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A research- aware profession? It’s not so easy.⤴

from @ Just Trying to be Better Than Yesterday

I think one of the greatest problems we’ve seen in teaching has been the apparent disconnect between research being undertaken in the University sector and the reality of what is happening in our schools. If we’re ever to truly consider ourselves a profession then we need to face up to that. I would doubt that there is anyone out there who would question the the importance of research but wonder exactly how many of us access the latest findings, and what do we do with it when we do? There is a huge issue here and I don’t think we need look too far to see the difficulty.

Beyond the world of Twitter, it’s pretty clear that teachers are not in need of any addition to their workload. The preparation, the admin, the feedback provided: we tend to find ways to fill up out working day. And while that doesn’t negate the fact that research-based improvement is essential, it still begs the question of what needs to change to reach that point where our profession is research-informed and comfortable with that. So the next time I see a teacher crying in their car, either before entering school or as they prepare to drive home, asking them to do some further research isn’t on my mind.

We teachers are forever sponges. We meekly accept that other thing we have to do. It’s the nature of it at times, isn’t it? But sponges get full too. We end up doing lots of things adequately rather than a few excellently. So we must inevitably reach the point where any new initiative needs to come at the expense of something else we’ve been told is vital. And that’s not a healthy situation for anyone. For those of us twenty or more years into a forty year career, change is not always as easy as it seems to others. In order to prepare a research-aware profession, support needs to come for above.

Many things happen in schools but I’m more and more convinced that if we sway too far away from a focus on Teaching and Learning then we are in trouble. So, if we are to agree that what happens in class must be the best we can offer then we need to create the conditions for that to happen. Asking teachers to ‘stop doing good things in order to do better ones’, as Dylan William argues, is not an easy task. We can be creatures of habit. But leadership teams must help to develop an environment where we have the space to work together on the best things: that doesn’t exist right now, not enough anyway.

The question we need to ask ourselves as a profession is about what we can afford to drop in order to do these ‘better’ things. We can’t just jump to research because it’s a thing. It needs to be embedded in the everyday routines that we have; it needs to underpin any professional development we undertake. And that ain’t easy. It’s one of the greatest challenges we face in school. Having created an unsustainable workload for our teachers, how do we pull back to ensure there they can be the best they can be, for every kid, in every classroom?

Win , or lose, do it with dignity⤴

from @ Just Trying to be Better Than Yesterday

Okay. So this is is not so much about education but it’s definitely about my own learning.

With England about to play in a World Cup semi-final and with a realistic chance of winning the whole thing, there something slightly unsettling about the experience. Not that I wish the team ill will but, and I know this will be controversial, my experience of sporting success for England is that it comes, unavoidably, with a certain amount of jingoistic destruction and celebratory chaos which renders the event slightly tainted. I do hope that can be avoided this time. Don’t get me wrong: I don’t want them to lose. It’s just that I’m wary of the aftermath – as are so many countries around Europe.

That form of Nationalistic braying, sneering at others is no stranger to Scotland. As one who voted ‘Yes’ to Scottish Independence and would again in a heartbeat, I am very much aware of my ‘No’ voting friends who were harangued and called ‘Traitors’ by those who campaigned for a ‘new beginning to a new country’. No thanks, if it’s going to be led by you, my friend. We should be very aware of the ‘See You Jimmy’ wig-wearing nutballs before we start to point the finger at others. If we’re ever to become an Independent country again, let us step off the moral high ground.

However, there is something different about England’s progress to the semi-final. In the past, the arrogance and sense of entitlement displayed by commentators and media pundits has made it very easy to mock their eventual defeat on penalties. Especially when that attitude was displayed by the players and managers. This time, they have a manager who is extremely likeable, displays respect and dignity for others and a team which, more or less, mirrors his image. I really like them: despite the perceived lack of challenge they have done what they needed to do and done it well. I just wish all of the supporters – and most of them do – can reflect that if or when they win.

