Blogs for teachers and coaches on embedding English

Posted in Embedding English, embedding literacy, Uncategorized | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Blogs for managers and leaders on embedding English in FE

Embedding English: How can leaders and managers support and develop their teams?

Posted in Embedding English, embedding literacy, Management skills, Uncategorized | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Classroom Practice Development – A different approach to CPD?

As a freelance trainer and coach in schools and colleges, I am often invited to deliver training on a staff development day. This can give staff access to research insights and expose them to different classroom approaches as well as foster reflection and debate about our professional practices, so I recognise that there can be value in training sessions. However, I have a nagging concern about the transfer into practical application through planning and delivery. I come away from training sessions concerned that little or nothing will actually be applied, however positively the teachers received the session and however many enthusiastic follow-up messages I get from keen people on Twitter. There are just too many barriers and distractions to widespread implementation; it is just too easy to do nothing and too challenging to actually experiment with new practices.


These concerns are not just my own, as staff development research echoes these points and highlights the importance of reflecting on your own practice and collaborating with others to explore and adapt any input to your context. We need time and process to take training content into our own professional context in creative, tailored ways. We need space to think about how that new approach could work with our learners and what we would need to do to maximise its potential impact using a tailored approach. We can benefit from rich, thoughtful, challenging professional conversations with colleagues to help us plan that implementation.

Yet, most institutions who invite me in to do some work are still wedded to the training delivery model and are reluctant or entirely resistant to paying for the support with implementation. There is a love of paying for a guru/expert figure to bring in knowledge, but a troubling lack of focus on how to foster actual change and development from that input. When I suggest a focus on planning materials or activities as part of the delivery, I am almost always told the institution wants an input-focused day, perceiving this as better use of their money. I don’t agree.

So, imagine my delight when a Vice Principal at a land based college proposed a different style of CPD day for me to work on. We spoke on the phone and he explained his concern about what was being taken away and applied after the typical training day; he expressed a desire for a structure that produced something tangible that people could take away and use. Hooray!! We formulated a new way of working for a:

  1. One hour of input from me on the topic in question, which included a little modelling of approaches, some sharing of practice with robust debate about our beliefs and assumptions about this aspect of learning. The teachers knew that at the end of this hour we would create flip chart summaries of key ideas that had come out of our conversations and that these flip charts would be stored on Moodle and shared with colleagues who had not attended.
  1. The teachers then worked in groups of three to create their flip chart summaries, with each group looking at a different aspect of the topic.
  1. After break, teachers had the chance to spend time devising a piece of material to use with students, related to the topic of the day. I provided some ideas as food for thought but encouraged an individualised and creative approach to devising something of relevance. Teachers spent some time drafting on paper and discussing with colleagues or working alone before we moved to a computer room. Materials were emailed to the Moodle administrator to be added to our online area related to this session for others to access after the day, discuss and debate.

So what was different about this day? The teachers really welcomed the chance to do something practical and have time allocated to this and were positive about the whole notion of the session, so the mood was upbeat and focused. The fact that they were going to create flip chart summaries produced a different reaction to the input section of the day – I saw the vast majority focusing well and taking notes during the input stage whereas this is often limited to a few people only! There was thoughtful and vigorous debate about which points merited inclusion on the charts and how best to express them for colleagues, so I heard many points being expanded and developed on the spot, which was encouraging to see.

The biggest surprise was the level of engagement and quality of work produced in that short materials workshop after the break. Teachers often opted to work with others who work at the same level but on different programmes, so they could devise an activity on a topic for their course, but tap into colleagues’ creative thinking about different ways to shape and structure that activity. Several people commented about how interesting and challenging it was to work in this collaborative way and how rarely it was possible in the current timetable constraints. There was plenty of thoughtful, enthusiastic debate, sometimes with disagreement, but always reflective, practical and professional.

