Creative Learning space for teachers

By Alex More


This summer we created the ‘Learning Lounge’ at Shaftesbury School in North Dorset. This is a space for teachers to relax, read, recharge and learn.  The total cost = £97-17 ($126 approx). It doesn’t have to cost the earth to reward staff, create a space and improve well being! I have been contacted by quite a few people about how we did it in a time when budgets in schools are tight, or non-existent. I reckon it would be cool for every school to have a space like this so if you are interested read on …

It started with a space. The boss was kind enough to offer a tired old staff room at the top of our oldest building. This seldom visited space offered the perfect canvas for the project. Here’s the before pictures:

After asking around, salvaging some old furniture, books, chairs and wood we created this space. It’s amazing what people throw away. Most of what we salvaged was destined for landfill. Here’s the after pictures;

Why we did it?

To create a space that staff felt was theirs. Somewhere they could relax between the madness of the school day, make a brew, read a book, listen to some music or do some work. School’s are busy places and teachers are busy people. There has been much written in the press about teacher well being, staffing shortages and the work force being stretched to capacity. When combined with headlines about restricted school funds and stressed out staff, anything we can do to provide a sanctuary for well being must be worth the investment.

Have staff been using the learning lounge? 

So far, yes! The space has been used for quiet thinking time, catching up with colleagues, focus group meetings, 1:1 meetings, lesson feedback chats, planning, marking, thinking, reading and studying. 

Inspiration for the space came from companies who value their employees; Lush Cosmetics, Google and Patagonia. One colleague joked it feels more like a coffee shop than a working space which is cool. After all, it’s more an escape place than work place. The work part is optional. 

We are hugely grateful to Marc who heads up Lush Cosmetics upcycling team in Poole. The team, under Marc’s guidance have an epic outlook on reusing, recycling, up cycling and reclaiming things. Nothing goes to waste and their ethics, values and dedication are visionary in an age where as consumers we are throwing more into landfill than ever before. Marc was able to spare some wall units, cubes and other items to help us fill the space. If more companies thought like this our world would be a better place. 

What’s in the space? 

  • A kitchen with free access to tea and coffee
  • Educational books and general interest
  • Academic Journals
  • A music station with CD’s
  • Some plants
  • A PC and lap top stands
  • Writable surfaces and lots of them
  • Paper, pens and stuff
  • Power supplies
  • Information and posters
  • Comfortable furniture

If you are interested in any of the ideas above or intrigued and want to find out more details on how we made the stuff,  Click here:

Massive thank you to Marc and the team at upcycling team in Poole. Thanks to Lush, the site staff at school and anyone that helped carry stuff, move stuff and paint! 


Strength in Numbers

By Adele Andre

We welcome to the hipsters’ blog Adele.  Adele has written a great blog on how to create a collaborative learning environment in your classroom.

There are many misconceptions about the notion of ‘group work’. The common belief is that requires huge amounts of preparation and can only be done with the very best of classes. The thought of ‘letting go’ and trusting the students to work together to create, develop, solve or even learn something entirely new, can be scoffed at under the pressures of time, curriculum content and behaviour management.

However, those who regularly use group work effectively will advocate that it has actually saved time, helped develop classroom relationships and allowed students to flourish both individually and as part of a team.

Humans are social animals; we are not designed to work in isolation…why should learning be any different?

How do I conduct group work effectively?

A healthy volume of studies, meta-analyses and educational academics provide evidence to show the benefits of ‘wisdom in crowds’. John Hattie with his ‘Visible Learning’ and the Educational Endowment Foundation (EEF, 2018) are two areas to look to in order to prove this point. However, this is only relevant when group work has been conducted effectively, which means it has been introduced correctly and regularly over a period of time. Unfortunately, “create a poster as a group” has never, and can never be classed as ‘effective’.

Getting technical…
The first point to clarify is the difference between ‘collaborative’ and ‘cooperative’ learning. Educational researchers use these words interchangeably despite the fact that there is a subtle difference between the two approaches.

Read on, it might just revolutionise your own approach to group work and help explain the importance of group work. 

Cooperative Learning


It’s all about STRUCTURE! If you are the teacher who doesn’t feel ready to ‘let go’ this is the right approach for you! Each learner within the group has a defined and specific role, which will contribute to an end group goal.

