Build It – They Will Come & Return

Practical Pedagogies returned this year bigger and even better than the previous year, with old and new faces in equal measures. The range of speakers and sessions this year was immense, so much so that you really needed to be cloned to cover all bases.

For me there were many highlights:

  • The keynote and session led by the ever-provocative Ewan McIntosh from NoTosh with his 5 Whys…?;
  • Learning more about the work of Natalie H Scott;
  • The informal conversations, allowing opportunities to catch up with friends from across Europe and beyond;
  • Meeting new people and finding out about their own roots and routes.

My personal stand-out workshops were led by two teachers who both epitomised the ethos and spirit of Practical Pedagogy. Having attended my workshop on Active Learning strategies last year, Laura Riley decided to apply some of the game ideas to teach her students in German at St George’s International School in Cologne. Her session preview can be found here.

Meanwhile, closer to home, Zoe Smeaton from Bradford Grammar School decided to apply the games to active revision sessions in Biology. It was liking being in a one-person TeachMeet, with a range of high quality take-away ideas. Her session preview can be found here.

My session in 2015 was very much based in on a primary approach, whereby I had attempted to merge an outdoor PE session with an English focus. The fact that Laura and Zoe had taken this into secondary German and Biology was intriguing. Both teachers delivered their workshops with passion, energy and thought, gently provoking us and creating opportunities for new ideas and collaborations.

My own workshop for 2016 continued the theme of last year, this time linking physical activity with an online writing platform and emotional literacy. Initially the plan was to showcase a collaborative project between Tagtiv8 and Night Zookeeper. However, a quote on Instagram led me on a mazy run.

fullsizerender-31The session allowed participants to consider the cycle of thoughts, feelings and behaviours, before heading outside to play an active drama game which generated letters with which to work. The thinking challenge for the teams was to create words about feelings, discussing them and how they impact on our thoughts and behaviours. Then began the creative process of creating an emoji to match one of the feelings.

Huge thanks to everybody who participated with energy and imagination. Particular thanks to Jenna Lucas and Mags Amond for their input on practical uses of Class Dojo.


The session slides can be accessed here.

It will be interesting to see if any of the participants at the session are able to be like Laura and Zoe and return to the next Practical Pedagogies with their own unique twist on an idea.

Having talked with other delegates and speakers, it would seem that all of us were fired with energy and ideas, as well as re-affirmation that we are not alone, no matter where we are in the world of education and policy constraints.

Thank you to Russel Tarr and the rest of the team at IST for organising and facilitating something very special indeed.

Huge hugs too to:

Instagram photo credit:

It Takes a Village to Raise a Child

The phrase, ‘It takes a village to raise a child’ has become a mantra for Alison Kriel and her team at Northwold Primary School. Earlier this year, Alison had recommended a visit to Andalusia, in particular the beaches of Tarifa and Conil. By chance, I was recently invited to the area by another friend who epitomises the Southern Spanish attitude to life. During my time there, I found myself being drawn in by the ambience of the region and wisdom of my friend.

It was not just the climate that soothed me, though this has an undeniable impact, as does the proximity to sand and surf. Catching a wave and the smiles of others, indicating ‘You Get It’ has a profound effect.

Amongst the surge of the waves was the sound of pure laughter, from young and old. What struck me was the mixture of generations, the sense of family and community. This was even more obvious in the evenings with the children playing and watching the street artists until late, while the older folk kept watch amongst their own conversations.

The gulf between southern European and UK lifestyles is vast and my visit was a timely reminder to seek a better balance. The relentless initiatives forced upon those working in education communities take their toll, so much so that we often fail to take time to reflect and be truly mindful.

The changes in Government have led to the long overdue removal of Gove and Morgan, who have systematically attempted to destroy the teaching profession. What happens next remains to be seen, but I am hopeful that Justine Greening will actually encourage the DfE to listen to teachers and learners and consider the different qualities and needs of schools. Hopefully, she will be mindful of the words, ‘It takes a village to raise a child’…

Disposable Friends


This week I say farewell to my BFF, my ‘Best Film Friend’ as he heads off to Canada with a work visa, amongst books and other essentials in his backpack.

Screenings with Joe allow for father/ son bonding and are never dull. Sure, he has suggested a few films that have left me emerging from the theatre, thinking, “What was THAT about?” Others have been truly magnificent, with a spectrum of emotions and thoughts well and truly provoked.

Particular highlights have included:

  • Boyhood;
  • Gone Girl;
  • The Young and Prodigious TS Spivett.

During our discussions about film, I have attempted to introduce Joe to film clips and short films that I have used with learners in the classroom. From clips of ‘Pay it Forward’ to ‘Dangle’, I love the way film provides opportunities to open discussions and think, with genuine examples of dilemma-based learning. It’s great to see the likes of Into Film, A Tale Unfolds, Lee Parkinson and the Literacy Shed curating films for others to discover and use as stimuli for their own creativity.

