FE feedback: My top 5 points

Inspired by this blog by @teacherhead to reflect on my own feedback following  observed lessons, I’ve been analysing past observation reports to identify the top 5 strengths identified, plus top 5 development points. I also have the privilege of observing teachers right across the FE curriculum from Entry level to level 7, including adult recreational classes, 14-16 provision and everything in between.

Areas of strength tend to comprise the following essential elements: teacher subject knowledge; warm relationships with learners; effective planning; support for individuals and preparing learners for the world of work.

With a little more detail included, here is a “top 5” of the action points I find myself giving most often to those I observe.

1. The learning environment

Seating plans are a relatively new concept in FE, no doubt driven by the expectations of Ofsted inspectors, who may have a background in school inspections. Learner groupings and pairings aside, it’s often easy to overlook the impact of room layout on the success of a lesson, particularly when sessions are timetabled back to back, rooms are shared and lessons are short. The key word here is inclusion. Can all your learners see/hear each other? Are they seated alone or do you need to move them closer to their peers to make pair and small group work easy to manage? Would it benefit them to move out of their “comfort zone” and work with someone different? Can you move around easily to support learners and check work?  Working with tables in rows may remind learners of negative experiences at school. A more inclusive layout with tables in pods or a horseshoe will immediately communicate to the learners the levels of participation expected. Five minutes faff at the start of the lesson, whilst you arrange the furniture  to suit the lesson planned, will pay huge dividends in terms of ensuring a productive learning environment.

2. Beginnings and Endings

A starter activity is essential in preparing learners for learning, creating an opportunity to review prior knowledge and/or skills and rewarding learners for punctuality whilst acting as a deterrent for lateness. Having an activity prepared for learners to complete on arrival also provides time for you as the teacher to orientate yourself, particularly if rushing straight from another lesson, as well as enabling you to challenge latecomers without disturbing the other learners.  Vocabulary box activities require minimal preparation and provide learners with a valuable recap, incorporating the development of academic language whilst building positive group dynamics. Having 5 key questions ready on the whiteboard can also cement learning and are most effective if they include e.g. 3 from the previous lesson, 1 from the previous week and 1 from longer ago. A stimulating starter can also help to motivate learners, helping them to “buy in” to the learning objectives if these are shared afterwards.

Likewise a solid plenary will provide time to reflect on and consolidate learning at the end of a lesson, allowing you and your learners to gauge how much progress has been made. This saves everyone from the sometimes painful “revisiting of learning objectives” stage, with the teacher, in effect, telling the learners what they should have learned. This seems to be a feature of many an observed lesson, but can be happily omitted with the onus put on the learners to actively review and reflect.

 3. Questioning

Even more experienced teachers can fall into patterns of unproductive questioning. Again, the key word here is inclusion. Most questioning falls into one of two camps: The teacher asks the question and volunteers answer or the teacher asks the question and nominates one learner to answer. Both have huge drawbacks, with learners being given the option as to whether they participate at one end of the scale and learners being put on the spot at the other. The biggest problem here is that these approaches severely limit the amount of information gathered by the teacher as well as minimising opportunities for peer learning.

An blend of the well-known “Agree, Build, Challenge” and Geoff Petty’s pose, pause, pounce, bounce models, is Paul Moss’s AWCE routine, with multiple learners nominated to respond before the correct answer is validated. This is a highly effective assessment method and has the added benefit of developing academic language, as learners really have to listen and respond to each other’s answers carefully.

4. Behaviour management

Non-confrontational behaviour management techniques have boosted my own confidence in challenging learners enormously. “BODOR” is an approach which I learnt as a teacher educator from three trainee teachers, working in Outdoor Education. The approach runs as follows:

a) Give a “B.O.D.O.R.” (Blatantly Obvious Description of Reality) to Challenge the “Primary Behaviour” (the main inappropriate behaviour you want to address).
b) “Tactically Ignore” the “Secondary Behaviour” (other inappropriate behaviour which normally follows the Primary Behaviour).
c) Give “Take Up Time” for student to STOP, THINK, and CHOOSE to do the right thing. During this time you ignore and carry on with the rest of the lesson.
A perfect example is one I employ on a daily basis to discourage learners from smoking outside college, e.g.
Me: “You’re smoking in a non-smoking area”
Learners cannot argue with this, so usually move down to the smoking shelter. If they don’t, or if they challenge me, I provide them with a choice, e.g. “You can either finish your cigarette now, or go down to the smoking shelter”.
I have only once been challenged by a learner and on that occasion the other learners present ended up “policing” her, walking her down to the smoking shelter themselves.

