Review by Sonia Thompson

Headteacher, St Matthew's C of E teaching and research school

3 Jul 2021, 5:00


Sonia Thompson’s blogs of the week, 28 June 2021

Literature, leadership, modelling as a teaching method and the big lie about schools are Sonia Thompson’s top picks of this week’s education blogs




Samantha Thomas is one of those wonderful school librarians who is clearly passionate about the job. I’ve only just stumbled across her blog, and I’m hooked. In every post, she extols the virtues of reading for pleasure through the lens of her student’s engagement in the library.  

This post is extra special because in it she is chronicling the brilliantness of one of my favourite school magazines, Scoop. Thomas is clear about why this magazine is library gold and navigates us through its vibrant pages of relevant and diverse content, also celebrating the fact that each edition has a guest editor.  

I particularly appreciate Thomas’s comments on the necessary and ever-present poetry content, which is too often neglected. From its eye-catching design to its well-targeted writing, she can’t be praising enough. And I agree. Any student from from year 5 to year 7 will benefit from its addition to the school library. Just as any teacher interested in literacy will benefit from this blog.


Building a house in a student’s skull – modelling in the English classroom


The secondary English community is so vibrant. Even a cursory glance at #TeamEngish on Twitter is enough to prove that. Alex Wright adds to that vibrancy with a joyous blog, and his latest post charts the process of getting knowledge into his student’s heads.  

He analogises modelling as a classroom practice with building, dismantling and rebuilding. Acknowledging that student responses (or lack thereof) can leave us questioning our teaching abilities, Wright states that “there is a difference, of course, between seeing an expert doing something and being able to imitate that yourself”.  

But leaning on the words Barbra Bleiman, Wright describes how he supports his novices on their journey to thinking like an expert, the process of creating the conditions for that, where the barriers are and how to eliminate them.   

He calls this an ‘externalised conversation’ and goes on to extrapolate how modelling minimises cognitive load. This granular approach takes time, he acquiesces, but then so does building something solid. Reading this left me almost tempted to sing, ‘One word at a time, Sweet Jesus’. Almost!  


The Fallacy…(Teachers in disadvantaged schools aren’t as good)


“Fed up”. “Sick and tired”. When it comes to the trope that teachers who work in disadvantaged schools are somehow worse, Simon Smith is not holding back anymore.  

As a head who has spent his career in schools of significant disadvantage, Smith writes with steely-eyed clarity about his experiences and is quick to dismiss any ‘saviour’ complex. On the contrary, he writes, great teaching, teamwork and tenacity pay dividends, and that is about teachers that are bothered and leaders that are brave enough to create a space where they “are valued and can do their job”.  

He concludes that any narrative that labels those in disadvantaged schools in this way is at best counter-productive. We should appreciate them, he says, “rather than sticking the boot in”. As a headteacher of a disadvantage school, I fully endorse that.


Leadership handbook 2.0 – Expert school leadership


Headteacher, Nick Hart has recently updated his leadership handbook and generously shared its 100+ slides with anyone who wishes to make use of them. In this blog, he explains the reasons behind its conception and for this new iteration, and offers guidance on making best use of it.

But the blog is also an opportunity for Hart to define expert school leadership. He offers the idea that there is formal knowledge about ‘what works’ as well as ‘hidden knowledge… about our own school context and the knowledge we have of ourselves’. Hart’s position is that one can’t work without the other, and that only having both can help leaders become better decision makers.

With links to current DfE frameworks, the handbook itself is fantastically useful. But the conclusion that, no matter what the handbook offers, effective leadership is about context informed by formal knowledge makes this blog a grounded and inspirational piece to start looking to next academic year and, hopefully, the emergence of a new normality.

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