Some teachers see this approach as slightly more labour intensive as it may require the creation of ‘role cards’ or specific success criteria for each student. On the other hand, if you have a few spare moments, familiarise yourself with Kagan Structures. Kagan Structures are content-free, they require minimal planning and should be used regularly in a classroom routine. I used Kagan structures whilst working at a ‘Cooperative’ School during my teacher training and it was amazing to see how easy a structure was to implement when students had been given the opportunity to practise it.


A simple example of a Kagan Structure would be having a group of four students writing their ideas/ opinions/ answers on one-quarter of a sheet of paper (each student uses a different coloured pen). In the middle of the paper, the shared ideas/ opinions/ answers of the group are written. The different coloured pens and areas of writing highlight individual participation, whilst the centre of the paper demonstrates group analysis and cooperation. A perfect illustration of Kagan’s requirement for there to be ‘No Hogs or Logs’ – each student must equally participate and their participation is visible.

Collaborative Learning

This is different.

This type of learning is commonly used at a university level and within industries, so essentially, life beyond school. This approach centres on working together to think in a more CRITICAL and ABSTRACT way. Collaborative learning involves creating knowledge not always working with the knowledge you have already been given. In effect, it is less structured than the carefully organised approach of Cooperative Learning. With this approach, you want your groups to have developed entirely different ideas/ answers/ opinions as you are promoting creative, individual thinking.

There are many different Collaborative Learning Techniques you can use. A personal favourite of mine is linked with how you ask students to organise information:


Which one is for you?
The answer to this question should be both! Some classes you may feel more at ease to allow for collaborative learning to take place (there is a wealth of literature on different techniques but a good starting point would be ‘Collaborative Learning Techniques’ by Barkley et al). On the other hand, if you are just finding your feet with group work, have a look at some Cooperative Structures like those proposed by Kagan (Kagan, 2013) – these are particularly useful where you need to control a specific outcome or you have a class who are slightly resistant to group work.



Not one to work in isolation, I asked 5 different colleagues for a ‘tip’ when it came to group work:
DO NOT GIVE UP – often the first time you try a new technique, it doesn’t necessarily work the way you planned it to, this does not mean it doesn’t work. Be reflective, adapt, try again.

AVOID LABOUR INTENSIVE TECHNIQUES – Card sorts that require laminating, cutting, sorting, shuffling are not the ‘ideal’ and are off-putting to doing group work again. Try blank laminated cards that the students can write on and pass to another group to sort/ shuffle/ organise.

ROUTINE IS EVERYTHING – Once you have found 3 or 4 structures or techniques that work for you, use them regularly and often. The students need to practise them too!

PRAISE AND ENCOURAGE – For one reason or another, we can sometimes feel a little uncomfortable in group situations. The power of praise should not be underestimated.

ROLE MODEL – If you are a team leader, a middle manager or someone conducting CPD sessions, use group work too! Why keep ideas to yourself, try out some the techniques you have been using in your classroom.

References and extra reading
Barkley, F, Howell Major, C, Cross, K (2014) Collaborative Learning Techniques: A Handbook for College Faculty. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 263-267.
Educational Endowment Foundation (2018) Collaborative Learning. Edition. [PDF]. Available at:
Kagan, S (2013) Kagan Cooperative Learning Structures. California: Kagan Publishing.

5 more hip ways to start your lessons

By Alex More

Thanks for your feedback on our last blog 5 hip ways to start your lessons It seems there was some genuine enthusiasm to try some of our ideas out. So, here are 5 more ways to help you create the most engaging starts to your lessons. We hope you like them!

1: Low access, high challenge

This idea is straight from the Lazy outstanding teacher handbook and works well to engage students in critical thinking from of the off. Present students with an image and a question. The image should be powerful enough to intrigue them and perhaps puzzle them a little. I tend to use & for the images are both sites are free and easy to use.

Below are some examples of how I have used the low access, high challenge method. It’s low access as it involves everyone, very inclusive and high challenge because you can take the conversation as far into the learning as you feel time and interest permits. As a guide I normally allow 5 minutes for this task.

