I Feel Love #Nurture1314

Since I started blogging a couple of years back, I’ve often been reflective in what I write and having loved so many of the wonderful #Nurture1314 posts, I decided to do my own. Now what usually comes easy to me has been quite difficult here… it’s been a very tough year for me professionally and I wasn’t sure that I could scrape together 13 things that I was really proud of. 14 things I’d like to achieve in 2014 was easier, as there are a lot of things I can do better.

Anyway, here goes…

1. I consider myself blessed. 10 years ago my career was going nowhere fast, at an alarmingly fast rate, when I met my wife Claire (also known as @wclou) and things changed pretty dramatically. All that I’ve been able to achieve has been as a result of her belief in me and her sacrifices so that my commitments to work always seem to come before hers. Whenever the calls come from Ofsted (more on them later)  and I have to stay at school until the wee small hours or go away from home on a course at the last minute, it is Claire who is at home with the kids making sure that everything is as it should be – before doing her own planning and marking (we work in the same school.)

I don’t tell her this enough, so I’ll say it here in front of the whole world… in the words of Placebo, “Without You, I’m Nothing”.

2. The second reason I’m blessed is that I have two wonderful children who make everything in life that little bit less serious. There is nothing to compare to having had the very worst day at work and then walking through the door to be leapt upon and told all about their day at school or whatever craziness is in their heads. Pretending to be a dinosaur or a prince or reading a story with them, is the perfect antidote to the nonsense of targets, observations or whatever else gets in the way of reality when I have to work. They keep me grounded in a way that nothing else could and I cherish every moment I get to spend with Niamh and Ruaridh – again, those moments are never enough.

3. Which is why I love the holidays so much.

4. My relationship with my father has changed over the last few years. While my mum was alive, he was a man of few words and I knew very little about his life or what made him tick. My mother died in 2007 and since then we have become very close and his life has totally transfromed. Last year for Christmas, he bought my children a goat – now this was not an animal that came to our house, but a goat which was given to a family in Africa through Oxfam and was sponsored by Niamh and Ruaridh. They thought it was the best thing ever! At the age of 76 he made his first trip to Australia to visit my brother – he’s now been three times, he travelled to Barcelona because he wanted to – he’s also been three times, and he visits us here on the Isle of Wight at least twice a year. He’s now 82 and I’ve learned more about him in the past six years than I had done in my previous 38! I don’t know how much longer either of us will have on this earth, but I grew up listening to friends saying that they’d hate to turn into their parents… If I were to be half the man he is, with the wit, wisdom and generosity of spirit, then I could not be happier or more proud.

5. I love sport – this is another thing that my wife has to endure. 2013 is the first year in my memory where I didn’t see my beloved Celtic in the flesh. Instead I spent my time going to watch cricket in the summer. Now a word of caution, if you’re a fan of English cricket, then skip the rest of this section… I saw three days of fantastic cricket this year and supported the ‘away’ side each time, and yes each day the ‘away’ side thrashed England. First it was New Zealand at Southampton with the wonderful Martin Guptil, then that biggie, an Ashes Test Match at the Oval where Shane Watson took centre stage, before the awesome Aaron Finch took the bowlers apart in a T20 in Southampton. Now I’m not anti-English at all, quite rare for a Scot I know, but I got into cricket through watching Warne, McGrath and Steve Waugh in the 90’s so I’ve always had a soft spot for the Aussies, plus my brother has been out there for 17 years now and he’d kick my arse if I didn’t support his adopted country! A dream come true.

6. I can’t remember where I read it, but someone suggested that to make sure you read every day, lock your phone/tablet/laptop in another room and sit down and give yourself space to get lost in a book for half an hour each day and you’ll be amazed at just how much you get through in a week. That was one of my resolutions which I kept this year and I’m so glad I did. I’ve read a lot this year and it’s improved my practice no end. It’s also made me fall in love with fiction again (Waterstones have expressed their delight with this though my bank manager is somewhat less impressed!) and I now read frequently when my kids are in the room… what could be better than seeing daddy reading his own book?

