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Will you dance on a Sunday?⤴

from @ lenabellina

I am no Messiah.

That complex is not one of mine.

I am no daughter of God. And yet.

Maybe, this Easter, resurrection is on the cards?

Have I been brave

Letting the words fall out?


Will the truth be heard

So that the voices of the pharisees and haters can be shaken off?

Or will they carry on strangling

In the solitude they prefer?

Until they win

And I can breathe and speak my truth no more.

One thing is for sure.

I shall not any longer aid that process by trying to hold my breath.

I am actually good, tilted or not.

No more show.

I cannot wait for those

Who hold the power

To push back that boulder and help me escape.

Waiting is no longer an option.

And of course the obvious irony:

That the boulder

Is partly of my own making.

Gathering up the shit

That others have thrown at me

Over time

Like a scarab

Until I have become trapped by it.

Unable to escape.

Even pushing it up the same hill

Over and over

In some perverse morphing of Sysiphus and Groundhog.

But hell is not other people.

No one else can push the burden away

Until I am ready to accept

That it needs to go.

And then the helpers will be there.

To help me rise again.

Dance again

And fling off that devil on my back.

And to smile more

Talk less and in so doing

Say more.

Love more

Save more

But before I save someone else

Save me.

I request forgiveness where I have sinned

Maybe, not least, for these shocking allusions

And offer forgiveness

To those willing to repent and change.

I am worthy of redemption.


I am no Messiah

That complex is not one of mine.

I am no daughter of God. And yet.

Maybe, this Easter, resurrection is on the cards?

For any Scottish Secondary teachers who are anxious about tomorrow…..⤴

from @ lenabellina

Many staff in Scotland and certainly in my local authority, did training around emotional regulation and trauma last summer, ahead of the first full scale return to school buildings after lockdown. It may be a good time to remind you of or direct you too these simple slides and the key messages:


Certainly, not all of the children returning this week will have experienced trauma during lockdown. The pandemic has not been traumatic for all. But as we have said many times in education, we are not quite sure what our pupils might have been through and how they will be when they return, in terms of their ability to regulate themselves emotionally.

Learning and recall for school work assessments are likely to be impacted if pupils are not emotionally regulated.

We all know that calm, regulated adults welcoming all of our pupils back this week into familiar routine is the ideal. We know that we as adults will have to work hard on this, particularly as we are having to cope with another big change to our routines (for example, one class spread across three rooms!) and will probably be feeling all sorts of worries around where, what and how we are teaching.

But let’s remember what we CAN control. Our breath, in and out. That first interaction we have with each child as they enter our class. Our own behaviour and actions,

Evidence from the last year and the various changes to rules and protocols has shown that there are likely to be few issues with pupils remembering to follow the COVID mitigation protocols. They quickly picked up on sanitising and bubbles and will quickly get the 2m and mask protocols.

We need to remember also, however, that adolescents are biologically driven and that peer pressure can be a hugely important factor in their lives. The classic teenage brain/head and heart dilemma means that even though they know the right thing to do, they may be influenced to act otherwise if they are in an unsupervised situation with peers. If you want to know more about this, check out professor Sarah Jane Blakemore. Many of them will be craving connection after weeks of isolation. Many of them have missed out on the essential interactions, flirting, bonding and risk taking that normally characterise the natural moving away by adolescents from having their strongest bonds with their primary care-givers. Instead, they have been rather unnaturally trapped at home with these care-givers…..who, however lovely and funny and caring, just aren’t peers!

And just on peer pressure, it can be a strong influence on us all. I distinctly remember last summer, when masks were 2 weeks away form becoming compulsory in shops but Nicola had asked that we wear them, sitting in the car on the forecourt of the local garage. Mask in hand, I said to my child beside me “but no-one else has one on, I feel stupid……” And then I remembered my GP friend and what she would have said and put it on straight away……..

But if that was the process a 51 year old “good girl” went through, we can’t underestimate the power of peer pressure on younger people.

It is also understandable that adolescents may not instinctively follow the protocols as they will not have got into the habit of standing 2 m from their friends or wearing facemasks and these are habits that they need to be reminded of as frequently as possible.

However, if staff and other pupils see that the “rules are being broken”, they may well feel anxious and possibly angry and respond in a way that reflects this, unless they have pre-empted the situation and thought of a regulated response to have at hand.

I am going to adopt “face and space” as the mantra that I am going to use, if I need to remind someone that they have strayed from the protocols; calmly, assertively and with a mask-hidden smile. You may want to adopt something similar ?

I am also going to arm myself with tools to help me stay regulated through the day in school. Deep breaths, in for four, out four six.

A tissue with the smell of a perfume that makes me feel calm in my pocket. The comfiest of clothes that I can find in my work wardrobe.