So why do the other nations in the UK, and Europe, often want England to fail? Yes, it is easy to dismiss the comments of a Scot as ‘small-nation syndrome ‘ or jealousy or bitterness. If you do then you’re missing the point. It’s probably because for a lifetime we’ve seen England, when they win, braying and sneering in our faces. It’s not enough to win: like Trump, it has to be seen as others have lost to the great power. The entitlement of an Empire now fading. There’s the Union Jack waving, National anthem thumping, mocking of foreigners in the press. The glee at Germany’s existence and France for that a matter, is evidence that it still exists. And England fans have to own that.

If England play well then I genuinely hope they win. The best team always should do. But support them? No thanks. Asking me to do so is to fundamentally misunderstand what football is all about. Rivalry is part of the game. If my team loses then we brush ourselves off and start all over again. But you don’t choose who you support; your team chooses you. If England win then they’ll have done fantastically well to be World Champions. It doesn’t means Brexit goes away. England have had a remarkable tournament with a manager who oozes dignity and respect. Let’s hope, win or lose, everyone follows his lead.

In the room.⤴


There is a song in the musical “Hamilton” called “The Room Where it Happens”.


Today, for the first time, I experienced a live WomenEd event. Over the last couple of years, I have supported WomenEd online, blogged as part of digimeets, had incredible coaching as part of the WomenEd coaching pledge, Skyped with Hannah Wilson, co-facilitated an event where we tried to get something off the ground in Scotland and created the Scottish #Womenedwednesday hashtag.

All of the support and learning that these activities and connections have brought me has been invaluable. Without the digital connections that have been facilitated through Womened, I would not have achieved much of what I have as a leader and teacher.

But today I experienced the immeasurable impact of being in the room where a WomenEd live event happens. 

The venue was Aureus School and the event was called Breaking the Mould. It was mainly aimed at women leaders from Berkshire, Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire and posed the following questions:

Why do women lead differently?

How can we challenge the leadership stereotypes?

What can we learn from role models who have broken the mould?

How can we create a female shaped leadership mould?

I had signed up for the event back In December, knowing that it would be a chance for me to connect in real life with some of my WomenEd sheroes; with Scottish Schools on holiday from the end of June, I’d known that I’d be able to plan my annual summer pilgrimage to family in the South around it….

And so, today, I set off from Salisbury at 7.30 and drove for a leisurely hour an a half to get to Didcot for a 9.30 start.

The first treat was meeting the gorgeous Kiran Satti in the car park; we have been virtual friends for a while and we immediately fell into easy conversation.  

And then the day kicked off with an intro from the inspiring and hugely engaging Hannah Wilson.

She told us of her desire to “fill her cup” and be inspired enough to get her through the last 2 weeks of term.

She asked people to consider their reason for being there and I spoke up: to be there for real; to show that there is a real Lena behind the Lenabellina blogs; to be in the room, (even though I might disappoint in real life…)

And then, eight speakers who made me remember why I do what I do.

It is hard to do them all justice as so much of what they said, the humour, the passion and vulnerability will not be replicated in my black words on a white screen. 

But, here, the essence of what I heard them say:

Jaz Ampaw Farr:

If you have no why as a leader, your why becomes fear. 

The stuff I am scared of you finding out is what connects us.

Do not live in the confines of who you are too scared to be.

Rae Snape

Use the resources you have on the inside and the outside.

Use the WomenEd network as a resource to find answers to your questions.

Be a mentor and be mentored.

“To achieve greatness, start where you are, use what you have, do what you can.” Arthur Ashe

“Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.” Maya Angelou.

Ladies, you are enough. Just keep learning.

Rae Snape.

Lee Ryman

Seeing children in Kenya and Sweden who were passionate about school made her ask (about England) “what the hell are we doing?” and inspired her to walk

away and start her own school.

Passion, authenticity, commitment to wellbeing, values and real learning.

What schools offer is not suitable for too many people.

Pupils should be able to follow their interests and passions.

What change would you like to see in the world of education?

Debra Kidd

Sometimes we may need to walk away from a mould if we do not fit it, rather than breaking it.

How do we ensure that mavericks can stay as educational leaders?

How we ensure that difference and diversity are celebrated and that we do not have to fit into labels like “I am a teacher of x subject/ secondary/primary”?

We need to lead from within and not wait for change to come from outside.

Alison Kriel

If someone is polar opposites to you, invite them in.

