Planning for mastery

As a follow-on to the initial inset session I have written about previously on memory, I was excited to build on these ideas in delivering a CPD session on planning for mastery with an extraordinary Lead Practitioner, Sophie Smith, who has championed Ark’s English Mastery course of lessons at my school for the past year.

That said, as scary as a day one inset it, you know teachers will be automatically more excited and engaged than at 4pm on a Wednesday, two weeks into term time, when a stack of marking beckons. Showing my draft to a colleague, the feedback was: ‘more pictures.’ I’m not a very visual person, so can’t claim credit for any images on the powerpoint – these are all the work of Sophie.

We began with another paper ‘do now,’ but this time I wanted to collect an insight into people’s thinking about education: what, in their view, was the purpose of education? How good was the current planning in their area? What were the most important aspects of planning? And how much time did they spend on those aspects?

First, I wanted to link mastery planning to the school’s context. We know that our children arrive to us further behind than more advantaged children, who have more social and cultural capital, along with simply knowing more stuff, and having practiced stuff more. I also wanted to pick up on a challenge I’d been given in the feedback from the first session: ‘where is the space for children’s creativity?’ asked one colleague. I asked teachers to think of the most creative child they had encountered: the one who had thought of a new way to solve a problem in maths, or had asked a curious question in science, or had linked different factors together in history. Ninety nine times out of a hundred, those children are also the ones who know the most. This correlation suggests to me that knowledge is the essential bedrock of creativity. You can’t create successfully in a vacuum.

We then posed the question: how do you teach a year 11 class who have an exam in a week’s time? Is it the same or different to your usual teaching?

In retrospect, this question would have worked better later in the session, or perhaps in a later session. There is too much to consider in changing the planning paradigm to successfully cover it all in an hour. What we wanted was for people to note the urgency with which they taught year 11 before an exam, and for us to link this urgency to our way of planning in all years – because time is short, and we have five years to close a significant gap.

I then shared what I found to be a useful distinction from Joe Kirby on planning: changing the paradigm from engaging starter, exciting activities, and reflective plenary to recap, instruction and deliberate practice. (I’ve added ‘deliberate’ to Kirby’s wording for two reasons: firstly, because we need to be completely focused on practising the specific aspects our students most struggle with, and secondly because without it the memorable phrase: ‘Recap, Instruction, Practice’ spells ‘R.I.P,’ which I felt would not connote a happy paradigm for teachers.)

Why is this so important? We know our students come to school massively far behind; research shows that less advantaged children at aged five have heard 30 million fewer words than their more advantaged peers. We also know that, nationally, students on free school meals achieve nearly half the five A*-C including English and maths compared with their more advantaged peers. We can’t do anything about how our students come to us, but we do have five years to close that gap to ensure they aren’t leaving us academically deprived.

Then, instead of citing the Sutton Trust’s research on motivation as I had planned (‘too many words! More pictures!’), Sophie engaged teachers with the cart and horse analogy: we often see self-esteem as the horse, pulling along the achievement, but in fact it is the opposite: achievement drives motivation and builds self-esteem; when children start succeeding at school, they are more likely to buy in.

We shared four key concepts on planning for mastery: select the content, sequence it, teach it, and quiz it. In retrospect, each could be a session by itself. Sophie shared the more rigorous texts brought in with English Mastery, and we asked departments to discuss how much children should read in their subjects, and what they could get them to read. In sequencing, I emphasised considering both the knowledge and practice gap when planning any lesson. For teaching, I didn’t go into nearly enough specific depth, and allowed departments to discuss themselves what they felt the highest leverage teacher actions were, with some interesting results. And finally with quizzing, I cited the knowledge maps and multiple choice tests we were already creating and which could be easily reused.

Subject teams took fifteen minutes then to look over a lesson together alongside these key principles and edit it. We finished with a similar quiz, with room for teachers to write their concerns and needs for support. Most wrote ‘time,’ and a few asked for support in making knowledge maps or finding rigorous content. The next most prevalent concern was meeting the needs of all students, which I will be writing about soon.

