before about our pilot programme, attitude determines altitude, which ran with Year 11 last year. We tracked attitudes at each monitoring point and worked with students on improving their dispositions in the classroom. In evaluating that programme, we came up against one key question that needed resolving:

How do you accurately assess a student’s attitude?

The question was put pertinently by Sue Cowley back in March:


As a parent with children in our school, I know Sue follows our work very closely. Whether or not her tweet was a direct reaction to our work, or something more general, I don’t know, but it gave us pause for thought. Were we grading attitudes accurately and meaningfully? Could we?

In our pilot programme, we were using the existing set of attitude descriptors which had been used at the school since 2010. Students were awarded grades VGSU (Very Good, Good, Satisfactory and Unsatisfactory) for their Behaviour, Classwork, Homework and Organisation. You can read the descriptors here.

We had a few nagging doubts about our work in this area.  There wasn’t a separate grade for “effort”, which seemed out-of-step with our development of a growth mindset. There was inconsistency in their application, and it seemed that passive compliance was enough to gain a raft of “V” grades. They needed a revamp. So, from January, we set about a research project to try and establish what our new attitude grades should look like.

Research part 1: what does an excellent attitude look like?

Our first step was to ask neighbouring schools what they did. We got some excellent models that way, including from Gordano School, whose “effort profile” was among the reasons they won a DfE “character award” in February 2015.  One of our teaching and learning leaders also paid a visit to Rebecca Tushingham at Hanham Woods Academy, who shared with us her draft “Engagement Ladder”.

We also scoured the web for inspiration, and our Head of Science found CharacterLab, which explores attitude dimensions such as curiosity, gratitude, grit, optimism and zest with some handy resources and links to further research.

CharacterLab's attitude dimensions

CharacterLab’s attitude dimensions

We didn’t forget the olden days either, revisiting the personal learning and thinking skills which have survived the bonfire of the strategies on the national web archive:

 Of course there was also Angela Duckworth’s work on grit,  and helpful school-based models shared freely online by John Tomsett and applied by Pete Jones.

Here's what student attitudes are made up of. Now, which to choose?

Here’s what student attitudes are made up of. Now, which to choose?

Research part 2: how do you describe attitudes?

Once we’d gathered all of these different ways of breaking down student attitudes, we set about selecting, synthesising and collating to create the rubric that we wanted for our school, and working out which language we should use to describe it – replacements for VGSU where “satisfactory” was not really satisfactory at all. In this quest, our head of computing (@morewebber) conducted extensive research into US effort rubrics, uncovering examples including:

  • Exceptional, Accomplished, Developing, Beginning
  • Attempted, Acceptable, Admirable, Awesome
  • Master, Veteran, Apprentice, Novice
  • Excellent, Good, Fair, Weak
  • Exemplary, Proficient, Marginal, Unacceptable

Fortunately, John Tomsett was wrestling with the same dilemma and published his post “this much I know about accurate terminology to describe students’ effort” in June, hitting the ball sweetly down the fairway and giving us a model to emulate. By which I mean copy.

Following a joint meeting of pastoral and curriculum middle leaders to agree the framework, it fell to the teaching and learning leaders to knock the final document into shape, and here’s the result:

Behaviour for learning 2.0

Behaviour for learning 2.0

We came up with additional guidance for SEND students which can be seen here: Attitude report guidelines.

What next? 

Of course there was the mechanics of switching aspects in SIMS to record the new attitude grades, and adjustment of policies to match. But the advantage of the system is that it can still provide an attitude percentage score at each monitoring point by assigning values to each of the attitudes in a SIMS marksheet: three points for each Excellent, two for each Good, one for each Insufficient and zero for a Poor. Insert a formula to add the total and divide by the total possible to create the percentage score. This figure appears on reports, in seating plans via MintClass, and on teacher marksheets in SIMS as a KPI. It allows simple tracking of improvement or decline in attitude over time, which can then trigger praise and reward or intervention and discussion. But because it’s split down into four areas, tutors and teachers can see specifically where changes in attitudes have occurred – an improvement in response to feedback for example.

