Sharing Butterflies 

Image:  Edward Norton Lorenz’s strange attractor notion

In chaos theory, small causes can have a huge impact. This idea came to be known as the “butterfly effect” when half a century ago, meteorologist professor, Edward Norton Lorenz suggested that the flap of a butterfly’s wings might ultimately cause a tornado.

In 2013, Sir Tim Brighouse wrote an article for the Guardian ‘The butterfly effect in schools: sharing simple ideas can have a big impact’ where the ‘butterflies’ are the tips for teaching better. That same year, Alex Quigley followed up this article in Confident Leadership, when he wrote  ‘The Butterfly Effect in School’ in which he discussed the conditions needed for the butterfly to thrive. I was particularly struck by the three questions that the butterfly analogy sparked for Alex.

What are the ‘butterflies’ in my school and in my classroom?

What conditions do I need to create for ‘butterflies’ to flourish?

What classrooms and teachers provide the most fertile conditions for learning? Can we shine a light on those teachers and share their ‘butterflies’?

To aid the identification of ‘butterflies’ it is useful to have a good understanding of what the research tells us ‘great teaching’ is. I recommend reading the following as a starting point:

Inspiring Teachers Perspectives and Summary Report [Educational Development Trust 2016] 

What makes great teaching? [Professor Coe et al. Sutton Trust 2014]

Hattie Ranking: 195 Influences And Effect Sizes Related To Student Achievement [Visible Learning.Org 2016]

It is worth remembering that whilst teaching is an evidence based profesion, teachers are ‘actively’ gathering evidence every day as to ‘what’ has the most impact on student achievement for their children right now. Whilst, much of what is found is underpinned by the research – reassuring to know that ‘great’ practice stands the test of time – we must be mindful of a changing world and the individuality/complex needs of the children we are teaching today. What works with some children, may not work with others.

Some useful questions to ask prior to the collection of evidence of student learning:

What does success look like?

How will you measure success? E.g. Qualitative and quantitative data

How will you gather evidence of children’s thinking/learning prior to the teaching sequence, during and afterwards?

When/How do you and the children reflect on the impact of teaching/learning strategies? E.g. Reflective learning journals, daily/weekly

What direct/indirect evidence will you collect to evidence impact?

When/Where and to ‘whom’ will you share your butterflies?

There is nothing more powerful in schools than collective efficacy. Where there is an open-door culture. Where teachers are passionately ‘talking’ about teaching and learning and more importantly are empowered to learn from each other. Teachers respond positively, are more motivated and enthused when they don’t feel threatened by a fear of failure.

John Hattie discovered that teachers are far more likely to have a large and positive impact if they:

Are passionate about helping their students learn

Forge strong relationships with their students

Are clear about what they want their students to learn

Adopt evidence-based teaching strategies

Monitor their impact on students’ learning, and adjust their approaches accordingly

Actively seek to improve their own teaching

Are viewed by the students as being credible

How do you as leaders build collective efficacy in your schools? How many ‘butterflies’ are your teachers sharing?

Practical Strategies for Sharing Butterflies

1.  Attend and present at TeachMeets

2.  Teacher ‘Learning Wall’ in the Staffroom

3.  Be brave and video yourself

4.  Team Teach

5.  Lesson Study

6.  Keep a reflective learning journal

7.  Feedback Forum

8.  Connect with other professionals e.g. Twitter

9.  Write a blog

10. Join a research project

Strategies from the Literacy Wagoll Blog

 1) Speed dating – Staff members bring one short snappy idea that they use in their classroom. Each teacher sits facing another and they both share their idea, showing resources and explaining the impact it has on their children. Professionals rotate around until all ideas have been shared with everyone. Teachers can then vote for their favourite idea to take away and implement. by choosing specific themes, best practice can be share din focused areas that link to the School Improvement Plan.

2) Social Media Pages – One of the major barriers to sharing ideas is time. however, everyone finds time to flick through Facebook or Twitter. By creating a ‘Teaching and Learning’ page you can share best practice by literally putting it in their hands. Teachers will stumble upon new ideas that your social media page shares. These ideas can come from observed ideas from lessons or from external sources. As the page grows, you may find that teachers are willing to share their own ideas on the page when something has gone well in class.

3) 3 Minute Presentations – Before staff meetings take place allow an opportunity for a member of staff to share one strategy that works in their classroom. Their challenge is to explain and share within 3 minutes. This can occur at the beginning of the week, so that staff can be encouraged to give the idea a go in their own classrooms.

