Teaching to the top

We focused on Teaching to the Top, and in particular How well do we know our students and how do we teach to the top to drive learning and progress for all?

This sits with our CPD for new and trainee staff as part of the Teacher standards (TS2), looking specifically at Progress and Outcomes.

So what do we mean by Teaching to the Top?

The danger is that all students are under-challenged in the classroom. If we set consistently high expectations we are effectively raising the bar, and driving progress for all. This starts with ourselves – the right attitude and mind-set to really push all students, having in place the right habits and routines, and planning around this with challenging  and stimulating activities.

Closing the gaps is central to this, and John Tomsett’s point should not be lost,

The best pastoral care for students from the most deprived socio-economic backgrounds is a great set of examination results.

The session started with the basics – what Ofsted are saying, and what kind of mind-set we as teachers need to have to teach to the top.. These slides come directly from Tom Sherrington’s article on Teaching to the Top – https://teacherhead.com/2017/05/28/teaching-to-the-top-attitudes-and-strategies-for-delivering-real-challenge/


Colleagues were asked to bring a sample class and lesson that they intended to teach in the next week (we’ll feedback on Wednesday everyone!)

  1. Knowing the students

If it was our children in the class, what would we expect the teacher to know, and have in place?

In our case, this is where the Westfield Way comes in:

Do we have:

  • A seating plan?
  • A context sheet?
  • Their homework results?
  • Their assessment results?
  • SEN booklet, including Disadvantaged students?
  • Westfield Way in place?

Do we really know the students, and what they are capable of?

  1. The Learning Destination

What is our intention for the end point of the lesson? What do we want them to have learned by that point? If we don’t know this, and can’t explain it, the students certainly won’t be able to.

This leads directly to our old friend Bloom’s Taxonomy. Can the stages of this destination, and lesson, be broken down into progressively more challenging steps?


  1. Teaching to the Top and High challenge


From this we looked at a number of strategies, all relevant for the challenge that all students need:..

  • Flipped learning

Ask not what your teacher can do for you…but what about what the students can do either side of the lesson? What can students do independently either side of the lesson that makes them part of the learning, and raises expectations of them?

  • Thunk Questioning

Thunk is a beguilingly simple-looking question about everyday things that stops you in your tracks and helps you start to look at the world in a whole new light. And engages and stimulates students!

  • Kahoot and Socrative

Students, phones AND learning! What’s not to love? This is a  formative assessment tool that helps teachers and learners to assess learning and progress. A bit of pre-planning and it really opens up activities and assessment in the classroom. and is open to all (phones permitting)

  • Question Maps and Matrices

The Question Matrix is used to formulate questions in a current topic. It can be used in any subject and in a variety of different ways. It allows students to be challenged at their own pace and it also provides opportunity for personalised learning. Students would be paired up and are given an image, from that image they move through the Q Matrix creating different questions. They can then answer these questions or use them as a stimulus for discussion.

  • High Challenge strategies:

Tom Sherrington’s Teaching to the Top article offers a number of further strategies:

  • High Challenge Independent learning – more on flipped learning
  • Open-ended projects: ‘Dazzle me’ with your own response to the work
  • Oracy; Pedagogical inputs – explain and present it in another format
  • Co-construction; side-kicks; Edmodo/google apps – students take the initiative – planning, organising and delivering, with the teacher overseeing at a distance
  • Excellence Exhibition- showing it all off.

Our session looked at all of this, and then in true flipped learning style, colleagues have been asked to trial any of these strategies in their lesson, with some ‘dazzle me’ show and tell next Wednesday. Did you see what I did there?

Bottom line? We’d all want our children to experience this kind of high challenge and teaching to the top wouldn’t we?

A Japanese parent thanks the father of their teacher

Finding the Win Win


This week I was asked to deliver a session entitled, ‘Westfield Way: Our expectations & our environment’. The ‘Westfield Way’ is predicated upon the belief that each lesson should follow an identical routine so that learning environments across the academy are safe, consistent and settled. Essentially we believe that this is the first procedure to be implemented by staff at all levels, although this session was pitched specifically towards new staff and trainees. In short, there’s no point in a teacher standing at the front delivering content if the students aren’t listening; the Westfield Way establishes a focused learning environment with students who are well-equipped, focussed and ready to learn. The steps involved in the Westfield Way are portrayed below:


A second aspect of the Westfield Way is tailored towards specific expectations that all teachers have of students for their learning during the entire lesson and not just the start. These are outlined below:

The Westfield Way:

The whole school expectation for class work is as follows:

  1. All lessons should have a title and a date written in books and underlined. Learning Objectives and Outcomes should be written as a sub-heading
  2. All writing should be done in pen (black or blue)
  3. Any sheets or paper should be glued in.
  4. Clearly written questions, instructions and working.
  5. Respond to teacher feedback and self-assessment tasks in green
  6. Handwriting should be as neat as possible and if mistakes are made a line should be drawn through and then corrections made.
  7. All drawings / diagrams should be completed in pencil.
  8. Any diagrams should be labelled and if needed given a key.
  9. Books should be kept in good condition with no graffiti on the cover or inside

During the session we discussed the adage that ‘Education is a hard teacher, because she gives the test first and the lesson afterward’. A universal thread that ran through our discussions was the idea that we all have the expectation (and hope) for our students to behave and to learn (and, ideally, to want to behave and learn and to enjoy it). While this hope is genuine and sincerely held, ‘behaviour’ is an abstract notion and is a spectrum ranging from slight infringement, boundary pushing, subtle defiance, all the way through to overt defiance and health and safety risks. This makes your reaction to behaviour more complex as a one-size-fits-all approach fails. To counter this complexity, I proposed the following checklist:


My three top tips:

  • Know your own expectations. Once YOU know them you can enforce and implement them. This ranges from how you deal with chewing gum to inappropriate questions to swearing to bullying and aggression (. Consistency is key).
  • Know how you will enforce your expectations. (Strategies/steps to have students accept and follow your expectations Plan your reactions to common behavioural infractions in advance, outside of lesson time – plan your tone of voice, your words, what behaviours you’ll call home for and so on. Write out a list if necessary – tardiness, gum, answering back, swearing, not producing enough written work, not following instructions, calling out.)
  • Never ever say anything you can’t or won’t see through e.g. call home if you threaten to, don’t threaten with isolation etc. Don’t reach 120mph too soon! (Don’t threaten, do follow through).
  • Win Win. Both students and teacher can win following a potential confrontation. Don’t look for a crushing blow, more an agreement that by working together we are much, much stronger.
  • Expect the best, so look for agreement and compliance and show confidence in getting there – a thank you is better than a please!


This checklist is grounded in the notion that nobody enjoys having the goal posts moved on them – so why would you move them on yourself and on the students? That only leads to students arguing back: ‘When such and such did this, you reacted like that. So why am I being treated differently?’


An example of ‘knowing-that-you-have-to-know-how-you-expect-to-deal-with-common-behavioural-lapses’ (what a long strategy name!) is how you deal with tardiness. Many teachers fall into the all-too-tempting trap of having an impromptu open-air showdown, shaming the late student with humiliating and confrontational language in front of the entire class in the hopes they’ll be cowed into never being late again, and just like that a nice precedent is set for the onlookers. We discussed this strategy and agreed that, on most occasions, this approach can damage your relationship with a student rather than get a class to respect your expectation for punctuality. Instead, we agreed, a more-likely-to-be successful approach is allowing the student into your lesson, letting them get settled and caught up and then going over and having a quiet word, as well as setting whatever sanction you feel appropriate (if you decide a sanction is necessary at all). An alternative we discussed was asking the late student to wait outside until we set the rest of the class off on an activity and then discussing with the student their lateness. This approach has its advantages, although you do have to wait until a time when you can excuse yourself to step outside the classroom. This runs the risk of disturbing the overall lesson further by requiring you to direct your attention beyond the classroom to. Additionally, it was raised during our discussions how tardiness can be a genuine exception for a student and a sign of a bad day (someone hiding someone else’s schoolbag on them at break time), wherein the student is already stressed, so by the time they’ve to sheepishly enter lesson late they’re already stressed and therefore defensive, so a confrontational word from you will have them draw out their temper and sense of inequality and unfairness. Our session was not focused so much on setting a routine to be followed by all teachers always, so much as directing our participants to reflect on how knowing your expectations (in this case in relation to punctuality) so that you can better enforce this expectation in a firm but minimal-fuss-made way.