7. Teaching. I love my job. It’s just magic and I hope I never fall out of love with it. I’m very lucky in this and I don’t take it for granted as there have been some very dark times in the past, but each day is different and if I do fall out of love then I hope I’m brave enough to move on or leave.

8. I love my current Year 11 class. They are one of those groups who come along every five years or so who just knock your socks off every day. Such character and such spirit. They are up for trying anything knew and have a great collective sense of wit as well. I’m very lucky to have another six months with them!

9. It’s hard being in a school which is in Special Measures. You’d have to be in it to know what the constant scrutiny is and the relentless pressure. It doesn’t dampen my enthusiasm for the job, but there are times when it seems like your best just isn’t good enough and everyone is waiting in line to give you a kicking. I almost walked away this summer – in fact I’d signed on the dotted line somewhere else – before changing my mind and sticking with the task. Ofsted had returned for their 2nd Monitoring visit and we had made a big improvement and I wanted to be a part of the continued progress… which is down to the hard work of the whole teaching staff at the school. I don’t regret my decision at all (I do feel bad about letting the other school down) and am happy where I am now and looking forward to the continuing challenge ahead.

10. I actually completed the Tribal Inspection Skills Training alongside my Head of School this term. It was an excellent course and I thoroughly enjoyed it. I would really like to be an Ofsted inspector, if the remit was more about support and less about judgement, but sadly I can’t as I work in a ‘category’ school. The irony of this is that I probably have a much better knowledge of Inspections, and what goes on during them, than most other trainees!!

11. We held two TeachMeets at Cowes this year and I was immensely proud of our staff at both. The first one was an internal CPD session, where 14 members of staff, many who’ve never spoken before in this setting, got up to give their time on a variety of topics. It was immense and was the one moment I was most proud of in this difficult year at Cowes. The 2nd Teachmeet was more traditional and a thing of beauty with our inspiring guest speaker @davidfawcett27 kicking things off in style. The response was superb.

12. I had the opportunity to visit Canons High School this month to spend a day with their Pedagogy Leaders. All I can say is ‘wow!’ It would not do it justice to say that the school is inspiring. No daft ideas. No knee-jerk reactions. Just common sense and embedding one thing at a time… there’s a lesson in that somewhere! The day blew me away and I can’t speak highly enough of the wonderful staff who gave their time to us that day, but special mention must go to @kevbartle who is a humble, humorous and endlessly generous man. The school where he eventually becomes Headteacher will be very fortunate indeed.

13. On a purely personal professional level, the thing that I’m most proud of was my involvement in  TLT13. When @davidfawcett27 asked me to do the closing speech sometime last year I thought ‘that sounds like fun’. Little did I know that the little conference that he and the wonderful  @MissJLud were putting together would end up with 200-plus attendees. David later asked me how long it had taken me to write my speech… I began in the summer holidays as I stood in front of that Salvador Dali painting and read that quotation again in Glasgow – so, all together, about three months! Standing in front of all those people was humbling as there were so many of my twitter idols in the room. People I had conversed with more than my brothers in the previous year, yet never met! I loved every moment of it and was delighted by the reaction after it was all over. I was blessed to have been given the opportunity.

So there you have it. 2013, the year the sea roared for me and I learned some important lessons.

What does 2014 have in store? Well, here goes…

1. Be a better husband to my wonderful wife, Claire.

2. Spend more time with my beautiful children, Niamh and Ruaridh.

3. Be part of the team which helps to move the school out of Special Measures – who knows, there might be a book in there somewhere if any publishers are interested ;-).

4. Play an important role in the new academy – yep, the other part of being in Special Measures is that you ‘get to become’ an Academy!

5. Put my money where my mouth is and apply for NPQH and be the sort of Leader I want to be in the World – inspired by Vic and John, of course!