This is a document I have shared with all of my S1 and S2s as part of our work on choices and speaking up when you feel that someone else has broken the rules. Peter Vermeulen has done incredible work around this. It has been very helpful and not just for autistic people.

Click to access others-not-following-the-rules-1.pdf




As I reach the water’s edge, I see the boundary where the safety of dry land ends and exploration into the unknown depths of the sea begins. The security and comfort of the land visible, yet being washed over repetitively by the strength and power of the waves. The sand shifts therapeutically beneath the foamy, crash of the tide. Here, it is familiar, reassuring and known. How will it feel to cross over into this unfamiliar territory? Am I brave enough to push through this boundary?

If I stay here I’m safe. No currents to sweep me into the unknown or take me off in a different direction. Feet planted firmly on the beach, I’m in control. The luxury of the familiar, soft white sand beneath my feet. Walking one foot in front of the other, moving forward but seeing the world the way I’ve always seen it. The water calls to me… blue and refreshing. A new perspective. But full of risk and challenge. If I allow myself to trust in nature, to feel the water carry my weight, what do I gain?

I like boundaries. I like the rules I create for myself. I like the familiarity of being in control. I like to stand on a firm foundation. And sometimes it’s essential to have these boundaries. They protect us and keep us safe. They allow us to understand what we will and will not tolerate. But life isn’t always predictable. Or tolerable. Or without waves. And sometimes the boundaries we set ourself can be damaging, by limiting our experience. By keeping us too comfortable. And not giving us the opportunity to develop the resilience to cope when things aren’t We all know the saying ‘growth happens outside our comfort zone.’ So when do we push ourself to break the boundaries? To do things differently, to tolerate the discomfort? I’ve learned there sometimes need to be some short term pain, for long term gain. Feel the fear and do it anyway. Often the outcome is worth it.

I’ve learned that sometimes, boundaries need to be like the shoreline. Changing with the tide, moving in and out and flexible enough to accommodate feelings, situations and growth.

And with that, I place my paddle board into the water, bathed by the orange glow from the sunset. Kneel onto the board and find the courage, (and the balance) to stand up and float towards the horizon.

Motivated learning⤴


It’s been another week of adapting to change and I’ve spent the weekend recharging. Both my boys have now fully returned to nursery and P1, and I am eternally grateful for the early years staff who have been nothing short of heroic in their care of my wee ones. I’ve been in school four days again this week with senior phase pupils, supporting them with the completion of practical work. And as well as this, I’ve been engaging with learners at home.

For me, it’s been a joy to be back face to face teaching, despite the challenges, and pupils have made really great progress in a short time. For some, possibly more progress in a couple of in-school sessions than throughout the whole home learning period. Which I fear is not for want of effort on the teacher’s (or learners!) part, but perhaps a lack of my own understanding of this really complex issue of motivation to learn. As well as the challenges we are all facing at home during lockdown. To me this highlights the importance of the connection with their teacher and the need for the teacher to be there to guide the learning. Something which I’ve been reminding my team this week to take comfort in – learners really do need their teachers – never underestimate the value you have.

And it has really got me thinking. About learning. About motivation to learn. About assessing learning. And about what we prioritise in our return to school.

Reflecting on my 14 year old self and how I myself might’ve coped with learning from home, I most likely would have been studious, timetable colour-coded and worked as hard as I possibly could to do my best. Was this a pressure from my school? Not particularly. Did my parents put pressure on me to do well? No. I think they only ever asked me to try my best. And I suppose, my ‘best’ was what motivated me. And that achievement, spurred me on to want to do better and to continue to improve. But I know others for whine that wouldn’t have been the case.

So I want to unpick this through my blog this week.

What is it that motivates young people to learn? What drives them to become more knowledgable or be better than they were yesterday? And what can we do to understand this in an effort to increase the motivation of our learners? In every school across the country, I reckon there are huge numbers of highly motivated students, and also those who could do with more motivation. How can we help motivate those who need it most?


A huge part in this, is my belief that as teachers we are there to support all of our pupils to achieve success. Success was what motivated me as a learner. That feeling of accomplishment was the drive I needed to continue to improve. It feels good when we ‘get it.’ Yet, often this desire for pupil success translates into making tasks too easy. Not challenging learners, when indeed pupils love a challenge. Our job is to support and scaffold the learning to make it achievable. And whilst simplifying tasks will allow students to experience success, I fear that this is at the cost of not allowing the young person to experience a feeling of pride. Instead we should aim for ‘High challenge, low threat.’ As Mary Myatt @MaryMyatt talks about.


This low threat aspect, highlights the need for trust and a strong relationship between the novice learner and the expert teacher. I would suggest that we can’t do learning on our own.