4) Ideas That Stick – A simple way to share ideas is by creating a teaching and learning display in the classroom. Teachers can stick an idea on a sticky note and post it onto the board. The board can have a variety of categories which help teachers navigate around the display to find fresh new ideas that are relevant to them.

5) The Market Place – Teachers can bring an idea that they use in the classroom and set up a small market stall displaying their best practice. Teachers can move around and talk to teachers about their ideas and the impact they have had on their children. This is a great event to invite other local schools to so that teachers gain new teaching strategies from outside their school.

Is the Tide Turning? Hope for Struggling Schools

Justine Greening’s speech at the Sutton Trust’s Mobiity Summit must have given a glimmer of hope to every leader currently serving in schools with challenging contexts.
It’s been a long time coming, but as James Bowen, Director of NAHT Edge, wrote recently in the TES ‘Greening’s signals for a less ‘punitive’ approach towards struggling schools’ could be the ‘light we’ve been waiting to see.’

It has been well documented that disadvantaged contexts impact hugely on both educational attainment and school quality, which are typically lower than that of other schools. This is primarily due to the difficulties with the recruitment of high-quality teaching staff, limited ‘short-life’ funding, high levels of pupil mobility and the increasingly low starting points of children, who are ‘quite frankly’ just not ‘school ready’ upon entry. Yet, despite these facts being widely cited, schools continue to be battered by high-level, punitive accountability measures. Is the tide about to turn?

Greening acknowledges that: “We do need to move away from a perception of a reliance on a pure punitive intervention approach. We need to, moreover, move towards a culture of having the right support in the right places at the right time, and I think for too long our strategy hasn’t had that breadth to it, and perhaps that clarity around it.”

Yes, Ms Greening, we do indeed need to move towards a culture of support, rather than this prescriptive, short-sighted approach that sees some leaders reduced to ‘playing the numbers game’ rather than incentivising them to play for the long-term gains that can only be achieved when ‘time’ and ‘money’ are factored into the equation.
As someone who has the privilege of working across schools with some of the ‘highest levels’ of deprivation in the country. I see first-hand just what our ‘amazing leaders’ are doing for the life chances of the children in their care. Actions, that simply cannot be measured under our current, narrow ‘data driven’ system. For the 3.7 million children living in poverty in the UK, their most basic needs must be met first – before the learning process can start.

I don’t know of any leader who would argue against the need to improve. We just need to be really clear about what we mean by ‘improve’.

Leaders, in particularly challenging contexts are generally ‘pretty special people’ who go above and beyond the call of duty to ‘improve’ the quality of life for the children in their care. They know, that success for our poorest children cannot really be measured ‘fully’ until they reach adulthood. When it is hoped, that despite the challenges they faced as children, of low aspirations, low income and unemployment, poor housing, poor health, tiredness and hunger, they emerge fully prepared from our education system, with the knowledge, skills and understanding to take their place in society. This can only be achieved, when leaders of our schools in challenging contexts, across all phases,  ensure that our poorest children are fed during term time and through the holidays; make provision if they need a place to sleep during the school day; enrich their lives through engaging learning experiences and above all, keep them safe, loved and nurtured – because that is what our poorest children need.

It is with this relentless focus on ‘improving’ the life chances for our poorest children that will give them the fighting chances as adults, to compete against their more privileged counterparts in securing a sustainable income through long-term employment and a longer life expectancy. Surely, that is the real measure of success?

Most leaders are guided by a strong moral compass who genuinely want to make a difference for children. Yet when you hear of dedicated leaders exiting the profession due to the stress caused when a set of results does not meet the ‘required standard’ and the context of the ‘why’ is pretty much ignored. You know that we haven’t got it right YET!

We all need to work together to secure school improvement in our most struggling schools. This improvement must be contextualised because there is not a ‘one size fits all’ solution to the challenges they are facing. Schools serving depriving communities need ‘time’ to improve outcomes for children.

Fund them well – and let them lead the way!



Thinking about Curriculum Design! #edchat #ukedchat #21stedchat

The purpose of this post is NOT to analyse the national  curriculum – it has already been carved up by a whole host of experts who have been/still are divided about the changes. I remember primary maths being a topic of much discussion because when you look at top performing countries like Finland – where children aren’t introduced to fractions until the age of 9 – yet our children start looking at fractions at the ages of 5/6 – you have to question the whole rationale of introducing difficult concepts to even younger children – and wonder if it will actually make a difference? I guess only time will tell. The history curriculum caused a huge Twitter storm – with some experts saying it was great, others just a narrow list… And, what about the Arts? Music reduced to a couple of lines?! I could go on… But I won’t!