In reviewing the feedback sheets, I was interested to gauge the teachers’ response to the do now question: what is the purpose of education? Rank these statements 1-6 where 1 is the most important purpose. The vast majority, 60%, rated ‘forming good, kind and moral individuals’ as the top priority, followed by ‘preparing our students for the world of work’ at 27%. Not a single person chose either of these options as the most important purpose: ‘ensuring our students achieve the highest results in national exams’ or ‘teaching our students rigorous content so they outperform their peers in exams’. For the least important, 37% chose that latter option. The next most popular least important choice at 33% was ‘teaching our students the best of what has been thought and said.’

Mastery CPD

Do now (1)

Memory: an inset session

On 1st September, I wasn’t as nervous about starting a new school as I was about standing in front of the teaching staff of the secondary school at 10am to make my pitch about knowledge and the curriculum. I advised myself that it is always easier to speak to people you don’t know, yet this did little to assuage my fears: whatever I told myself, first impressions count.

Happily, I have lucked into my second wonderful line-manager in a row, and together we worked on a session that would hopefully engage the teaching staff at the right level.

To begin, teachers had a multiple-choice quiz about memory, knowledge maps and multiple-choice questions. The idea was to put into practice what we would preach about pre-quizzing and how to construct MCQs.

We split the session into two parts: theory and practice. To begin, I took two key questions: how does memory work, and how can we teach to build memory? I used Hirsch’s example of ‘Jones sacrificed and knocked in a run’ to highlight that we don’t always know how important knowledge is unless we don’t have it and suddenly can’t access what looks like a fairly straightforward sentence (stealing from Daisy Christodoulou the sentiment that ‘knowledge is like oxygen: it is vitally important, but we only notice it when it is not there.’ I went on to explore other examples of sentences students required explicit content knowledge to be able to access ideas. Then, using Joe Kirby’s excellent ideas on knowledge and memory, asked what we mean by knowledge – after all, if many of us took a GCSE paper now we would fail it, having completely forgotten what we once crammed in. We need to move from a cramming culture to one of real mastery.

I then shared the forgetting curve, exploring the idea of revisiting to secure concepts in long-term memory, along with Willingham’s advice that ‘memory is the residue of thought’: we remember what we think hard about.

forgetting curve

The two practical implements we focused on were knowledge maps and multiple choice questions. Knowledge maps are hugely useful for three main reasons.

Firstly, they nudge subject leads to make decisions on what to teach. You obviously can’t teach everything about Frankenstein, for example; you must be selective and deeply consider the most vital information you want students to retain for a very long time.

Secondly, they provide clarity to teachers. The first question any new teacher has is ‘what am I going to teach them?’, and a knowledge map answers that in a single slide. They provide further clarity for subject leads in knowing that everyone in their department is on the same page, and are helpful for senior leaders to have more detailed knowledge of what exactly is being taught.

Finally, they are brilliant for revision. Not intended to be only for teachers, students too can be literally on the same page as their teachers. A knowledge map is a powerful tool for revision, helping students to know exactly what it is they need to revise, both as they are taught the unit, and in the months to come.

I then shared three organising principles for knowledge maps. Firstly, they are selective; you should only select what can fit onto a single page. Secondly, their terms are defined – a list of complex vocabulary without definitions is useless as a revision tool. Thirdly, they are organised into manageable sections, allowing teachers and students to focus on the discrete aspects of the unit.

To assuage the fears that MCQs could not test skills, I shared some examples. The first tests pure recall, which is of course important. The second two test application of that knowledge, looking at how well students can infer and analyse. I explained how each of these latter questions still relied on a huge breadth of student knowledge – you need to know the meanings of the poetic terms in order to decide whether they are being used in the example.