Given that space and time, people came up with some really well-crafted quizzes for checking learning, some presentations on steps to embed functional skills into a topic, sets of plenary questions at different levels to stretch learners further, a whole lesson with stages and visual resources for a scenario task. All of these related to lessons being taught soon so I feel very optimistic about the chances of them being applied in practice. All of them were what I think of as good quality generative activities – ones that teachers from other subjects could look at and generate their own bespoke versions using subject specific content. They are well worth sharing on Moodle and exploring within a team meeting or subsequent CPD day using some reflective questions and facilitation techniques. I was impressed how quickly and how well they took the ideas from the input session into practical implementation when given the chance to work on it immediately. I could coach, mentor and advise as I spent time circulating around the room, helping people to refine ideas further, and it was really great to have that personal time with individuals with a depth that is usually impossible.

I am hoping that for this college, it will become the beginning of a new way of working for at least part of their CPD programme – Classroom Practice Development, instead of simply training. As I am doing some work with the Heads and leaders on closing the loop on teaching and learning developments, I am looking forward to devising ways that managers can make time and space for teachers to access the Moodle resources and benefit from them in critical, reflective ways. This model is one that I will be discussing with other schools and colleges in an attempt to ensure that training actually creates development. Thank you Malcolm, for making this space and time available and for building this model with me. It has been something I have wanted to do for a long time in my work but you are the first leader who made this possible for me.



Posted in Consultancy, CPD, CPD for Teachers, Culture for Learning, FE, Professional Development, Staff Development, Teaching and learning | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

The great things about being a freelancer

I have been a freelance trainer, consultant and coach in education for the last five years and think there are many great things about this way of working, once you have gone through that stressful period of setting up your business and establishing yourself in the sector. I think there is plenty written about the challenges of starting up in business  but not enough about the joys. Here are a few, both professional and personal.

You develop relationships with people in their institutions and can see them creating change across time, with some involvement in that process. It is rewarding and exciting to see those changes and that development of individuals and play a part in it. You learn to contribute to something you can’t control but may influence and support to an extent. Developing those skills is a fascinating journey.

By the nature of the work, you spend time with people who want to make something happen, with all the related energy and passion, so the work often has dynamism and drive to it. It is inspiring to be part of someone’s project or vision for change and to see where you can support it. As an outsider, you are not bogged down with all the politics of the organisation in the same way as the people working there. You can give an alternative view, be more challenging sometimes or offer a different approach, because you are the external pair of eyes on the work. I find the freelance life much less frustrating and exasperating than being in a classic 9-5 role.

Once you get to work in different settings, you start to get a helicopter view of the sector and see trends and patterns emerging. You can share experiences from different contexts and pass on observations, pitfalls and things that have helped others make change, so people have rich food for thought in their own process. You gain a much broader perspective on your sector than you could ever acquire working in one place.

Freelance life is incredibly varied and you can end up having a really stimulating working week. My average week can include presenting a webinar, coaching an individual via Skype, designing materials at home, writing blogs in a cafe, training a group of teachers or managers, presenting at a conference or doing business admin at home.  This range of activity means you develop new skills and end up exploring more avenues than you ever realised could exist for you at work.

Possibly the most enjoyable aspect is being able to make choices about work, taking the initiative to carve out your own niche and create your own work identity. This is creative, challenging and stimulating and makes you really accountable for your own professional life. You have to find the work that you want to do and be so good at it that people want to invite you back again! You can’t be complacent or stuck in a rut as you risk losing your currency with your clients. You have to identify your expertise and passions, assess the market and create something that fits the needs of the clients you want to work with – this is a very thought provoking, creative and demanding process. You have to stay current and evolve with the world your clients inhabit, so there is constant challenge and evolution built into your work. Once you have established yourself, you can say no to things that don’t suit you or appeal to you. There is a freedom, richness and scope here that is often difficult to find in other jobs with more constraints.

On a personal level, you can often travel out of rush hour, visit your gym when it is quiet, get shopping delivered at home while you work, put a casserole and a load of washing on while you design materials. Life is more comfortable as you are not cramming in everything after work or on weekends. You can travel out of school holidays and take a break if you have had a busy spell.

I meet many people who are toying with the idea of going freelance and I think it is worth considering all of these benefits in weighing up what this new life could bring once you get established. Yes, it is scary, complex and challenging to make a success of it, but if you do, there are many great things to look forward to and this shouldn’t be ignored.


Posted in Consultancy, Freelancers, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Most read blogs for coaches in 2016

Here are my most popular blog postings from 2016, related to coaching skills and models.

Happy new year to you!

