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.

Don’t let CREATIVITY be the Missing Ingredient in YOUR Classroom

In 2013, Jon Kamen (chairman and CEO of, a transmedia company) wrote an article for Wired Magazine entitled ‘Creativity is the missing ingredient in education.‘ He argues that with so much emphasis on STEM subjects, creativity is being squeezed out of education and along with it opportunities for creative thinking. His solution: the acronym STEM should be changed to STEAM to include the arts. Why? Because these subjects still respect the creative process.
Creative thinking leads to innovation, and innovation leads to success. Sure, science, technology, engineering and maths are necessary, but without the initial creative stimulus for solving a problem or imagining the possible, nothing would ever be accomplished.’ [kamen, J:2013]

Kamen’s viewpoint is supported in the brilliant, and freely available book ‘Creativity in the English language classroom’ (2015) written by an international community of educators and published by the British Council. Editors Alan Maley and Nik Peachey state that due to current curriculum and assessment constraints, creativity is something of an endangered species in our classrooms; and that ‘creativity isn’t something which is reserved for a special part of a course or a lesson, but that it is something which can and should be integrated into every aspect of our classroom practice and at every level of our learners’ experience.’

Sylvia Guinan’s review of this book is well worth a read, as is her blog.

In the book ‘Creativity in the Primary Classroom’ (2012) author Julia Desailly has further compelling arguments of the impact of creativity, when she writes that ‘becoming a teacher who is able to teach creatively and to encourage pupils to learn creatively and to develop their own creativity is also to become a highly effective teacher.’

As if we needed any more persuasion about the absolute necessity for the creative classroom. I will leave it to Sir Ken Robson to have the last word…

I’m sure everyone has viewed his TED Talk – but just in case… ‘Do schools kill creativity?’ 

And just because I love this anecdote…

‘A six-year old pupil in a drawing class said she was going to draw a picture of God. The teacher said: ‘But nobody knows what God looks like’. ‘They will, in a minute’, the child replied.’    Sir Ken Robson

[Please let me know if any of the links are broken or not working]

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.

Learning is vulnerable, community needed #edreform

Is this what reformers be focusing on. Community?
Blog ends with a nice quote… “We can’t begin with what we are, we have to know who we are.”

Community is important. I would argue the MOST important. And yet, when reformers talk about how to make education better, community never even enters the conversation. Standards (to make us equitable), testing (to make sure we are hitting the mark), technology (will solve all of our problems!), rigor (because, don’t we all want to describe […]