If you are going to lead, be honest in who you are.

To get through every day:

Know yourself.

Know your values.

Stay true to your values.

If you are happy in your job, you will be productive.

What are we modelling for children? Do we want box-tickers or people who connect and accept us for who we are?

What needs to be adjusted to that you can be true to your values?

Having people who are different to you in your team is not the same as having different values to them.

Paulina Tervo

Technology as a force for good.

Wanted to make films that will change the world.

Global citizenship can be delivered through immersive storytelling.

We can be held back by fear and labels.

Tech start-up has no female role models…. so she became one.

Can you see yourself as a leader?

If not, why not?

Carly Waterman

Our inner voices can be both enabling and debilitating. 

Name your inner critic (Doris) and challenge!

Everyone who wants to give back on education should be given a platform, not just the teachers and school leaders. 

Your negative inner voice knows you so well but is filtered by fear and paranoia.

Mary Myatt

WomenEd CPD is very special.

Mary’s ambition is to have used up all of her by the end of her life.

The power of concentration that is nurtured by others is healing.

Rosabeth Moss Kanter has inspired Mary:

Show Up (honestly)

Look Up (literally, at the sky and metaphorically, at your vision)

Speak Up (you have a right to express your voice)

Team Up

Never Give Up (there will always be energy at the start and then a hump but if your vision is right, keep going)

Lift Others Up.

Mary points out that we are human beings first and professionals second.

When children keep talking after a teacher had asked for quiet, they are not being disruptive.

My self esteem as an educator does not trump children’s learning.

We must live our values and not just laminate them. 

I listened.

I nodded.

I made notes.

I cried.

I hugged.

I felt nurtured and challenged.

I decided that now is not the time for me to walk away, no matter how hard it has been recently.

I was reminded of my why.

At the end of the day, Hannah asked us to consider the pledges that we will mark as a result of the day.

Mine is to keep going and to step out of the shadows of fear.

I am hugely grateful to Hannah and the WomenEd team for today.


The Mould in which I have been comfortable has, to date, been one where I have worn a mask; the cartoon avatar, the authentic voice behind the keyboard. That has been the best I could do until now. But now I know better and need to do better; to bring my whole self and resources into the room.

My final word:

“Education is everything.  We can’t and shouldn’t simplify it and talk in terms of it being the job of either teachers or parents. We need to accept that our job, as adults, is to be honest with children and to help them negotiate the complexity ahead.  It is our job to develop in each child the skill to know and understand himself, the tools to express herself and the strategies to meet challenges along the way. And it is our job to talk openly and honestly so that, if and when bad things happen, like abuse, children know to talk about them so that they do not become a source of guilt, a life-stealing force, a legacy of hidden pain and shame.”

Lena Carter

Breaking up and breaking down.⤴


Breaking up and breaking down.

This post is inspired by a tweet from @RogersHistory (Tom Rogers) on Friday:

“Ok, so today we broke up. Major elation at school but does anyone ever get that deflation once that’s worn off and your alone? There can be a strange sort of melancholy in any ending, even a happy one? Weird, but get it temporarily at end of every year before holiday sets in.”

I break up and I break down.

Suddenly everything I know is taken away; routine, what to eat, what to wear, what to do. Excessive pressure is an excellent motivator but also a way of absolving all responsibility for making decisions.

A friend said to me recently that a high-pressure working life can be tolerated, as long as periods of sprinting are followed by periods of jogging; but what happens when you have been sprinting for months on end; if not physically then mentally? What if, even during the other times that you were meant to stop and relax and give your attention to your loved ones and your own wellbeing, your head was secretly still working and worrying because how do you stop worrying about not having teachers to teach and having children who are in such distress that they might be dead after the holidays and having new assessments to administer and having more and more and more and more with nothing taken away and having to protect your colleagues from it all and yet having them resent you because you represent “management?”.

All through this, you keep going. Because you can see that there are small wins and every single day there is something that helps you keep your faith in what you are doing; a smile from a pupil who doesn’t normally smile; a word from a colleague who can see the bigger picture of what you are doing; an end of year review that celebrates the huge achievements in your school; a parent who tells you that you are what the school needs.