6. Go to Warner Brothers Studios London. As a Harry Potter nut this has to be done, so Claire and I are off next week 🙂

7. Implement sensible programmes for improvement of Teaching and Learning which don’t cause any more needless stress to our team.

8. Enjoy the Commonwealth Games – we have tickets for the swimming as a family and I’m so excited as it’s in my glorious hometown.

9. See some live music. Last year was the first time that I didn’t see a live band and that needs to be rectified soon.

10. Keep reading everyday regardless of all the other stuff.

11. Visit my dad at least twice this year and phone him as much as I can.

12. Switch off from work so that I can enjoy the time I have with other people, especially my family.

13. Take myself a little bit less seriously – remember Doherty, don’t get ideas above yer station!

14. Love the art of teaching as much as I possibly can and stay positive when all the **** gets a bit much.

So there you go, I got to 14 and on that note, I’ll leave you with a song, and a great one it is too…



Calm down… Opportunity knocks!


Twitter and the half-term are always an interesting mix… things can get a bit cantankerous on there! I find myself asking the question is it due to the energy that we usually expend in our classrooms being pent up and coming out in a different manner? Not sure, but in the past few days we’ve had:

  • people telling us that Teaching is just like Parenting and thus doesn’t need a qualification – a highly original and well thought out argument there Mr Seldon;
  • suggestions that people shouldn’t package their ideas and sell them in books when blogging and giving them away freely is more noble – J.K. Rowling and Stephen King take note;
  • lots of comparisons (even with a witty video companion) between Ofsted and The Grim Reaper – a really useful comparison, as we don’t have enough rhetoric about school evaluation already;
  • not to mention the usual dross which accompanies the now customary eduction policy giveaways in the Sunday papers – ‘soft’ exams, ‘gaming’ and ‘cheating’ the system to name but a few.

Now that’s not to say that I don’t enjoy a bit of healthy debate or a difference of opinion… the other nights marathon debate on the merit of snapshot lesson observations was an excellent case in point. Jings, the world would be a poorer place if we all danced to the same tune! However, it makes me sad to see much of our collective energy wasted on the wrong targets. Our main focus in the holidays should be on recharging our batteries and spending time with our families as term time allows us little chance to do both.


I’m excited by the term ahead. I’m still floating on the wave of energy that came from meeting so many wonderful people at TLT13 and on having read some great blogs and thinking about how I can use those ideas with my pupils when I get back. There are plenty of challenges to come. We’ll have our third monitoring visit from Ofsted and rather than seeing them as the grim reaper, I see it as an opportunity for us to show the progress that we have collectively made. We’re hosting our first TeachMeet on the 15th November – a chance to share even more great ideas – and there’s the sheer joy of being in the classroom every day, not knowing exactly what is going to happen, but it being what Stephen Drew in Educating Essex called “the best part of my day.”


So it’s never dull being a teacher, but as the rather awful ‘Jamie’s Dream School’ showed us, just being a great historian does not make you a great teacher. So go forth next term and continue to change lives people. Make the sea roar!

Make the sea ROAR!

tlt13The wonderful David Fawcett approached me back in May to ask me to be involved in the amazing Teaching and Learning Takeover in Southampton. I said ‘yes’ immediately as David is one of those great people on Twitter who just gives and keeps giving. The sort of bloke who makes me proud to say, I’m in the same profession as him. Part of the beauty of Twitter is that I hadn’t actually ever met David before and here I was about to deliver a session and close an event for him, all on the strength of the work which we had done together virtually.