Screenshot 2018-08-13 at 8.19.47 AM

I used this recently with a boisterous Year 9 computing lesson. Within seconds, everyone had an opinion and argued their logic and rationale. Conversations and disagreements were rife and everyone loved it. Who do you think would win this fight?

Here is another example used with a GCSE PE group.

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Student’s were presented with the answer and had to come up with a viable question. This proved quite challenging and took a little time for students to reach logical questions but the end result was interesting. ‘If this was the learning prompt, what was the lesson about?’

Screenshot 2018-08-11 at 6.48.51 AM
I used this one in a Year 9 computing lesson to engage some thinking around how technology might change by the Year 2043. Some great conversations about hot-desking, hologram imaging and virtual reality emerged and students seemed very open to listening to the ideas of others. This image could be adapted to suit any classroom environment and works really well.

2:  Make the connection

This idea places a high cognitive demand on students and really makes them think. The idea works best if students are allowed to work in small teams (2 to 4 people max). Present students with two separate images on the screen and ask them to make the connection in 5 links. It helps if you use images related to the learning. In a recent A level PE lesson on the history of football in the UK I used this image;

Students then had to map the evolution of football as they saw it. To maximise the potential of this idea ask a spokesperson for each group to read out their 5 steps.

3: Plickers

Plickers uses technology to embrace learning and will rely on the teacher using a mobile device to scan student responses. It’s a simple concept but amazingly effective at engaging students in Q&A, short answer assessment during lessons and students don’t need their own devices!

From the Plickers website or the App you can download a set of A4 paper cards. Once printed, each student is given a Plickers card. The teacher can then use the App or online version of Plickers to preset a series of questions. Student’s respond by raising their card in class. The teacher then scans the class and the answers are presented on the screen for all to see. Simple, effective assessment and highly engaging.

4: Gamification

This idea works on risk and reward. Divide the class into teams of 4. Set a series of 1 mark questions, simple answers. For example; What is the capital city of Mexico? Each group has to record their answer and hold it up on a mini-whiteboard. The teacher scans to see the answers and then offers each team the option to STICK or TWIST. If they stick and have the correct answer they bank 1 point. If they decide to twist then the teacher flips a coin and if they call it right they double their points. If they flip and call wrong it’s back to zero

5: Summarise in a tweet

This idea embraces the fact that your students are most likely digital natives and adds a social media element to the learning which they like and can relate to. Ask them to create a TWEET (280 characters now, up from 140 previously) to share with the class. You can differentiate the challenge as concise sentence structure to form a tweet in 140 characters can be more difficult than allowing them 280. Students have to work hard to grammatise a coherent tweet that they feel is worthy of sharing. Below are some contexts in which this has been applied.

  • Summarise what you learned last lesson in a tweet
  • Create today’s lesson objective as a tweet
  • Explain through a tweet Newton’s law of relativity
  • Form a tweet to describe why plastic is bad for our oceans
  • Mark your partners work and Tweet them the feedback in 140 characters

Give these ideas a try and let us know what you think.

5 Hip ways to start your lessons

By Alex More

Word up hipsters, here’s a quick fire guide to starting your lessons with a bang! These are not ‘lesson starters’ which I have always felt are a little cliche. They are simple, easy to apply ways to start your lessons and get students active, engaged and interested.

Capturing a student’s interest is vital if we are to provide engaging lessons and avoid them switching off. Often, this means working hard to create the buzz that fuels such engagement, but it doesn’t have to be that hard. The following 10 ideas require minimum teacher effort and yield maximum student energy, the dream ticket! If you are interested, read on …

1: From the register

When you take the register, insist students answer with a keyword from last lesson, instead of their name. The word could be from  a home study task or a word relating to the learning but they must be attentive and thinking to ensure the word they use is relevant. To increase the challenge, randomize the register order and insist keywords can’t be repeated, original words only. I did this recently with a year 9 science lesson on waves. Student’s responded with words like peaks, troughs, oscillations etc and it worked great.

