Wednesday, 13 May 2015

Would Alex Ferguson Make A Great Teacher?

Sir Alex Ferguson was one of the greatest football managers of all time. After spending nearly 27 years as manager of Manchester United, in 2013 he retired. My English teacher at school, who I went to observe and work with when I was deciding whether teaching was for me, told me that he liked to run his classroom like a football manager. This post will hopefully come to the conclusion whether that analogy holds true by looking at the example of Sir Alex Ferguson in the classroom.
Ferguson was renowned during his time as manager for the 'hair-dryer treatment'. This was dished out to David Beckham and other players during his reign. No player was deemed 'irreplaceable' should they step out of line (Lee Sharpe; Jaap Stam; Paul Ince to name a few).
Could this method work for Sir Alex in the classroom? Well, I have seen teachers from the more 'old school' method of teaching delivering some absolute 'rollickings' to students for misbehaving. This might have made the students toe the line with that teacher and could often give the impression of better teaching. However, I have also seen this method result in quivering wrecks of students who will not go into said teacher's lessons again. Obviously there needs to be a line with behaviour and your rules should be adhered to. However, as teachers, we cannot 'buy another student for £15 million' like Ferguson can with his players. There are no transfers with students - just relationships to nurture and develop.

Instead, I see the behaviour policy of a teacher should be more akin to Brendan Rodgers. He is seen defending his players to the press if they are playing by his rules and will often blame his tactics or choice of personnel if they are defeated. However, if they do step out of line, he follows the line of making sure that they know who is in charge.


One key aspect of a football manager's job is to decide which players should be starting games, and which players can be transferred into the team to make the team better. Ferguson was known for being a shrewd businessman and often developed players to their full potential before moving them on. Eric Cantona, Teddy Sheringham and Dwight Yorke were al bought by Ferguson despite reservations about their age, attitude or ability. All three (and countless others) repaid Ferguson's faith in abundance.

This kind of attitude can easily be applied to a teaching format. Ferguson saw the potential in those players when others did not; this should be the exact same for teachers and their students. We need to ensure that the students believe in themselves in our subject, even when others do not.


Ferguson had a wide range of personalities in the players that he managed. Timid players like Paul Scholes compared with the ego of Eric Cantona; the celebrity lifestyle of David Beckham compared with traditional Roy Keane. With all of these players Ferguson knew how to get the best out of them. Whether it was the arm round the shoulder or the proverbial kick up the backside, he knew how to motivate his players.

Equally, this applies to teaching. As a teacher, you need to understand when students need to be energised, when they need to be calmed, when they need to be consoled and when they need to be disciplined. Just as Ferguson developed an understanding of his players, a teacher needs to develop their understanding of a student and what makes them learn.


When my previous teacher referred to running his classroom like a football manager, I don't think he meant to take the analogy to differentiation and assessment. However, Ferguson would be an ideal teacher in this respect. His weakness in the classroom would have been what everyone often thought of as his strength: his behaviour management.


Wednesday, 6 May 2015

What I Look For In A Potential Teacher


Friends and family often say to me that they admire my profession, but that they could never be a teacher because of their own personality. I smile and nod. However, I completely disagree. I think just about anyone can be a teacher. I feel that the skills and attributes needed can be moulded and developed no matter who you are. However, I do think that there are some characteristics which can help.

As well as teaching, I have also had the privilege of working with other teachers to develop their practice. I take a great deal of pride seeing what progress teachers can make in terms of their practice in a short space of time. However, there are certain teachers who make more progress in their first years of teaching than others. I think this is primarily down to a few characteristics which is what I look for in a potential teacher.


Teachers take a lot of flak. From those who are more senior, students, parents, the press and each other. If you are the type of person who is going to fall apart at the first sign of any criticism, then I suggest you look at looking at other careers (or developing resilience!).

It is one attribute that we try and develop in our learners and the reason for this is that it is key in nearly all aspects of professional life. As a teacher, you will have some bad, awful and horrible lessons, but you need to develop an attitude that there will also be positive days as well. I have seen colleagues cry before because of the stress of teaching, but the best ones never did this in front of the students.


Some people think that humour is a necessary trait in teaching. I disagree. But, enthusiasm is essential.

That Year 11 lesson where you are going over the importance of the embedded clause for the millionth time. That Year 7 lesson last thing on a Friday in the library. That Year 9 assessment lesson straight after OFSTED. All these situations and countless others require an abundance of enthusiasm. There are students that don't want to be in school. Your enthusiasm must show them that they need to be there.

Linked to resilience, enthusiasm is needed for those times when you have had a rough day and face another four days of teaching after. It is needed when that student is saying that they can't use the semi-colon and need some motivation. It is needed on a hot day when all the students (and you) want to do is go outside. Enthusiasm will help you most importantly during those first tricky years of teaching. If the students see that you want to be there and help them, they will often want to impress you as well.

Unfortunately, there are enough people still in education who are forever criticising without offering any better solutions. This can be politicians, but can also be teachers in the staff room. If you are an optimistic individual, you can look through this negativity and appreciate the career for what it is.