And then what happens is that you hit the first day of the long holiday, the only holiday when you really can afford yourself time off, and you break down.

Some folk avoid it by going straight off on holiday.

Some avoid it by launching into DIY, an exercise regime, more doing; maybe even straight into planning for next year.

Each unto his or her own.

But for me, I need to not plan for a while. To not do. To not be responsible.

To take responsibility for me and to remember some key truths about my self. 

To sit on my sun deck for a while and not do. 

It is the hardest thing for me but also the most necessary.



As we approach the end of term in Scotland, this is my message to staff:

It was such a privilege on Thursday to hear the brilliant leaving speeches for staff.

 It got me thinking about what I would say about myself in a leaving speech.

How often do we stop and reflect on what we have done and what we have been to others? Probably not enough.

As teachers, we are naturally inclined towards celebrating the successes of pupils and making them feel good about themselves.

But how often do we look at our own achievements and give ourselves a quiet “thank you” or “well done”.

 Do you, like me, tend to focus on what has not been done, rather than what has been?

 I was chatting to a pupil the other day about the concept of whether we were “glass half empty” or “glass half full” types and they brilliantly said: “but sometimes the glass IS half empty, if you have drunk from it and sometimes it IS half full, if you have filled it half way from the tap.”

 Of course, it can be both. And our thoughts can be both: sometimes more positive and sometimes more negative.

 And so, as we go into this holiday, I set you a challenge. Fill your glass with a favourite drink and write yourself a congratulatory piece about all you have done and achieved this year.

And then drink a toast to you.

I am immensely grateful for all that all of you do and have done. You should be too.

 Have a fantastic summer.

Reading for pleasure is not merely about the reading for pleasure.⤴

from @ Just Trying to be Better Than Yesterday

Reading ‘Why Baseball Matters’ by Susan Jacobs recently, I was struck by the writer’s concern for the future of the game as a spectator sport. Apparently attendances at games is down massively, especially in those under twenty-five, who seem to prefer to access their sport in small, smart phone friendly chunks. Major League Baseball is very concerned. It seems that the next generation of sports fan has trouble with the patient build up of play, the potential for low scores and the possibility of a game that could last at least three hours. When you consider that the season consists of over 150 games then you might think they have a point.

More recently I had a fascinating conversation with my Higher class about their fears over upcoming exams. Of course, they felt the pressure from all sides about doing their best. They put pressure on themselves. They seemed too believe that they’d been told that failure wasn’t an option and that scared them. But what concerned them most about the actual exam was the necessity of sitting for three hours in silence (two halves of ninety minutes). To most of them silence was anathema; it didn’t figure anywhere in their lives; they didn’t know how to cope with that level of concentration.

Isn’t this just another reason to say that reading is important? I read Twitter with horror at times when I see that some folk think that expecting young people to read for pleasure is unnecessary and ‘not really our job’’. I can’t fathom that; it doesn’t make sense. Of course we want them to be strong readers but without the experience of sitting for long periods in quiet contemplation with a book, then think of all we are losing. How easily we give up on it, on them. How damaging that may be.

Part of my reasoning for starting every lesson with ten minutes of uninterrupted reading is that young people very often don’t get that quiet anywhere else in their school day. Developing the ability to sit still and concentrate on what they are doing – even if it takes many of them a while to get there – is hugely important for them. So reading fore pleasure is not merely about consuming literature, whatever that might mean to the individual. It is about creating the conditions for thinking and contemplation; it is about respecting the silence of others; it is about so much more than just the reading material.

So don’t give up on younger readers. It seems crazy to suggest that being able to read well is enough, that reading is an optional extra. Think of the benefits of being a lifelong reader that we’ve all had. Think of the benefits they’ll reap later when they have developed the ability to concentrate on a baseball game, a football game, a cricket game, a Shakespeare play without reaching for their phones. There are enough distractions for them. Let’s try and give them something that might help them with that.