  • When did Coleridge write ‘The Rime of the Ancient Mariner’?
  • a) 1665
  • b) 1793
  • c) 1797
  • d) 1815
  • e) 1816
  • ‘I, the true murderer, felt the never-dying worm alive in my bosom, which allowed of no hope or consolation.’ Which language techniques are combined here, and what is the writer trying to suggest?
  • a) In this quotation, onomatopoeia and religious imagery are used to emphasise how disgusting Frankenstein is.
  • b) In this quotation, a simile and religious imagery are used to emphasise that the death of Justine will never be forgotten.
  • c) In this quotation, pathetic fallacy and natural imagery are used to emphasise how destructive what has happened is.
  • d) In this quotation, prolepsis and a metaphor are used to suggest that the creature will wreak his revenge.
  • e) In this quotation, a metaphor and graveyard imagery are used to emphasise how destructive the guilt Frankenstein feels is.

Drawing heavily from people much smarter than I on MCQs, I explained three reasons for using them. Firstly, workload: although requiring a much greater effort upfront, MCQs are quick to mark and can be used year after year, compared with the uphill struggle of the essay, which is quick to set, but must then be marked 30 times, at length, year after year after year. Secondly, MCQs allow for a much clearer diagnosis of what students do and do not know – in an essay, where a student misplaces a comma, we might not be sure if they do in fact know how to use a comma, but were distracted by exploring Macbeth; or if they can use a comma for lists but not to separate clauses, or if they can’t use a comma at all. With MCQs, you can test each of these aspects separately, and have a much clearer diagnosis of what students know and do not know. Thirdly, MCQs enable teachers to test the breadth of their subjects, not just the depth; with MCQs, we can find out what students know about every single theme and language technique, compared with an essay which might focus on one theme, and include examples containing three or four techniques.

After sharing some key principles for creating MCQs – five options to avoid guessing, plausible distractors to make it challenging, unambiguous distractors to avoid contention over multiple responses, building misconceptions into the distractors, and including more than one correct option, subject teams had 15 minutes to make five using a subject-specific text they had brought along.

Finally, teachers re-did the do-now test as a plenary. Looking through teacher responses really helped me to see where my explanation had been clear, and where I need to clarify at a later inset. In particular, almost no-one managed to get the multiple correct options right; often they would get two of the three, for example. This made me consider that multiple correct options might be too tricky for students at the start of using MCQs, or that we should flag up how many correct options there are in the question.

I was excited to find for the rest of the inset days a number of presenters used MCQs, and my colleagues referring to ‘distractors’ as they noted some ‘ambiguous’ or ‘implausible’ ones where they occurred. More than that, though, I was overwhelmed by the excitement and energy expressed by so many teachers on these ideas.

Memory Inset

Handout

What makes great teaching?

Before the summer, I asked on Twitter for advice on making a department handbook. The overwhelming response? Don’t. No-one will read it, it’s oppressive and not useful, it’s a bureaucratic tick-box exercise.

Much as I sympathised with such views, having new teachers join the department, and tending to spend much of my time (literally) running around the corridors of the school, I felt these teachers needed something to refer to when I (or a seasoned teacher) could not be found.

Brimming with hubris, I decided to open the handbook with “Teaching and Learning”, and proceeded to randomly write down ideas I had for what I think makes great teaching. It’s by no means an exhaustive, or even logical, list, but I’d be interested in the thoughts of others. I have pasted below exactly from the handbook, word for word.

Relationships

  • Like your students and tell them
  • Value what they say in class – ensure everyone is listening and taking note when anyone is speaking
  • Call home positively for as many students as you can. Do this early on and save yourself many negative calls later
  • Be there for your students emotionally, but remember you’re their teacher – refer on any pastoral issues promptly
  • Ask students to reflect on their learning and be honest with you about what they need more of. Be responsive to their needs

Mindset

  • Believe in the unlimited potential of all your students to succeed. Share this belief with them
  • Challenge your students to do better, even when they have “achieved” their “target” grade
  • Remind students who aren’t there that they aren’t there yet – further effort will not be in vain

Goals

  • Set clear goals for each lesson, each week, each term and unit of work. Share these goals with students