Secondly, and perhaps most importantly, was explicit teaching of the attitude expectations to students. We used an off-timetable session for this, so the whole school worked on the new attitude grades together. Students self-assessed against the criteria and set targets for improvement, alongside a discussion about exactly what it would look like in the classroom to display the attitudes in the “excellent” column.

Thirdly, teachers have been working hard to create opportunities in lessons to make the attitudes they expect to see completely explicit to the students. Setting up tasks in the classroom with specific reference to the new attitude grid is a great way of ensuring students see the application of the attitudes in a subject-specific context.

Finally, information for parents and families has been provided through letters, re-written keys on the reports, and face-to-face information evenings. It’s vital that families understand why we’ve changed, and why attitudes to learning matter so much, so they can support us in developing the best approaches to study possible.

Your attitude has more bearing on your outcomes than your ability

Your attitude has more bearing on your outcomes than your ability

 There is a lot more work to do on this – more blogs to follow!

Here are the slides from my #TLT15 presentation:

My First Lesson

Today I saw the new batch of PGCE students on their first day in our school. It’s always great to see the latest generation of teachers taking their first steps to join our great profession – especially now, when so much of the public narrative is around the challenges and problems we are facing. It gives me hope! It also reminds me of my first steps into teaching, and drove me back to my old PGCE files to recall my first lesson.

This is what I looked like in 1996. There's no excuse, really, is there?

This is what I looked like in 1996. It’s hard to know where to start. The outfit? The hair? The unfocused gaze? There’s no excuse, really, is there?

My secondary English PGCE course began with a compulsory two-week primary experience. I still think this is a brilliant idea; the more we can do to establish cross-phase thinking the better, and where better to start than right at the beginning?

My Primary School Experience Journal

My Primary School Experience Journal

I was sent to a primary school on the outskirts of Nottingham with Vicky, another secondary English student, and attached to a mixed Year 5/6 class. I had all sorts of  tasks to do: observing a pupil, observing a task, investigating equal opportunities and so on, before I got started on some small group work. I remember helping the class teacher hand-crank the Banda machine to get my worksheets off to do some technical accuracy work with a group of six hand-picked students. Here’s my crib sheet…

Hand-cranked worksheet in Banda-purple with red pen annotations

Hand-cranked worksheet in Banda-purple with red pen annotations

And then, in the last days, time to take the whole class. I was going to get them to do some creative writing based on a piece of music. I cranked the Banda machine, I planned my lesson with the class teacher, I psyched myself up. Then, the class teacher stepped out. It was over to me.

Worksheet from my first ever full-class lesson

Worksheet from my first ever full-class lesson

I don’t remember much about the lesson, if I’m honest. What I do remember – what I’ll never forget – was the debrief with the teacher afterwards. “How do you think it went?” she asked, kindly. “It was okay…” I said, hesitantly. “And were you comfortable with the noise level?” she asked. A sure sign of a skilful teacher: giving me the opportunity to learn from failure and improve. Here’s what I wrote in my evaluation:

Evaluation of my first lesson

Evaluation of my first lesson

  • Lesson 1: experienced teachers make it look “deceptively easy.” The children listen, attentively, and do as instructed without question. This does not happen without a lot of ground work!
  • Lesson 2: don’t rush. Establish the ground rules. Explain the task carefully. Take your time!
  • Lesson 3: model the behaviour you want to see. The way you are is reflected back at you in the behaviour of the children. If you’re unsettled and anxious, they will be too.
  • Lesson 4: evaluate your practice. Go back and have another go, working on what didn’t go well the first time. It gets better.

My primary school experience journal ended with a series of reflection tasks. The final question was: “How do you now see yourself as a beginning teacher?” Here’s what I wrote:

The end of my primary experience journal, September 1996

The end of my primary experience journal, September 1996

Ahead of me now I see a lot of hard work; an almost infeasible amount. However, my work with LF has given me a set of goals, and another role model to emulate, and my enjoyment of the experience has proved that no matter how high the mountains of work, the reward of a child proud of his or her success or achievement makes it all worthwhile.

