Appraisal: Development Pathways

In the previous two parts of the appraisal series, I explored the ongoing tension between appraisal and accountability expressed by the two dramatically different approaches to appraisal: the surplus and deficit models. I also looked at how to start changing the appraisal culture through the ‘gentle pressure relentlessly applied’ approach.

In this part appraisal pathways take centre stage. Most schools require staff to set themselves professional development targets which usually are linked to an element of a school improvement plan or based on some form of self-review against teacher or leadership targets, but few schools provide structure for achieving such targets while allowing for teacher autonomy. That is where pathways come in.

When reviewing and researching appraisal systems that are surplus in nature, my biggest challenge lay with finding or designing a system that provided rigour while supporting professional development and teacher autonomy. This is how I came across Graham Chisnell’s article on Talent Pathways in the CCoT’s termly Impact magazine and was blown away by the simplicity of the idea. Pathways provide the development and support needed for staff to progress effectively and are loosely based on the concept of action research and all follow a similar pattern:

Discussing the idea with colleagues, I started exploring ways of applying the idea of pathways to our international school context and came up with the following pathways:

  • Research: suitable for those interested in practice-based inquiry and bringing innovation to their role and to the school as a whole. As a part of this pathway, staff identify an innovation opportunity or a problem to solve and carry out practice-based inquiry working with a critical friend of their choice. They are supported with a series of optional sessions on the principles of practice-based inquiry, critical literature review and collecting and analysing data. The pathway ends in a Research Fair with everyone presenting their findings.
  • Expert: suitable for those interested in developing their teaching expertise focusing on particular aspects of pedagogy. As a part of this pathway, staff are given the opportunity to refine one of their teaching skills. They need to carry out professional reading on the topic and carry out peer drop-ins to support their professional reflections. Staff will be then invited to share their learning through optional CPD opportunities and INSET days.  
  • Leadership pathway is divided into two strands dependent on experience:
    • Aspiring to leadership: suitable for classroom practitioners interested in middle leadership;
    • Leadership: suitable for middle and senior leaders interested in refining their leadership skills or progression to the next level of leadership.

    As a part of this pathway, staff are enrolled on self-guided Leadership Matters courses which start with LM Persona for Aspiring to Leadership staff and a 360 review for those on the Leadership pathway. Staff focus on skills identified as areas for development through a choice of leadership project. They are invited to share their learning through middle and senior leadership meetings.

  • Teaching Assistant pathway focused on development of knowledge and provision with particular learning needs in mind. As a part of this pathway, staff are offered opportunities to develop their understanding of learning needs through specialist courses and professional reading, to then put the learnt skills to practice and share their learning through team meetings.
  • And Specialist pathway for those whose roles require specialist skills such as technicians, counsellors or boarding staff. Similarly to the Teaching Assistant pathway, staff are offered opportunities to develop their understanding of specialist skills through training courses and professional reading, to then put the learnt skills to practice and share their learning through team meetings.

We are a High Performance Learning school and when holding staff consultations, I found staff new to the school and to the HPL philosophy felt they would have benefited from a more in-depth induction to our teaching approach, which resulted in the creation of the New Staff pathway focused on HPL to support their successful induction and integration into the school.

At the start of the appraisal cycle, staff were invited to consider the purposes of each pathway and the provision within it to help them make their choice. They are now in the process of holding conversations with their appraisers to refine their foci. The participants on each pathway received individualised email to support their professional development while the appraisers have been offered soft skills training to support staff with key appraisal conversations. 

We are at the beginning of this journey and the initial reception has been positive. I am looking forward to reviewing, reflecting and refining the system as we go through it.

Appraisal: Gentle Pressure Relentlessly Applied

Much has been written about the issues surrounding accountability in UK schools. Part 1 of the appraisal series was all about the tension between what the appraisers and appraisees are looking for in the appraisal process. In this blog I want to tackle the first big question I arrived at in my musings:

How do we get all leaders, some of whom may have spent their entire careers being told that appraisal is about judgement, on board with the idea that it needs to be first and foremost developmental in nature?

In the latest issue of Impact Chris Larvin (2021) talks about ‘the accountability paradox’. The paradox being that “the mechanisms designed to improve systems actually threaten them and discourage qualities that support reasonable behaviours” (Larvin, 2021). Teachers accountable for their students’ results will focus on teaching to the test instead of developing their practice. In secondary, this may result in less time being spent on planning and marking for the non-exam classes while in primary, less time spent on subjects students are not tested on. Ball (2003 and 2012) has long argued that the UK accountability systems have resulted in ‘terrors of performativity’ where teachers are judged for performing and accounting for a performance of tasks “or displays of ‘quality’, or ‘moments’ of promotion or inspection.” (Ball 2003, p. 216) We have all seen it with brilliant evidence-based strategies turned into tick box nightmares: assessment for learning ending up as ten mini-plenaries a lesson without much thought about how the information gained through the process should be used or Assessing Pupil Progress, the now long forgotten APP, being turned into a bureaucratic filing cabinet horror show. How many leaders in today’s education remember the days before league tables? Not many is my guess. Okay, so we have a problem. How will we solve it?

