An Alternative ‘Good School’ Checklist…..

I stumbled across this thought provoking post on Twitter via @ThatIanGilbert who heads up the  education company ‘Independent Thinking’ who provide an exciting array of learning opportunities for teachers to put into practice in their daily practice through conferences, seminars & their ‘Little Book of…’ series.  These books are definitely worth investing in and can be purchased for around a fiver on Amazon.

Here is the list in full:

”Fed up with people/MPs/the Press saying ‘That’s a good school’ and basing their judgement entirely upon exam results? Here’s a 24-point (and counting) ‘good school’ checklist that focuses on a picture bigger than just the exam results.

  1. Do children enjoy going there?
  2. Do teachers enjoy working there?
  3. Are all children challenged by the work?
  4. Do the children develop competencies as well as grades?
  5. Do the children learn skills as well as facts?
  6. Are morals and values focused on and exhibited daily by all members of the school community?
  7. Is there an inclusive atmosphere where all children are valued for who they are and what they bring?
  8. Are key issues like bullying and other social and emotional aspects of school life discussed and addressed in a positive, open way?
  9. Is the ability to think for themselves encouraged and developed in all children?
  10. Does the school have a sense of fun?
  11. Are aspects like wonder, curiosity, adventure, bravery, resilience actively encouraged and celebrated?
  12. Are the teachers open to new ideas and keen to do things with – and not to – the learners?
  13. Does the school keep up to date with new advances in learning and technology?
  14. Are high expectations of the children matched by high expectations of the staff?
  15. Is the headteacher visible?
  16. Are children taught that being their best doesn’t have to involve being better than others?
  17. Is the unexpected welcomed?
  18. Do children get to think about, interact with and seek to change life outside of the school walls?
  19. Is the school aware that learning is something that children can do at any time, anywhere and only part of it needs to be within the school walls?
  20. Does the school community extend beyond the school walls?
  21. Do the lessons incorporate a variety of learning opportunities and possibilities?
  22. Do the children have the opportunity to be responsible for something and take decisions that make a difference?
  23. Does the lady on reception smile at visitors?
  24. Are the results sufficient enough to allow all children to go to the next stage of their life, whatever that may be?

What have we missed? What else would you add?”

It would be interesting to know your thoughts on this list.  I particularly like number 10: Does your school have a sense of fun?  I think it is easy to lose sight of this in the current climate of  government educational reform and the over reliance on examinations to measure student success.  We seem to forget that a single 2 hour exam could potentially shape a student’s future in a positive, or more worringly, negative way…….

Enjoy the read…


The Power of Selflessness and an Empty Mind: Phil Jackson’s Coaching Philosophy

As an aspiring coach I am always looking to pinch ideas to use in my own practice that could potentially enhance both my performance as a coach and subsequently the performance of the team I coach.  I am currently two thirds of the way through Phil Jackson’s ‘Sacred Hoops’ and have found a flurry of ideas and philosophies I can transfer into my daily planning and practices.

Phil Jackson has won the NBA title twice as a player (1970 & 1973) with the New York Knicks and 11 NBA titles with the Chicago Bulls and the Los Angeles Lakers.  His record of success speaks for itself, however, it is the way he engineered this prolonged success that truly separates him from other coaches in the highly competitive world of the NBA with it’s focus on greed and selfish play; where players are more concerned with personal performance and success rather than the team’s success.

Jackson, in Chicago and LA, had to deal with two of THE major superstars in the history of basketball; Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant.  He had to persuade them that they ‘had to find a structure that would empower everybody on the team, not just the stars, and allow the players to grow as individuals as they surrendered themselves to the group effort’. 

Simply, he encouraged complete selflessness.  In other words, what actions and decisions do I need to execute to ensure the team is successful?  This philosophy sits neatly with John Wooden’s outlook on team sports: ‘The star of the team IS the team’ and the ‘we’ before ‘me’ mindset.  Interestingly, before Jackson became the Bull’s Head Coach, Jordan, the sport’s greatest ever player, was the league’s top scorer in his first 6 seasons in the NBA.  How many NBA titles do you think he won during this period?  ZERO!  Why? An over reliance on Jordan.  Indeed, a mentor of Jackson’s, Red Holzman told Jackson to to tell Jordan this profound message:

 ‘The sign of a great player was not how much HE scored, but how much he lifted his teammates’ performance’.

Jordan took this message to heart and the rest, as they say, is history… 

In addition to this ‘we’ playing philosophy, Jackson believes the key to great performance is ‘not thinking’ and having an ’empty mind’ when playing.  This does not mean ‘being stupid; it means quieting the endless jabbering of thoughts so your body can do instinctively what it’s been trained to do without the mind getting in the way’.  He says that his biggest obstacle during his playing career was his ‘hyperactive critical mind’; over thinking decisions and second guessing himself which led to the loss of vital energy and concentration.  I can certainly relate to this as a (very average) half back in rugby union; is this call the right one? Should I change it at the last minute?  Should I pass, kick or run (not likely with my speed) the ball?