5. Note taking

Most learners are poor note-takers. They have often never been taught how to take notes, so end up writing everything down, writing nothing down, or taking a photo of the board, which they will probably never look at again.

The Cornell Method is summarised perfectly here and provides learners with a simple framework which they can use across their study programme. The magic happens where they have to summarise their notes in their own words, thus deepening their learning there and then, thus increasing the likelihood of recall later on. This summary task also provides teachers with an instant plenary task (see 1 above), as well as developing writing skills, particularly if these are then read (and corrected) by peers.



Bryanston Education Summit 7th Jun 2017 Reflections of an FE practitioner: Part 1

So, after the long-awaited road trip from South Devon, five of us arrived at Bryanston School ready gather ideas around the theme “Delivering World Class Education in Turbulent Times.” Here are my “take-aways” from the day:

Sean Harford – Myth-busting and updates from Ofsted

This talk focussed on the new curriculum survey work being done by Ofsted from Early Years right through to 16-19 at national, organisational and classroom level.

Curriculum intent, implementation and impact will all feed into the new Ofsted framework. This seems to translate as planning, teaching and learning/assessment, so maybe this is just rewording of the current TLA focus.

Progress (assessment) is still a key focus and Sean was keen to emphasise that the best way to know (rather than demonstrate) whether your learners are making progress is to have a firm handle on your curriculum in terms of:

  • Design and intent
  • How it is being implemented
  • The impact on knowledge and understanding

The need for numbers to evidence this is really up to the organisation. The expectation is that as providers and practitioners, we should know what is best for our learners.

Priorities within the forthcoming Ofsted framework will include:

  • Curriculum
  • Research
  • Development of inspectors

Guy Claxton – The middle way: beyond the trad/prog Punch and Judy Show

For me, this was the absolute highlight of the day and I was glad to attend this prior to some of the later sessions which fell firmly into the “trad” camp.

The essence of Guy’s presentation is captured in this blog post which summarises his more expansive and “nuanced” view of education as having space for ANDs rather than ORs. We were warned against these strong rhetorical positions, In Guy’s words, ‘Away with Traditional vs. Progressive, Knowledge vs. Skills, Rigour   vs. Creativity. I want rote learning and free discussion, both in their place’.

We observed a short clip of a maths lesson, being asked to focus on the ‘design template’ of the lesson, plus the behaviour and speech of both teacher and learners. The language they used I found of particular interest, with the different stages of the lesson not just included, but articulated by T and Ls. Other key phrases I noted were:

Teacher language:

It’s good to try before you get taught 

Breaking down (the problem)

What do you know? 

Clue, hint

Do you want to try that? 

I like what she’s thinking

Let’s unpack the learning target

Are you ready for the work? 

It’ll give you the chance to apply what you’ve learnt

What’s another strategy you can push yourself with? 

Learner language: 

…even if (your partner) got it wrong they might give you a clue

It doesn’t matter if you get it wrong

Learners don’t mind getting it wrong

Lesson ‘design template’

The lesson was staged as follows, reflecting Bloom’s taxonomy:

Developing, grapple, discussion, focus, application, synthesis

Other points of note were: 

The use of a learner generated anchor chart similar to support the paired discussion was striking and similar to this one:


When asked to share our plus/minus/interesting thoughts with a neighbour, mine commented that she thought the lesson appeared very “trad” whereas I felt it appeared quite “prog”, which hopefully underlined Guy’s argument perfectly.