No significant learning can take place without a significant relationship.’ James Comer tells us.

I’m a strong believer in this. Pupils must trust that we are there to support them and have their best interests at heart. Young people can very easily tell when this is not genuine. They need to feel safe in order to take risks in their learning. We want them to make mistakes so that we can learn from them. Misconceptions are often the best opportunities to learn. We want them to struggle so that they feel accomplishment. And a good teacher builds this relationship to ensure that learners feel like they ‘belong’ in a learning situation in order for them to thrive. Is the online classroom simply too unfamiliar to students despite our best efforts to ‘dissolve the screen’?


A contentious issue is obviously the assessment aspect. Whilst our education system in Scotland is still entrenched in, and values summative assessment, within an arguably flawed model, there is always going to be the motivation of exam results. But I would argue that for many, this just isn’t a positive driver in motivation. Because we all know that learning doesn’t equal performance on any given day. Learning is much more than a snapshot assessed by an exam. Learning is a change in long term memory. It’s moving the thinking from the working memory to the long term memory so that it becomes automatic and understood. So exams don’t always accurately reflect learning. Think of those who often ‘cram’ the night before exams. Or those who fall apart on the day of an important assessment.

The last two weeks in Scotland, have seen learners return to school to complete practical work for assessment evidence. Whilst I welcome the opportunity to work with the young people in school, and feel it’s important for pupils to have these opportunities to work in school, I do worry that this suggests a panicked decision by the government, in which the focus is on the destination and the tick list, not on the journey and the progression. ‘Getting stuff done’ as opposed to embedding real routines for learning. It again highlights the obsession for evidence. And yes, evidence is important but is this our priority right now? And how can we address this?

I feel that if we were to focus on motivating pupils to learn, not just to pass exams, we would be making huge in-roads with this. The passing exams would be a by-product of this. But this is no mean feat. It is a huge undertaking to shift the mindset of learners and teachers, placing a focus on deep learning rather than ‘getting through it.’ Have we become obsessed with what Mary Myatt describes as the ‘curse of content coverage?’ Read here I would argue that whilst we are still rushing to gather evidence and get ‘through courses’ rather than a long term goal of highly motivated learners, then yes we will struggle to close the motivation gap.

This week I finished reading Peps McCrea’s @Pepsmccrea wonderful book ‘Motivated Teaching.’ Read a blog post about this here. This gave me lots to think about and I would really recommend this to anyone who wants to explore motivation in more depth. It really is a fascinating area and one which Peps discusses with much more clarity than I am able to do justice.

So as we focus our attention on the return to school over the next few weeks and months, I really hope that we don’t all rush back into ‘covering the course’ to get stuff done. And instead return to school mindful of the factors which drive motivation. Is this an opportunity to pause, consider what our learners really need in order to ensure they are in a place which maximises the opportunity to learn? I hope we will consider well-being, connection, success and motivation. Because my thinking is that if we get these elements right, and continue to focus on ‘learning,’ everything else will fall into place.

Thanks for reading. I would love to hear your thoughts on this.

The last leg⤴

from @ lenabellina

On Tuesday, I attended the most brilliant session run by my professional association, School Leaders Scotland, on the theme of ‘Remote Learning – lessons learned and what’s next’.

We heard from a representative of Education Scotland who told us about reports and feedback data arising from consultations with schools, families and pupils and also from schools on all that had been achieved since January and what we might do next to refine the learning offer in the period leading up to the full re-opening of school buildings. https://education.gov.scot/improvement/supporting-remote-learning/national-overviews/national-overview-of-practice-reports/

It is maybe ironic that this event took place on the afternoon that the First Minister then announced a phased return to start on 15th March which APPEARED to suggest the need for more children and staff in buildings…. but with both her announcement and the event fresh in my mind, I penned the following.

I am not a head teacher, although I am an aspiring one. I am not writing on behalf of my employer and I do not propose or suggest that this will or should happen in the school where I work. But I do have significant experience of risk assessment, timetabling and teaching in secondary schools. I also went from the event with the SLS to speak at an incredible event organised by a consortium of schools in Aberdeen focusing on the positives to be taken from the pandemic for young people, the focus for educators in a post pandemic world and predictions of exciting opportunities that may emerge.


With my heading buzzing with inspiration and ideas, I penned these thoughts on what I think could be possible and practical for secondary schools who have worked so incredibly hard to establish an online offer that is fit for purpose for most pupils who are still living within a global pandemic that has caused significant risk to life.

Key considerations when looking at the return to school.

What is the purpose of having all pupils back in school before Easter?

Do we have a clear sense of this from the government and chief medical advisors?