Although I looked ridiculous, I’m still quite proud of the 1996 version of me. He was right.

#PoetryPromise October: The Everyday Hymn by Clare Carlile

#PoetryPromise is coordinated through Poetry by Heart with the aim of promoting and spreading the love of poetry. My #PoetryPromise for 2015 is to share a favourite poem of mine every month through my blog. My choice for October is The Everyday Hymn by Clare Carlile.

Small pleasures
Like opening a can, putting pressure down
And pulling back the rounded metal tag,
Forefinger slipped under, braced against the hiss
Of hydrogen, the give of metal against the thumb
And the kick as the seal passes out.
Even like the low crunch as the speckled
Porcelain egg shell collides with the thick rimmed
Baker’s bowl and splits, just round the side,
Into one thousand geometric shapes.
Or, smaller still, the just audible shake
In a person’s voice when a laugh
Is yearning to escape.

I’ve always enjoyed the Foyle Young Poets Award anthology, and I read the shortlisted poems every year open mouthed in wonder. These young voices feel unleashed through poetry and present ideas in language so well-chosen it makes me envious. I could have chosen any number – Hannah Locke’s Breaking the Ice from 2009, Joe Heap’s The Air Sang from 2004 – but Clare Carlile’s poem from 2012 is the one I come back to.

The Everyday Hymn has that quality I so admire in poetry: the minute observation which allows the verse to render the world in a new perspective. The detail with which the opening of the can and the breaking of the egg are described is exquisite; as I read I can hear and feel them in the words of the poem. And the joys that these everyday events bring, when scrutinised and savoured, connects the reader and the poet in a shared smile and sigh of satisfaction – it’s just wonderful! The poem also reminds me to savour those moments, the small pleasures, and to bank them up. The world is full of joy, if you look closely enough.

Assembly: Kindness

This assembly connects three things

This assembly connects three things: a portrait, Marcus Aurelius, and a domino cascade

A lovely thing happened at the weekend. I came down to breakfast to find a brown envelope with the word “Daddy” on the front. Opening it up, I found a fantastic drawing, which, on further investigation, turned out to be a portrait of me drawn by hand.

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I asked what I had done to deserve this wonderful gift, but there was no reason. My children had just decided to do something kind – and it made my day. It got me thinking about kindness, and what motivates us to do something nice for somebody else.

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Of course, there might be selfish motivations. People might do nice things because they think there’s something in it for them. It might help their reputation and social standing, or there might be a financial reward in it for them. Or there might be a sudden emergency and instinct could kick in to help someone in danger…

All of these are completely understandable motives for doing something kind and nice for other people. But what we saw in the video clip was that, as one person came to help, so did more and more, until everyone on the train and platform was united in trying to help the single passenger in distress. This domino effect is powerful, and it can happen more slowly and subtly than in the emergency situation we saw on the station platform in Australia.

The Domino Effect (source)

The Domino Effect (source)

There are global movements like Random Acts of Kindness and Pay It Forward which are founded on the idea that if each of us acts kindly towards another person for no other reason than that it’s a nice thing – the right thing – to do, it has the cumulative effect of making the world better for all of us. And this is not a new idea!

Marcus Aurelius (source)

Marcus Aurelius (source)

Marcus Aurelius was Roman Emperor from 161 to 180 AD, and a renowned philosopher in the Stoic school. In his book Meditations, he lays out his guide to self-improvement, including in the twelfth book this simple advice:

If it’s not right, don’t do it

If it’s not true, don’t say it.

This is a great maxim to live by; indeed, if we all stuck to that rule, our world would certainly be a better one. The only thing I take issue with in Marcus Aurelius’ advice is the note of prohibition, of telling us what not to do. I would revise it to:

If it’s right, do it.

If it’s true, say it.

But of course, truth always needs to be tempered with kindness. And, before we act of speak, we need to think carefully about our actions and words.

Think before your speak (source)

Think before your speak (source)

I want to finish today with a story which I think shows how unselfish acts of kindness really do lead to a domino effect which can change not just one person’s life, but the world.