Evans (2021) in his excellent blog on improvement makes an important point about teacher buy-in and motivation. “Motivation doesn’t always proceed improvement.” (Evans, 2021) When staff see the impact of a strategy, the buy-in follows. Bambrick-Santoyo makes a similar point in Driven by Data 2.0 (2019). We shouldn’t be killing ourselves to persuade staff before getting started. If the strategy is effective and has a direct impact on them, they will buy into it when they see the results. The key here is that what you do needs to be meaningful and have a positive impact rather than be performative in nature. Thinking in terms of what needs to happen and not how the teacher will get there helps me stay off the performative path and grant the teachers their autonomy. 

Both Fletcher-Wood (2019) and Ainsworth (2017) talk about using nudge theory with students to help them shape their habits. Why not do it with staff too? After all, we all stay on the right side of the road when driving thanks to the painted lines, walk across the road a little quicker as the little green man flickers and apparently, some men get better at peeing when given something to aim for. Bravo gents! In addition to this, Bambrick-Santoyo (2016 and 2019) advocates the use of scripts and models of excellence. I wholeheartedly agree with him on the power of these. And let’s not forget the king of leadership, Sinek (2011), who is forever reminding us to start with why. 

Taking all of these into account, how about we try this:

  • Plan an appraisal timeline with built-in mid- and end-review points and a few informal check-ins in between.
  • In the whole staff briefing, remind staff why we do appraisal and who it benefits. There is an increasing body of research (Wiliam, 2016 and Zwart et al., 2014) showing that a strength-based approach results in a statistically significant increase in feelings of autonomy and self-efficacy in coaching others so make this introduction all about focusing on developing strengths not weaknesses. My colleague once told me that an appraisee leaving their appraisal meeting should be like Mumble in Happy Feet, feeling happy and inspired. Even if things aren’t going great, they need to feel you believe in them being able to develop. I think I may use this image as yet another nudge.
  • Provide templates and models of excellent targets and appraisal reports from the start so everyone knows what we are aiming for. Make them developmental in nature so they fit in with formative and surplus models (Chow et al. 2002, Stronge, 2006 and Didau, 2020).
  • Provide appraisers with scripts and prompts for their appraisal conversations. Again make them all about developing the teacher, not judging them.
  • Get them into a room practising with other appraisers. Heck, if you have willing volunteers record a model conversation. If you have the capacity, offer coaching for those who need it. 
  • Buy Didau’s Intelligent Accountability: Creating the conditions for teachers to thrive (2020) and Myatt’s High Challenge, Low Threat: How the Best Leaders Find the Balance (2016) for your CPD library or even better gift it to all your appraisers and spend part of your senior or middle leadership meetings discussing takeaways from these books. This will give them the opportunity to challenge ideas and you a chance to address their concerns in a safe environment. After all, you are talking about books, not your own professional beliefs.
  • Utilise the power of corridor conversations and check in to see how things are going with both appraisers and appraisees. You know that if they are not going great, they will tell you.
  • Throughout the year prompt your appraisers to check in with their appraisees informally whether by chatting to them at break or in the corridor. Provide a script and get the senior leaders to check in with their appraisees first so they can model it. Interestingly enough, a request for such check-ins was echoed over and over again in interviews with appraisees I recently conducted for my MA assignment.
  • Then back to that corridor talk to see if the check-ins are happening.
  • Keep an eye on topics staff are interested in and send PD offers and blogs to specific staff to show them you remember what they are interested in. Include the appraisers in those emails to model focus on development.
  • When you get to mid-year and end-year reviews, reshare the models of reports and scripts for the appraisers. Get them practising again.
  • And always nudge, nudge and nudge in the run-up to any deadline asking if any support is needed and if you can help in any way, always with a smile on your face. Nudging is much easier than chasing those who haven’t met the deadline.

This is my ‘gentle pressure relentlessly applied’ approach. It’s not rocket science but I can only hope that as appraisers practise their ‘developmental’ scripts and see the impact of it on their appraisees, they will begin to see the value of formative and surplus models of appraisal. I’d better start drafting those models.


Ainsworth, P. (2017) Changing Classrooms: One Nudge At A Time. Teacher Toolkit. Available at:  

Bambrick-Santoyo, P. (2016). Get better faster: a 90-day plan for coaching new teachers. San Francisco, CA : John Wiley & Sons, Inc.

Bambrick-Santoyo, P. (2019). Driven by Data 2.0. San Francisco, California : Jossey-Bass

Chow, A. P. Y., Wong, E. K. P., Yeung, A. S., & Mo, K. W. (2002) Teachers’ perceptions of appraiser-appraisee relationships. Journal of Personnel Evaluation in Education, 16(2), 85–101.

Didau, D. (2020) Intelligent Accountability: Creating the conditions for teachers to thrive. Woodbridge: John Catt Educational Ltd.

Evans, M. (2021) Getting better all the time. Edu Contrarian. Available at: [Accessed 14 May 2021]

Fletcher-Wood, H. (2019) Timely nudges with behavioural psychology: challenge and key ideas. Improving Teaching. Available at: [Accessed 14 May 2021]

Larvin, C. (2021) The Accountability Paradox. Impact Journal of The Chartered College of Teaching. Issue 12 Summer 2021 [online].  Available at: [Accessed 14 May 2021]

Myatt, M. (2016) High challenge, Low Threat. 1st ed. Woodbridge: John Catt Educational Ltd.

Sinek, S. (2011) Start with Why. Harlow, England: Penguin Books.