It would appear from all the reports that have been produced by education Scotland that social isolation is a major concern and that getting pupils into school is very much about their well-being and a need for face-to-face in the flesh connection with other peers and staff.

However we also need to consider the fact that the core purpose of teaching and learning at this stage can successfully be addressed for the majority of secondary pupils through the continuation of what is a very well evidenced and successful virtual learning experience which we know works in terms of scheduling staff and pupils.

We know that delivery of the online offer, with most pupils and staff working from home as part of COVID-19 mitigation is fit for purpose, based on the recent surveys conducted at national level and the implementation of subsequent refinements.

Generation of evidence for SQA purposes

It seems that some politicians, staff or schools feel that there need to be full classes of pupils back in classrooms do to assessments or tasks that will generate evidence for the SQA. However the two metre distancing rule means that this is not going to be practical.

(There is an assumption here that measures have already been taken to allow small groups of pupils to attend school for the purposes of the assessment of practical subjects).

It would seem preferable that materials are given to pupils for these non-practical assessments that can be undertaken at home. Whilst this will not be under exam conditions, schools have already set a precedent for this by students completing and submitting work from home. The element of trust around this method has already been established and therefore could be easily replicated in other subjects. So, for example, if a maths paper is to be done at home, pupils and possibly a supervising parent could simply be asked to sign a declaration that the assessment was done without help or supervision. An alternative would be for us to ask the pupil to video themselves completing the work but this may not be necessary at this stage, given that there is no requirement for any evidence to be produced under exam conditions this year.

A further alternative is to suggest that the two week period before Easter is not to be used for these purposes and that if staff wish to give pupils a paper assessment in a classroom with staff supervision, they will need to leave this until after Easter when we hope that the two metre distancing rule may be relaxed. There will always be a risk that this is never actually possible, should another lockdown or stricter mitigation measures be imposed.

We need to be absolutely clear that staff indicate which pupils, if any. need to be in school for the purposes of support or assessment at this stage.

If we assume that the worst case scenario is that full classes will not be in the building at the same time for the rest of this session, we need to know if there are any senior phase pupils who would because of this have no assessment evidence that would enable them to get a national qualification.

If there are identified disadvantaged or disengaged pupils or pupils with other additional support needs who we know need to be in the building with an adult in order to produce assessment evidence, we must find a way of prioritising getting them in for those purposes over the coming weeks, possibly adapting and using Easter study support offers.

Schools could therefore continue exactly as they are now but invite each year group into school for one day a week of each of the two full weeks before Easter; for example S1 Mondays, S2 Tuesdays, S3 Wednesdays, S4 Thursdays and S5 and 6 Fridays.

(In fact this could possibly work by doing it for just one of the two full weeks leading up to Easter, if that is all that staffing allows.)

The purpose of these days would be Connect, Communicate and be Curious.

Each year group would have activities and information shared with them on their day that is pertinent to where they are in their learning journey.

There could be a session on the practicalities of the 2m rule and mask wearing for all pupils, training / refresher information in use of lateral flow testing kits for senior phase pupils and then a focus for each year group on achievements, celebration of success and looking ahead to what comes next in their learning journeys.

Pupils in relevant years could also have input around the options processes.

In addition the day should be an opportunity to look forward with hope and optimism and for staff to ensure pupils that we are confident about how we will work together to help them re-focus and continue with their learning as they gradually return to spending more time in the school building over the coming weeks and months.

Some of this could be done in a large space with two metre distancing, mask wearing and ventilation in place such as school hall and gym or even in outdoor spaces, as long as this is permitted within our risk assessment based on latest COVID-19 mitigation guidance.

At other times the school could be divided up into areas and SLT/ support staff/ other staff as available could supervise across the classes where pupils would be spread out at desks two metres apart.

The smaller breakout groupings would allow staff to connect with individual pupils in a smaller setting and take stock/be curious about how the pupils seem and what their needs might be moving forward.

This would be demanding on the staff facilitating these activities and it would need to be considered how they would be given breaks and rest time during the day.

There would also need to consider their other needs such as childcare.

There would need to be a shared understanding that the staff in school for the facilitation of these days would not be available to deliver their online teaching;, pupils, parents and carers would need to know that for the two weeks leading up to Easter the staff in school doing the Connect, Communicate and Be Curious days would not be delivering online. In fact, the communication strategy around this and the justification would be a crucial factor in its success.

One major consideration would be around ensuring that S6 pupils and any other leavers need to be given an opportunity to come together and process the fact that their last year in school has been so different to what they had hoped for. It will be an opportunity to talk to them about and alleviate their fears and anxieties regarding the future but also for them to plan some sort of marking of leaving school.

This potential solution would ensure that the human rights of adults working in schools to remain healthy and safe can be balanced with articles 28 and 29 (right to and goal of education), 15 (freedom of association) and 24 (health) of the UNCRC.

On the 15th March, there will still be a very uneven playing field for staff returning to secondary schools; some may have had one vaccine dose, some two and some none.

Where our risk assessments, as far I as understand, still have the risks related to COVID-19 for those working in secondary schools at red level (as advised by the Health and Safety Executive) unless mitigation measures can be very strictly enforced, we surely can’t risk doing anything else than proceed with caution?

But what do I know?

Some musings about time management and organisation⤴

from @ lenabellina

So, the book about me and ADHD certainly won’t be coming any time soon. The roller coaster of highs, lows and revelations that has been my life since my diagnosis in December means that I have been simultaneously enjoying new freedoms and holding on for dear life.

There is certainly no time for starting on a book. However, I have had a few Eureka moments and don’t want to lose them so thought I’d add them to my blog as and when I remember. And of course, the fact that I am doing this RIGHT NOW when the deadline outlined below is looming is just typical……..

I have just written this on Facebook:

Here’s a weird thing about my ADHD.
When I am involved with stuff with other people (eg directing and producing school productions, planning and delivering programmes of teaching or having a strategic vision for a class, department or school and staying true to it over time), I am pretty damn good, I think, and have evidence to back that up.
When I have a thing that involves just me, I can’t manage my time, put it off and then have terrible anxiety when I have to get it done at the last minute.
Today I am trying to record a presentation for a conference that I have had MONTHS to do and is due TOMORROW.
See you on the other side. I hope.

And is another thing I shared earlier in the week on Twitter:

Today I sought a bit of help. It wasn’t a big thing, other than in my head.
I am literally Dory when it comes to remembering I need to ask for help sometimes.
That expression “note to self”
Is fine, except when you have ADHD and keep losing the notes.

And this is an article I found that scared me beyond belief because it feels so pertinent but has also made me seek a bit more help around how to handle it:


Knowledge AND skills??!⤴


Can we have our cake and eat it?! As a hungry art and design teacher with a sweet tooth, I really hope so.

There has been much debate about the idea of knowledge or skills, of knowledge preceding skills and whether a skill is simply procedural knowledge. This week a brilliant conversation took place on EdClub (I missed it because I fell asleep fully dressed putting little one to bed and woke up at 3.30am!). However Pritesh Raichura @Mr_Raichura captured his thoughts and summarised the nuanced debate brilliantly here. I won’t even attempt to compete with Pritesh’s knowledgeable and fascinating read (he’s far more experienced than I am on this) but I do think it’s interesting to consider how this impacts me as an art and design teacher.

Firstly, I don’t think it it has to be one or the other. I’m learning that so many things in life are a strange dichotomy of extremes. But they can exist in harmony. I’m anxious about the return to school next week, but I’m also hugely excited to welcome back our young people. I’m extremely passionate about learning and teaching, but at the same time I hugely value relationships and nurture. And so it is with knowledge and skills. In my opinion, we need both.

Secondly, I’ve not always thought this. At fact at one point I was very against the notion of a practical subject being about knowledge. My thinking on this has most definitely been challenged. But the more I read and learn, the more my thinking evolves. And this is based on my experience in the classroom. It’s ok for our practice to adapt as our understanding increases.

Ten years ago I might have been sceptical of the part knowledge would play in Art and design. After all, we are a practical subject. Hands on, often hugely subjective and very skills-based. Much of the learning which takes place within an art and design department features at the top of Blooms Taxonomy – high order thinking skills such as creating, evaluating and analysing artworks and design. And in my opinion, that is exactly how it should be. So I’m not about to suggest removing all creativity within the subject and making pupils spend periods writing and memorising facts instead of drawing and designing. Our subject will always be practical.

However, back then, my inexperience and lack of understanding might have caused me to write off the need for strong subject knowledge. Perhaps this was because I worried it would distract learners from developing creativity or experiential learning. But having done lots of reading and seen the benefits firsthand for learners in both my Art and design and photography classes, I’m now convinced that to achieve success in the high order skills, learners need the strong foundational knowledge and understanding to support their explorations. Knowledge plays an important part in improving learners’ ability to successfully recall knowledge and in doing so, aid their creativity.

I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve heard young people tell me ‘Miss I can’t paint.’ It’s always a challenge to me to show them that everyone can learn to draw and paint. But I understand that young people come to us with different skills and for some, drawing and painting does come far more easily. For the young people who struggle with painting, breaking the skill down and giving them chunked knowledge to help, is absolutely vital for them to experience success.

The knowledge that when we add water to watercolour paint, the colour lightens, is so vital to being able to use this art material. By explicitly teaching this, young people can use this to improve their practical skill. I think this has always been the way I’ve taught, and in fact I’m sure many other art teachers do. But it’s not been until recently that I have really considered the explicit knowledge I was teaching young people in order for them to build a skill. And I think this is more important than ever to give all young people the chance to succeed. It’s our job!!! After all we are the experts.

This has been amplified during home learning. And something all tired teachers at the moment should take comfort in. Yes we are vital for the connection and the relationships we build, but also in skilful way we can break down learning and knowledge in ways that young people can make use of in their practical work. Consider the confident, skilled artists who have coped well regardless of whether we are in the physical classroom beside them. Then consider those already facing challenge, who find drawing difficult, who lack confidence, can’t simply experiment to become a better drawer. They need the expert knowledge which their teacher imparts. They need the foundational knowledge of how to measure, how to see, and how to record. They need taught this and then for it to be modelled. Yes, there is the argument that this is not creativity but I would argue that by giving the young person a step up the ladder, their confidence and motivation to experiment creatively is enhanced and leads to a greater chance of them wanting to experiment. Young people are often very reluctant to explore artistic freedom if they already lack confidence in their ability. I see this as the way to foster creativity by giving them the tools and knowledge to have the best chance to succeed. The desirable difficulty concept is highlighted here. Once confidence and knowledge is established, they are best placed to move into the realms of creativity and often

It’s important to point out I am all for creativity, expression and individuality. But I do think learners find that increasingly challenging. If we are able to give them the building blocks of knowledge about seeing, observing, measuring and recording early on, in my opinion they are far better placed use that knowledge to develop their own skills.

Maybe I’m too easily influenced, maybe I need to have more conviction in one theory or evidence base, rather than sit mid way between two differing viewpoints. But I’m not sure that having such a fixed mindset that one or other is best, really benefits our young people. Surely we should be tapping into all evidence out there to provide the very best experience and learning for all young people? I’m always learning. And happy to be challenged in any of my thoughts. Because ultimately it will help me to get better. And that is what we should all be striving towards.

Thanks for reading. Have a great week ahead, especially all the practical subject teachers in Scotland returning to our classrooms.

Pride #MonthlyWritingChallenge⤴


Pride is the small, quiet voice whispering ‘I actually did it. I made it.’

Pride is sharing an authentic sense of self.

Pride is celebrating our imperfections and honouring our achievements.

So at what point does pride become problematic? When does the quiet voice of authentic pride celebrating personal success, become overshadowed by the harsh, dark clouds of voices, bellowing, ‘Look at me. Look how brilliant I am. I am better than you.’

I find it fascinating how this word can be such a dichotomy. For me, pride is a really personal thing. Only we know what makes us proud. Authentic pride comes from a struggle, the challenge faced, the working hard at something. That is different for everyone; we all face different challenges. I’d be proud of myself if I ran 10k in under an hour. But for someone fitter than me, there would no pride in that achievement if they were used to running a sub50 10k. When we are proud of our authentic self, we genuinely want to share the success with others. This could be for lots of reasons – to give hope, to encourage others or to thank those who lived and breathed the struggle alongside us. It might be a text message to a friend, or a phone call to say ‘I did it.’

And it’s so important to acknowledge the accomplishment and the feeling it gives us. The feeling of personal success spurs us on and drives us to go further. True pride builds resilience and strength, which comes from the understanding that you made it through the difficulty, and you will make it again.

As a teacher, one of my goals is to help students to take pride in their own learning. To communicate to them that learning knowledge and skills, is difficult. That it’s ok to make mistakes, and to not get there straight away. For many young people, I think it’s easier to look lazy than to show themselves as finding something difficult. But instead encouraging them, acknowledging the struggle and motivating them to persevere are some of the toughest challenges of being a teacher. But the feeling of accomplishment and pride (both theirs and my own) when they master it should be celebrated, and be the driver to motivate future learning.

So when does Pride mutate from a perfectly acceptable form of self actualisation to something more damaging? At what point does pride transform into arrogance and egotism? And who is it that decides when pride is problematic? The sharer of the pride or those sharing in someone’s pride?

This quote from CS Lewis, for me highlights the darker side of Pride and a reminder that being proud of our achievements alone is not the issue.

“Pride gets no pleasure out of having something, only out of having more of it than the next man… It is the comparison that makes you proud: the pleasure of being above the rest. Once the element of competition is gone, pride is gone.”

CS Lewis

The idea that pride becomes destructive when it no longer becomes about self is, I’m sure something we can all relate to. How many of us have seen a post on social media which is less celebrating personal achievement and more the pleasure gained from having more than, or being better than? It’s a fine line. When our accomplishment is compared to others or shared for the benefit of others, pride becomes less about personal best and by contrast is more to do with an inflated sense of self. This is not authentic pride.

But how often is this about our own reaction to others achievements? The problem is we cannot be truly content if we are in competition with others. Either seeking others approval or judging others actions. Often this about our response to others pride, rather than those simply sharing their own pride. Our interpretations of others’ achievements can impact our own ability to feel content and magnify our own insecurities.

We are all unique. We all have our own skills and qualities, strengths and weaknesses. And being honest about these is the best way to experience true pride in ourselves. We need to be our own cheerleaders. And we need to encourage and support our tribe too. Assuming goodwill. We (mostly!) all want the same thing. Or very similar things.


I love this philosophy. And always try to see the best in everyone which is not always easy. I know Gavin Oattes shares this quote often and I think it is originally taken from the all blacks legacy: ‘It’s not about being the best in the team. But being the best for the team.’ Correct me if I’m wrong Gav!

So let’s not swallow our pride. Let’s share it far and wide. If it’s authentic, and if others view it in the way it is intended, without comparison but assuming goodwill, pride can be a positive vehicle to drive improvement, personally and collectively.

Thanks for reading. Have a good week everyone.

Are multiple choice questions effective as retrieval practice? a) yes b) no c) maybe d) not sure⤴


So four weeks into another phase of home learning and I’m pleased to write that not much has changed about my practice during lessons. Except perhaps the practical aspect. Every lesson still features a retrieval practice task. Pupils still need to think hard every lesson to recall knowledge. And pupils are still applying this knowledge creatively to their own personal projects. In Higher photography, this has involved quite a few multiple choice tests – partly because of the ease of setting this kind of task remotely and partly due to MCQ being the format of assessment.

Kahoot, mentimeter, quizizz and Microsoft forms are just some of the ways in which teachers are using MCQ to test recall remotely. Personally for me, forms have been such a game changer for this. Self-marking, instant feedback for learners in relation to their why a response is right or wrong, instant grades imported into class grade book, ability to integrate images – the list goes on. Because it’s been my go to, this week, I started thinking about how effective this strategy was in terms of retrieval practice. I was inspired to do some research and it me got thinking about how we as teachers can make the most of this low stakes, high impact testing. Is using multiple choice quizzing really promoting true recall if we are providing the answers for our students? How possible is that learners just guess the correct answer? Are typed short answer quizzes more effective in forcing actual retrieval? And if there is evidence to support MCQ, then how can we use MCQ to promote deeper thinking amongst students? I am a huge fan of MCQ, but I have definitely become more knowledgeable about how best to use them. I hope this post might be useful to consider as we make up our next multiple choice quiz for students.

There has been a great deal of research done into the effectiveness of retrieval practice and the testing effect. Even if you are unaware of the term retrieval practice, you will most certain,y have used quizzes or low stakes testing in your classroom. Both are considered highly successful ways for students to move knowledge from the short term to long term memory by working hard to recall the information. This week marked the launch of @katejonesteach second book on retrieval practice which I was so honoured to have been asked to contribute to. Like Kate, I’m so glad that the academic research on this is finally becoming more readily available to teachers in wonderful books such as hers. So, delving further into the strategy which I’ve embedded with pupils I was keen to understand if there were ways I could improve.

Firstly, I’ve discovered that part of the reason retrieval practice is so popular with students in my class, is because of the desirable difficulty with the task. The Goldilocks effect. Not too easy, not too hard. It’s achievable for all of them as it covers key knowledge we have learned together, yet tricky enough to engage and challenge them. I try really hard when developing questions to consider common misconceptions, challenge common errors and use easily confused knowledge to be tested. If it was too easy, there would be no sense of satisfaction. I would say that the average score in my recap quizzes is around 60-80% with some pupils consistently achieving higher. For me, this is important because if all pupils were achieving 100% then my quizzing would be too easy. Pupils would soon lose interest because there’s no challenge, no sense of accomplishment when they succeed. Likewise, there needs to be a sense of achievement, so similarly if my quizzes were too hard, there would be a lack of motivation, pupils would switch off because it is too difficult. Balance is key.

The argument that multiple-choice tests rely primarily upon recognition processes seems, on the surface at least, to be a reasonable critique of multiple-choice testing. Multiple-choice questions do, in fact, expose the correct answer to the learner by presenting it as one of the alternatives, which could obviate the need for retrieval. Not all multiple-choice questions, how- ever, can be answered through recognition processes alone.

Optimizing multiple-choice tests as tools for learning Jeri L. Little & Elizabeth Ligon Bjork.

Link to research paper here

This is where some understanding of how to best compose multiple choice questions is really useful.