Jonny Benjamin (source)

Jonny Benjamin (source)

This is Jonny Benjamin. In 2007, aged just 20, he was diagnosed with a mental illness, schizophrenia, and hospitalised. Desperate, and unable to understand his condition or see any way out, on January 14th 2008 he walked out of hospital in London and on to Waterloo Bridge, intending to throw himself off into the icy waters below. Hundreds of Londoners were walking across the bridge on their way to work. How many of them saw what was happening? How many walked on? We don’t know. But we do know that one man stopped and spoke to Jonny. He offered to buy him a cup of coffee, and he said words which changed Jonny’s life. He said: “you can get through this. You can get better.”  Up until that moment, nobody had told Jonny that getting better was a possibility. And, in that moment, Jonny himself stepped back from the brink. After twenty five minutes of talking, he came down. The police took him away. And the stranger went on his way to work.

Jonny went on to control his condition with medication and treatment, and became a campaigner for mental health, raising awareness of the condition so that other sufferers have people to tell them “you can get through this; you can get better.” Last year, he ran a campaign to find the stranger on the bridge who stopped and helped him six years earlier, using social media to track him down. He found him. He is a man called Neil Laybourn, who said this:

“In truth, it could have been anyone who stopped that day. It could have been the person behind me, but this time it was me.”

Neil’s kindness saved Jonny’s life, and Jonny’s life has gone on to save countless others through his campaigning work. He couldn’t have known that at the moment he chose to stop and help; in that moment, he was just doing the right thing because it was the right thing to do.

Altruism: being nice for no reason (source)

Altruism: being nice for no reason (source)

When we do something nice for no reason, everybody benefits. We feel better; we make somebody else’s life better too. At school this week – and from now on – make sure that you choose kindness. Do something nice for somebody else. Help one another. Not because there’s anything in it for you, but because when you do something kind, you’ve made school a nicer place for someone else to be. And if it’s a nicer place for someone else, it’ll be nicer for you too. So when you choose kindness, everybody benefits.

View the Prezi for this assembly here.

Read more about Jonny Benjamin and Neil Laybourn here or watch the documentary.

Carrie Hope Fletcher on being Nice for No Reason:

Leave a hopeful note?

Why not choose kindness? asks Tessa Violet:


The power of practice

Our fabulous second in English is planning a scheme of work to reinforce and develop technical accuracy. She asked me if I knew of any videos which could help demonstrate the importance of repetitive practice on performance. I asked Twitter:

And here’s what came back!

First, the hardy perennial Austin’s Butterfly, in which Ron Berger demonstrates the impact of redrafting:

Next, via @chrisedwardsuk, Jonny Wilkinson practises stress kicks in rugby for Gillette #spon #ad:

I’m not sure many (any!) current students would remember the transcendental power of David Beckham’s 2001 free kick against Greece, but this video (suggested by @LearningFocus) brought it all back to me – a vital goal forged on the practice pitch:

Although, watching it back, it’s worrying how many he missed…

This one was completely new to me, so thanks to @MrPigottMaths for flagging it! Sam Priestley attempted to go from beginner to expert in a year in table tennis through constant, daily deliberate practice:

His (#spoiler) success has spawned the Expert in a Year website with additional challenges. A great resource!

Daniel Coyle’s The Talent Code website is a similarly rich resource for the power of practice. @ImSporticus flagged this musical example of a clarinettist after 200, 1000 and 3000 hours of practice, and I’m still stunned by this single-handed gridiron catch from Odell Beckham Jr for the New York Giants:

But of course it was the result of hours of practice of exactly that type of catch:

The connection is highlighted by Daniel Coyle here – I’m sure there’s a lesson in connecting the two Beckhams across the Atlantic!

Next up is the lovely GiveIt100 site suggested by @HooperClara and @coatgal inviting people to share a short video every day as they practice something for 100 days. There are many powerful examples; here’s one on the guitar:

Finally, @Ms_Jenkinz shared this unbelievably cute timelapse of a toddler learning to walk:

I melted at this point.