He went on to describe the 3 goals of education in developing:

  • Capability
  • Comprehension
  • Character

and the ways in which these can be woven together within a lesson via the ‘layers of a river’ metaphor, ie

Fast moving, visible elements on top ie Knowledge, the lesson subject

Slower moving, less visible elements in the middle, ie Skills, expertise, literacies

Slow moving, deeper, ie Habits of mind, such as resourcefulness, collaboration, resilience etc

Exemplifying these three strands within a history teaching context as either:

The Tudors – transcribing – credulity

or The Tudors – discussion – empathy


The final part of Guy’s talk was particularly interesting in it’s take on growth mindset. Reframing it in terms of learning vs performance modes, both of which are desirable, but at different times and with different goals (outlined above). These not only apply to learners, but to teachers, ie P mode for an Ofsted visit and L mode for day-to-day teaching.

Key questions for teachers to consider are:

  • Are we intentionally or unintentionally developing these dispositions?
  • How to segue between the two?
  • What do we do to signify to learners whether they are in L or P mode?
  • How does the culture of an organisation affect the L mode?





My love affair with padlet

I’m increasingly turning to Padlet as an invaluable tool for sharing resources. It avoids multiple logins, enables both files and links to be uploaded and it also encourages interaction and collaboration, whether with colleagues or learners.

Here’s one I’ve used for  Flip learningPadlet1

Another I’ve created to support with active learning


Plus one more which learners have used to set themselves individual targets for a session.





How to build a team of Teaching & Learning Coaches

A year ago I was blogging about the disappointment of trying and failing to set up a coaching scheme within an FE college. Now, a year later, there’s suddenly 6 months’ worth of coaching activity to write about.

The idea for the scheme came about following my accidental enrolment onto a coaching course in the summer of 2015. I was actually trying to develop myself as mentor coordinator for teacher education students and thought coaching would be more or less the same thing. How wrong I was. Filled with enthusiasm, I returned to college, badgered a few people, but never really managed to get anything off the ground. I think this was mainly due to other people not really knowing what coaching was either. I finally resorted to the “Your Ideas” section of the college website, claiming not only my free coffee voucher for the idea, but the £15 voucher for having an idea which was taken up by the college.

Weirdly I was then interviewed for the role of “Teaching and Learning Coach” along with 9 others, right at the end of the summer term. The role play part of the interview certainly challenged my application of non-directional coaching skills but my passion for the idea clearly came across, so I was appointed not only TLC, but lead TLC and allocated a day to carry out the role. This has since developed further into a 3 day secondment to the Quality team.

September came around all too soon and my fellow coaches needed training, so I delivered a couple of sessions  using the CET/DET unit “Preparing for the Coaching Role” for accreditation. The aim of this was to equip the team with basic coaching skills. The unexpected by-product was that they bonded very strongly from the outset. From a teaching point of view, I have never felt quite so daunted by a group of learners, as they of course comprised some of the best and most experienced teachers in the college. The interview panel had, however, done their work well and appointed 9 other coaches who had come into it for all the right reasons and with all the right skills: positivity, genuineness, warmth, humour and an open mind. They all started to feel like family right from the outset.

We were assigned to different sections in the college, according to the outcome of internal “learning reviews”. At least three sections had been graded 3, so were in need of some urgent “TLC”. These sections were allocated more than one coach, enabling us to meet and discuss what they needed, as well as creating opportunities for paired learning walks and co-delivery of workshops. Single TLCs would be allocated a section graded as 2 or above, with the idea of gathering and sharing the good practice across college. Our work with these sections of course involves further support and stretch for staff. Section Heads proved our greatest allies in the early days. Most had already taken great strides in terms of putting post learning review action plans into place and the warmth and enthusiasm with which they welcomed us into their teams was striking. Some of the staff were initially a little wary, when two of us asked one group what they had heard about us and our role, one teacher answered “You’re the police”. We have certainly gone some way towards turning these perceptions around, although our roles are a little blurred at times, as all of us coaches are also members of the college observation team.

So our role has grown, developed and moved flexibly in line with subsequent reviews and re-reviews. Monthly meetings have proved vital, informal TLC drop-ins have certainly given me the chance to compare notes with others and forge new relationships with the team. A recent trip to Bristol to attend a workshop run by Mark Adams  @AdamsPsychology on “Coaching skills for developing lesson observations” was, quite honestly, the best CPD I have ever been on. Support  from @JoanneMiles2 has been invaluable  as has advice from @Rissol_Gruffis , a fellow TLC at another college.

What else have we been doing? 