Stronge, J. H. (2006) Evaluating teaching: a guide to current thinking and best practice, 2nd edition. Thousand Oaks: Corwin Press.

Wiliam, D. (2016). Leadership for teacher learning: creating a culture where all teachers improve so that all students succeed. West Palm Beach, FL : Learning Sciences International.

Zwart, R. & Korthagen, Fred & Attema-Noordewier, Saskia. (2014). A strength-based approach to teacher professional development. Professional Development in Education. 41. 10.1080/19415257.2014.919341. 

Appraisal: More Questions Than Answers

Reflect for a moment on your professional career, has your appraisal experience contributed to your professional growth? Have you been lucky enough to have an appraiser who cared and sought to help you grow? Should it have been down to luck?

There are two things I am excited about for the next academic year and one of them is improving our current appraisal system. I have been doing a little reading and reflection on the topic in preparation for this. This post is about questions that I want to find answers to although at the moment, they are just that: unanswered questions.

Most literature to date highlights the tensions between different approaches to appraisal and accountability: 

  • formative – focused on professional development – versus summative – focused on accountability and student performance (Chow et al. 2002 and Stronge, 2006) 
  • and surplus – based on the assumption “that problems are unintended systemic flaws” versus deficit models – based on the assumption “that  problems are someone’s fault” (Didau, 2020, p.11 and Myatt, 2016). 

The summative and deficit models appear to stem from a neo-liberal approach to education. Since the late 80s the assumption has been that the free-market economy is the healthiest – both the most effective and most democratic modus operandi, a model so common in the UK with the appraisal linked to performance-related pay. This is true of international schools too which are often for profit organisations drawing on business models with student outcomes and admissions numbers being used as the key performance indicators. This focus on pursuit of the academic outcomes often leads to “a more centralised system of accountability” (Robertson, 2003, p. 284) and schools employing accountability measures that are summative and deficit focused in nature. Fortunately, the tide seems to be finally turning as that’s not what the research shows is best for teacher development. 

Q1: How do we get all leaders, some of whom may have spent their entire careers being told that appraisal is about judgement, on board with the idea that it needs to be first and foremost developmental in nature?

More and more leaders are now realising that teachers need trust and autonomy. It will take time to translate that changing mindset into school policies. After all, how often do senior leaders doubt teachers’ good intentions and drive for professional growth? I know I am guilty of this cynicism. At moments like this, I remind myself that we need to aim high and work with those resistant to understand their concerns and get their buy-in.

Q2: How do we get staff enthused about their development?

Q3: How do we regain the trust of those who have been judged for years?

Robertson (2003) found teachers preferred the formative model of appraisal ‘strongly favour[ing] an approach to accountability which was based on them being able voluntarily to give account of themselves rather than being called to account by other parties.’ (p. 290) No surprises there. On the other hand, leaders are often found to prefer the security of summative and deficit models of appraisal resulting in tension and a power struggle between the two. It is therefore important to ask here who the appraisal is meant to serve. Staffroom talk in the few schools I have worked in over the years indicates that teachers often feel that their appraisers don’t care about their development, that they are more interested in ticking the boxes although many have positive experiences they are sparse and on a one-off basis. They need to be more consistent. How do we get more buy-in from the appraisers themselves? 

Q4 How do we get the appraisers to care about the gravity of their role?

Q5 What training do they need to excel in their role as appraiser?

At the moment I have questions and just hints of answers but I hope this will change with time.


Chow, A. P. Y., Wong, E. K. P., Yeung, A. S., & Mo, K. W. (2002) Teachers’ perceptions of appraiser-appraisee relationships. Journal of Personnel Evaluation in Education, 16(2), 85–101.

Didau, D. (2020) Intelligent Accountability: Creating the conditions for teachers to thrive. Woodbridge: John Catt Educational Ltd.

Myatt, M. (2016) High challenge, Low Threat. 1st ed. Woodbridge: John Catt Educational Ltd.

Robertson, J. E. (2003) Teachers’ Perceptions of Accountability at an International School, Journal of Research in International Education, 2(3), pp. 277–300. doi: 10.1177/1475240903002003002.

Stronge, J. H. (2006) Evaluating teaching: a guide to current thinking and best practice, 2nd edition. Thousand Oaks: Corwin Press.

How to lead on teaching and learning as a middle leader? Part 2

Reading this brilliant post  from Paul Cline (@PaulCline_psy), inspired by yet another excellent post from Dawn Cox (@missdcox), made me reflect on my many years of experience as both a middle and senior leader. This is part 2 of my reflections on how to drive teaching and learning as a middle leader. Last week I talked about establishing common ground, sharing vision and making meetings meaningful. This week’s post focuses on two other ways: making monitoring developmental and promoting reflection in your team.

Monitor to develop

I believe monitoring is key to keeping T&L at the heart of everything you do as a middle leader as long as the monitoring is developmental. We complete regular book looks, one per year group a term. You can read about how we make these developmental in my older post here. As we do those, we collect examples of effective practice, which are later shared in meetings, through the bulletin and a Moving Forward folder with examples of impactful marking. 

I also believe in managing by walking around, looking into the classrooms as I wander around, popping in to chat to students. When we see something we find effective and impactful, we invite staff to share and show it off. The idea is that it comes from staff for staff. We just curate it and amplify it. I always follow up my visit with an email to the teacher highlighting something positive about their practice and offering them an EBI. It is their choice if they take it. Next year, we will be moving to instructional coaching (I can’t wait!) but for now this formula works.