I met David for the first time in July at TeachMeetSoton, along with the brilliant Jenn Ludgate, who co-arranged yesterday’s incredible event. Those of you who were there will know that there were just too many highlights to go into and too many great presentations on which meant we couldn’t get to see everything. I wanted to use this post though to focus on my closing presentation and to highlight the optimism which I left the event with and that has coursed through me today…

filepicker-amRgY1DLSg6lDm4pcLtk_evel_knievelEvel Knievel (real name Robert) was one of my heroes when I was growing up. He taught me many things, least not that when you fall off of your bike, you dust yourself down and get back up again – resilience is what it’s all about. Granted he was jumping buses, canyons and shark-infested waters and not going down small inclines in the local park! He also holds the Guinness World Record for having the most broken bones in a lifetime – 433 (there are only 206 in the human body!) The question I ask now is, who is Evel Knievel in your school? Who is the risk taker? The person that falls from their bike? Who breaks their pelvis in front of 90,000 people at Wembley Stadium (TV was shit in the 70’s!) yet refuses to go off on a stretcher, but says “I came in walking… I went out walking”? How do we promote the risk-taker and get them to role model resilience for our pupils without breaking those bones?

9781781350096_OopsAfter making a tasteless joke and disparaging Dumb and Dumber (MG and MW), I moved onto one of my favourite educational books, ‘Oops!’ by Hywel Roberts. In Hywel’s words there are four types of teacher in our schools. Dolphins – those who share, collaborate and want to take others with them; Puppies – those who are keen to improve but may lack confidence and need the Dolphins to help them; Sleeping Bears – those who were/are great but have just forgotten that sometimes we need to share it with others; The Ungrateful Dead – the group who’ve retired but just not told anyone yet! I would have placed myself in the Sleeping Bears group for the first 10 years of my teaching career. I was good and happy with being good but didn’t do much to help others until a light came on and I started to get seriously reflective about my own teaching. However, for school improvement to be sustainable, the key is to re-engage the Sleeping Bears and use the three key groups (Dolphins, Puppies and Bears) to drive change. Not SLT diktats or Govian initiatives but genuine bottom-up change. The future of school improvement already lies in our schools, it lies in you who are reading this.

christ-of-saint-john-of-the-crossI ended with a few thoughts on growing up in Glasgow in the 80s/90s. Saturday afternoons meant going to watch Celtic for me, or spending the day in our amazing number of book and record stores – this is pre Amazon remember! The bit that I kept quiet from my mates was my third option… I often went to the Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum. Very uncool for a teenager in Glasgow, but I loved it. There’s a painting there that’s way more than a painting to me. It speaks to me of life and the very essence of what it means to be alive. It is Salvador Dali’s ‘Christ of St John of the Cross’. You can read the story of the painting online and it’s well worth a read, but for the purposes of education and learning, the thing that draws me back at least once a year is the Dali quotation which is stencilled into the alcove above the painting. It defines what happens in the classroom of all of the great teachers across the world… They make the sea roar for their pupils. It is our calling to make the sea roar for our pupils.


‘When I paint, the sea roars. The others splash about in the bath’ – Salvador Dali

Thank you to David and Jenn for inviting me and to Jamie, Stephen, Vic and everyone else I met and worked with for inspiring me. Most of all thanks to all the teachers out there who make me proud to be part of the greatest profession with their work which makes the sea roar every single day 🙂

Happy Trails and The Year That Was…

I don’t think that I’ve ever looked forward to the summer break as much as I’ve done this year. You see, after 17-years in teaching, I’ve just been through the strangest year in my career and I’m very glad to see the back of it! So much so that I’m actually looking forward to September and a new start in a new building with a great deal of optimism.

Regular readers will be aware of the saga of the non-move into our new building… 3 times we packed, then unpacked, only to be told we’d be moving the following day! We didn’t. We’ve had 3 visits from Ofsted (with more to come next year!) including the first one the day after we finally moved all of our boxes back. We’ve had an SLT that shrunk from an original 7 down to 3 in a school of 1150 with no replacements and a siege mentality as everyone outside seemed to take a pop at us every other day.

So by now you can probably see why I’m glad to see that year go!

I had made a pretty momentous decision back in May to leave and move to primary. I had chosen a pretty fantastic school with huge potential and opportunity. I was really looking forward to it… Then something happened. Ofsted came again.