Feedback

  • Ensure written feedback is timely
  • Allow students time to ask you questions about your feedback
  • Give students time to respond and correct errors

Questioning

  • Challenge student answers – get them to develop their ideas further
  • Never accept “I don’t know” – always ask another student to help out so they can repeat the answer
  • At the same time, ensure all your students know “I don’t know” is fine to admit, as long as they show themselves ready to learn after saying this
  • Bounce questions to other students to answer
  • Practice hands down questioning regularly so all students are listening and ready
  • Aim to speak to each student at least once in each class

Pratice

  • Independent practice using key skills should be built into every lesson
  • Students should be supported by teachers during independent practice (e.g. circulating and making verbal corrections/suggestions for improvement as students write)
  • Bear in mind you might need to explicitly teach skills you take for granted – e.g. taking notes, the right place for a comma, what a verb is

Behaviour management

  • Expect 100% compliance with 100% of your instructions 100% of the time
  • Phrase instructions positively
  •  Talk about choices
  • Never allow students to “earn off” a sanction
  • Have a no excuses culture – one high standard for all
  • Have high expectations of behaviour – silence means silence; group discussion of the task means no off-task chat
  • Have clear and unchanging policies for all misdemeanours, no matter how minor, that you apply equally to all students (remember that it is not the severity of the sanction that is important but the certainty of the sanction)
  • Give specific praise – verbally and written
  • Narrate positive behaviour you wish to see in all your students
  • Avoid singling out students for chastising publicly, at least the first time you note off-task behaviour

Share and celebrate success

  • In class, verbally and frequently
  • Copy great work and share with the class
  •  Ensure students buy into learning as a desirable success to aim for
  •  Share success stories (students who have made incredible progress through hard work)

Knowledge

  • Have deep knowledge of the material you are teaching which goes beyond what students “need to know”
  • Use material throughout the curriculum to challenge students and empower them to find their place in any walk of life they choose

Discussion

  • Engage students in debate/discussion – allow them to reason through answers and ideas themselves. Challenge them to uphold their thinking. Ensure it is ok to change your mind with new evidence
  • Encourage structured and purposeful student talk

Differentiation

  • Know where your students are, using recent data, marking and assessment for learning in lessons
  • Plan the next step your students need
  • Teach to the top, support at the bottom
  • Tell your Teaching Assistant (if you have one) what they can do to most help your students

CPD

  • Be aware of your strengths and areas for development as a teacher
  • Share good practice (e.g. during department meetings)
  •  Go and see teachers who do something you’d like to do
  •  Raise development needs with your line manager so the department CPD can be appropriate

Assessment

  • Mark student books regularly (at least every 2 weeks)
  • Level or grade student work once a half term. Remember that levels/grades are not as important as developmental feedback, but these levels/grades will help you to complete Assessment Point 1, 2 and 3
  •  After assessments, spend time exploring what students need to do next time to improve

Homework

  • Set students homework which builds on their learning in class
  • Homework should be reasonable
  • Be aware that computer access is an issue for some students
  • Be aware that some students will thrive on “homework extensions”
  • Build in spelling and grammar to your homework routine
  • Set homework on the same day/s every week
  • Ensure students write homework in their planners 

Communication with parents

  •  This can form the key to excellent student progress
  • Try to ensure your first contact with parents is positive
  •  Don’t be afraid to call a meeting with a parent; ask your line manager to attend as well if there are pressing issues you need to discuss in person prior to parents’ evening

Things I have learned this term

This has been one of the most fulfilling terms of my career, and also one of the most challenging – how often these two seem to go hand in hand. It has been something of an adjustment, having to learn how to manage a department as well as take on new whole-school responsibilities. Not to mention trying to teach. Here are some of the things I have learned this term:

How to do duty… And how to not do duty

In the early days, I felt ridiculous doing duty. I’d knock apologetically at classroom doors, and teachers would scowl as if I were interrupting them – which, of course, I was. Now I’ve done my duty periods enough times, I think I’ve worked out which classrooms I can pretty much leave alone, and which benefit from a “casual walk-through.” I think back to myself as a new teacher, and how I’d have liked SLT to approach my classroom; I’m tougher with the students who are clearly taking advantage; I’m tougher if it’s a supply teacher or an NQT – I tend to haul students behaving less than perfectly away from the former in particular with little discussion. Especially as we come to the end of term, I feel like they are the ones who most need a calmer classroom. I’ve also realised that the more visible you are, the easier it becomes. Serendipitously, a spate of SLT sickness has allowed me to take on more duties; practice makes for some fast improvements.