However, it is not just about leaders walking around, it’s about giving staff the opportunity to do the same. Hence, once a half term we host an open door week. Yes, it is an artificial way of encouraging visits but we have to start somewhere. In the week running up to the open door week, I email out a timetable document with empty slots for each period and a simple message:

Next week, … to …, is an Open Door Week. 

Please indicate on the sheet which classes you are happy to welcome visitors in. If you need someone to cover your lesson for 10-15 minutes to enable a visit, email Tyla.

Visit a few teachers staying in each class for around 5 – 10 minutes using the timetable below. Send the visited teachers an email letting them know what you enjoyed about their lesson. CC Tyla in.

Every teacher who opens up 5 lessons or visits three teachers will receive a coffee shop voucher.

Yes, I use bribery. In the UK we used to hand out funky stationery, here where the faculty budget allows for all the funky stationery one may dream of, a coffee voucher is a much better bribe. Being CC’d in the emails allows me to keep track of who gets involved and who doesn’t but also to spot any effective practice others are picking up that we may ask staff to share. Doing this once every half term has definitely opened doors and got the teachers talking and swapping impactful practice.

Promote reflection

We regularly hold reflection sessions in our meetings, reviewing schemes of learning, analysing data and reflecting on the interventions held. Personal reflection is also key. This final idea is something that I originally started as an AHT in my previous school to promote the skill and make the last meeting meaningful. Having seen the impact of it before, I decided to do it at a faculty level. As with all of these activities, doing it once a year or after key training that you plan to go back to later works, doing it too often loses its impact. Here we go. Just make sure you have plenty of funky or inspirational postcards.

In the very last meeting of the school academic year, I asked the teachers to reflect on the year they just had and write themselves a postcard with a highlight of the year and something they would have done differently. I assured them that these will be stored safely over the summer and not looked at by anyone else, even me. You may choose to collect them in a big envelope and seal them in front of teachers if you want to reassure them further. Hand these out back in the first meeting of the new academic year asking staff to remind themselves of what made them happy the year before and set themselves a target based on or inspired by their past experience and reflection. It is a great way to set the learning tone for the rest of the year.

How to lead on teaching and learning as a middle leader? Part 1

Reading this brilliant post  from Paul Cline (@PaulCline_psy), inspired by yet another excellent post from Dawn Cox (@missdcox), made me reflect on my many years of experience as both a middle and senior leader. I led on T&L as an Assistant Head in inner London and delivered an Outstanding Teacher Programme for a teaching school before stepping back down to Head of English when moving to an international school. This move gave me a unique opportunity to engage in middle leadership but this time with the knowledge and skills gained at senior level. Here are some steps I took to ensure that everything we do is about teaching and learning.

Establish common ground

When I took over my faculty, I used the first meeting to establish common ground and identify strengths and areas for development within my new team. If you have done OLEVI’s Outstanding Teacher Programme (OTP), you will be familiar with the opening post-it note activity. I have always found it incredibly insightful to learn about those taking part.

It goes like this: start by asking everyone to write down elements of what they consider effective teaching, one element per post-it note e.g. questioning, challenge, etc. In threes, teachers compare what they wrote down. Next they have to negotiate and agree on one element. Finally, bring all the groups together and compare what each group decided on and agree on one element as a collective. 

This whole faculty activity will give you a good indication of how explicitly your teachers can identify key teaching skills, where their priorities and passions lie, which staff are passionate about research and the knowhow and who may need a little help and guidance. But also it will help you find common ground and agree on what really matters in the classroom.

Research-led vision

One of the key questions we ask as facilitators on OTP is ‘What will move it forward the fastest?’ and this is the very question I asked myself and my team when laying out my vision for my English faculty. Everything I do is driven by research such as  Hattie’s top influences on student achievement (2012). I believe in collective teacher efficacy and feedback as key progress drivers and I shared my belief with my new staff. I reinforced the idea that everything we will choose to do will be research-driven. We then discussed what it could look like within the faculty. You will notice from my account so far that there was no admin mentioned in that meeting so far. How do we tackle the admin bit?

Make meetings meaningful

We all know that the admin in school is endless and there is a tendency for meetings to turn into information giving sessions. Why not set up a weekly bulletin for your team instead? The added benefit of that is cutting down on the emails too. Ours includes the following sections:

  • Calendar with key dates and upcoming deadlines allowing staff to plan effectively;
  • Teaching and Learning section with examples of effective practice and weekly blog recommendations;
  • Phase/ Key stage sections so each phase lead can share their key messages and link key documents.

This allows our faculty meetings to be free from admin with the odd reminder of the key deadlines and gives us time to deliver short training sessions, reflect on schemes of learning or collaborate on creating resources. 

We plan meetings strategically with my deputies as a leadership team. With the Faculty Improvement Plan objectives and a calendar overview of the year to hand, we put together a monitoring and developmental calendar for the faculty and decide what we should address when. Of course, reality bites and we need to adjust our plans every now and again but overall, this strategic approach keeps us sharp and T&L-focused.


Hattie, John. 2012. Visible learning for teachers: maximizing impact on learning. Harvard (18th ed.).

Get Better Faster Book Review

Is there a book you wish you had read years ago? A deeply inspirational book that changed your outlook? Get Better Faster by Paul Bambrick-Santoyo is that book for me and I don’t use the word ‘inspirational’ lightly.

Get Better Faster: A 90-Day Plan for Coaching New Teachers:  Bambrick-Santoyo, Paul, Saphier, Jon: 9781119278719: Books

Bambrick-Santoyo is the managing director of Uncommon Schools, co-founded by another big name in education, Doug Lemov. It is easy to guess then why Get Better Faster draws heavily on strategies from Teach Like a Champion. The author advocates for initial teacher training to resemble that of medical training with coaches watching over the trainee in action, role playing the required strategies before the lesson and stepping in, when and as necessary, during live teaching to model what excellence looks like. Bambrick-Santoyo states that ‘the intellectual life of a child is sacred’ and therefore we cannot afford to teach anything badly. We need to get things right from the start. This statement resonated with me deeply.

Get Better Faster is aimed at those who coach and mentor trainee teachers and practitioners at the early stages of their careers, however, with a bit of an open mind and adaptation, the guide can be used for effective instructional coaching with staff who are more experienced too. The training plan presented in the book is organised into the different phases of teacher training with the aim of getting the teacher to master their practice within their first 90 days. An ambitious undertaking I am sure you will agree.

The training programme set out in Get Better Faster is split into two strands and four phases. The management strand focuses on classroom management and effective routines while rigour focuses on the quality of the teaching. Furthermore, the phases are split into pre-teaching, first 30 days, days 31 to 60 and 61 to 91. The order in which issues are addressed is also purposeful. Having reviewed the order of skills in which most effective coaches develop trainee teachers, the author found that most follow a similar pattern. It begins with class routines that can be practised in the days before school starts and if you have read Teach Like a Champion, you will already be familiar with the strategies themselves. 

The strategies proposed can also be eye-opening even for those experienced among us. Take aggressive monitoring, for example. I have been teaching for over 25 years and not once has anyone suggested that I should start monitoring the work of my students by going to the fastest student first. I have seen the opposite idea modelled over and over. When I queried my equally experienced peers, I found that they too directed their first steps to those who may struggle most or stepped back to watch before starting to make their way around the classroom. But once I read and reflected on the strategy, it did seem like a no brainer. Plan your path and go to those who will have most for you to mark first. This way you can establish any misconceptions early and identify how widespread these are. It makes sense. The key aspect of the text is that the Get Better Faster reference guide identifies the key microskills that constitute great teaching. The microskills listed are presented in an explicit manner and are therefore easy to follow for those who lack the expertise to know what they look like in practice. As an experienced mentor, you may know what scanning a classroom looks like but can someone who is standing in front of a busy class full of children who are moving, talking and learning distinguish easily between off-task or on task behaviour? How often have you told your mentee to improve their classroom awareness without explaining what it looks like? Too many times is my honest answer.

Now I cannot claim that I agree or would use all the strategies practised in the coaching scenarios and videos but then that’s where adaptation comes in. Whether you are an Exit Ticket at the end of every lesson person or not, you will find that the issues identified allow you to propose solutions that work in your own school context. The book comes with a quick reference guide to take around with you when observing, coaching templates and videos modelling coaching conversations. I found the reference guide with the cascade of microskills and the order in which they should be tackled incredibly helpful. All you need to do is run your finger down the list as you watch the lesson in front of you to identify the first microskill to address. You then use the reference guide and the template to prepare for your coaching conversation. The process is simple and supportive leaving nothing to chance. The book also helpfully comes with a presentation you can use with staff. It really comes along as a ready to launch package. 

I cannot recommend this book highly enough to anyone working with trainee teachers, NQTs or looking to implement instructional coaching. I will most certainly be putting it to good use when launching our coaching initiative next academic year. 

How do you turn book monitoring into a developmental exercise?

William (1998), Hattie (2008) and EEF (2018) all identified feedback as one of the key influencers on student attainment. Do note I say feedback not marking. I whole-heartedly believe that the quality of feedback and students responding to it is the single most impactful thing in teaching. How do you monitor it though? How do you avoid book looks being all about teacher marking and performative box ticking and make it about the impact? You look for it.

In my previous blog I mentioned our latest book look. Here I would like to reflect on the book look journey I have been on with my faculty over the last couple of years. First of all, a bit of semantics: are you the book look or work scrutiny kind of person, dear Reader? Words matter. Any monitoring must be developmental and non-judgemental. Obviously, if concerns are spotted then they must be addressed through the appropriate school procedures but the starting point should always be about staff development.

In September 2019 when I took over the faculty, knowing from my predecessor that feedback needed attention as it was inconsistent across the faculty, I delivered training to my team on what good feedback looks like sharing some examples of books. I wanted to ensure we all had a clear idea what to aim for. The main focus was instilling the importance of students responding to feedback as opposed to teachers marking loads. My mantra was for every minute you spend marking, your students should spend at least 5 minutes improving their work.