Any other video examples of practice makes perfect? Share them in the comments please! And try to use the correct practice/practise…it’s taken me ages to check mine!

#PoetryPromise September: Havisham by Carol Ann Duffy

#PoetryPromise is coordinated through Poetry by Heart with the aim of promoting and spreading the love of poetry. My #PoetryPromise for 2015 is to share a favourite poem of mine every month through my blog. My choice for September is Havisham by Carol Ann Duffy.

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Beloved sweetheart bastard. Not a day since then
I haven’t wished him dead. Prayed for it
so hard I’ve dark green pebbles for eyes,
ropes on the back of my hands I could strangle with.

Spinster. I stink and remember. Whole days
in bed cawing Nooooo at the wall; the dress
yellowing, trembling if I open the wardrobe;
the slewed mirror, full-length, her, myself, who did this

to me? Puce curses that are sounds not words.
Some nights better, the lost body over me,
my fluent tongue in its mouth in its ear
then down till I suddenly bite awake. Love’s

hate behind a white veil; a red balloon bursting
in my face. Bang. I stabbed at a wedding cake.
Give me a male corpse for a long slow honeymoon.
Don’t think it’s only the heart that b-b-b-breaks.

I have to include a poem by Carol Ann Duffy in my Poetry Promise. She is one of my favourites and she has fulfilled the role of Poet Laureate with real skill, most notably with her Olympic poem Translating the British and her bleak 12 Days of Christmas (2009). She’s been a staple of English teaching throughout my career; Mean Time was part of the A level in my NQT year and her poems have consistently featured in AQA anthologies. Her unflinching honesty and her mix of horror and humour make her books a gripping read, and her trademark final-line twists mean than her poems stay with me long after I’ve put the book down.

In Havisham Duffy gives us the internal voice of Dickens’ famous character stripped of all the pretence and subterfuge of the novel. In doing so she subverts our expectations and re-interprets the character from a feminist perspective as a woman wronged and undone by men. Duffy’s Havisham spits impotent fury, raging at her betrayer but ultimately unable to enact her revenge. The imagery – pebbles for eyes, ropes on the back of her hands – is vivid and arresting, and the juxtaposition of opposites from the opening line onwards shows the contradictions which have trapped Havisham in stasis. The collapse in the final line shows her tightly-wound anger and desire unravelling.

Havisham stands out in Mean Time as a sign of things to come. Her re-imagining of female characters from fiction and non-fiction forms the backbone of the fantastic collection The World’s Wife, providing voices for the voiceless and identity to the invisible. She continues this mission of exploration and examination of female identity in Feminine Gospels (where the fantastic “Sub” was a close second for inclusion in this post). When I look back at a male-dominated literary canon it makes me proud to read and teach in a time when female voices are as influential, passionate and powerful as Duffy’s.


Growth Mindset Misconceptions and Missteps

Bill Gates with picI have been working on developing a growth mindset culture in my school since October 2013, when I heard John Tomsett speak at TLT13. Over that time I have learned a lot about what works, what doesn’t work, and the stumbling blocks and misconceptions that still persist around growth mindset. I have also learned a lot more about the growth mindset, and refined my thinking about Dweck’s work. In this post I hope to summarise some of that learning.

Misconception 1: I’ve got a growth mindset, so everything’s okay

This is a common misconception. Dweck herself refers to it in this video:

One thing that’s been happening a lot that I see is that people prematurely conclude that they have a growth mindset. I call it “false growth mindset.” [They say] “oh! Growth mindset equals good? I have it! I’m good! I must have it!” And they haven’t done the work.

The fact is, shifting mindsets is about accepting that success is not going to come easy. If we want to be good at something, we’re going to have to work at it. Not just now, but for a long time.

It's all about hard work

It’s all about hard work

Misconception 2: I’ve got a growth mindset: where’s my Nobel Prize?