I changed my mind about leaving. We’ve come a long way since the dark days of November and our staff have worked really hard in moving forward and I want to be part of that journey in getting out of Special Measures. We still have a long way to go and it’s not going to be easy – there are still some big challenges ahead, including Academy conversion and more Ofsted visits, but I’m genuinely optimistic for the future.

Partly, this is down to the enthusiasm and commitment of the staff at the school who have risen to the challenge of where we are, taught some great lessons and shared some brilliant ideas with each other during our first internal TeachMeet yesterday. Everyone could have turned inward and been very dark but most have not and in September we need to harness that drive and take it forward so that Ofsted’s next visit may be their last (for a while!)

It’s also about finally moving into our new building. Yes it might be 3-years late and there will be teething problems, but it’s stunning and a very exciting prospect for all of us, especially the pupils.

Which brings me on to my last reason for optimism. The pupils. Through all the above difficulties, it has been walking into a classroom and teaching which has got me through everything. I love it. Always have and hopefully always will. It’s what I do best and I don’t do it for Ofsted or Mr. Gove… I do it for the pupils.

So when you’re having your well-deserved break just reflect on why you do it… someone reminded me yesterday that this job is too precious so if you don’t enjoy it, try Sainsbury’s or ASDA instead, just don’t become one of these guys…






Loving Maths and Bridging the Divide

This last week has been pretty momentous for me.

I’ve made a change that I’ve been considering for a long time.

I’m moving from Secondary education into the Primary sector.


Well, I’ve become pretty disillusioned with the life of being on SLT (of 3 for an 1140 school) and working 80-hour weeks (and that’s in a ‘good’ week) and going through Special Measures. Not a great combination and to be honest I was beginning to fall out of love with teaching for the first time in my 17-year career.So instead of sitting around and becoming more bitter and cynical – you know the people in your staffroom who sit and bemoan everything? – I’ve decided to follow Ghandi’s advice and “be the change that I wish to see in the world.” So from September I’m off to a Primary and looking forward to the change enormously.

I have previously taught in a middle school (years 5-8) so this is not completely new to me, but I’ve never taught in a primary before so it is a new challenge. I’m very excited about unearthing my Ron Berger book (if you haven’t read it yet, then please do) and making the wonderful ideas of Hywel Roberts come to life in my classroom.

I haven’t taught an interview lesson since 2005, so getting a call to tell me that I was teaching Year 6 Maths freaked me out a little… I’m an English Teacher!! So I had to get my thinking hat on and come up with something at least half-way decent. So I went for shape, perimeter and area. It was great fun! We began with ‘Where is the Maths’ in the image below…

Space Shuttle Endeavour

Before trying to figure out how much it would cost the Queen to deck the courtyard of Buckingham Palace if B&Q sold decking for £4 per m². We followed this up by looking at how much much it would cost the Chair of Governors and Headteacher to carpet their new building – yes, they were both sitting in the room as the observers and was a classic moment, with lots of laughter all round.

I loved it and more importantly the pupils loved it and really threw themselves into it. We had a great time and it reminded me that learning should be fun. I know that I’ll have many difficult days ahead and lots of hard work, but I’m convinced that I’m going to love it and more importantly enjoy it.

The Search for the Magic Bullet

I’ve been following some arguments over the last few days on Twitter about different educational theories and their collective merits, or lack thereof. I didn’t become involved as I find them a bit odd. It’s kind of like when your favourite band, that you alone had discovered, sold lots of records and became popular… The Smiths, REM and The Manics spring to mind. ‘Sell Out!’ cried the fans… Why? Because other people liked them? Really?? It didn’t make them any less brilliant (in my mind anyway) and the same is true of many educational theories.

If it works for you, then it works for you. End of.

However, what we all need to remember is that just because it works for you does not mean to say that it will work for everyone else. Thus it is also true that if it doesn’t work for you, it might still have a place in someone else’s classroom.