2: The cone game

Screenshot 2018-08-13 at 7.02.28 AM

Borrow some colored hat cones from the PE team and set up this simple but active activity. It’s great as it gets students out of their seats engaging in active learning. It works best as a pairs game and can be either played in open spaces or set up with desks in a classroom. You need a set of keywords written out and a set of cones. As pairs they take it in turns to find a keyword and bring it back to their partner where the word is added to a mini-whiteboard. 3 minutes is the ideal time for them to collect as many keywords as they can. From the glossary of key words you can ask them to create the lesson objective, a tweet about what they will learn or perhaps some questions they might have about those words.

3: Flipped Learning

Flipped learning provides students with access to content ahead of time. Students can engage with podcasts, videos, online tutorials or extended reading outside of the lesson. The teacher sets the task prior to the lesson. When the lesson arrives student’s have a basic understanding which the teacher can build on. I wrote a blog recently from hip to flip which outlines some ways teachers can engage with flipped pedagogy

I tend to use flipped learning for about 50% of my classes and all of my exam groups. Students love it and this version goes by the name of ‘Flipped 101’.

4: Speed dating

Just like real life speed dating this gem of an idea involves active learning, challenge and peer collaborative learning. 

Screenshot 2018-08-13 at 7.04.51 AM

Ask students to create 3 x questions from the content covered in your lesson. They have to do this as a home study / flipped task. The questions have to be worth 1 mark each, so short answers only. It’s worth emphasizing that students must know the answer to the question, so a little research needs to happen. When students arrive in class with their questions, inform them they will be speed dating. Students then have to find another person (someone they don’t normally work with) and take it turns to ask and answer questions. They give each other a score out of 3 then move on and find a new date / partner to ask questions. The teacher just needs to time 60 seconds per round so 120 seconds per pair and call the rotations.

5: The Post-it note game

Give each student 1 x post-it note each. Ask them to write down one keyword. The word they write down will depend on the context so let’s create a context to help you visualise how it works.

Context: Year 10 English lesson on Lord of the Flies

Ask students to write down the word they feel best describes the character Jack in the book. They can only write ONE word and they have 30 seconds to do it. Once they complete the word, ask them to keep it a secret. Set up a central table in the classroom and ask all students to stick their post-it note on the table. Once all the Post-its have been placed ask them to rotate around the table and read other people’s words. Once this is done, they have to select ONE word that they now feel represents Jack. This won’t necessarily be the word they wrote which adds an interesting dynamic. Randomly, ask students to explain WHY they selected that word, what they feel it represents.

With the start of the new academic year a few weeks away, we hope you might try an idea or two and perhaps contribute one of your own. We have 5 more ideas on how to start your lessons which we will post next week. 

Have I already taught the best lesson of my life?

By Alex More

Teaching is an art form, one never perfected, but sometimes we come close, don’t we? As teachers, we are idealists and every once in a while we actually touch what it is we are reaching for … the best lesson ever!

As the long summer term comes to an end it seems fitting to be reflexive, to take a little time to focus on what went well. The good news is teaching allows for this. With a six week summer break upon us it’s time to relax, recharge and refocus.

So, how about that question … Have I already taught the best lesson of my life? 

This will be a personal thing, or perhaps dependent on how many years you have been teaching for. To give some perspective, the average classroom teacher delivers 40 x 1 hour lessons per cycle (2 weeks) and attends school for 39 weeks per year. This equates to 780 teacher led hours per year, not including any extra-curricular sessions you might run. That’s a massive amount of time to get things right, or wrong.

This got me thinking of the potential for a meta-analysis study, asking 1000’s of teachers to describe their best ever lesson then mapping the common themes, trends and similarities to see what defines the ultimate lesson. This would be a cool although labor intensive project, but for the purpose of this blog as it’s intended, perhaps focusing on our own best ever lessons might help us reconnect to the very things that made it so awesome!

It makes sense then to focus on the elements that make for that special lesson.  Hopefully, you have that lesson in mind. What did it look and feel like to you? What was so special about what you created that day, hour, lesson, part of the lesson? I have heard colleagues refer to this as ‘ness’, ‘buzz’, ‘the zone’, ‘magic’ and my personal favorite ‘mojo’. 