Another common misconception is that a growth mindset will turn you into an Outlier – an exceptional success. This is partly the result of the “famous failures” assembly and, yes, the growth mindset posters which highlight those people who have reached the top of their fields and also demonstrate a growth mindset. The fact is, there are examples of fixed mindset successes – incredible talents who achieve great things on the strength of natural ability and circumstance alone. There are also millions of people who have a growth mindset and are moderately successful. Having a growth mindset does not make you exceptional. As Malcolm Gladwell shows, Outliers are created by a combination of circumstance, system and approach.

However – and I firmly believe this to be true – a growth mindset is the best way to ensure you develop the talents that you have and continue to improve. I will never run faster than Usain Bolt – I don’t have the physique. But if I train hard and work at it, I will run faster than I can run now. I am unlikely to paint a masterpiece. But if I go to classes, practice and work at it, my painting will improve. If I don’t believe that I can improve – if I believe that my running or painting ability is fixed – then I won’t work at it and I definitely won’t get any better.

Misconception 3: Growth mindset is just good teaching; I’ve been doing it for years

I’m sure, in many cases, this is true. In other cases, however, it’s an opt-out from a critical self-examination of practice and an opportunity to improve. I’ve definitely been guilty of fixed-mindset practices in the past: I’ve congratulated students for getting the top mark in the class in their end of year exams, for example. This kind of well-intentioned approach to celebrate achievement encourages students to compare themselves with one another, rather than evaluating their own performance relative to their own progress. To then bemoan the fact that students are only focused on the marks and not on the painstakingly constructed formative feedback is the ultimate irony. Removing grades and marks from work this year and handing it back only with formative feedback has been transformative. We can all get better. But we need to be self-critical, and actually engage with the research. Read Mindset. Listen to Dweck speak. Read her interviews. Read the research. Don’t assume you know what growth mindset is all about until you have.

Misconception 4: they tried hard, so that’s okay

Dweck’s famous study on praise and mindsets has rightly attracted a lot of attention. However, mindset is primarily about achievement. It’s not about making kids feel good about mediocrity or failure. “Never mind, you tried your best,” is not what Dweck advocates. In fact, in her interview with Schools Week she warns against this approach:

The thing that keeps me up at night is that some educators are turning mindset into the new self-esteem, which is to make kids feel good about any effort they put in, whether they learn or not. But for me the growth mindset is a tool for learning and improvement. It’s not just a vehicle for making children feel good.

Failure should feel bad. It should be painful. We should all be motivated to work harder because we want to be successful. We should learn the lessons of failure so we can avoid those mistakes in the future. Effort and hard work are only worth it if they are directed and purposeful, otherwise you ingrain bad technique and habits. Practice piano scales for an hour with poor hand positioning, and you’ll do more harm than good – so it’s no good praising that hour’s practice unless it’s been purposeful and productive. Am I better now than I was before that work? What have I learned? What have I improved?

It’s worth remembering, however, that the growth mindset done right is beneficial to self-esteem. In her interview for Inside Quest, Dweck explains:

Self Esteem is not something you give to people by telling them about their high intelligence. It is something we equip them to get for themselves, by teaching them to value learning over the appearance of smartness, to relish challenge and effort, and to use errors as routes to mastery.

And that is why mindsets matter so much.

Mis-step 1: You can’t change someone’s mindset; they have to change it themselves.

I know there are no silver bullets in education (though Tom Sherrington’s Silver Arrows are great!) but Dweck’s Mindset was so convincing, so obvious, so natural for me that I couldn’t see how anyone could fail to be persuaded. In the hullabaloo of our Growth Mindset launch I had the zeal of an evangelist, and many were convinced. Many, but not all. There have been lovely moments where I have seen the ethos work:

And yet…and yet…I still picture a Year 10 student faced with an amateurish looking magazine article in GCSE Media. The conversation went something like this:

Needless to say, I didn’t leave it there and the fonts and image were improved. But still, why wasn’t my student convinced? She’d been to my assembly. Surely she should be applying herself to self-improvement with every fibre of her being. Didn’t she realise she was at a Growth Mindset School™? I can create the conditions which make the development of a growth mindset natural, easy, and self-evidently sensible – but teenagers being teenagers, the self-evidently sensible path is not always the path most trodden. I could compel her to improve her work. But I couldn’t compel her to change her mind. She needs to do that for herself.