Let’s take SOLO as an example. I’ve been planning using it and also using it as one of many assessment tools for over a year now and have found it really successful with the students I teach. I’ve read a lot about it and communicated with others a lot too so that I feel like I understand what I’m doing with it now. It works for me and I’ve been very pleased with the results because I’ve embedded it in my practise. However, several of my colleagues have not found it easy to adapt to and find it to be cumbersome and unwieldy. That’s fine with me.

I attended a great seminar on ‘SOLO’ by the excellent David Didau in Novemeber where, not for the first time, David caused a bit of controversy because he didn’t tell his audience how to ‘do’ SOLO. He encouraged us to go away and find out for ourselves. A brave thing to do when you’ve got an audience of 40 people in front of you. Just like the many strands of AfL (another example where people say they ‘do’ it), you can’t ‘do’ these things, rather you have to take time to embed them in your lessons and ensure that the students see their worth.

I guess the major gripe I have at the minute is that in these troubled Ofsted times, everyone wants that magic bullet… the thing that’ll make their teaching ‘Outstanding’. Well, I’m sorry to say that there is no magic bullet. Being reflective and always looking to improve are the starting points, but great teaching is great teaching and what works for you is what makes your teaching great.

Heck, I’m even willing to concede there are people out there still using BrainGym successfully!

Forgive me Father, for I have sinned…

It’s been a tough term. So much so that it has taken me until the Tuesday evening of Half Term to feel rested enough to consider sitting and writing about where I’m at.

Ofsted called at the end of November and the report was finally published in mid-January. Those of you able to do the math will know what’s coming. When it takes that long to be published it isn’t good news as the report has to pass by Sir Michael Wilshaw’s desk before it makes it to the public domain.

So ‘Special Measures’ it is. For my readers from North of the border, this does not mean where you’re allowed to pour own whisky! (or ‘whiskey’ for the Irish) The Action Plan is written and we’re awaiting the first Monitoring visit. Work has been relentless since the visit and will continue to be so for the forseeable future.

What’s most challenging, and the main reason that I’ve been missing for the last couple of months, is that I now lead Learning and Teaching in the school and that is going to be our biggest area to improve in the coming months. I guess it was reading Kenny Pieper’s excellent blog earlier that made me reflect on how I feel at the moment. I feel like a bit of a fraud. How can I lead Teaching and Learning in a school where it was graded as ‘Inadequate’ and look myself in the mirror? Christ, I haven’t been to Confession since I was about 12, but I’ve thought about going a few times in the last few months! “Forgive me Father, for I have sinned…”

I could have chucked the towel in along with the previous boss, but that’s not me!

You see I believe in what I and the other brilliant staff at our school do on a daily basis. I believe that our kids are fantastic and deserve the very best that we can deliver every single lesson. I also believe that we had to go through a horrible Ofsted experience to make us the school that we will one day become. The school that I’ve been inspired to work towards by the brilliant Dave Harris in his book “Brave Heads” and the amazing Ron Berger with his “Ethic of Excellence”. I’ve also been inspired by the warmth and generosity of all those out there on Twitter who have given me advice and support on how to move forward.

“Nothing great in the world has ever been accomplished without passion.” Georg Hegel once said… Too right and that’s where we’re all headed. It’s going to be a bumpy ride!



Getting Less Special

2012 has been a momentous year. One of those kinds where it would have been impossible to predict. Which is why I’m resisting the urge to do a goal-setting post for 2013 and instead reflecting on what I’ve achieved or learned in the past 12 months.

