Review by Mike Hartnell

Headteacher, Warblington School, Hampshire

6 Oct 2019, 5:00


Book Review: Teach Like Nobody’s Watching

By Mark Enser


Crown House


Teach Like Nobody’s Watching is a book based on a deceptively simple idea: that teachers need to do the right thing in the classroom for the students in front of them. Hardly revolutionary, one might think, yet Mark Enser unpicks its hidden complexities in an extremely readable and accessible way.

Enser’s style is undoubtedly engaging and I genuinely found reading the book enjoyable, thought-provoking and refreshing. It is split into three key sections: the lesson, the curriculum and the wider school. In each, he references key areas of recent research to drive his thoughts and discussion points. Each section ends with key points from the chapter and reflection questions – some of which I have already put to work in my school.

In Part 1, Enser sets out the key concepts, with explanations and examples, affecting the thinking of school and teacher leaders around the country. The author is a geography teacher, so it is perhaps no surprise that his metaphor of rivers to bring the idea of schemas to life was particularly striking.

Throughout, his clear writing makes it easy to grasp the differences between tricky concepts like interleaving and interweaving. When talking about behaviour, the simple questions he poses are a useful frame to make you think about the interplay between daily routines, the classroom environment and the school’s goals. He speaks sensibly about “differentiating like nobody’s watching”, and makes an incredibly pertinent point about plenaries existing only for the benefit of outside observers. Far be it from me to give away spoilers, but when is the best time to find out what students have or haven’t learned from your teaching?

In Part 2, Enser speaks insightfully about curriculum intent, implementation and impact – a gift to teachers and subject leaders facing Ofsted’s new framework. His foci here are medium- and long-term planning from the starting point of a subject tabula rasa, building from there through the use of “fertile questions”. Clearly, geographic terminology is well suited to the task of mapping great teaching, and his brilliant example of teaching as a Sisyphean task to highlight the impact of cultural capital shows he’s been listening to his humanities colleagues.

There’s no rolling back where the revolution has taken hold

The section on assessment was very thorough, drawing on plenty of research and again explained in a clear, concise and practical way. Rank order assessment, sometimes deemed controversial, is well demystified, and the section on department meetings not only lays out clear steps to high-quality curriculum design but makes a case for all team members being on board that is difficult to argue against.

The final section on the wider school is an essential read for any SLT. Enser includes good case studies of effective whole-school implementation, reinforcing much of the book’s previous content in practical context. Despite being the smallest section in the book, it is the one in my copy with the biggest number of index tabs stuck to the side of the pages, and it is more than I can do to do it justice here.

Overall, I would recommend this book for teachers who want a good, easy read about current educational thinking and theory, as an introduction to research-led practice. It summarises key areas very comprehensively with clarity and simplicity. However, if you read a lot of educational literature, you won’t find anything new or revolutionary here. There are many mentions of Rosenshine, Willingham and McInerney, for example.

That is not to take away from the book’s importance. The ongoing issues over workload, recruitment and retention alone are testament to the fact that the idea of teacher professionalism has perhaps not spread wide enough. That, or many have lacked the practical help to deliver on the revolution’s promise.

Either way, Teach Like Nobody’s Watching is a powerful contribution. Teachers at my school will have access to it and we will use the phrase regularly from this point forward to ensure there’s no rolling back from it where the revolution has taken hold.

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