 He argues the challenge is to perform every skill, decision and activity with ‘precise attention, moment by moment’.  Jackson is heavily influenced by the thoughts and writing of Suzuki Roshi and his book ‘Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind’.  In this book Roshi states ‘If your mind is empty, it is always ready for anything; it is open to everything.  In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities; in the expert’s mind there are few’.

With these points in mind (or not!), from a coach’s perspective I think we have a couple of priorities:

1.  Encourage, through stimulating repetition, players to master the basic skills of the game (both technical and tactical) to ensure they can  execute them consisitently, to a high quality under fatigue and pressure.  In other words, over time, these skills should be ‘automatic’ and executed without thinking, therefore conserving mental energy.

2. If the player has now’ automated’ these technical and tactical skills  they can now just react to what is happening in the game using their high quality technical and tactical skills and play completely ‘in the moment’.

I am going to end this ramble with my favourite Phil Jackson quote I have discovered so far.  This will definitely stick with me and inform my future coaching philosophy..

‘The primary goal of practice is to get the players to reconnect with the intrinsic joy of the game’

So, if you have a few quid to spare, and you’re a coach who wants to bring the best out of his players, then you can’t go wrong by reading a bit of Phil Jackson to stimulate your (empty) mind!!

A short & sweet post on student success & failure…

‘Students should experience their successes and failures not as reward and punishment but as information’.

This is the saying of Joe Bower (@joe_bower), a teacher in Alberta, Canada.  He has a brilliant blog where he expands on his views on grading, homework and discipline to name but a few.

I have supported, for a good while now, that levels in the subject I teach, PE are redundant and serve no purpose.  I propose that by providing students with a feedback rich environment where strengths and areas for improvement are highlighted, discussed, explained & worked upon is the most effective way for students to progress and improve without the burden of being graded or compared against each other constantly.

Think back to your school days.  What was the first thing you looked at when you received an assignment or a piece of homework back from your teacher?  Was it the comments and feedback? Or was it the grade or level awarded?  I think we all know the answer….

Grades focus on short term results.  Great feedback focuses on long term development.  Surely the latter is the cornerstone of great learning and a great education?

We must remember Rome was not built in a day.  We must, as educators, promote learning as a lifelong process and not an immediate product that is either poor, brilliant or somewhere in between!

And How You Can Avoid Being a Great Educator..

In response to my ‘How can we be the best teachers we can be?’ post I have just discovered this article on the Simple K12 website.  This article offers brilliant advice on how to avoid becoming a great educator.  Here is the article in full:

 ”1) Keep Your Head Low

Strive for mediocrity. Avoid becoming an expert on something…anything! If you become great at something, it’s only a matter of time before someone finds out, or it has a positive impact on your students.

2) Ignore Your Students as Much as Possible

Immediately shut out any curiosity you have about your students.  Don’t get to know them, and don’t figure out what motivates them and makes them want to learn.

3) Don’t Try Anything New

When you come across an interesting lesson plan idea or concept, or think of something creative on your own, forget about it as quickly as possible.

4) Never Ask for Help (Especially from Your Students!)

Take this attitude – if you don’t know how to do something on your own, then it’s not worth doing.  Period.

5) Keep Your Tips to Yourself

Never share the successful lesson plans, activities, and resources that you have.  You can’t afford for anyone else to find out about them or for you to gain recognition for your work.

6) Teach How You Were Taught

Nevermind that you are 10, 20, or 30+ years older than your students, if a method was good enough when you were in school, it’s good enough for today’s kids!  Higher education, the workforce, and the world as we know it hasn’t changed much…right?

7) Don’t Look at What Your Peers are Doing

Keep your eyes on your own paper!  Learning about what your peers are finding successful might lead to tips #3 and #5 – trying new things and sharing your successes, and that’s just a few steps away from becoming a great educator”.

I really don’t think I need to say anymore…………


How do we be the best teachers we can be?

As we are now either one or two weeks back into the 2012 school year I think the above question is a vital one and one we should revisit on  a regular basis.  I would like to use this post to as a platform suggest a few ideas that could help us be the best teachers we can be….

1.  Ask yourself, at the end of every school day ‘What did I learn today?‘  It could be about a brilliant new lesson you delivered or even how you successfully handled a difficult situation with a student or parent.  Make a note of these so you can come back and review them and build on them.