  • Attending team meetings to and explore training and development needs
  • Designing and delivering bespoke CPD workshops for teams
  • Sharing relevant research, reading or links on topics that interest the team
  • Creating Google+ pages, plus padlets for staff to share resources, ideas and comments
  • Recording video clips for the “Best practice shots” initiative
  • Working one to one with teachers to develop skills, knowledge and confidence.
  • Attending workshops and completing coaching qualifications to develop own knowledge and skills
  • Leading sessions on CPD day
  • Input on Teacher Education programmes and observations by trainees
  •  Supporting Best Practice lunches
  • Observations and learning walks as part of COT team

And what next? 

  • Linking up with the Advanced Practitioners from another local college
  • Recruiting 5 more TLCs
  • Moving into the college’s HE provision – two TLCs have been deployed here already
  • Involvement in an ETF project relating to English provision
  • Recording ourselves and others teaching
  • Co-ordinating peer observations within and between teams

The challenges have been many, but so have the benefits. I can only describe it as a privilege to work with my fellow coaches. I would dearly love this to become a permanent part of the college’s staff development programme. Wish us luck with our contractual negotiations for next year…

#UKFEchat conference 2016

So there it was. The now usual whirlwind of a day, but this time with the added honour of running my very own workshop.

As I arrived, Justin Timberlake was urging us all to “Dance, dance, dance”. Not that much encouragement was needed and a bit of a boogie certainly helped to quell any nerves.

It was never going to be easy though…

…and cosy it was. Tucked away in the Oxbridge-esque Red Room in BSix, 20 or so participants and I grappled with thorny questions such as”Is differentiation still a thing?” and “If so, how do I do it?”. We’re still open to suggestions via the padlet below:

Next up was Oliver Cavigioli, coping valiantly without Dan Williams, inviting us to “Choose science not myths”. Plenty of food for thought, plus a very “borrowable” questionnaire which will come in handy for forthcoming CPD and Intial Teacher Ed sessions.

Perhaps the most relevant session for my new role as Lead Teaching and Learning Coach was Graeme Hathaway’s take on the “Developmental Observation Process” at Sheffield College, which very much reflects the approach we’ve taken at South Devon in terms of instigating a culture shift towards non-judgemental, practitioner led observations, involving professional discussions based on coaching conversations. The use of Google forms to train, guide and record these interactions would be a real augmentation to our own processes.

After lunch, it felt like coming home, as I headed upstairs, to one of the classrooms where I cut my ESOL teeth back in 1999, teaching adults in the evening when the site was still part of Hackney Community College. Kay Sidebottom also provided a warm welcome to us with her session on “Restorative Practice” which I’ve been dabbling in since first making contact with her. It’s always fascinating to observe another teacher educator in action, so I came away feeling simultaneously reassured that my approach is not dissimilar to Kay’s, as well as feeling stimulated to extend my own range of approaches, particularly with regard to supporting trainees and staff with behaviour management strategies. I think my children might also “feel the benefit”…

Paul Joyce’s interview by Stephen Exley provided some useful insights into what Ofsted are really looking for. Neatly summarised here:

Maths and English were of course hot topics, which were revisited during the final session of the day, but before that came Liz Leek with her wonderful reflections on becoming a leader in FE. I’ve been wrestling with the advice to “dress for the job you want and not for the job you’ve got”, but Liz’s anecdote about the suede boots and the trainers have reassured me that authenticity is more important than the impressions made by our footwear. So I won’t be throwing out my Birkenstocks and FlyLondon boots just yet then.

Soapboxes were out for the last #ukfechat live session of the day, with Jayne Stigger’s rallying cry:

As always, there was never enough time to network, so I had to settle for a catch up  with the usual suspects over lunch, plus brief introductions to other #ukfechat legends, at various points in the day.

How on earth Matron Sarah Simons has managed to find time to put this video together is anyone’s guess:

Thank you Sarah. You have created a warm, generous and funky community. Better start practising my dance moves for 2017…

What are you talking about in the staffroom this week?