Posted in Advanced Practitioners, Coaching, coaching skills, FE, Lesson observations, Teaching and learning, Ungraded lesson observations | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Making Supported Experiments happen: How can coaches and managers collaborate to develop and improve T&L?

Many schools and colleges use models such as Supported Experiments to encourage teachers to develop their practice and own their professional learning. I note that the institutions where these initiatives take hold and come to life often have a team of teaching and learning coaches facilitating the process with positive, active support from managers. The collaboration between the managers and the coaches is a key part of this dynamic so what does it look like?

Firstly, the senior managers in the institution need to actively foster the model and enable staff to engage with it. They need the vision to see where this initiative fits into wider improvement work and a passion to see it through so it becomes sustainable. Persistence and resilience really help make it happen in amongst all the other conflicting demands on time. It means allocating time for coaching meetings, money for some T&L resources (an innovation fund often works well) and skills training for the coaches and the managers. Project planning/implementation skills and coaching skills for reflection and action planning will have a great impact on how effectively teachers work through the cycle and develop their practice. So senior leaders need to make a conscious commitment to make this happen. Luke-warm leadership or a loss of focus (the ‘butterfly mind’ problem of having too many strategies in play) can impact this work very badly indeed.

Secondly, the middle managers and programme leaders need to play a supportive, engaged but not dominating role within teams, to foster active experimentation and reflection amongst their teachers. It is a delicate balancing act as too heavy a hand (“I know you are going to choose your own experiments but embedding English is SUCH a hot topic right now so maybe…”) can take ownership away from teachers and prevent them from going on their own professional learning journey. Conversely, a manager who shows no interest in the experimental practice and just leaves it to the coach, loses a chance to build momentum in the team for trying new approaches, engaging with research findings and sharing reflections. Some managers that I meet recognise the experimental practice cycle as a growth and development opportunity for the team – productive relationships can be built as people buddy up to try out new approaches; the project gives the team time and space to tackle barriers to achievement in a deeper and more thoughtful way across time.

Finally, how can the teaching and learning coaches or advanced practitioners support this process and collaborate well with leaders and managers? The coaches usually support the teachers with reflection and action planning to shape their experimental practice and to unpick glitches as they arise. These conversations happen in team meetings, CPD slots and 1:1s. For me, effective collaboration looks like this:

  1. Middle managers have regular “catch-up and plan forward” conversations with the coach outside the team meeting setting, to look at who can do what to support the process. They can then decide who communicates what to the team, e.g. Coaches can offer support, share resources, provide prompt questions; Managers should retain their line management responsibilities and address non-attendance at meetings etc. It is not appropriate or desirable for coaches to act as police with their colleagues.
  1. Managers and coaches show interest in experiments, ask questions about them informally outside the parameters of the meetings, and look for fruitful buddying up opportunities to enhance the work. Teachers working on related themes can be linked up IF coaches and managers are informed enough to broker those connections.
  1. Managers can often support the coaches with room bookings, securing equipment, resources or catering, as they generally hold the budgets for these things. It helps when the manager looks out for practical opportunities to support in this way and asks about what is needed.
  1. Managers can share in-depth team knowledge with coaches on any quality improvement priorities or key curriculum issues that will impinge on with experiments; they can share knowledge of team members and experiences of working with them, so the coach can optimise their own sessions.
  2. Regular updates at middle and senior management level forums really help keep the development work high on the agenda and visible. Coaches can summarise what is working well and where they are facing challenges in the project, and this can be discussed at middle management meetings to identify ways to support the process. Middle management groups can share progress with experiments in their teams at a termly meeting and discuss how they are learning to lead the development work. Coaches and managers can meet as a large group to identify next steps together, if the opportunity is created through scheduling agenda items to focus on this. Regular updates and trouble shooting help all parties to learn to deliver a large-scale development cycle such as Supported Experiments in amongst all the other pressing priorities of working life.


This collaboration is about focusing on communication and working together to foster great work by teachers with and for learners. It is about being connected and aligned to a developmental goal and not working in silos defined by job title or hierarchy. With this mindset and approach, teachers’ developmental practice can be nurtured and enabled.