The bottom line is that in England, state schools have a statutory duty to cover the curriculum – and whilst academies don’t have to – many do – because they still have statutory duties to follow… (see link below)

Do academies have to follow statutory guidance?

I have to say that I’m not ‘anti’ the national curriculum. Every single child, regardless of background is entitled to an ‘excellent’ education and there should be equity of curriculum provision to ensure this – regardless of where you happen to live. Let’s face facts – there were/are too many children who were/are left behind and whose educational experience was/is less than satisfactory. Thus, a national curriculum was introduced in 1988 with the intention of eradicating these inequalities – and to set out the minimum entitlement a child should receive. Have they succeeded? Someone out there will have the finer details I’m sure! However, as always happens when we feel things are forced upon us – there was much controversy and debate that – not only are we being told what to teach – we are also being told how to teach and thus effectively deskilling teachers. And that’s a whole other issue. But, if implementing a standardised curriculum has improved life chances for children – then it has to be worth it. I like to think we have achieved a great deal in our schools – and whilst we might not like some of the accountability measures imposed on us – we have to remember that you are only a child once – we have to get it right for them. And for children born in poverty – a good education may be the only way out.

With the introduction of the ‘tough’ new ‘slimmed down’ curriculum in 2014 – the government says that it now ensures depth and now does not tell teachers “how to teach”, but concentrates on “the essential knowledge and skills every child should have” so that teachers “have the freedom to to shape the curriculum to their pupils’ needs”.

So, if we have the freedom to shape the curriculum – but must still ensure that the essential knowledge and skills are covered. Then, what does that look like? Everyone has their own opinions and dare I say ‘passions’ about curriculum design. It got me thinking – how should we design the curriculum to ensure high quality outcomes? What are the key principles and processes? How narrow/broad should the curriculum be? Is one approach more successful than another e.g. Thematic approach or a focus on the basics only. I mean – it’s all about good teaching – isn’t it?

I have read a substantial amount of research/literature about school improvement and the implementation of a new curriculum for schools that have been failing – is cited as being crucial to securing and sustaining improvement. So – with this in mind I thought I’d start looking at the curriculum that outstanding schools offer. Are there common themes? What can we learn?

 Ofsted found the following principles: 

The National College looked at top performing countries and identified the following:
 The national college also asked 10 school leaders of good and outstanding schools to share some of the ways that learning is organised in their schools. This section illustrates some of the many different ways they seek to achieve a balance between teaching basic skills, subjects and thematic learning.

“Our curriculum is carefully planned as a mix of integrated and discrete elements. Where possible we use themes to enhance learning but recognise that this is not always appropriate for all aspects of the curriculum”

“We plan for progression in all subjects to ensure challenge. We also agree on ways to extend and deepen learning through topics and themes in long term planning.”

“Everything is interlinked. Subject specific language, ideas and skills are taught and a cross-curricular approach is used, especially when this makes learning more meaningful.”

“To ensure progression we have essential skills of literacy and numeracy mapped across the curriculum. The skills map is constantly revisited. We have termly curriculum days to monitor. “

“All literacy is linked with thematic work alongside discrete phonics daily and reading workshops. We carefully map literacy and numeracy skills across the whole curriculum. We also have themed weeks, such as climate week. There is a toolkit with advice on how to plan these weeks so that they have real rigour.”

“We really emphasise the basics as a strong foundation. We then build a rich curriculum on top of this. For example, we may have an art day or week where we train teachers to focus on particular skills, such as observational sketching, and this leads to high quality work and displays.”

“We adjust the balance between a focus on basic skills and other subjects to meet the needs of particular children if we feel particular gaps need filling.”

Our medium term plan identifies the skills and knowledge and how they are targeted at different groups. Teachers always know where their children are with regard to what they know, can do and understand. They use this knowledge to plan next steps.


The national curriculum has been likened to  a set of ingredients – but not the whole dish. Or a coathanger to hang your coat on. What is clear – is that outstanding schools are offering a rich, innovative curriculum that engages pupils in a meaningful way – that has opportunties to extend, and enrich learning in a variety of contexts e.g. Themed, cross-curricular and outdoor. A curriculum that has a context (local and global) and with one eye clearly on the future – but at the heart of it – the basics, the essential skills and knowledge that children need in order to deepen their learning experiences and create their own learning pathways.

Schools need to be innovative and visionary. My next stop will be to research if there is a particular approach that encompasses all the principles and values underpinning curriculum excellence e.g. Project Based Learning, 21st Century Ecuation and to look at different curriculum design models e.g. Subject centered, student centered, problem-solving centered and so on.

What I would really like to know from schools – is how many teachers and children were involved in the curriculum design process? Did you involve all stakeholders when building your curriculum – or was it a top-down approach? Are you confident that all stakeholders could communicate the vision? Also, how often do you revisit your curriculum? Is it still fit for purpose?

So many questions…

Please excuse any grammatical/spelling errors! Beauty of blogging – freedom to let thoughts run… 🙂


Links to schools who participating in the Grand Curriculum Designs Project – The Institute of Ecuation (UCL)

Grewelthorpe Primary School

Lesson Study Resources/Links

Lesson Study is a powerful, professional learning approach that dramatically improves learning and teaching and the practice and subject knowledge of teachers.
Following on from my introductory blog to Lesson Study – I have compiled a list of resources you might find useful in school. As Peter Dudley is the Lesson Study guru – I would check out Lesson Study UK first.



Booklets to download

Improving Practice and Progression through Lesson Study

Peter Dudley’s Handbook for Lesson Study in EYFS

Lesson Study Handbook by Peter Dudley

Lesson Study: Enhancing Mathematics Teaching and Learning


Lesson Study UK
The Collaborative Classroom: Lesson Study Resources

NCETM: Lesson Study

Classroom Videos

Research Lesson Videos

Lesson Study UK have lots of videos/resources. Also check out lesson study channels on YouTube.

Lesson Study Revisited (Jugyou Kenkyuu) @lessonstudyuk

Lesson Study seems to be enjoying a surge in popularity right now. It’s hardly surprising – for at the heart of this improvement strategy are teachers working together, trying out new ideas and talking about teaching and learning to improve pedagogic practice. The collective responsibility. What’s not to like?! Yet, teachers still work in isolation, working long hours producing detailed lesson plans – following routines that have seen little change since the 1900s – despite advances in technology and innovative approaches to teaching and learning. Why?!
The purpose of this blog is to share the origins of lesson study – because it’s been around for quite a while (a bit of an understatement) – to provide a brief overview and include a couple of links to some further information/resources for those who would like to know more. Also, to add my voice to those who already ‘shout out’ how powerful collaboration in education is.

Origins of Lesson Study

The origins and principles of lesson study can be tracked back to Japan to the 1870s where study meetings took place about new teaching methods. (Nakatome (ed.) By the middle of the 1960s – Japanese lesson study was well established as a strategy of in-service teacher training. (Fernandez & Yoshida, 2004). Teachers collaborating to study teaching contents and instructions by observing lessons and discussing them.

I love the photograph below – teachers are observing a lesson and filming it. Why? So the teachers can unpick the strategies the observed teacher has employed in order to discuss the impact on learning.

An example of a lesson study class in a primary school from Yamanshi Nichinchi Shimbun Newspaper.

If you are interested in reading more, Naomichi Makinae wrote a research paper about the origins of lesson study in Japan, that is well worth a read. What I found particularly interesting was that underpinning lesson study was the ‘Pestalozzian theory’ – well worth a Google. Pestalozzi – a educationalist/reformer I really admire – argued that young children should learn through experience—through physical activity and through concrete experiences with objects, where eduction is child centred and focused on the development of the whole child. No arguments from me!

  Johann Heinrich Pestalozzi (January 12, 1746 – February 17, 1827) was a Swiss pedagogue and educational reformer, who greatly influenced the development of the educational system in Europe and America.

Lesson Study Models
Loosely, lesson study is an improvement strategy where teachers work collegially in small groups through 4 stages. Identification, planning, research/implementation and post session phases. There are a plethora of models (see below) and guides (too numerous to mention) for implementing in school but whichever one you choose – whilst the terminology may differ – the methodology remains the same. Lesson study begins with the child and ends with the child and through this process,  the pedagogic practice/innovative strategies the teacher employs to raise standards and improve outcomes – are developed and refined to ensure they are effective. What I really like about lesson study – is that the teachers involved are on an equal footing (hierarchy eliminated). All are the experts. All leaders of learning. All encouraged to take risks in a supportive setting. How empowering is that?




Fig. 1. Produced under the Primary Framework – but the message is still the same.

You might be interested to know that in Japan, lesson study is delivered across school, districts and nationally. Same methodology – different goals. Putting what constitutes effective pedagogic practice and curriculum design into the hands of the professionals. Hmm… Food for thought!

@Iris have practical guidance on how to implement lesson study in school and a free e-book can be downloaded, link below.

How to Implement Lesson Study by IRIS
Apologies for any broken links/errors/inaccuracies. Just let me know.