As a rookie article writer for an online FE jobs website, my editor asked me this question last week. So, given that it’s taking me longer than the 4 hours I am paid for to knock up each article, I thought this might be a good title for a blog to get me in the habit of writing regularly and coherently about current hot topics in the initial teacher education staffroom. So here goes…

This week we’ve been talking about how to evidence “rapid and sustained progress” in light of the latest knee-jerk response to half-understood Ofsted criteria. Apologies, I marked 11 years in my current job this week, hence the hint of cynicism creeping into that last comment.

Progress is not always a) rapid b) sustained c) measurable or d) visible to an observer, particularly within skills-based lessons. I would also never advise a teacher to adapt their teaching to please an observer. That said, one useful strategy which can help both learners and teachers to become more aware of progress during an individual session is to encourage the setting of individual targets at the outset and to revisit these during and/or at the end of the session. I’ve seen this work really well with e.g. sticky notes attached to PC monitors during an IT lesson, with targets written up on on mirrors during hairdressing practicals, or simply with learners writing their names and goals on a whiteboard. This strategy is further enhanced by a thorough plenary stage where learners self- and peer-assess against their original targets, providing the teacher with an opportunity to give motivational and constructive feedback to both the group and to individuals.

What do you think? Is this just the latest fad following hard on the heels of previous attempts to keep inspectors happy? Or is this a genuine way of forcing us to focus on what we really should be doing to help our learners to learn fast and learn deeply in the very limited time we have?

What’s the hot topic in your staffroom this week?





Adopting a mentoring mentality

What makes a good mentor? Is an effective mentor born or made? What values, attitudes, beliefs and qualities characterise the best mentors?

These are three pretty standard questions with which I often start the training sessions which I run for new mentors. Reflecting on my own experience of being mentored, I can now pinpoint several key qualities and skills which my various mentors exhibited and which caused me to flourish or flounder at different stages during my own professional transitions , initially from EFL teacher to FE lecturer and later from lecturer to teacher educator.

So what tips would you give a new mentor? Here are a few of my own ideas:

  1. Above all, encourage your mentee to be themselves. Teacher authenticity is something which learners often comment on positively. I remember desperately trying to emulate one of my mentors and just as determinedly trying not to act like the other. In both situations I wasn’t being true to myself and as a result was unhappy, depriving my learners of the experience of being taught by the real me.
  2. Consider beginnings and endings. Just as a good lesson will feature both a starter and plenary activity, so a mentoring relationship can fly or fall depending on the way that it starts and finishes. Contracting the relationship and setting ground rules can sound very dull, but will ultimately pay off as both sides are clear as to what is expected.
  3. Be ready to learn and be ready to admit your own mistakes. I’ve often realised mid-feedback that I’ve phrased something in a clumsy way, or have myself gained insight from observing another teacher. Share this with them. It is a privilege to work with a new teacher, so do them the honour of acknowledging this.
  4. Develop coaching skills. Coaching and mentoring are often viewed as distinct roles, but a combination of the two can have powerful results. Asking the right questions, encouraging mentees to explore all possible options, then selecting their preferred one will help to develop not only confidence, but professional responsibility which will last them their whole career.
  5. Enjoy the experience. Talking about teaching with another professional may sometimes feel like a luxury, but is a vital part of what I call “grassroots CPD”. Enormous pleasure can be derived from accompanying another teacher on the early part of their journey, encouraging them to take risks, helping them to solve problems and building their confidence along the way.

…and what about the mentees? Can we flip the tips above to create any more nuggets of advice for them?

  1. Be yourself and in return, ask your mentor to be honest and authentic with you. The notion of a “critical friend” may feel a bit cliched, but what may at first sound like criticism from your mentor comes only from a desire to help you grow.
  2. Remember that the relationship is temporary. Many teachers keep in touch with mentors throughout their career, but respecting and acknowledging that there needs to be a formal beginning and ending will help you to mark these significant moments as “rights of passage” in your own career.
  3. Realise that your mentor may seem far more experienced than you, but they were once in your place and they will be learning from you too. You bring fresh ideas, a new perspective and in due course you will even be able to give your mentor ideas and feedback as to how they can improve their practice.
  4. Listen to your mentor. Take notes on what they say. You may be just one of the many balls they have to juggle, so the more responsibility you can take for recording meetings and writing up your targets the better. Technology can work brilliantly here with new mentoring apps becoming all the time. Using cloud storage such as Dropbox is another easy way to share documents, allowing you both to comment on e.g. lesson plans or resources.
  5. Make the most of this period of time. It is precious. In my case I am still learning from the experience of being mentored as I reflect on what worked and didn’t work well for me in order to support and train the next generation of mentors in my organisation.