As educators we are led to believe that five core strands or elements exist by which to judge a successful lesson. They are;

  • Challenge
  • Engagement
  • Progress Over Time
  • Feedback
  • Questioning

This works as a model to view learning and make judgement’s on effectiveness, but does it describe that ‘ness’ that was going on in your special lesson. Let’s park the 5 strands above for a while and work on some other ideas and possibilities. To achieve this, I have done some soul searching to identify ‘the lesson’ that I am asking you to think of which I hope will give a little context for the ideas that follow.

The best lesson I ever taught

Firstly, this lesson happened by accident. To give a little context, it was end of term and I had two teachers absent in my team. I was due to teach my normal GCSE PE group and had a fitness lesson in mind. At the last minute, I was asked if I could take a few GCSE students from the year below to help spread the cover load. Impulsively, I offered to take all of them. Fast forward, 50 GCSE students, one teacher and no firm lesson plan or objective. To make matters worse, the younger students had not covered the content I was wanting the older students to work on. In the 3.5 minutes it took them to get changed I created a lesson objective; What does 60% look like? What followed cemented my belief that as teachers, we often underestimate what our students are capable of.

As a starter I paired up the older GCSE students with the younger ones and explained they would be learning through teaching today. Resting pulses were located, explained, questioned and challenged as progress flourished in abundance. Once a warm up was completed (student lead) I simply tasked the older GCSE students to calculate 50%, 60%, 70%, 80% of their partners maximum heart rate. To achieve this they applied the simple equation 200-your age, then did the appropriate arithmetic to find the % rates. The best part was that the older students had to explain the process, cementing their knowledge and presenting new learning for the younger GCSE students. At this point we revisited the objective and I asked the older students to get their partner exercising at 60% of their maximum heart rate. At random times we took pulse rates and students adjusted the exercise intensity whilst coaching, advising and engaging in deep, meaningful learning. The lesson ticked all the boxes for the core strands; engagement, questioning, progress over time, feedback and challenge but something else, something much more powerful was happening … mojo. 

So, how do we measure mojo? 

Simply speaking we don’t. It’s a feeling we get when we walk into a classroom and we just know, good things are happening. During the lesson described above, I couldn’t work out why it was all going so well. On reflection now, I can see that the student’s responded to the free and risky nature of the learning. Below I have identified the good things that were happening and plan to store these as a blueprint to recreate this mojo again in the future.

Risk taking and willingness to FAIL

Interestingly, 48 students failed to meet the objective. What does 60% look like? Only 2 students managed to work at 60% of the whole lesson. This didn’t matter as each time they failed, they adjusted, tweaked and learned in the process. I blogged a while back on the power of FAIL Why it’s ok to FAIL sometimes

Students experienced failure during the questioning and the main part of the lesson. Failure fueled new learning as students searched continuously for new directions and new solutions to the problem set.

Working collaboratively

The wisdom of the crowd prevailed here and students relished the opportunity of imparting knowledge to others. During the lesson, I was able to stand back and watch students 100% engaged in challenging their partner to reach 60%, but not exceed it. Most students did exceed the 60% target, some as high as 85% but with the help of maths and conversion adjustments were made as they honed in on that 60% target. I plan to blog on the power of collaborative learning soon and will revisit this idea in lessons as it works. Empowering the students to teach other not only consolidates their learning, it shows you trust them.

Get up, get active

Getting students moving, interacting and engaging with the learning is so powerful. PE is a practical subject by nature but research suggests getting students out of their seats and moving around improves retention. Activities like speed dating and market place learning can help facilitate movement whilst learning and should be included in every teacher tool kit.

Comfort Zone – Stretch Zone – Panic Zone

I am confident to say all 50 students worked within their comfort, stretch and panic zones. This OLEVI (think tank) model is a great way to facilitate challenge in the classroom.

Comfort Zone – students feel at ease, challenge is relative to their ability.

Stretch Zone – students begin to feel challenged, they might not understand the whole                                  concept but will have some ideas. FAIL should be applied here

Panic Zone –  students are out of their comfort zones, accessing new learning. FAIL will                              occur here and should be embraced and celebrated by the teacher

To conclude, I feel this lesson discussed above was one of the best I have taught. For a moment I felt I got the heart of what it was I set out to do, teach amazing lessons. Excuse the metaphor but in this case student’s were literally putting their hearts into it!