With this in mind, we discussed what we wanted to see in books such as examples of peer and self assessment, marking for SPaG since most of our students are EAL learners and most importantly, students responding to teacher feedback. We developed a feedback form which focused on those areas and started doing book looks every three weeks, each monitoring period focused on a different year group. I and my deputies would pop into lessons, look at a few books and talk to the students about their work in the books. It was meant to be student-informed and easy on the teachers in terms of workload. The teacher would then receive a feedback form with suggestions or questions to reflect on in order to develop their feedback practice further. For those who needed more support, we suggested trying out specific strategies while those at the expert level were given reflection questions. Whenever we spotted an example of good practice, we would either take a photo of it and share it or ask the teacher to talk about their strategy in the faculty briefing.

As time went on the quality of feedback has improved and the teachers were seeing the impact of students acting on their targets with books showing students making progress over time. In response to this positive change, we chose to rewrite the form changing the focus from the teachers to the students. Afterall, we wanted the students to be doing the majority of the work. We also thought hard about making this as developmental for the teachers. We considered different ideas and decided to invite staff to join us on the book look.

We are lucky enough that as a faculty we are free on Wednesday P1 so I invited everyone to join us for this optional book look. I was pleasantly surprised that almost all teachers chose to attend. Staff brought their books in and worked in pairs, reflecting on the questions on form and completing it for their partner. We also asked them to pick out examples of best practice and anything else they liked about the books. This format allowed the teachers to reflect on their thinking behind feedback in conversation with a peer. For example, someone pointed out that a piece completed by the students showed considerable improvement because prior to the task, the teacher reminded students of their areas for development based on their prior work and showed them models they looked at previously. Although there was no marking directly before the piece, students were improving their work based on feedback. Without the teacher narrative, this would have been missed. 

After 10 minutes of looking at each other’s books, we all stood around a big table and shared the effective practice we found. Some staff liked the success criteria tick sheets breaking down literary analysis into microskills, others pointed out great strategies used by teachers to hold students to account such as making them improve work in a different colour pen while someone else pointed out the very easy strategy  of students writing their previous target above their next piece to ensure they remembered to act on it. All books were different and showed off the individual style of each teacher but also all books showed students making heaps of progress. The whole process took no more than 20 minutes but the buzz in the room and enthusiasm it generated was tangible for the rest of the week. Staff felt inspired and reassured they had autonomy to feed back however they wanted as long as the students were making progress over time.


Black, P. and Wiliam, D., 1998. Inside the black box. London: School of Education, King’s College London.

Education Endowment Foundation (2018), Sutton Trust-Education Endowment Foundation Teaching and Learning Toolkit. London: Education Endowment Foundation. DOI:

Hattie, John. 2012. Visible learning for teachers: maximizing impact on learning. Harvard (18th ed.).

The Ghosts of Past, Present and Future Leadership

Managerialism Research

We all want to be great leaders, don’t we? No one sets out to be a prescriptive and tyrannical boss. No thank you to being the Scrooge of the school, though I’m quite happily the Grinch when Christmas comes.

Last November as a part of my MA in Educational Leadership, I read a paper on ‘bastard’ leadership, managerialism and performativity (Wright, 2001), which hit me quite hard if I’m honest. It made me reflect how performative the UK system has made me. 

I spent the first ten years of my teaching life in a renowned language school where the only measure of your success was your student satisfaction with what you taught them. No one questioned it: they were the paying clients, ambitious and wanting to succeed so we taught them and constantly thought of new ways of breaking down language concepts into chunks that would be digestible, swapping ideas with colleagues and thriving.

Skip forward to my fifteen years in the UK and suddenly I was working in an educational system that told me how to mark, how to start and structure a lesson and how to teach. Some of it was inspiring, some of it was just performative tickbox tricks but before I knew it I became part of it.

Having read Intelligent Accountability by Didau (2020) over the half term, I found myself reflecting more and more on my past leadership mistakes when my focus became too much about how and not enough about what. Didau argues that experienced teachers should be trusted to teach how they want to as long as they can show it is having the desired impact on the students. He made a point that leaders should be agreeing on general non-negotiables that focus on what we want to achieve rather than how to achieve these. The chapter on non-negotiables was a kick in the guts. ‘Oh, but I like non-negotiables!’, I thought. I have always been a huge advocate of them for any new initiative. They are something I can monitor and tick off my list. And there it was. I was right back to ticking the Ofsted box. I started wondering if the ones we came up with were phrased the right way or if they focused on the right things rather than just being purely preformative in nature.

The Ghost of Leadership Past

In the UK I worked in schools that told their teachers to mark with a purple pen, give feedback using WWW and EBI format, start a lesson with thunk or any other engaging hook and so on. I happily enforced those rules, never quite questioning whether we should be so prescriptive. Whenever someone did, I listened to them and discussed their thinking behind lack of engagement and then went on to point out why we were doing what we were doing, the research, the philosophy, the impact on the students. I found it easy to do so because these strategies were aligned with how I teach and what works for me. I didn’t stop to think about those who might not feel the same way or whose style those strategies did not match.

The Ghost of Leadership Present

I like rules and yet I grew tired of them, which was one of the reason why I chose to leave the UK. The constant adapting to yet another Ofsted framework and looking for performative tricks to tick their box took its toll. Moving to an international school was a breath of fresh air.

When I started as the Head of English in my current school, I found it refreshing not having to abide by any specific pedagogy. We started sharing effective practice across the faculty through faculty meetings and briefings. Learning walks and book looks are focused on spotting the gold dust and meetings and the faculty bulletin are the means of spreading it. 