I wasn't entirely sure whether this was the correct term. However, friends and family always say that I am a 'good-listener' and that I am 'inquisitive'. I like to think that this is because I find that I learn a lot more from listening than I do from talking.

However, this is more linked to the idea that you need to want to learn as a teacher. You need to want to learn to develop your behaviour management techniques; you need to want to learn your subject knowledge; and you need to want to learn how to essentially get better.

I was lucky enough to have some fantastic role model teachers when I was developing my practice. However, none of them said to me 'you need to read this blog' or 'you need to read this book'. I wanted to do that because I wanted to get better for myself. If you're an inquisitive individual, you will want to be learning all the time (which all teachers do - or should be doing) and therefore be a better teacher as a result.

Hard Worker

Teaching is knackering. Standing at the front of a classroom for a whole day is enough hard work, but then you have the administration, marking not to mention the stress of it all. But no teacher ever said to me that it was going to be easy.

People often revel in hard work. Students don't find a task enjoyable if it is ridiculously easy - they need to be challenged. And this is exactly the same for teaching. You need to want to work hard and to improve, otherwise you're going to find yourself drowning in the marking, administration and behaviour.


This has always been the characteristic that I value most as a teacher. I always prided myself in being able to recognise the strengths and weaknesses of my lessons. And I still do to this day which enables me to develop my practice.

It is slightly different when training to be a teacher, as you often have another teacher in to give feedback about the strengths and weaknesses of the lesson. However, there are still times when you are alone teaching and there will certainly be times in the future where you are teaching individually, and it is those times when you need to be able to evaluate how the lesson could have been bettered.

As well as this, it is crucial when trying to develop specific areas of your personality. I have always been someone who has shied away from confrontation with colleagues. However, I understand that as begin to line-manage other individuals, it is not my job to be liked by them; but I need them to develop their practice for the sake of the students' learning.

Although these five characteristics aren't a necessity when starting teaching, they are certainly traits I look for in potential candidates and trainees.

Sunday, 3 May 2015

Setting and Maintaining an Academic Ethos

For the following weeks, I am focussing on creating an Academic Ethos by adhering to the techniques advocated by Doug Lemov in his 'Teach Like a Champion 2.0' manual for teachers. This is the second part of my experiment, having previously focussed on high behavioural expectations. This section will be looking to build a "culture of better" within my own classroom.

Week 1 of my 'Teach Like a Champion' marginal gains experiment on Academic Ethos and I am concentrating on 'No Opt Out' and 'Right is Right'.

No Opt Out

Turn "I don't know" into success by ensuring that students who won't try or can't answer practice getting it right.

 Luckily, I work in a school where the students are enthusiastic about their learning and the vast majority want to answer every question. However, there are still some who do not even try to think when answering a question. If these students get away with not thinking and employing the 'I don't know' response to questions, then I am essentially saying to the other students "Don't worry about answering questions; it doesn't matter if you don't".

This policy tries to ensure that students 'rehearse success' (as Doug says) so that they normalise the right answer rather than the incorrect one. If they do not know the answer, when a different student gives the correct answer, the original student has to repeat the correct answer.

On paper, this seems to be one of the more 'American' techniques (without meaning any disrespect!). What I mean by this, is that it seems like a technique that is more suitable to the American culture rather than a British one. However, regardless of this I am going to try and make sure that my students repeat the correct answer, if they were initially wrong or didn't know. At the moment, I am going to concentrate on just getting the students to repeat the correct answer, rather than stretching or reinforcing their answers.

Right is Right

 When you respond to answers in class, hold out for answers that are "all-the-way right" or all the way to your standards of rigor.

 Without even starting to use this technique, I can predict that this will be one of the most difficult for me to employ. Without wishing to offend any teachers reading this, I would also predict that it is one of the techniques that all teachers do not strictly enforce all the time. Additionally, I think it is probably even more difficult for a teacher of English, which is often open to subjects of interpretation.

However, I would like to try and make sure that I don't reply with "close" or "nearly right" when students give completely wrong answers and equally don't try and say "that's right" when students give me a partially correct answer (or "rounding up" as Doug calls it).

This technique is all about holding out for the quality answer that we want every time. Not partially correct. Not missing some details. Completely correct. If a student hears "correct" when they are only partially correct or even worse incorrect, then the teacher is not making clear to the student where the gap in their knowledge is - thus not capitalising on a learning opportunity for that student.

Therefore, this week, I am going to concentrate on ensuring that my questioning picks apart answers until someone in the class gives the correct answer.

Tuesday, 14 April 2015

Marginal Gains Experiment Part II

A long while back, I started a series of posts attempting to better my behavioural expectations in the classroom. 

Since that series, I have moved schools out of London and to a new post as Head of a Department at an expanding school. Despite the many challenges, a looming OFSTED inspection and a new bunch of students to form a relationship with, I have come to realise that I need to ensure my teaching still needs to develop. Therefore, due to a new updated book by Doug Lemov, I have decided to rekindle the series of blog posts.

