Review by Robin Conway

Director of research and innovation, John Mason School

2 Oct 2021, 5:00


Robin Conway’s blogs of the week, 27 September 2021

Curricular Thinking Has Made Me a Better Teacher


This is a wonderful, positive piece with which to start the new school year. It crisply captures the journey many of us who were trained under the National Curriculum have experienced.

From limited understanding of, or thinking about, the way a curriculum was put together, Skelton has been driven to start asking important and powerful questions. Here, she generously provides a handy list of these for anyone working with new team members or teachers new to thinking about curriculum.

She goes on to argue that this process has made her a better teacher and makes a persuasive case for ongoing curriculum discussions. As Skelton argues, “Curriculum is fundamental to what schools do”, and our focus on it “should be here to stay”. 

How Can School Leaders Create Great Staff Culture?


This is an interesting piece and one I’d recommend to leaders new or experienced. Kirby is focused on a simple but powerful question, because as he rightly identifies, getting staff culture right has many potential benefits, not least in terms of retention and student outcomes. In this research-informed blog, he offers a succinct and compelling summary of the research, and goes on to identify the key practices that leaders can use to create a positive culture.

Like Helen Skelton’s blog above, a really useful feature of this post is the series of questions Kirby poses. This allows readers to reflect on their own workplace and leadership habits in a really meaningful way. For those who haven’t had the chance to do much of this recently, Kirby also makes a good case for leaders to take an honest look at their own practice in this way because “truth does not always rise to the top”.

While Kirby recognises that staff culture is interconnected with other challenges schools and leaders face, I agree with his main conclusion that this is a “promising avenue for improving our school leadership.”

Strictly Come Teaching: Giving Feedback to Novices


I always find this a very exciting point in the year, with the start of our new PGCE interns imminent. It is a tremendous privilege to be involved in training a new generation of teachers and, for anyone else lucky enough to be a part of their journey, I highly recommend this read.

Victoria Crooks skilfully draws on her reflections of the “mentoring style” of the Strictly judges, linking this into educational research on teacher feedback. The experience and insight shared here is clearly very strong and identifies a clear best-practice approach (Shirley) while explaining why other approaches may be disempowering and less effective.  

If you find, as Crooks argues, that “giving feedback to beginning teachers making their first attempts in the classroom is a real skill” then this piece is well worth your time. And for those who, like me, have never seen Strictly (and have no idea who ‘Shirley’ actually is), fear not! The metaphor is not used with a heavy hand and the piece is clear, readable and incredibly useful. I shall be sharing widely.

Recitation and the Charge of the Always Right Brigade


When a Twitterstorm blows up, I always enjoy reading pieces that tackle the underlying debate and assumptions and provoke much more thought than any 280-character epistle can. For those who missed the “debate”, a certain amount of controversy arose when a school posted a video of a mass recitation of The Charge of the Light Brigade.  

Here, Beadle considers different perspectives both on the activity and the poem itself. Although he does reach a judgment, the blog is balanced and espouses a mission to engage in intelligent educational debate. He criticises the “I’m right… you’re wrong” approach to educational discussion. Beadle models a much more helpful approach.  

Despite being inclined against recitation due to his own childhood experiences, he offers an effective summary of both the ‘positives’ and ‘debits’. On one point though, I must disagree. “It’s a shame we can’t have a balanced debate that acknowledges that there is good and bad in everything,” writes Beadle. With pieces like this, I think we can.

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