Is There a Better Way to Run Parents Evenings?⤴

from @ Just Trying to be Better Than Yesterday

I don’t mind admitting that I’ve always really enjoyed Parents Evenings. Meeting the adult behind the child is a privilege and, as one who enjoys talking, it’s a real buzz to fly though a whole series of short meetings. But I wonder whether our current model of Parents Evening is the most helpful. Those who can’t make it, don’t want to make it or, as often happens, are too traumatised by their own experience of school to ever think of making it, may be desperate for an alternative model. Can we find a system that works for everyone; or one that improves on what we’ve got?

Currently we seem to have the system that we’ve always had. Parents or carers make appointments and, if we’re running on time, we have five minutes to discuss their child’s whole year in English. They move on to the next subject for another five minutes. And so on. It may be the best way to do things but have we really thought of more helpful alternatives? After all, Dylan William suggests that we should try and stop doing good things in order to do better things. And If there is another way to make these evenings more productive, should we at least discuss them?

What about no year group specific evenings? Consultation evenings could be spaced out throughout the school year and anyone can book up once, whenever they like. So the unfortunate timing of, say, S3 Parents Evening could be less of a problem if that parent can come along next time. The downside? Well, as a teacher, I’d need to prepare to discuss different year group work but I’m not sure that would be a major problem. On the other hand a parent with two kids at your school could possible see both sets of teachers on the same night. It’s not a hugely ridiculous thought.

What about subject specific evenings? You could have a staggered series of evenings where, rather than individual meetings, parents and carers could come up and sit in a classroom for half an hour and experience a short lesson, or explanation of what was happening in their child’s classroom. Just imagine being able to clearly explain your homework or feedback or classroom management approach to a whole group of interested adults. There would be less of a focus on the one-to-one ‘interview’. It would mean a completely different approach but arguably would be far more productive in the long term.

I keep coming back to Andy Day’s line that ‘the greatest tragedy in education is the empty seat at Parents night’. It sticks because that truth should worry all of us. Those we need to see are often the ones who don’t come. It should be incumbent on us to come up with a system which works for everyone. And, yes, perhaps our current system is the best. Perhaps it’s not just because we’ve always done it this way. But we should at least have the conversation.

If I knew back then what I know now…⤴

from @ Just Trying to be Better Than Yesterday

If I knew back then what I know now…

I wouldn’t worry too much about being liked. If you teach well and are fair and honest, children will respect you as a teacher, perhaps like you. As Paul Dix says in his book, ‘leave your ego at the door.’ While you can develop positive relationships which often last for years, your students are not your friends. Remember why you’re there: you’re their teacher and they need you to teach them. Be kind, be fair, be consistent. Some kids may never like you; most will. That’s life, don’t sweat it. There are bigger things to worry about.

If I knew back then what I know now…

I would have spent my first years becoming much more evidence-informed. There wasn’t much of a requirement to keep up with the latest research twenty years ago. We all kind of muddled through, often making it up as we went along. They say that we become the teachers we will always be after about five years and I certainly had a few stale years in there. Perhaps some pedagogical research might have helped. Without a doubt it has enhanced my teaching since. My GTCS Professional Update has encouraged me to reflect on my reading. I wouldn’t be the teacher I am now without it.

If I knew back then what I know now…

I would have created a much more healthy work/ life balance. Trying to be a teaching hero isn’t healthy. This job can overwhelm you, totally engulf your life and will fill every spare moment if you let it. I let it. It exhausted me and all that extra effort didn’t make me any better at my job. Producing resources is one of the most enjoyable aspects of being an English teacher but, if you’re not careful, you can over prepare and I lost the buzz of a great unit of work or a creative new way of teaching a text. I wish I had paced myself better. I might have enjoyed it more. Ring-fencing time is essential and your family and friends are more important. Switch off. Completely.

If I knew back then what I know now…

I would have taught more Shakespeare. Having a bad experience at school led me to dread teaching Macbeth for the first time. I’ve no doubt that experience was passed on to pupils in my first few years. Since, I’ve come to love it, along with Othello and I’m just a little bit obsessed with Hamlet. All pupils deserve to be taught the greatest there is and diving in to a great Shakespeare play is the ultimate gift. As part of a wide range of challenging literature we, as English teachers, have the power to affect lives. We shouldn’t waste these opportunities. And I wish I’d been more aware of avoiding my own negative experiences. After all, I became a teacher despite them.