If you need some support with developing coaching skills in your setting or project planning for a Supported Experiments cycle, you can contact me via email at

Related reading





Posted in Action research, CPD, CPD for Teachers, Culture for Learning, FE, Leadership of learning, Learning Leader, Management skills, Professional Development, Professional Learning Communities, Solution Focused Approaches, Staff Development, Supported Experiments, Teaching and learning | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Manage your emails or they will manage you

Recently I have had a series of conversations with managers in colleges about the challenges of using email effectively as a communication tool. In each setting, the very mention of the word email provoked rolling of eyes and gestures of exasperation. People mentioned:

  1. The saturation issue – so many emails flying around each day that it is too easy to lag behind and miss key information. The scourge of “reply all” was highlighted here.
  2. Increasing use of out of work hours communication on non-urgent topics, leading to people feeling pressured to respond and to monitor email in their personal time.
  3. Some managers seeming to expect their line reports to be available and responsive to email at all times, even when they are actually doing their job with people in the real world, off email.
  4. Managers finding that their emails can entirely dominate their working day and they can end up a slave to email in an attempt to “keep on top of things.”

This all sounds quite troubling as it implies habits and behaviours that could be problematic for communication and unhealthy for the much-discussed work life balance. It seems that this may be a topic worth discussing in a college setting, to reflect on habits and approaches in order to create better, healthier ways of working together.

In my sessions with managers we came up with these ideas of how to tame the beast that is email and I hope they will be of interest and use to others struggling with this thorny problem.

  1. Devise your own strategy for keeping email in its rightful place. This means finding a way of organising your time so that you can check email regularly but not live on it so that it becomes almost a substitute for getting other work tasks done. Managers told me that they check email first thing, set up a slot midday for another catch up and have an end of the day session so they can go home feeling reasonably on top of things. They mentioned the importance of spending time out of their offices, off email, communicating with people face-to-face. This can save on emails, help you check communication that may have started via email and simply assist you with useful, meaty management activities based on relationship building, monitoring and connecting with the team, of course.

Many managers I have met recently are aware that person-management activities- dropping in on work rooms, meeting staff 1:1, visiting classes, following up on development plans- get eroded by an over-zealous focus on reading emails. It seems that managers want to redress that balance in some settings; get the focus back onto management activity as opposed to having email communication dominate their day. This could help people to feel more ownership in their role, enable them to lead and develop their teams more thoughtfully, being better connected and in touch with them. I am meeting too many managers who feel disempowered and almost paralysed in their team leadership role and I think that the way communication works via email is a contributory factor within that.

  1. Make email work for you by harnessing its features – use the rules in settings to set up allocation of certain emails to specific folders. People clearly have an array of these folders, for example:

CC folder


Research or investigation

Lesson observations

SMT briefings


Disciplinary meetings


The critical thing is to set up a group of personal folders that will help you keep track of relevant and useful information and be able to retrieve it easily. It should also help direct your attention to what needs action and what is just for archive, and therefore speed up that process of paying attention to the significant stuff. It also means that you don’t face a demoralising inbox of 2,345 unread emails each time you log on.

Email systems can also send reminders and prompts to you and others so that is worth harnessing, even if training is needed to do it effectively. This can help take the pressure off short-term memory in the blizzard of tasks people are grappling with each day.

  1. Start the debate in your institution about how email is used and how to use it more effectively. Here are some prompt questions to start that conversation:
  1. How can we balance the use of email with the other aspects of management communication?
  2. How can we avoid/minimise sending emails in personal time/out of work hours? What kind of situations merit sending emails in those times? What is a reasonable expectation of response time?
  3. When is “reply all” really appropriate?
  4. How does our email style affect others? This is an interesting topic for a management 1:1 conversation, if there is openness to hearing and responding to that feedback. Some managers have told me that their leaders rarely email to praise or pass on positive feedback. It is a channel for demands, transfer of information and often criticism. This seems like a lost opportunity to me and could easily lead to a very negative feeling about even switching on the machine in the morning!
  5. When is it better to talk than send an email? How can we make management more ‘human’ again?
  6. What else could we be doing if we spent less time on email?

Hopefully this blog is helpful food for thought and may spark a few constructive conversations about this tricky topic. Why not try and make 2017 the year that you tame the beast that is email?



Posted in Management skills, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment