Archive | December, 2019

Some Lessons to Learn

16 Dec


I was thinking about the ideas of what makes a great teacher as I reflect on the year. To be truthful as I started writing the same applies regarding a leader in a school. I add one of my favorite models at the foot of the page.

Model expertise

Modelling this is part and parcel of every lesson: confident answers and conspicuous depth of knowledge of the subject that models the value that is placed on learning it.  Actual expertise matters more than simple enthusiasm.  There is no short-cut here: study the subject continually, know your stuff, get ahead.  Don’t wing it or teach, guessing your way through.

Prioritize Curriculum

Linked closely to Model Expertise, it’s essential to know how your subject is deconstructed into key concepts, skills and knowledge elements that allow learners to make progress – so-called pedagogical content knowledge.  Do you know how the course curriculum relates to the wider subject knowledge base? Is there an optimal sequence or at least one you could make a good case for?  You should have a sense of a sensible sequence and hierarchy of ideas and be able to see where content areas overlap.  You should have good knowledge of the assessment criteria in general and the specifics of any public exam.  Knowing the types of questions that students should be able to answer is essential in understanding and planning your subject curriculum – the enacted curriculum that students experience in your lessons.

Hold Attention 

Without this, most of the rest won’t be effective.  It always pays to reinforce the routines around attention so that you get it promptly from everyone.

Explain well

Sometimes I have not done this well as I have been reflecting on my practice lately. By relieving in some junior classes I have noted the need to find different ways to explain the same thing – not simply repeat one method over and over.   It’s often overlooked because people spend so long talking about what to teach, rather than how to teach it.


This links to your curriculum thinking and planning.  Designing good questions is a skill you acquire with experience and research – initially it pays to explore sources of questions rather than make them up. Planning how to organise questions in a classroom context: The trick is to involve every student, solicit multiple responses and engineer a collective response that deepens everyone’s understanding – rather than skimming from person to person.

Feedback effectively 

Giving good feedback is an essential teaching skill.  Your goal is to seek improved performance, correct errors and challenge misconceptions but also to affirm and deepen successful learning. Feedback needs to be positive and specific and be very much geared towards an immediate practice opportunity.  You need should tell them what they’re doing right; identify a specific aspect of their technique to change and improve and then get them to practise.


It is ok to change things up occasionally, but routines keep a sense of certainty.

Manage time

Time: it can all be managed well or managed badly.  It pays to map out the long term, set some time goals and milestones.

Show kindness

Relationships –are a product of other actions.  I’m suggesting that showing kindness is an essential element to relationship-building.  You can be assertive, authoritative and inspire confidence in your expertise but still have difficulties – or cause them – if students don’t connect with your human qualities; if they fear you or resent you.  Kindness means allowing mistakes to be made, extending a degree of parental warmth and acknowledging emotions.  You can be quite formal and disciplined and still be kind.  Crucially, it’s essential to give kindness in order to receive it in return.


Being responsive to students’ answers is crucial to maximize the learning from the process.  You need to tackle misconceptions and explore errors without making it seem a big deal to get things wrong; you need to probe and challenge for deeper and better answers; you need to involve other students in building on each other’s answers.

I hope your year has gone well.

Do you have any suggestions for leading your class or staff-room?


Lesson Observation Reflections

5 Dec


I am reading through data from lesson observations from 2019. So, within the context that lesson observations have their place, here is my observation checklist:

Are the Behaviour for Learning routines effective?

This kicks in right from the start of any lesson.  It’s usually possible to tell whether expectations are set high – even though there can be a big observer effect.   A big area is the business of securing full attention whenever needed and not tolerating an under-current of chat.  A common issue to address is when instructions or explanations are given without first securing full attention.  I often comment on rapport; some teachers are really very good at being assertive and strict whilst maintaining warm friendly relationships; others might need to warm up or tighten up.

Are the Learning Goals clear? 

I’m never looking for LOs written on the board. I’m just keen to establish what the key purpose of the lesson is.  It should be obvious, not a mish-mash of bits of content strung together. Is there a key question, a central theme, a key concept, a core skill? I think students should know what that is – regardless of how it is expressed.  Part of the way in to an observation, I ask around. What’s this lesson all about? I should get a decent answer.

How does this lesson fit into the wider sequence of learning? 