5. Hearing new music is always a joy. I began my working life with Virgin Records in Argyle Street in Glasgow in 1988. It was my dream job (just was never likely to be a career -hence the desire to become a teacher, which I love only slightly less!) Back in those days, I heard new music on a daily basis, was introduced to some great new bands and met quite a number of my personal heroes when they came to do signings etc. A highlight of those times, for those of us of a certain age, was to listen to the Festive 50 on John Peel’s show – it was here I was introduced to the Cocteau Twins, The Pixies, REM and among others, The Sundays. I mention them last as hearing Harriet Wheeler’s voice was a quite beautiful musical moment… The sort of moment that comes along very rarely, but happened again this year when I heard Iceland’s amazing Of Monsters and Men. If you haven’t already heard them I’d urge you to dive in immediately with this wee gem called ‘Sloom’ recorded in their living room http://youtu.be/0ecE6_IecmM

4. The London Olympics will live long in the memory of the nation. I watched as much as I could and laughed, cried and cheered along with everyone else. I’d never really considered myself as British before this, as being a Scot had always believed that we had the raw end of the deal in the ‘United’ Kingdom – whatever the daily mail tells you! However, as the days went by I became prouder and prouder of our collective achievement and enjoyed every moment of the Great British Achievement. There were too many amazing moments and performances to single out, but my favourite moment was Danny Boyle’s stunning Opening Ceremony. All the fears that we’d blow the whole event were dispelled in one go as his genius celebrated all that is great about our wee nation – industry, music, television, technology, the NHS and literature. Political? Probably. Sentimental? Definitely. Brilliant? Totally. A feelgood moment for the year, even if I sold my ticket to see Chris Hoy’s record breaking Gold medal ride!

3. Twitter and Teachmeets and Big Days Out were a big highlight this year. I’ve met some amazing people and shared some great ideas at times, and stolen hundreds! A real goldmine and putting names to Twitter tags was fantastic at those two events. Sometimes, it can be a little too sycophantic and self-congratulatory, but Twitter is still the best free CPD in the world. Some of the blogs out there are magic and I feel very humble when I read them that I work in a profession where so many are keen (and generous) to share their brilliant ideas.

2. My school experience this year has been challenging to say the least. Those who’ve read before will know that we were supposed to move into a new building in September and now won’t move until next September –  though I’m now glad we now have some certainty on this issue. However, the bigger problem is that we had visitors from Ofsted the day after we unpacked our returned resources and the outcome of that was not good. It wasn’t even satisfactory. So, the challenges ahead are massive – a sobering experience for all. My only advice to others would be to know your school and have all the paperwork and data ready to tell the story that you want to tell.

1. The undoubted highlight of the year, and fulfilment of a lifetime ambition, came on the 1st April at the Allstate Arena, Rosemont, Chicago when I saw Van Halen on US soil for the first time. Since I first heard Eddie Van Halen’s solo on Michael Jackson’s ‘Beat It’ in 1983, I’d dreamed of seeing him play live, but never thought I’d get the chance – they don’t really fit my musical profile as you can see in No. 5!! Well when they announced a new album and tour I decided that now was the time so booked a ticket for the front row and hotel and flights. I have to say that the Americans at the show were incredible – amazed by my dedication to travel so far – plus two of my oldest friends travelled from Iowa to join me. The band were incredible – supported by Kool and the Gang (a rare treat!) – playing all their best tunes and putting on an awesome show and being so close was just wonderful. I left with a drumstick, guitar pick and having had a chat with David Lee Roth, in awe and with ears ringing for the next three days! It was definitely worth using the proceeds of my Chris Hoy ticket for!

So with all that in 2012, it’s impossible to predict 2013. The only promise I can make is that my school will be a little less special than in 2012 😉


Fiascos, Ofsted and the Magic of Learning

There are times when it seems that the Gods are conspiring against you… that’s certainly how the first few months of this term have felt. We’ve gone through a very difficult ‘will we? won’t we?’ saga with the ‘move’ to our new building, (we won’t by the way, despite being told we would be in for September 2012, we’re now unlikely to be in before September 2013!!) We’ve then had all of our resources transferred backward and forward between the  buildings and had only just finished unpacking when we received that phonecall – I also said in my last post that wishing for an O inspector would come back to haunt me… Clown!!! I can’t say what the outcome was, but you can probably guess (and I’ll write more fully about that when the report is published). So among all the ‘bad’ news, thank god that the best thing about the job we do remains teaching children and the incredible learning they are capable of.