How to teach less, but well

It has been a big adjustment going from having four classes to three. You wouldn’t think that losing four periods would have such a big effect, but the remaining 15 hours a week I am teaching have become my favourites. I really miss my year 9s, who (I’m almost sad to confess) are racing up to me at lunchtimes to fill me in on how much they are learning with their new teachers and how well they are behaving. Now, I feel grateful every lesson I can shut the door and just be a teacher. At the start, it seemed like this was the least important part of what I do, but after a bit of a battle with my year 10 class, I realise it is the most important. It is worth spending extra time making those 15 hours my best of the week. The fewer issues I have in my own classroom, the more helpful I am in the rest of my roles.

How to take feedback

I am so blessed to have a plain-spoken member of my team who simply does not sugarcoat: I know when I’m doing a good job, and I definitely know when I have to do better. A few weeks ago, she told me, in much more couched terms, that I wasn’t a presence in the English department at the moment; I wasn’t supporting teachers enough. After recovering from this blow, I resolved to do better. How can I ensure I check in with all the teachers I am responsible for, so none of them feel like she felt that day? How can I rebalance my responsibilities so I don’t let teachers down?

How to keep my sanity

That said, the English office is always a place of sanity for me. It’s amazing to have such a team of motivated individuals. We share the office with the Maths department, so they also deserve kudos for keeping our spirits up at the end of a long term. In particular, there are four or five of the teachers who have been permanently stocking the office with chocolate, Haribo and donuts. I need to exercise more restraint in future, but this term these have been all but essential to a healthy spirit.

My favourite thing this term has been observing the three colleagues who have opted into the “Leverage Leadership”-style “developmental observations” – 20 minute drop-ins with brief and focused feedback following (Harry Fletcher-Wood has written about this in helpful detail). It has been really something watching each colleague grow and improve as term has gone on. The Headteacher is fond of telling me that when she is feeling stressed, she goes and “walks around year 11 English lessons.” I know exactly what she means – there is nothing so soothing as watching great professionals at work.

Some thoughts for the term ahead (the year ahead feels too enormous to contemplate):

I will keep writing

Like almost everyone, I suffer from melodramatic crises of confidence, and I have found it increasingly hard to write this term. Or rather, to publish – I’ve written copious posts which now lay strewn in various folders, achingly missing the special something which would allow them to flow freely into the digital world. I’d like to write better, of course, but at times it might be worth just chucking it out there (like this post in fact, which I never intended to publish).

I will support teachers

I have come to realize that my time in school needs to be spent being completely available to the teachers I am responsible for. They need to be supported, and their needs must always, always come first. I know, and must never forget, that it is harder to be a teacher on a full timetable than any of the positions I have been lucky enough to hold: I have never been so viscerally exhausted as a HoD or member of SLT as I was teaching, even with some years of experience, a full timetable. That is the real hard work.

I will be great at my job

In the past, I’ve tried to be all things to all people and have taken on far too much outside school. This led, last year, to a five-month long cold I just couldn’t shake and needing a pair of crutches to move around (a very long story). I need to remember that my first responsibility is to my school, and no matter how exciting the opportunities I might be offered, sometimes it is better to just say no, and instead be great at the day job. After all, I have a long way to go to be “great”!

… but I will take time to do other things

The Head of Maths and I have been talking about going to meditation classes for about six months. I have a tendency to race from thing to thing with little thought or reflection – 2015 is the year to stop this nonsense. I will also see my friends more, even if they choose to live in far-flung suburbs or crazily West.