Mis-step 2: Small scale, low-key interventions work best

One mis-step I think we made in launching our growth mindset ethos, due in part to the enthusiasm we felt as staff for the project, is that I think we made too much fuss. It was teacher led and this ran the risk of creating a condition which we came to recognise as “growth mindset fatigue” – the tendency of teenagers to groan whenever the term was mentioned.

Looking into the research in more detail, it is clear that the best interventions are small-scale, and followed up by shifts in the culture of the school to develop the growth mindset. A superb summary is presented in the excellent blog Growth Mindset: What Interventions Might Work and What Probably Won’t? from @Nick_J_Rose:

A successful psychological intervention involves a quick, well-targeted ‘nudge’; not repeatedly hitting students over the head with a sledgehammer!

What we definitely got right is ensuring that each aspect of the school’s culture and approach is compatible with developing a growth mindset. This approach to adjusting the normative influences within the school is definitely productive. But, in the early days, asking students to reflect weekly on their learning approaches definitely felt more like sledgehammer than nudge, and led to the aforementioned “growth mindset fatigue”. None of this is catastrophic, and easing off the use of the terminology whilst maintaining the shifts in culture, language, feedback and praise kept the project moving forward. And, after all, in a growth mindset we learn from criticism and persist in the face of setbacks!

Mis-step 3: Student Leadership – the missing piece?

In my wider reading and research around growth mindset, I came across the wonderful Growth Mindset Journey blog from Rebecca Tushingham. The whole blog is full of great ideas, including the on-topic Little Nudges, but she has also posted about Growth Mindset Leaders, student ambassadors for the growth mindset developed from within the school. We sent our Head of Science over to meet with Rebecca to discuss her approaches and we definitely feel like this is a strategy we missed. Using student leaders allows ownership of mindset theory within the student body and offsets the risks of top-down, teacher-led “nagging” approaches. As Dweck said in an interview with Schools Week:

Some teachers who genuinely have a growth mindset aren’t understanding how to apply it properly. They are just telling kids to try hard: which I call nagging, not growth mindset. Or they are just saying ‘hey kids, have a growth mindset’.

We definitely ran the risk of falling into this trap. However, by continuing to read around the subject, listening carefully to feedback, and refining our approach we are able to improve and develop what we are doing. It’s almost as if we have to have a growth mindset about developing a growth mindset…

Conclusions: Sticking with it

I remain just as evangelical about the power of the growth mindset to improve achievement, motivation and self-esteem as I was in Southampton in October 2013. Listening to Jo Boaler in the recent Radio 4 Mindchangers programme on growth mindset demonstrates why mindsets matter for achievement:

Anyone can do Maths at high levels if they are given the right teaching and the right messages. Many kids think that you can either do maths or you can’t…[but] we can all develop the brain connections we need. The brain is very flexible, very adaptable…if you need to learn some maths your brain can adapt and learn it.

I feel just the same about growth mindset interventions at school. We have achieved a lot already, but we are flexible and adaptable, and we are learning.

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#PoetryPromise August: Let me put it this way by Simon Armitage

#PoetryPromise is coordinated through Poetry by Heart with the aim of promoting and spreading the love of poetry. My #PoetryPromise for 2015 is to share a favourite poem of mine every month through my blog. My choice for August is “Let me put it this way” from Reading the Banns by Simon Armitage.


Let me put it this way:
if you came to lay

your sleeping head
against my arm or sleeve,

and if my arm went dead,
or if I had to take my leave

at midnight, I should rather
cleave it from the joint or seam

than make a scene
or bring you round.

how does that sound?

This beautiful poem is on the final page of Simon Armitage’s Book of Matches, a series of brilliant meditations on love. It concludes Reading the Banns, the third section of the book, which is an account of his own wedding. I’ve never read anything that captures the simple, selfless truth of love as perfectly as this.