Hopefully, by focusing on what our best teaching lessons looked and felt like we can work on blueprints for the future. It would be great to hear your experiences of the best and perhaps even worse ever lessons taught. Perhaps there is scope for a ‘worse ever lesson blog too’, I have experienced plenty of the those … Enjoy your well-earned summer break!

Peace out!


NQT’s: what to do with that 10% extra time.

By Alex More


If asked what thing would make the job of teaching a little easier on a daily basis, most teachers would probably say a little more time. Time is something that tends to fly by making it a precious commodity in schools.

Newly Qualified Teachers, for the first year of their training, have a reduced timetable, 10% of time set aside but there is little guidance out there on how best to use this precious commodity. So, this blog is aimed directly at NQT’s and here within I hope to share some advice and ideas which I hope will help you maximise that 10% extra time and make teaching all the more enjoyable in the process.

Drop in and observe a more experienced colleague and do this on a regular basis. Find yourself a ‘guru’

There seems to be a trend of late or perhaps a feeling that lessons should only be observed for 20 to 30 minutes. Personally, I feel that to truly appreciate a great lesson and indeed a great teacher you need to watch the whole performance. Imagine going to a gig to watch a band and just staying for a couple of songs before leaving. To form opinions we must watch the learning evolve. To achieve this we need to be there from the moment students arrive, and be there when they leave.

Find out which teachers within your school have a passion for teaching. Ask the students who the great teachers are what it is they do that is great. Allow yourself to be guided by their responses, trust what they say, after all, they are the main actors in the learning process. Once you have your sights set on this ‘said guru’ approach them and ask if they would mind you popping in to watch them teach from time to time. They might be flattered or they might appear flustered, try to be clear about what it is you want to get out of observing them and tell them this. Like all great actors, they’ll endeavor to show you what you came to see, magic high paced and engaging learning!

Going in with a clear focus on a specific idea that can help you advance your pedagogical skills is invaluable. Perhaps your guru is a flipped learning advocate or has a special way of starting lessons, asking questions or challenging students through solo taxonomy. Tap into the magic and visit them as regular as yours and their time and patient permits. At the end of the process tell them what it was that you learned and say thanks. Teaching can be a thankless profession and your words could open the door to many others experiencing those magic insights.

Find an extra curricular club and get involved
One of the best and scariest things I did from week 1 of my NQT year was running a club. It taught me all about that hidden curriculum, the one that exists beyond the confines of the classroom walls, free from the shackles of academia, deadlines and student limitations. Here is a place you will always be valued, always be appreciated and it can be truly humbling. Give it a go!



Immersing yourself in a club or a fixture will allow you to see students interact in a different environment. It sounds a little clique, but barriers will be broken down and students will view you differently, in a good way! After 16 action-packed years of teaching, I am humbled on a regular basis by students behaviors offsite and away from the classroom. Here is a place you might witness a student who really struggles in the academic setting thrive.

Set up your mini-action research project and share the findings 

I wish I had discovered this during my NQT year! Perhaps a controversial suggestion but … 

Action research is defined by Cohen et al (2011) as a disciplined process of inquiry conducted by and for those taking the action. The primary reason for engaging in action research is to assist the “actor” in improving and/or refining his or her actions.

I like the idea of being an actor in the process of learning and action research allows you to get hands on. Practitioners who engage in action research inevitably find it to be an empowering experience. Action research has this positive effect for many reasons. Obviously, the most important is that action research is always relevant to the participants. Relevance is guaranteed because the focus of each research project is determined by the researchers, who are also the primary consumers of the findings.

You can pick an idea that interests you and run a mini-action research project. I have outlined a few ideas below. Remember, this is not a full-blown thesis, it’s more about the process that the end product and ultimately it should be fun!

Seeing the school through the eyes of a student. A small-scale action research project monitoring how motivation varies throughout a typical school day.

A small-scale study aimed at interviewing students about Growth Mindset

Focusing on collaboration in science and art. Observing how two different departments provide opportunities for students to work collaboratively on their subject.


Find a hobby, old or new and stick with it

Your NQT year will be taxing emotionally, physically and socially. Teaching is full on and can be exhausting if you don’t allow yourself some ‘you time’. It is possible to achieve downtime during the school day but it is easier to set aside some time in the evenings to see friends, pursue your hobbies and be human.