One ‘recent film rediscovery’ for me is the sinister and provocative, ‘Killing Time at Home’, by Neil Coslett. I had it in mind that this short film was called ‘Disposable Friends’ and as such, it has been lost in my personal archives. To me, this film opens up endless opportunities to discuss emotions and feelings about friendship and loneliness, especially in terms of certain people’s over-reliance upon social media. Anyway, here you go:

‘Killing Time at Home’

Let me know what you think…

PS: Going to miss you, Joe. Keep me posted about films, feelings and other things ;o)

Image courtesy of Simon Barber.

Paying it Forward with Poundland*

UK Ambassador

In my last post, ‘The Difference Made by a Single Letter’, I referred to being IN Task rather than ‘On Task’ and the fact that I intended to use this behaviour/icon more in the future with my work with Tagtiv8 and Evolve.

It really would be great to see other Class Dojo practitioners trialling this subtle change in approach and wording with their learners and then maybe sharing the successes via the ClassStory feature. This new feature is certainly proving popular:

“We’re seeing so many teachers use this tool to build positive classroom communities, sharing moments with parents every day. Teachers and parents are really loving it.”

Jenna Kleine, Community Lead with Class Dojo

As many of you already know, I am an ambassador for Class Dojo and as such, I believe in the ‘Pay It Forward’ approach. This was approach was shared by some 50 teachers during the recent #TMManchesterNFM event hosted at the impressive National Football Museum by Chris Mayoh and the Learning Team at NFM. There were many highlights and the eclectic ideas just kept flowing, but I have to give a particularly loud shout out to Kate Jones for her passionate presentation. To find out more, visit and learn about SPaG Watch and the Punctuation Police! Also, check out the #poundlandpedagogy Twitter feed. Just remember to keep those receipts to claim them back!

*Other retailers featuring £ do exist…as well as some at a penny less.

The Difference Made By a Single Letter

What a difference one single letter can make…
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Usually, teachers think in terms of ways to ensure their children stay or keep ‘On Task’. I am a keen advocate of the awesome Class Dojo and have indeed used the ‘on task’ behaviour and icon on a regular basis. However, this is about to change, having seen a Twitter conversation between Dan Bowen and Dan Haesler in Australia. During #msauedu, they mentioned the term, ‘In Task’. This resonated with the ideas generated at the Practical Pedagogies conference in Toulouse just last month. I was extremely fortunate to have been able to participate in this event and was certainly provoked many times, not just by Ewan McIntosh from No Tosh, but by fellow workshop leaders and delegates.

In Toulouse, there was much discussion about the benefits of immersion techniques in education, which I put into temporary practice while staying in the region for a few days following the conference. Even though my French is decidedly rusty, I did find myself trying to decode signage and graffiti, while trying not to sing ‘Sur Le Pont D’Avignon’ in a ridiculous accent. But that’s another story…

Since returning to the UK, I have had a series of discussions with a host of others and the concept of immersion keeps re-appearing. Last week, Andrea Carr, founder of Rising Stars and Rhian Kavanagh both spoke passionately and knowledgeably about the benefits of such techniques and the benefits to the child in terms of empathy, while developing thinking skills and problem solving. This was echoed during discussions with Jo Davies, Head Teacher at Brudenell Primary School, where the children are learning to enter ‘Pits of Learning and Confusion’. To find out more, check out the school as well as the work of James Nottingham.

At the weekend, I attended Mozfest15, where the term ‘immersion’ permeates the various meeting spaces within Ravensbourne College. It was great to catch up with innovators such as Urban Teacher and Mark Shillitoe and discuss tech, art and more. Thanks too to Steve Bunce for signposting me towards various people and ideas, especially Su Adams and her truly immersive edtech play experiences.

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Today I met with the wonderful folk at Now Press Play, a resource that certainly immerses you into other worlds. When I first trialled a sample session, I took on the role of reluctant young male learner, a role that I must admit I find somewhat easy to play. That said, I was soon exploring an Egyptian tomb, drawn in by the atmospheric soundtrack and narration that subtly enticed me to be actively engaged in my learning.  To find out more about bringing the curriculum to life, visit Now>Press>Play.

On the subject of Active Learning, I urge you all to explore the wonderful world of Russel Tarr. Not only did he organise the amazing Practical Pedagogies conference, but he also curates two wonderful sites:

Please explore these wonderful resources and immerse yourself further, as Russel did following his own learning at the conference with his own students…

Enjoy being In Task rather than simply being On Task.

Images c/o and

It’s That Time of the Year – Report Writing

vjD6ysmI can’t believe it’s that time of the year already…how soon did this term come around? It’s around now that the innovative schools release staff to write the End of Year Reports for their children.

Different schools adapt different strategies and formats to ease the burden, thus trying to negate various grumblings:

It takes me almost an hour to write, yet it only takes the parent 5 minutes to read it…if indeed they read it at all.