TLT

Immersed in the insularity of a new job in a new school last year, TLT13 passed me by. The first awareness of it for me was seeing exciting looking tweets and blogs on and after the day, when clearly it was too late to join in. This year, though, I was determined to be on it – which made me feel even more delighted to be asked to present something as part of the literacy strand.

A train journey with a dear friend and past colleague provided me with plentiful food for education thought, and by the time we arrived at Southampton I was already percolating a “things I would like to be better at” mental list, which overflowed as the day went on.

Tom Sherrington

Creeping into the lecture theatre, only slightly late, I was relieved not to have missed Tom Sherrington’s opening. He spoke passionately about leading a new school, this time a large comprehensive, and noted pleasingly that what applies in a grammar school applies “even more” there; he also remarked that the extent to which expectations can be low is amazing. Candidly referring to teaching his year 8 class as “feeling like someone who has just done a 10K run with no training,” he went on to explain that teaching is really rather straightforward (not easy; never easy – but definitely straightforward): know what you are trying to teach – the key concepts, the objective; and keep the pitch high: never lose sight of the top end, while bringing the other children with you. He showed his famous tweet: “if there was no OfSTED, no SLT… just you and your class… what would you choose to do to make it great? Do that anyway.” He clarified at this point that he did not mean there should be no accountability; rather that if what you are doing in your classroom is amazing and it is working, no-one will mind.

Referring to the new behaviour system being rolled out in his school, he noted that for classroom teaching to have its desired impact, the culture and systems first have to be in place: without these, all else is meaningless. Too much teacher time, otherwise, is spent controlling behaviour and not teaching. (Incidentally, I remember a friend of mine moving to teach in a private school where lessons were 35 minutes long. I asked her how she got through the curriculum, and she replied “well, no-one misbehaves, so the lessons don’t feel that short.”) Tom went on to explain that children need to feel confusion and struggle in their learning: if they are getting everything right, the lesson is not challenging enough.  Tom also remarked that his school had scrapped levels on reports, saying he “can’t justify another 6b meaning nothing.” He noted they will fill this vacuum with something better, and I can’t wait to see what that might be.

Kev Bartle

My first session of the day began with a clip of some rather peculiar, red-haired, 80s looking woman singing. I had long suspected it, but I then knew how completely amazing Kev must be, both as teacher and headteacher. His session made close reference to the OfSTED clarification for schools document, and he began by noting his annoyance that many SLTs aren’t yet getting it right with OfSTED: when they are doing things “with OfSTED in mind”, it is often the OfSTED of five or eight years ago. Opening with the wise words: “there is no such thing as progress within lessons. There is only learning”, he was scathing on the preponderance of mini-plenaries and other such AfL strategies reduced to progress-prop gimmicks.

On lesson grading, Kev noted that even if you observe a main-scale teacher for 30 minutes six times a year (this is approximately five times more than I have ever been observed in a year), that still represents only 0.4% of the teaching that teacher will do over the year. Referring to the policy exchange report “Watching the Watchmen”, he reminded us that OfSTED inspectors can see the same lesson and give it every one of the four arbitrary grades.

On lesson observations, he asked why SLT “who teach the least” should be the ones to lead on teaching. While I agree that a top-down approach to observation is not favourable, I can’t help but look at the SLT in my own school which contains some of its strongest practitioners, and my line manager (deputy head) who remains one of the best teachers I have ever seen in action. Kev went on to explain why learning walks and book looks were also a waste of time if done in a top-down fashion; better practice, he suggested, was to have a department look through books together and discuss each other’s practice. Of “data trawls”, less is more: in Kev’s school, they enter data for year 11, 12 and 13 only twice a year; this ensures the data is reliable and robust, and not the product of an over-tired teacher putting in any old thing every half term.

Kev had strong words to say about consistency: teaching is about humans – messy, uncontrollable humans; we need to open ourselves up to uncertainty, and mystery. He put forward an alternative set of ideas on how a school might be run, largely built on trust, and assuming the best of people.

Chris Hildrew

I was so excited to finally meet Chris in person, having long admired his blog, but first I had to be bowled over by his phenomenal talk. Chris was speaking about progress and assessment within a “Growth Mindset” school. With the dynamism of a Mr Keating, children-on-desks educator, he told us we had to begin by thinking of the “X kids” – the “mutant kids who can do it.” We had to consider the students who had most excelled in our subjects, and what they had that we could replicate in schools.

Immediately, the pastoral implications of this jumped out: no-one really believes children are naturally Shakespeare; rather, they have self-esteem and self-belief, along with the self-awareness to know how to change and develop into better students. Achievement and mindset go hand in hand.

Importantly, growth mindset must not become reductive; a tick-box on a lesson plan or a resource sheet. Rather it must become embedded at a whole-school level, as Chris has written so eloquently about in his blog.

Along with this, we need to build demand and a high level of challenge into our curriculum, knowing where we want our students to get to and then plotting how to arrive there. Chris spoke of asking subject leaders to tap into their core moral purpose: why should students study their subject? And with that in mind, bend the (very flexible) National Curriculum to that purpose.

Echoing what Tom Sherrington had said, teachers saying students have “nothing to improve” clearly need to set the challenge bar higher; what more could they read; what more do to broaden their knowledge? Chris also outlined his school’s method of tracking progress, which looks very exciting, and I can’t wait to hear more about it.

Chris Curtis

Like everyone I had heard speak so far in the day, I longed to be a student in Chris Curtis’s classroom. His opening salvo: “how is writing an essay like going on a date?” immediately made the room buzz with activity and excitement. He noted we are often busy moulding the next journalists, and not academic writers; something to be mindful of with the advent of the new GCSEs. Proclaiming “death to the PEE format,” he showed us something much better: point and then development. Using the fantastic resource below, he guided us through how to develop an idea, and gave us plenty to take away into our own classrooms.

Leadership

Having trained with Teach First, I felt like I had heard enough about “leadership” to last me a lifetime. Prior to moving into a role as Head of Department last September, I thought I knew much on the subject – I could parrot, for example, the line about the difference between leadership and management; I could recite the vignette about the boss seeing where his people were heading so he could lead them.

But there’s a world of difference between knowing the shorthand and actually being an effective leader. Having heard the depressing line: “if you’re telling me to do it, I’ll do it,” I knew I needed help. I resolved to attack the problem the only way I know how: by reading all the books.

Of course, this is not the only way, and a lot of what I learned did not come from books. I’ll write soon about what I feel leadership is, at this uncertain moment of new enlightenment, but for now, here are some of the best leadership reads.

Leverege Leadership

The first book on leadership I read, this was perhaps pitched too far from my world of middle-dom; but nonetheless I gleaned some useful insights here, not least the resounding message that the key is focusing on great teaching. Bambrick-Santoyo lays out the ideal of principal as “instructional leader” and some examples of how this might work in practice. There’s a helpful distillation of data-driven leadership, as well as plenty on culture and vision.

Switch

Here’s the essence of Switch: people know a lot, but are still mostly driven by their emotions. To make people change (or, in my case, specifically change to wanting to follow you) you have to engage their emotions and activate their trust. The book sets out strategies for making people want to follow you, and steps for pushing positive change through.

 

Leadership Plain and Simple

The amazing Jill Berry recommended this book, and it could easily be the only leadership book you have to read. Amazingly straightforward, the book turns on the assumption that leadership means: engaging others in your vision of the future, and the plan you have to get there, and then delivering that plan. It is fuzzy on delivery, but that’s probably because delivery will be massively varied in different scenarios.

Leading in a Culture of Change

Although this book does contain some grating “management newspeak” (such as “simplexity” – definitely not a word), it is written clearly (useful for the midnight reading sessions of a first-year wannabe leader) and is full of awareness of the wrong turnings a potential manager/leader might take, as well as balancing concepts of confidence and humility.

How to be an Amazing Middle Leader

This is one of those “does what it says on the tin” books, and is a great primer for someone new to middle leadership. Occasionally over-specific, it enumerates tasks and activities you might do to hone your vision and create your action plan. Probably one to read the holiday before taking up a post.

Mindset

I am aware this is not a book on leadership, but if there is one thing I know for sure about leadership it is that it is all about your core values. You have to know what drives you as a human, and how that translates to what you are doing in your job. I’ve written before on Mindset but suffice it to repeat: I believe in the uncapped potential of every single child without any exception to succeed, and believe it is my job to create the conditions for success.

Finally, leadership in a school context is perhaps best served by the many wonderful bloggers out there. Stuart Lock is one of the most generous, encouraging and humble senior leaders I have met, and writes plenty that is both heartfelt and sensible on schools. Keven Bartle, a new headteacher, has written copious amounts of genius words on leadership at all levels. We are all waiting for Jill Berry, an ex-head and fantastic speaker, to begin her blog – in the meantime, she says many wise words on Twitter. Finally, Mary Myatt is a school inspector and writes with clarity on all issues Ofsted – always helpful.

Stanley Wells at the Globe

Every English graduate in the world has heard of Stanley Wells, if only for his “Complete Oxford Shakespeare” we were all encouraged to purchase prior to first year. Having been blown away by James Shapiro months earlier, I was keen to enjoy another of the Globe’s “Shakespeare at 450” lectures.

Introduced by the Globe’s education director, Patrick Spottiswoode, as a man who has chosen to “dedicate his life to serving Shakespeare” as well, hyperbolically perhaps but no less entertainingly, as “Shakespeare’s ambassador on earth,” Wells shirked all aplomb with a pithy: “you’re so plosive,” in response.

The topic of the lecture was a run through of the greatest Shakespearean actors (“from Burbage to Brannagh,” as the trailed book will be named). The joy of a great academic is that, though I hadn’t initially thought this was of interest, Wells made it of interest; his talk encompassed so much more than this.

Quoting Laurence Olivier, who as you might expect made a number of appearances in the talk, Wells explained he had limited his exploration to stage actors, rather than film as: “film is the director’s medium, television the writer’s, and stage the actor’s.”

On “colourblind” and “gender blind” productions, of which there is a long theatrical history, Wells posited that the heightened style of Shakespeare’s poetic drama allows greater diversity of interpretation: if the audience is prepared to accept actors talking in verse, they are more likely to accept other differences.

According to Wells, great Shakespearean actors manipulate their bodies and their voices. Olivier was especially noted for seeking to allow the external presentation to reveal the inner, such as his “false face” when playing Macbeth (we were told his wife, Vivien Leigh, had commented of the intensely thick make-up: “first you hear Macbeth’s line, then Larry’s make-up comes on, then Banquo comes on, then Larry comes on”). They also allow for an emotional distance while playing – they need to inhabit the character, but also be half-aware of the responses of the audience to ensure they do not speak over laughter or applause, for example. He cited plentiful examples in Shakespeare of actors giving acting advice; Hamlet most notably, but also Coriolanus (when overcome with passion he cries: “like a dull actor now, I have forgot my part”). Great actors can project their understanding and inhabitance of the inner life of the character with every expression and every articulation.

The chief take-away point in my view was that, although the playwright provides the material, the actors “achieve a different reality” with every performance. They recreate Shakespeare nightly, each time rebuilding an intricate and original representation.

More and more, I worry I am not qualified to teach my year 13 students. As a sixth former myself, I remember being moved in English lessons by the enormity of ideas discussed; I remember knowing that literature was without doubt the centre of the world; I remember being exposed to new words and new ideas daily. Years of practice training students to pass (often poorly created, unchallenging) exams has not made me a great teacher of the A-level. I wonder if I am alone in considering that if only more such academic lectures were available for English teachers to attend, we could re-engage with the critical community, and find our joy, passion and all-fulfilling reason in literature again.