In-school peace and ‘you time’ I have found solace in a good book at times. I have found silence in the library which doesn’t tend to be the trendiest place kids want to hang out in. More recently, I attended a basic meditation session run by a colleague during lunchtime which was amazing. Some simple breathing exercises and a little space to relax will chill you out and calm down the fuzz that school’s naturally create. If none of the above works, pop your headphones on blast through your favourite playlist for a little time out. Any time out is good and you’ll be amazed at how good you feel afterwards.

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Out of school but not out of touch. School life has a way of sucking teachers in. Don’t fall for it. Yes, marking books, planning lessons and checking emails all have a place but that place needn’t be every evening or even during your free time at work. Be creative, make some plans with other NQT’s, work colleagues and those who have no ties to teaching. Keep a balance, get out to the cinema to see the films you live, eat out, work out and keep that work-life balance firmly in check. All the research is synonymous is suggesting teachers struggle with work-life balance so start how you mean to go on, on your terms. I am not advocating for a minute to shirk work whilst at work but use your time to network and expand your horizons.

Smile, laugh and help people out This one doesn’t cost a thing but is invaluable to those who need it the most, it’s giving a little time to save them time. This is so easy but rarely administered in my experience. Why not be that agent of change? You might be thinking how would I go about this? There are a thousand ways to be kind but here’s just a few …

Offer to fix the photocopier or grab some paper and drop the copies off to a colleague who rushes into the staffroom to make some photocopies and doesn’t really have the time to fix the jammed sheets or empty toner.

Offer to take another’s break time duty so they can put their feet up and chill out for 10 minutes

Smile when no-one else around you is happy. Smiling is infectious and your efforts will soon catch on.



The Complexity of the classroom

By Andew Currie

This week’s blog is penned by welcome newcomer Andrew Currie and focuses on the Complexity of the classroom. Enjoy!

If you sat down with someone and had to explain all of the decisions you make within one lesson the list would be extensive: from the tone of voice you use; to your positioning;  to the timings and the minute by minute alterations, you make to the complexity of your lessons. What Krievaldt and Turnidge (2013) refer to as ‘clinical reasoning’, an unspoken tacit knowledge which is developed over time in the classroom and so can be difficult to describe to trainees. So how can we unpick this complexity and begin to demystify this intriguing, intoxicating and sometimes infuriating profession we call teaching?


Many of my reflections come from recent discussions with Joe B at a recent National Association of school-based teacher trainers (NASBTT)  conference for SCITT directors, where we began to unpick just how we teach teachers, amongst a variety of other topics. As part of the course, we were provided with a copy of the book written by Katherine Burn, Hazel Hagger, and Trevor Mutton and Edited by Ian Menter: Beginning Teacher’s Learning. This pithy and precise book is a great tool for anyone involved in teacher education and will certainly form a major part of any mentor training I deliver moving forwards.

Many people use the analogy of the complexities of teaching to that of the driving of the car; when you first begin your lessons everything is considered and deliberate, every gear change and an indication is a carefully choreographed series of actions. The whole process is exhausting and you begin to wonder how you will ever complete a three-hour journey when a thirty-minute lesson leaves you ready for a lie-down. So it is a small wonder that we have trainee teachers reaching crisis point and wondering how on Earth they will see out the term, let alone their NQT year or even a career; indeed many do not. This is why according to a recent National Education Union survey, 80% of classroom teachers have seriously considered leaving the profession in the past 12 months. 


If we consider looking at teaching through the lens of cognitive load theory there is a great deal of extraneous load placed on teachers from unwieldy marking policies to excessive use of monitoring and data capturing. However, that is another post in itself and the load placed on trainees is determined at an individual school level. What I am interested in is the intrinsic complexities of teaching: how well are they understood by trainees and mentors and how can a better understanding of them support us in making trainees hone and perfect precise skills, rather than drowning in a sea of unfathomable practices. In the diagram below CL refers to Cognitive Load. 

Image from elearning coach

In Beginning teachers learning  Burn & co make reference to Doyle’s  6 competing concerns of the classroom (1977) and through their  DEBT research project identify the 6 goals that trainees have when reflecting on their training year. By looking at these and understanding the inherent complexities within each one and reminding ourselves of how challenging these are for novice teachers, mentors and trainers can start a discussion around how to support trainees and prevent their progress from ‘stalling’  or even worse ‘crashing’ out of the profession altogether.