I had the joy of working with my fantastic Year 10 group last week – the ones who have previously been magical through ‘Of Mice and Men’ – and we were about to start work on ‘Romeo and Juliet’. I introduced the session by using some ideas from the wonderful Lazy Teacher, Jim Smith, and asked them to prepare a debate to prove that Shakespeare was a better writer than J.K. Rowling. Well. Stand well back and light the blue touch-paper! The quality of their discussion was fantastic and the debate became very heated as the Potter acolytes lined up against William’s disciples. It ended in a dead heat, but allowed the class to demonstrate their existing knowledge and to research the key aspects of Shakespeare’s life and works without a dull ‘introductory/context’ lesson.

Next up we had a look at the image below and asked how this represented the play ‘Romeo and Juliet’… after a few moments of head shaking, the responses began to grow in quality to show a very deep understanding of the play and the themes contained therein. You see, most of these pupils have studied the play previously in Year 8, so when I told them they would be studying it for GCSE, they were less than impressed. Thus I had to find a new and interesting way to engage them.

Armed with ideas from the fabulous Big Day Out, especially the sessions with the wonderful Lazy Teacher and Hywel Roberts, I’ve decided to look at the Capulets and the Montagues in a whole new light. So far we’ve had ‘What type of biscuit would the play be?’ and ‘What colour is Juliet in Act 3 Scene 5?’ and it’s going brilliantly. The plan is to avoid the temptation to watch the Baz Luhrmann film version – one lad told me he’s seen it 8 times and did we have to watch it again? – and to try to make it real for them as much as possible. Three lessons in and I remember why I love teaching Shakespeare so much and the pupils are engaged and active in their learning.

So happy days in the classroom if not everywhere else… the light that falls through the cracks indeed!

Learning the Lazy Way

Its been a tough old week at our place. A building that should have been completed and occupied in September is now on hold until ‘Spring 2013’. Morale is low, but thank God that we’re lucky to have so many fantastic students and staff who are going the extra mile to ensure that despite the bungling, we continue to move forward.


I read some amazing work this week from some of the Year 10 Pupils… They are an absolute delight to teach and the sort of group you look for on your timetable and go ‘YES!’ One piece of work was so good that I encouraged the pupil in question to send it to a publisher. Lovely stuff and just like every other teacher it’s a joy to see how the pupils you’ve taught since Year 6 are developing as writers.


My other highlight was with the same Year 10 group focusing on ‘Six Degrees of Separation’, an idea I’d borrowed from the wonderful Zoe Elder, and the new EE advert featuring Kevin Bacon off the telly.


I explained the concept to them, giving my own rather dubious link to David Cameron – it involves John Major, a toilet door and the Foreign Office among other things – and let them loose. They ‘got it’ in a way that makes you rejoice that you do the job you do and came up with some wonderful ideas that linked them to the Queen, Barack Obama, Julie Andrews and Bob Marley (the girl who made this link had no idea that the great man died in 1981 which was a wonderful moment in its own right – learning in a new direction!) If you want to see kids being creative give it a whirl… the results are often magical.


From there we borrowed an idea from the legendary Lazy Teacher himself, Jim Smith, with something so simple yet utterly brilliant – ‘Prove It!’ We went for ‘Who is the better writer? William Shakespeare or J.K. Rowling.’ Light the blue touchpaper and stand well back… what an impact. I was as Lazy as Jim writes about in his wonderful books, while I stood back and watched the arguments grow. The pupils were brilliant and really went for it… challenging each other to the tiniest little detail. It was a very humbling experience.



Stretch, challenge, resilience, creativity and reflection all in one lesson and minimal teacher input. Where is the Ofsted inspector when you need one? (I’m sure that’ll come back to haunt me very soon!!)


Looking forward to Monday and more amazing learning and teaching, even if it is in the old school!