I remember my time as a Deputy Headteacher, whereby one of my roles was to proof-read and help edit the reports written by members of staff. SPaG errors appeared on a regular basis but luckily, the amount of times an errant teacher simply copied and pasted text, inadvertently changing the gender of their child diminished over time. It was always a genuine pleasure to read reports written by teachers who knew their children so well, including their quirks, foibles and idiosyncrasies.

My own strategy as a teacher when writing reports was simple:

  • Remember the intended audience and write for the parent/carer;
  • Set targets that are achievable and encourage home involvement in ensuring success;
  • Show that you really know the child.

In order to achieve the latter, I ‘cheated’ somewhat, or rather I attempted to be creative. I used to give each child a blank template of the school’s agreed End of Year Report and ask them to write their own report, reflecting on what they had achieved. The older children were allowed to complete their templates using Word…with the designated font, size and spacing of course!

What they wrote backed up what I already knew in the main, but there were always a few surprises thrown into the mix, whether they related to enjoyment, confidence and attitude or indeed what events were memorable to them as individuals. By including direct quotes from the children, I was able to demonstrate that the reports were both honest and accurate. As to using the older children’s work, I was able to copy and paste these comments and reflections directly into the actual report.

I am sure that this approach will have been used elsewhere, but thought I would share my own experiences. For further ideas, check out the link to TES and let me know how you get on…

Image Rights: Jim Benton Cartoons.

Addiction to SM

Worry not, the title of this post does not refer to ’50 Shades of Grey’. Those people that know me know just how much I love Twitter. I use it for pleasure, following up on my interests in music, photography, travel and football. If I am watching a live match, I will also be following various twitter feeds in order to maximise viewpoints. I use it for finding tickets for gigs and links to new sounds. As well as Instagram, I use Twitter to find out about photographers, galleries and exhibitions. On my recent travels, Twitter even materialised into a form of personalised Trip Advisor. Twitter also acts as a mini blog, as well as a way of providing a diary of who/where/when/what/why and sometimes how…

In the main though, I use Twitter for work, making connections and learning from people of different backgrounds from all around the world. #UKEdChat is now complemented by #dojochatEU#aussieED, #INZpirED and more. In my opinion, Twitter is the best form of informal CPD ever created.

However, at the London Festival of Education, my enthusiasm for ‘all things tech’ was questioned during the debate entitled ‘Digital Learning: Dream or Disaster?’ The panel, chaired by Martin Robinson, and featuring Oliver Quinlan, Kevin Stannard, Angela Macfarlane and Rosie Flewitt had the brief:

They are everywhere: mobiles, tablets (laptops are just old hat now).  As technology really becomes ubiquitous teachers, pupils and parents are struggling to make it work. Hear from tech experts and leading edge educationists on how to make the most of digital learning at every stage of education and when to power down.

During the debate, Mark Martin aka @urban_teacher made the point that technology was there to help us initially, but we are now shackled by it. Constant access to the internet, emails, Twitter and other forms of social media mean that many of us rarely shut off from our work.

This opinion was reiterated during the following days. John Bishop, Director of Evolve, told me that he has programmed his mobile to turn off the email alerts at 1900 in an effort to reclaim some work/life balance. He also advocated the use of Boomerang for Gmail, something I intend to investigate further.

Later, a friend who is a teacher told me that a colleague of hers had expressed concern that she was posting educational links on her FaceBook page at silly o’clock. Following further conversations, we decided on taking the rather drastic measure of locking our mobile devices in our car boots for a day. The feelings were initially strange, a sense of withdrawal certainly followed, yet we both found that conversations and the quality of dialogue improved as the day went by; the ‘art of noticing returned’. However, there was an amusing moment at bedtime when I realised that I had no way by which to set an alarm to wake me up. The solution: the curtains were left open and I was naturally woken at sunrise…and did not immediately reach out for my i-phone to check emails and social media.

Subsequently, Carol Barwick, Director of Raise, shared an interesting link to an article by Sam Hailes with me: which she intends to investigate further on her own blog site. I look forward to finding out more…

There are many similar thought-provoking articles online regarding the issue of digital addiction, as well as films, a few of which can be seen here:

I also recommend reading the article, ‘Be 8 Car Happy’ by Mike Matthews, which begins:

However great your life is it’s easy to think everyone else is having a happier, more fun, more exciting time than we are. We live in a comparison society where our happiness is measured relative to the perceived happiness of those around us, and we are encouraged to look outwards to others to provide the barometer for happiness we are prepared to accept in our own lives. Social media such as Facebook and Twitter provide us all with a highlight reel of our lives. We craft our very own “best bits” as if we were on Big Brother or some other reality TV show as we invite the world in to see how happy we all are. Things aren’t always how they seem however, and on some level we do know this but it doesn’t stop us from expecting more and more.

Another article by Alex Kazemi that has intrigued me can be found here.

Looking forward to hearing from others about your experiences and opinions. But remember to leave time to connect to the real people around you too…