As the practice developed and staff engaged more and more, we have begun trialling different strategies. Last Wednesday we held an alternative book look, rather than line managers looking at books and offering developmental feedback, the teachers paired up and looked at each other’s books, holding each other to account, focusing on student progress and students responding to feedback. They all completed a feedback sheet for each other and identified best practice in books to share with the rest of the faculty. When we finished off the short 20 minute meeting by looking at the best books, one of the staff commented that although all the feedback strategies looked so different, all books looked like English books and students were engaging with their learning. We didn’t need compliance or consensus on how to mark, we focused on agreeing on the what and why: students responding to feedback to maximise progress.

The Ghost of Leadership Future

As I prepare for my first deputy headship as the Director of Teaching and Learning, I am reflecting more and more over my prescriptive past. This blog is part of my commitment to focus on what we are trying to achieve and not how. For the non-negotiables to be focused on our goals and not on how we get there. For the staff to be able to earn their trust and have the freedom to teach however they wish as long as it is effective so they can stay true to themselves.

Just like Scrooge, I hope to be better than my word. To do it more and infinitely more.


Didau, D. 2020. Intelligent Accountability. John Catt Educational.

Wright, N. 2001. Leadership, ‘Bastard Leadership’ and Managerialism Confronting Twin Paradoxes in the Blair Education Project. Educational Management Administration & Leadership 29(3):275-290. DOI: 10.1177/0263211X010293003

Reading Matters

The article below is a piece I wrote for Renaissance on our successful implementation of the Accelerated Reader programme. The original is here.

During my first lunch duty at the school, not a single student was reading in the library. Students were only paying attention to their devices. I looked at the number of books being taken out of the library. In the lower school, the numbers were great, but they dropped off considerably in year seven. Therefore, it was evident that the development of reading culture in the school was needed. I was previously responsible for implementing and overseeing Accelerated Reader (AR) in a different school and experiencing it from the English teacher’s perspective in another. Both schools saw an increase in reading score and ZPD score. Since then, I have brought the learning from AR to Harrow Bangkok in Thailand.

Since introducing AR to our school, we now have an established reading culture. Our new culture includes a half-term routine to ensure students get the most out of reading enjoyment and reading development. In the first half-term, we have a focus on reading loads. During the second half term, we focus on the accuracy of reading. In the third half-term, we look at the number of words read. And finally, in the fourth half-term, we go back to focussed reading time.

“With Accelerated Reader, students who are not avid readers can still quiz correctly can celebrate success when reading short books.”

With Accelerated Reader, students who are not avid readers can still quiz correctly can celebrate success when reading short books. Using AR prompted us to purchase short reads to win over reluctant readers and EAL students. We have been fortunate enough to have graduate interns working in the library, delivering guided reading, and engaging the reluctant readers. We also give graduate interns a list of students who haven’t quizzed, so they target children in their library lessons to complete their first AR quiz of the term. Keen year 9 and 10 students read with students on our urgent intervention and interventions lists twice a week to ensure students get focused reading support.

Also, the older students get to develop their leadership and mentoring skills while the teacher oversees this. We reward students with word millionaire badges and present them in assemblies, celebrating new millionaires on social media and our school magazine. Out of 400 students, we have 23 word-millionaires so far this academic year, and our top student has read over 7 million words. For World Book Day, the Head Master will host a brunch with all of our word millionaires to give them the recognition they deserve.

We have prepared and carried out lots of training with staff to ensure they are familiar with how AR and Star Reading (SR) work. We have organised a troubleshooting guide which includes helpful information such as who to contact if a student quizzes on the wrong book and would like their quiz deleted. In my previous role, I attended a training event at the Renaissance Learning UK head office in London where we were introduced to the idea of “gentle pressure relentlessly applied”, so now at Harrow Bangkok, we are continually talking about AR and reading. Even more so, we are regularly celebrating reading success in public with both our house system and individual students. I email tutors every Monday with their students’ latest reading report and encourage them to praise students. I also send regular AR, and SR reports to each Head of House to show which students or classes struggle with reading. These reports allow leaders to offer support to those students in need of intervention.

“When we carried out our January Star Reading test, students made at least twelve months of progress on average.”

When we look at novels in English, we get students to design their own film trailers of books they have read. These film trailers allow the next cohort to watch them at school to build excitement around the upcoming texts. But most importantly, we know we always have to be talking about reading and continuously reminding people about it. Compared to last year, we are delighted. When we carried out our January Star Reading test, students made at least twelve months of progress on average. Considering we were in lockdown for four months and had two months of summer holidays, that is quite impressive. We were back altogether from August to December, and on average, students made seven months of progress. So we were pleased with how well students’ reading skills developed. 

Our students carry out Star Reading assessments at the start of every term in August, December and April. Once we complete each Star Reader test, we run off the screening report. We share this report with English teachers but also with the tutors. We also use the Instructional Planning Report, which allows us to group students in library lessons for guided reading. Students from years six to nine have a weekly hour-long library session. Staff can refer to the screening report to identify students in need of urgent intervention. 

“We find the Learning Progressions and Focus Skills from Star Reading very useful. With the Instructional Planning Report, we can show parents how their child is progressing.”