2.  Work ‘ON’ your career as well as ‘IN’ it.  We all know that school weeks flash before our eyes in an instant; teaching a full timetable, using frees to plan lessons and assess; parents’ evenings and running extra curricular clubs to name but a few commitments we have to the school and the students (I’m not complaining here by the way, I love my job and everything it entails!).  However, how much time to we give to improving ourselves as educators? Indeed, do we have time?

However, no matter how busy we get, I think we must be proactive in educating ourselves as teachers.

How many CPD opportunities have you found for yourself or put yourself forward for?  Have you experimented with any new pedagogiacal practice to excite and engage your students?  Samuel Beckett’s ‘Ever tried.  Ever failed. No matter.  Try again.  Fail again.  Fail better’ springs to mind here.  Get out of your comfort zone, try something new in the classroom; it could be the best thing you ever do..

Are you on Twitter As someone who is limited (but looking to improve) with technology and social media I have found twitter to be a small revelation.  It’s connected me with educators all over the world and allowed me to share ideas and use new ideas on a daily basis.  It offers brilliant CPD opportunities and you can dip in and out at your leisure.  If you’re a teacher and you have not joined the revolution, do it! Now!

3.  ‘Think different’ & ‘Don’t settle’.  You may recognise these words; Steve Jobs and Apple are responsible for them both.  In other words, be curious about education and question everything;  not to be difficult or  to cause trouble or to be rude, but to try and enhance everyone’s educational experience (students, teachers, parents and the community).

I am going to stop my brief ramblings now and leave you with two videos to watch.  The first one is Apple’s legendary 1997 ‘Think Different’ campaign with individuals who did just that.  It would be interesting to know how many of the brilliant people in this advert left school with any tangible qualifications that helped them later in life?

The second video is Steve Job’s commencement speech at Stanford University’s back in 2005.  Believe me, it’s a cracker with great messages throughout including ‘don’t settle’ advice.  Enjoy!


An update on Innovation Day…

A week or so ago I blogged about the Innovation Day I was setting up at school to allow the kids the equivalent of Google 20% time in school.  This is an opportunity for students to control how they  learn, what they learn and who they want to learn with; indeed, it is a chance for them to follow their ‘spark’, passions and interests for an entire school day.

You can find the original post here: Original Innovation Day Post

Also, after discovering my post, AJ Juliani (@ajjuliani), who helps run the American education site Education Is My Life , asked me if I would like to re-post it on the website.  I obviously bit his hand off for the opportunity to reach a wider, international audience…

The re-post can be found here: Education Is My Life: What can schools learn from Google……Innovation Day

Now I have delivered the four house assemblies to promote the day I have been waiting nervously to see what response the idea would get from the students…. Luckily, early indicators suggest they are both willing to apply and are passionate about a diverse range of things.  I would like to share with you a few of the applications we have received so far.  It is fair to say we are extremely pleased with the quality of applications and the ideas generated so far…and the students still have 2 more weeks to apply!!

In my humble opinion, it confirms that giving students autonomy, a chance to master skills and finding ways to connect their work to a wider world excites and engages them in deep and purposeful learning which surely is the primary objective of education.

Here are a few tasters of the applications we have had so far:

1.  Research on the history of the Commonwealth Games with a particular focus on Glasgow 2014

2.  Singing:  Creating backing tracks & lyrics to boost confidence in public singing

3.  Filming art classes and researching the different techniques used in art

4.  Designing and building a R/C car

5.  Creating a ‘How to’ cookery video entitled ‘Come Cook With Me’

6.  Building a model rocket!

A broad range of ‘sparks’ and passions I’m sure you’ll agree!  Our next challenge, as a school, is ensuring we (school & students) can work collectively to provide the necessary resources for the projects.

These are very exciting times at Wilmslow High School!! Watch this space for more updates….

Lipdubbing: The future of school marketing? Shouldn’t every school be doing one?

Forget about boring school brochures, visiting feeder primary schools, parents’ word of mouth or even a fancy school website!  Thanks to @MrWickensPE I have now glimpsed into the future of school marketing and it is, surprisingly, the whole school LIPDUB!  Would this make both potential students and parents excited about attending your school?  I think that’s an easy question to answer…

I am going make it my mission for the next few months to help create one for the school I work at.  Imagine it – 2000 kids all involved, displaying their individual or collective talents and passions in 1 long highly skilled and coordinated sequence.

What better way to get inspire and excite the students to work together to make something truely remarkable and of worth to the school?

Anyway, enough of my small talk, here’s the moment you’ve all been waiting for (even if you didn’t realise it!).  This Libdub was created by the Friends’ School Lisburn in Northern Ireland.  So, sit back, relax and be amazed by the power of Lipdub!!