Approaching my twentieth year, I can’t really say I have too many regrets. I love my job, mostly, and can’t think of anything I’d rather do. However, it’s interesting to see new teachers starting out on their own journeys, seemingly much better prepared than I ever was. There are fantastic young people coming in to the profession. We have much to be optimistic about. But we also need to reflect on our own experiences to, perhaps, help them along a bit.

No words.⤴


This is a post from a year ago.

I taught this lesson again today.

I now teach Drama to all of S1 and S2 and 25 have opted to take it in S3.

The silent magic in the room today  made me want to cry tears of joy.

From this time last year:

As you know, I teach Drama.

As you know, I like to talk.

As you may know last term I worked on project about bullying with my S2 classes. It was wordy- lots of talk, dialogues and a chat-show finale. And it was hard work: challenging, emotional and at times upsetting.

And so this term I have reverted to the polar opposite. I have dug out my 1994 “Theatre of Silence” unit.

In it, we talk about non-verbal communication and the 93% emotional intelligence statistic and we look at Mr Bean’s “Sandwich”, Laurel and Hardy’s “Sugar Daddies” and slapstick/ silent movies and Samuel Beckett’s “We Three”.

But this week I took a risk. I did a bit of 10%braver.

When each class came in, I greeted them without words.

I registered with gestures and mimed the instructions to the warm up and other tasks.

They continued to speak and that was fine.

We did a warm up. We then watched Mr Bean and I communicated that I wanted them to work in pairs and devise a short comic piece involving 2 characters on a park bench.

They had 10 minutes to practise and then performed them and got feedback from me.

Here is what I noticed:

I slowed down. I noticed them, looked and listened with intent.

I saw a beautiful smile, a worried look. I made eye contact.

They slowed down.

They talked but the atmosphere was much calmer than usual. They listened to and watched me more but they also listened to each other more.

They worked really hard to understand me.

Several took on the role of interpreter and said what they thought I meant until I confirmed they had got it.

Their performances were funny, sophisticated and demonstrated learning.

5 minutes before the end I began to speak, summarising what had happened.

I have set them homework: to try taking half an hour over the weekend where they communicate without talking.

There is much to be said for not saying. In terms of behaviour management, I was forced to remember the power of silence and the need to use more than words.

I could never have done this a year ago when I walked back into school after secondment and had to build trust and relationships. We have come on a long journey, the pupils and I. And we have such exciting times ahead.

The way not the what.

What are we saying?⤴


In Drama at school I am teaching a unit on The Theatre of Silence. I wrote about it last year here (Shhh):


This week we talked about non-verbal communication and I quoted the statistic from Daniel Goleman’s “Emotional Intelligence” about 90% or more of emotional communication being non-verbal.

I talked about the power of tone, body language, facial expression and gesture and even touched on smell and pheromones.

And I then went on to talk to them about the fact that when I was their age, there were basically three ways in which I could communicate with another person.

I could do so face to face, in the room together, with the full power of my verbal and non-verbal capacities.

I could do so in a handwritten letter, such as the one I wrote to my beloved Grandma, who lived 100 miles away in Bognor, on an almost weekly basis. 

And I could use the telephone, which was fixed in the corner of our very public hallway. Normally when I did this, my dad would be in the background listening in and commenting things like “that’s MY bill” or “can’t you wait til after six?” or “you have been with her all day and she lives across the road; what more can you possibly have to say?”

No emails.

No mobile phone at 24 hr disposal.

No Snapchat/Facebook/instagram/Tumblr/online gaming…..

Of course, all of these can be a power for great good and enhance communication.

I told my pupils that I personally love to text, to blog, to be in chat groups and that online connections have massively opened up the world to me.

But I also reminded them that the technology has moved on far more quickly than our brains, biology and emotions and that we need to remember that words in electronic format can never show the full intent, emotion and humanity of the person in the room who wrote them.

And that having the words but not the in-the-room communication of 500 online friends may lead to a lot of noise, pressure and overload… without the human emotion, love and connection that just one real-life friend could offer.

If we are using words more than ever to communicate, where has the other 90 plus percent of what we COULD be saying gone?

And after this discussion?

We took away the words and watched some Laurel and Hardy.