We can all make excuses about lack of time, lack of payment or lack of recognition given to mentors, but when times are hard, the strongest relationships tend to be forged. Each mentoring relationship is unique and should be valued as such. Adopting a mentoring mentality seems to me to be a key tool with which to navigate the ever-changing seas through which further education must sail.


A love letter to #ukfechat

What have I learned from #ukfechat?

  1. That I am one of many FE lecturers in the country who cares passionately about our learners and the role played in our communities by Further Education colleges. I now feel part of a big, friendly supportive network. I have forged contacts with practitioners, academics and bloggers who I can now approach with confidence for advice on e.g. developing support for teacher education mentors, use of VLE, practical ideas for teacher education lessons. I also read and share my contacts’ blogs with students.
  2. That I have a lot to share with other practitioners as well as a lot to learn from them. My confidence to debate controversial topics has also increased. Thursday night’s live #ukfechats include many different view points, but participants are always respectful and tolerant. The recent #ukfechat conference also embraced the current debates around the role and future of FE. Attendance at this event was hugely motivating and has had a real impact on my practice (see earlier blog)
  3. A wealth of practical tips on a wide range of topics. A recent inbox sort out revealed that I have taken part in 20 #ukfechat live conversations including topics such as: embedding English and maths, reflective practice, the ETF professional standards, starting out the year, British values, managing behaviour and managing workload.
  4. That I can express myself clearly and succinctly in written form. The opportunity to contribute to two #ukfechat guides has boosted my confidence enormously and has inspired me to keep my blog up to date. I have recently been approached to contribute to a new online careers advice service directly as a result of my involvement in #ukfechat. Composing tweets for the live #ukfechats has also developed my ability to express myself quickly and succinctly. My ICT skills have developed enormously too, as my awareness has grown of how to create and sustain a professional, online presence.
  5. That CPD can be driven from grassroots. I am currently involved in piloting a coaching course for managers in my own college, with a view to transforming our own CPD into something which is driven by staff and not done to them.

How has what I have learned and how you have felt supported been cascaded to people in your own networks and colleges?

  1. Embedding a Twitter feed in Moodle courses means that I can very easily signpost my teacher education students to tips, links and contacts from #ukfechat.
  2. Passing on information, tips and ideas to peers and managers, both verbally and via email. The development of the coaching unit mentioned above has partly come about due to advice and ideas gleaned from direct contacts made through #ukfechat.
  3. My trip to the TES awards ceremony along with my contribution to the first two #ukfechat guides was promoted via college marketing. The college principal also received a copy and talked to me in person about it.
  4. As a teacher educator, I have a unique opportunity to model effective practice for my students. Practical ideas for e.g. embedding English and maths, managing behaviour and use of Moodle, which I have gleaned from #ukfechat discussions and contacts, have all been highlighted, modelled and evaluated with my teacher education students, with explicit reference to #ukfechat. I encourage them to use Twitter as a professional forum, to follow authors, experts and other practitioners and to take part in online discussions.
  5. I take every opportunity to advertise #ukfechat and to share the benefits it has brought me. One of my colleagues followed the events at the #ukfechat conference live and was able to interact with participants during the day.

#ukfechat, in the words of one of my fellow chatters, provides “world class CPD”. I have never felt better supported, more motivated or excited to be teaching in FE since I became involved. Long may it continue to thrive.

Launching a coaching programme in FE – the story so far

So…bit of a disappointing week in terms of attendance. Only one of my four victims colleagues could make it. We went ahead with the session anyway, discussing experiences of coaching to date, analysing a video of a coaching conversation, re-scripting a coaching conversation had by the participant and talking through some options for taking coaching forward at college level.

I’m going to be invited to meet a team from another local college on 24th Nov, which is exciting. They have a similar scheme set up, which sounds interesting, if more costly.

I am also going to contact @JoanneMiles NOW to see if she has any case studies on setting up coaching schemes in other FE colleges.