Using books, by listening to the teacher or asking students, I try to find out what went before and what is coming next.  That helps to gauge whether the lesson is well constructed and gives a sense of the longer-term learning objectives.  I often ask teachers to tell me when the work is finished later so I can see where it all led to.

Does the teacher seem confident with the material? Does the teacher model how things are to be done and the thought process? 

I think subject knowledge is an essential element in effective teaching.  I’m obviously not a subject specialist in every area but I can tell if a teacher is confident in what they’re doing – and so can the students.  Where teachers are oozing confidence in the material, it inspires confidence in everyone else. If I detect a bit of busking, if the ideas   don’t flow or the teacher finds it difficult to answer students’ questions, this is a central area for feedback.  I’m a firm believer in the role of modelling in many contexts.  I’m not expecting the swimming teacher to dive in to give a demo but I do expect teachers to model writing, solutions and, above all, the thought process that leads to high quality, accurate and/or imaginative work.  Students can also be asked to model exemplary work to their peers.


What have you learnt from your observations from other teachers?

9 Philosophies for Effective Teaching

5 Dec


  1. Classroom management is key–If you want behaviour of a certain standard, you need to establish it directly and explicitly.  If you tolerate anything less, you establish that as the norm.  Working on behaviour is the first, most critical element in teaching effectively.   It’s helpful to remember that the behaviour needs to be good so that you can teach, and students can learn.
  2. Know your stuff– it matters: the material, the nature of the assessment, the expected answers.  Expert teachers know their subjects, continually study them, know how questions will be set and what the answers should be. This requires time and effort to be spent keeping up to-date.  Never underestimate the importance of this or overestimate your knowledge of the exam spec.
  3. Know your students– Learning Plans are great as evidence for attestation. Obviously – but surprising how hard this can be when you teach a lot of classes.  For the data, a quick glance at the spreadsheet isn’t enough.  You need to really know.  I recommend making a data-annotated seating plan or differentiation guide of some kind to get the data off the page and into your head, working its way into your interactions in the classroom.
  4. Tool them up– it’s powerful to provide all the resources students need to learn independently.  It’s horrible teaching when you are the only resource; when you (or your absence) become a barrier between a student and their learning.  Ideally students should have the books, guidance, questions, specifications and model answers at their disposal so they can be self-reliant to the greatest extent.  This is particularly true for exam classes.  Not all students can use these materials readily and need to be shown how.
  5. Teach for memory as well as for understanding.  It’s all too easy to think students have got it sorted, during a lesson.  Students have the capacity to perform, reproduce, recycle – using short-term recall and well-developed blagging strategies (such as copying from their friends.)  You can’t assume anything has been learned unless, sometime later, the students can show they’ve retained their understanding and knowledge.  They need strategies to do this; primarily lots of practice.
  6. Plan long: know the big picture and then plan lesson sequences before you worry about each lesson.  Lessons are messy; you need to be responsive – agile. Learning is a long-term process, not a short-term one.  It’s important, therefore, to plan accordingly, taking account of the distribution of content over time.  A lesson is then just the next part of a learning sequence that you adjust as you go along.  I almost never plan lessons; I just know where I am in the sequence that has already been planned.
  7. Useful feedback;  the best feedback is immediate and focused. Feedback is important – otherwise how would any student ever know whether they’ve learned anything? How would you know how well you’ve taught anything? But marking is a specific form of feedback with limitations; its impact diminishes with the time elapsed since the work was done and with the overall volume of feedback relative to a student’s capacity to engage.  It’s a classic paradox: the students who have the greatest needs are the least able to engage with marking comments.  Marking lean means being highly selective, planning for every comment to be actioned – otherwise you’re wasting time you just don’t have.
  8. Plan groupings: Pair discussion gets everyone involved but, in groups with three or more, at least one person is a passenger. It’s painful and annoying to see teachers toss out questions to a whole class hoping someone will answer. Paired questions resolves lots of issues
  9. Get some balance. You can always improve; you can always do more – but there’s also only so much impact you can have; only so much you can do.   We are all accountable for doing our jobs well, for trying our best to teach well, for pursuing our continued professional learning with vigor and determination and for going an extra mile to support students in any way we can.  And then we go home – with our heads held high and a clear conscience.  The rest is up to them and their families.  This matters – not just for us, but for our students too as how else will they learn to stand tall with the world at their feet.

Why nine? Who knows. Can you add any?



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