Although the last series of posts were focussed on behavioural expectations, I am now moving the series onto 'Academic Ethos'. I have previously attempted to use many of these techniques in my practice previously, However, I have applied them quite haphazardly and feel like I should be more disciplined about my approach in order to get the best out of them. I've therefore decided to apply these techniques with a 'marginal gains' approach; focussing on a select few at a time and altering my practice to ensure I improve upon specific areas.

I am going to write notes to remind me to use the techniques, but more importantly, make sure I record how I am adapting them to my classroom.

Wednesday, 23 July 2014

Classroom Climate - How Students' Perceptions Will Guide My Progress as a Teacher

Eighteen months ago (!), I wrote a blog post about classroom climate, which was essentially comparing my perceptions of my class with my students' perceptions of the class. This information was then used to adjust my teaching for that specific class.

I have continued to use the survey to adjust my teaching in my new school this year.

The graph above shows my end of year survey that I conducted with one of my classes and I will be using it to set my own teaching targets for next year. Although I won't be teaching all of this class next year, I feel that the teaching and learning that went on in that classroom was typical of my teaching and I didn't want to set my targets upon on average of all of my classes put together.

These questions were based on Professor Daniel Muijs and David Reynolds' research on classroom climate and effective teacher behaviours which are listed below. All go towards creating an effective classroom climate. Generally, all teachers should be aiming for as low a score as possible (the questions where this is perhaps debatable are highlighted below, but that is a whole other discussion!)

  1. How fairly are students treated in the classroom?
  2. Do students learn interesting things?
  3. Do students behave in class?
  4. Do students work in groups?
  5. Do students find what they learn interesting?
  6. Are students expected to get the work done?
  7. How difficult is it for students to say they don’t understand?
  8. How clear is it to students that the lesson relates to prior learning?
  9. How neat and tidy is the classroom?
  10. Do the students only get blamed when they have done something wrong?
  11. Does learning seem fun in the classroom?
  12. Do students pay attention in the class?
  13. How clear are students on what they should have learned?
  14. Do students damage each other’s things?
  15. How easy is it to get excellent marks in the class?
  16. Are students encouraged to help each other?
  17. How clear are students on what they will be tested on?
  18. What condition is the classroom kept in?
  19. How fairly is work marked?
  20. Do students get excited about what they are learning?
  21. Do students speak when they should do in the classroom?
  22. Are students allowed to discuss things in the classroom?
  23. Do students hurt each other after class?
  24. Are students expected to do their best on tests?
  25. Are students encouraged to try again if things don’t work?
  26. Do students get a chance to present in class?
  27. Does the classroom always have fresh air?
  28. Do students only get praise when they deserve it?
  29. Are students encouraged to say what they think?
  30. Are students expected to try really hard in the lesson?

If I analyse the data from my responses, the average positive differences (of over 2) between my and the students' perceptions of the climate were in questions 5, 11, 12, 13, 17, 21. This tells me that these things are better than I thought!

My pessimistic personality is perhaps shown that there were no negative average differences of over 2. However, I want to set my targets based upon what my students' perceptions say about the classroom climate so what did we both judge as being as being quite poor on the scale?

Target 1 - Do Students Get a Chance to Present in Class?

Although I also judged this to be poor in my classroom (5), my class judged this to be 3.4. There are probably some educators out there who would judge this to be a non-essential in the classroom, but I feel that it is a skill which every young person needs to develop so I will be doing my utmost to ensure that there are regular opportunities for my classes to present to each other in the classroom next year.

Target 2 - How Easy Is It to Get Excellent Marks in the Class?

For this question, I judged myself to be 3 and was rated 3.1. The problem with this question is that I feel that it isn't worded perfectly. To score 1, the student perception would be that 'it is easy to get excellent marks' and to score 6 the student perception would be that 'it is difficult get excellent marks'. This could be judged by the student to mean 'it is easy to get excellent marks because the work is far too easy for me', or it could be judged by the student to mean 'it is easy to get excellent marks because of the work that the teacher does to help me get there. 

However, I am going to set another target for my teaching to ensure that students feel like it is possible for them all to obtain excellent marks if they work hard. I will be trying to implement more strategies that will promote a Growth Mindset culture in the classroom.

Target 3 - Do Students Find What They Are Learning Interesting?

For this question, I judged myself to be 5 and was rated 3.1. This was one of the questions which I highlighted above as debatable which side of the scale was positive. On one side of the scale is 'students find what they learn interesting' and on the other 'students find what they learn boring'. This makes me think that this should be one of my targets. I don't want my students to find everything that they learn to be boring. Some things are out of my control, especially with the changes in set texts, but I believe that, in order to foster a love for learning and specifically a love for English, I need to make the lessons more consistently interesting.

As can be seen in the graph above, there were other questions where I scored below 3 by my students ('do students work in groups?'; 'do students get excited about what they are learning?'; 'does the classroom always have fresh air?'), but I've decided to focus on those targets next year to try and improve my students' perceptions of the classroom climate.