Consider the answers to this MCQ.

Which camera control is used to effect depth of field?

A) sausages b) aperture c) sunshine d) chocolate.

Now hopefully this question quite clearly illustrates why MCQ might get a bad press. And I’m pretty sure that the most teachers wouldn’t use this way of quizzing, but it illustrates the point. This particular question is not a good example of recalling information for learners. There is only one plausible answer with several obvious red herrings, therefore students can guess the term they know is something to do with photography. For me, this is not effective retrieval practice. Instead, using plausible answers forces students to have to consider their schema around certain knowledge in order to choose the correct answer. Consider this as an alternative:

Which camera control is used to effect depth of field?

A) shutter speed b) aperture c)iso d) exposure

For me, this is far more effective. All answers contain knowledge we have covered in relation to photography. Students should recognise all of the terms, so they need students to be clear about which term is correct. Students need to understand the information in order to select the correct answer. Yes they could guess but it hopefully forces them to think in more depth.

Finally, generating answers which really force learners to think, to recall and to join the dots are some of the best multiple choice questions I’ve used. By using common errors, misconceptions and easily confused knowledge, I can as a teacher, really drill down into the learning of my pupils and work out how much they know. Consider this as a question:

A photographer increases the size of the aperture to change the depth of field. Which statement is correct?

A) the photographer has used a lower f number to create a wide depth of field

B) the photographer has used a lower f number to create a shallow depth of field

C) the photographer has used a higher f number to create a wide depth of field

D) the photographer has used a higher f number to shallow depth of field.

Without getting into too much of the detail of photography, the correct answer is B) However to get this right students need to demonstrate that they first know that using a lower f number gives a larger aperture, and secondly that the lower f number also gives a shallower depth of field. By using knowledge which they often mix up, I am able to rally force them to think. Any one of the possible answers is plausible and uses correct photographic terminology. What’s more there is a deeper level of understanding required in order to achieve the correct answer. Yes these types of question all assume that the learners know aperture is related to depth of field, but hopefully I would have used that as an earlier question to determine who knew that. I might use a mix of questions, layering the level of complexity of the question to really dig into depth of learning.

In which case, I think it’s also important that as teachers we are able to analyse the results. Too often we may perhaps be lured by the self-marking aspect of a quizzing tool however it’s valuable for us to go through pupil response to get a handle on where the errors have been made, so that we can identify next steps to clarify this for individuals. Purely recording scores is unlikely to move learners forward, whereas understanding the areas which need more work will hopefully continue to build on the success of retrieval practice for learners.

I’m sure this isn’t rocket science for many educators out there but I hope this post has been useful in highlighting some ways I’ve found it easy to improve this strategy for young people and my formative assessment of their learning.

Life is like a multiple choice question. Sometimes it’s the choices that confuse you, not the question

For the record.⤴

from @ lenabellina

For the record

In December, I was diagnosed with ADHD.

That diagnosis has helped me to understand some things. I understand why I am restless. I understand why I can have issues regulating my time and my focus. I understand why my brain is often on overdrive.

I understand why I am hyper-sensitive and that having had to fit a mould that is not quite me-shaped for decades has taken its toll and left me physically and mentally exhausted.

I also understand why I can work harder, longer and solve problems more quickly than some other people. And why I am talkative, energetic, creative and passionate about the things that are important to me, like values and integrity.

The last few months since diagnosis have been a rollercoaster. The highs of feeling as if I have answers and the very deep lows of feeling that I have lost so much time trying to overcompensate for things I found perplexing, difficult and exhausting.

I don’t want sympathy. I don’t think I particularly need adjustments, as I work in education, where all the things I am and can offer are celebrated when we meet them in young people.

But let me return to the over-sensitive and over-thinking thing.

That is something that I do need help with.

I spend a lot of my time worrying that I have said the wrong thing, done the wrong thing, offended someone or just “got it wrong”.

I am a people pleaser and it hurts me when I feel that someone is cross or upset with me.

And my over-thinking brain will often ruminate, assume and often lead to conclusions that maybe aren’t true.

The people close to me know this and realise that I need more re-assurance than your average friend. It is probably irritating for them but they see it as a “reasonable adaptation” that they are willing to make because they know that, if they do, I will be less anxious and more pleasant to be around.

The long and the short here is that for me, clear is kind.

If I have done something wrong, please tell me.

I genuinely believe (and have always done) that all I do comes from a place of values, love, integrity and good…

If I’ve got it wrong, please help me to understand.

Please do it kindly.. because although every single human being deserves to be included and treated with kindness and dignity, that sensitivity that comes with being me means that I also don’t take unkindness very well.

But please, help me understand.

Thank you.