Pupil achievement

This is the goal of all trainees and their ideas of pupils achieving do not always tie in with those of the experienced teacher. Much is spoken about the progress made by pupils under trainee tutorage, however, for trainees’, this achievement may look very different to what the mentor may expect. It could be the successful completion of a task or the perception that the pupils have understood the concepts trainees were trying to teach.  

Pupil state

This is a biggie for trainees in the early stages of their training, I am sure that the word enthusiasm and confidence is a regular feature of many reflections.  Indeed the sticky issue of ‘pupil engagement’ is one that many experienced teachers still grapple with. This is a goal for many trainees as their perception of pupils enjoying their lessons is tied up with their self-perception of their ability to teach.

Pupil action

This is summaries by Burn as ‘what the pupils are actually doing’, and can range from the organisational challenges of a classroom to the behaviour management strategies. If the pupils are seen to be doing what is expected at a point in the lesson that is often good enough for trainees. However as the more experienced teacher will be fully aware, in the classroom, there is often more going on than first meets the eye.

Pupil knowledge

This could be understood by more experienced teachers as being closely tied to pupil achievement, however when unpicked has a lot more to do with the trainee teacher’s understanding of pupils learning. To what extent do trainees understand the current level of pupils knowledge on a topic? How regularly do they check in and update their understanding of the lesson or unit unfolds?


It is easy to forget that in their training year (and hopefully beyond) trainees hold a dual identity of both teacher and learner. Weekly they are gaining new knowledge of theory or strategies and reflecting on their impact on teaching; setting targets and producing evidence that they are indeed making progress.


Trainees and teachers can become obsessed with a particular strategy or approach and their focus on this can cause them to lose sight of the purpose or reasoning behind said strategies inclusion in their lesson. Indeed many mentors will have played out the following conversation in post-lesson feedback.

Mentor: So what went well in that lesson

Trainee: I used the AFL strategies of first of five

Mentor: Okay,  and why was that important?

Trainee: Well, my target was to include more AFL.

Mentor: Why do you think that was a target?



Burn et al (2000)  also explain that within any given lesson trainees can also be subject two 12 further factors which trainees take into account. I won’t unpick these but as you can see there is a huge amount of trainees and their mentors to consider.

Burn correctly identifies that we need to find ways of “managing the complexity so that trainees remain confident that they can succeed, but without distorting or denying its reality in ways that will ultimately inhibit their learning.”

So the question is how can we ensure that the complexity which is inherent to teaching doesn’t overwhelm trainees?

One suggestion is that to be explicit in identifying these complexities with new teachers and providing them with the time to unpack their own perceptions of each of these elements. For example is their perception of a successful lesson identified by the action, state or achievement of their pupils? How does this focus affect their approach to teaching?  Which ingredients do they hold in high regard and what is the impact of this on their planning process? This metacognitive approach to lesson evaluation could provide new and experienced teachers with a greater insight not only into their outcomes but into their own understanding of what it means to them to be a teacher.

It will be of little comfort to newer teachers that the concerns they have around their practice are unlikely to go away, instead they will be replaced with other concerns which will continue to improve their practice. If we as more experienced members of their team  begin to share our own concerns about our own teaching, this can be a great relief to trainees and NQT. It is our job to explain the fact that whilst there will always be difficulties to navigate, and bumps in the road, the journey is worth it.




Burn, K, Hagger, H,  Mutton T (2000) Beyond concerns with the self : the sophisticated  thinking of beginning student teachers [Journal of education for teaching]

Didau, D (2015) Does engagement actually matter? [ The Learning Spy]

Krievaldt and Turnidge (2013 )Conceptualizing an approach to Clinical reasoning in the Education profession [Australian Journal of Teacher Education]

Menter (2015) Beginning teachers’ learning [critical Guides For Teacher Educators]

Malamed, C : What is cognitive load?

Tickle, L (2018)  Every lesson is a battle’: Why teachers are lining up to leave [The Guardian]

National Education Union Survey Accessed at