We use the parent report to send letters home to parents with information on their child’s reading development. Parents can be quite competitive, so they enjoy seeing how their children are doing. On the Reading Dashboard within Harrow School’s Renaissance Place, we can see a chart for our students’ projected growth. We issue these charts to tutors before parents’ evening and ask them to talk to students in the red zone, identifying students making the least progress. Similarly, we remind tutors to praise students in the green zone who are making accelerated progress.

We find the Learning Progressions and Focus Skills from Star Reading very useful. We are very much benefiting from using the Instructional Planning Report. Parents often come in and ask, ‘what should I work on with my child to support them’ especially concerned parents of English Additional Language students. With the Instructional Planning Report, we can show parents how their child is progressing. They like to see that their child is working above their unique benchmark. The Instructional Planning Report breaks down progress very specifically for parents. So, rather than just advising parents to simply ‘read more with your child’, we can show them the specific skills their child needs to develop. 

We can also send parents a PDF copy of the report to show them what skills they can work on at home, and parents are keen to engage with the help we offer them. We also use resources and activity plans from the Star Reading Dashboard Skills and Resources page. The Resource page allows me to click on specific skills to work on with each student or group. The Resource page will enable me to select skills and areas of learning that I want to focus on with a specific student based on their Star Reader assessment data. The resource site will identify the skills needed by a particular student or group.

All of the reports within Star Reading are very easy to follow. Staff do not require much training to interpret and use the reports within the initiative. We take the time to train staff about each acronym within the reports, for example, the student’s ZPD range. The reports are also useful for English teachers to assess students’ progress and intervene in learning where necessary.

“I absolutely would recommend Accelerated Reader and Star Reading. It makes promoting reading and measuring progress much more tangible, making it easier to identify students who are not reading.” 

Harrow Bangkok is the second school of which have been the lead on Accelerated Reader. Both schools have seen a noticeable culture shift amongst all students from not reading to engaged reading. My last school went from very few children reading to ensuring reading is a fixed part of its culture.

We use myON, the digital library for students whose first language is not English or with visual impairment or dyslexia. myON is very useful for reading beginners or students with deficient English levels, so it helps them hear words aloud with myON’s audio feature. It is an excellent resource for SEN/EAL students.

Aggressive Monitoring – A Smart Move?

Ask most teachers how they go about monitoring student work and they will most likely say “I start with the slowest or weakest student.” They will not say “I monitor aggressively.” unless they have read Get Better Faster by Paul Bambrick-Santoyo. I know that for sure. I polled my colleagues.

One of the concepts mentioned in the book is the idea of aggressive monitoring. Doesn’t sound pleasant, does it? And yet, I put it to the test with my Year 10s writing their first full essay on Orwell’s 1984 and was amazed by the impact it had on my students. 

Here is a short account of what steps we took in class.


One of my teaching mottos is making implicit explicit, talking out loud through the thinking process behind complex tasks. Therefore the first two lessons in preparation for the writing focused on another extract using questioning and modelling slowly,  what happens automatically in the head of someone who is confident in attempting an exam question. We looked at how to:

  • break the question down, 
  • select and annotate quotations from the extract, 
  • make links to the whole text,
  • make references to the writer’s message and the socio-historical context.

We then studied an A* answer to the said question identifying useful phrases and analysing how the students met the A* criteria.


The following lesson the students got the opportunity to complete guided practice, analysing the extract they will write about in groups of three. I guided the students through the explicit approach to the question and the extract following the same steps students were introduced to in the modelling phase. At this point I stepped back and encouraged students to bounce ideas off each other and go back to their notes in their exercise books to plan their response effectively.


Having done the preparation, it was time for students to write and for me to put the aggressive monitoring to the test. Following the script in Get Better Faster, I introduced the prompt codes to the students before getting them to write their essays. I briefly reminded them what each code meant although they are already familiar with these as they are directly linked to the success criteria we used for writing our analytical paragraphs.

I then explained that while they were writing, I would go around twice to look at their work and add the relevant code in their margin. I made it very clear I would not be discussing the code with them but they were allowed to go back to the A* model to see how the student met that criteria in their essay. I clarified that if I held conversations with every student then some students would not get the feedback they deserved, which everyone agreed would have been unfair.

At the start of this blog I mentioned that most teachers start with the weakest or struggling students but Get Better Faster actually argues you should go to your fastest writers first because they will have something written for you to mark when you get to them. I was surprised to read that and to be honest, it made perfect sense when I thought about it. I wish someone had told me that 20 years ago when I started teaching!

Once the students were engrossed in their writing, I made my way around the room. I announced loudly and clearly that I was coming around to look at their introduction only and reminding them that they were to look at the board and in their books to seek help on how to improve their work in response to the code given. The element of surprise for me here was that it was easy enough to identify the fastest and the slowest writers but getting the students in the middle in the right order proved a challenge. I have learnt a lot about the pace at which my middle band works during this exercise.

Surprisingly, this part of monitoring was a breeze and I was quite quickly able to move on to checking up on students and their first analytical paragraphs, ensuring they were on track to meet all the success criteria. I was stunned by the end of the essay writing task. Not only was I able to see 20 students twice in the space of 20 minutes, but also I was able to preempt students forgetting to meet certain commonly missed success criteria so by the end, when I took their books in for deep marking (something I planned to do to help me reflect on the effectiveness of the strategy), I found I was feeding back on their truly best work. I will most certainly be monitoring aggressively a lot more from now on.