Most schools have a clear behaviour system and Westfield has been congratulated on its behaviour system by external organisations. Yes, staff should and are encouraged to use the behaviour system, but the language we use in our interactions when we enforce it should also be given thought. Therefore, for the final segment of the session we discussed how to minimise confrontation in our language choices (while also enforcing the expectation and achieving the desired outcome). There are many books out there giving detailed tips and strategies but the ones we discussed ranged from non-verbal interactions such as double-tapping on the desk of a distracted student to remind them to focus, to using praise for specific actions of students behaving well (great use of key words in your essay, Kevin!) to Sue Cowley’s example of ‘There’s a bin at the front’ over ‘Get rid of your gum right now! That’s a negative referral!’

‘Education is a hard teacher, because she gives the test first and the lesson afterward’. Absolutely learn from experience. But there’s no reason why you can’t make life a little easier for yourself by reflecting on what your expectations are, how you’ll enforce these expectations and the language you’ll use during those conversations. Be prepared, and confident in your interactions, thank you and move on.



Questioning better than Johan

We started our session this week with a consideration of Johan Cruyff’s gnomic comment:

‘If I’d wanted you to understand I’d have explained it better’


What did he mean by this?

Did he expect his players to literally work it out themselves on the pitch?

Did this empower his players (and win loads of games)?

How did his non-explanatory beliefs influence his coaching style, and future coaches?

Was he just not able to explain to players not blessed with his talent?

These questions started our session on questioning, and its’ fundamental importance for teachers and the learning process.

I borrowed extremely liberally from Tom Sherrington’s article on Questioning, https://teacherhead.com/2018/08/24/great-teaching-the-power-of-questioning/ to consider a number of objectives:

-Reviewing different questioning strategies

-Applying to different scenarios

-Creating a practical questioning bank to use in the classroom

Ultimately the aim was to develop a bank and variety of questioning strategies that enabled colleagues to

-Shows where the class and individuals are at, and how they can improve

-Helps us adapt and shape our teaching

-Allows questioning in depth, checking understanding and involves all learners

-Explores thinking processes and misconceptions

All of these are fundamental to the learning process.

The 7 strategies we looked at where lifted from the above article by Tom Sherrington:

  • Cold-Calling
  • No Opt-Out
  • Checking for Understanding
  • Probing
  • Say it Again Better
  • Think-Pair-Share
  • Whole-Class Response

Pairs considered their strategy, clarified on when and how it might be used, then role-played it in action (aaargh).

For the rest of the week we will be sharing how we use these strategies with our classes, and their impact on the learning of the students.

Finally, what strategy would you use this for these questions:

Why don’t MacDonald’s sell hot dogs?

How can a 51-year old pull a muscle doing yoga in a CPD session?


Fighting for a better future

This month we have been holding assemblies based around Black History Month, with our own Westfield twist of Believe Strive Achieve.

Last week we looked at the example of Colin Kaepernick, an American footballer, currently a free agent, but a figurehead for Black Lives Matter, as well as the recent Nike ‘Believe in something even if it means sacrificing everything’ campaign.

Colin Kaepernick protest

Taking the knee

During a training match Kaepernick knelt rather than stand during the National Anthem, as a protest and gesture of solidarity towards the victims of shooting incidents that had lead to the Black Lives Matter campaign.

‘I’m not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of colour. To me, this is bigger than football and it would be selfish on my part to look the other way. There are bodies in the street and people getting paid leave and getting away with murder.’


His actions caused a storm, resulting in the termination of his contract. Despite his talent, he remains a free agent, without a team. His principles have lead him to this situation.



The assembly coincided with the birthday of ee cummings, an American poet celebrated for his individualism:

“To be nobody-but-yourself — in a world which is doing its best, night and day, to make you everybody else — means to fight the hardest battle which any human being can fight.”

Both Cummings and now Colin Kaepernick have striven for this nobody-but-yourself bravery, and are an example for all of us.

Kaepernick is now part of a major advertising campaign, that has both its’ lovers and haters. His message is clear:

What would you stand for?


Book monitoring with benefits

Monitoring week this week, looking at:

  • Presentation: is there care & effort in student work?
  • Amount & quality of student work, including type / rigour of work: is it challenging?
  • Homework – is there evidence of regularity / in back of book?
  • Teacher input – is there evidence of checking / correcting / feedback?

This was just a start on our drive on books for 2018-19, with student learning, and how it is presented, taking centre stage. we want students to take a pride in their work, with their books a tool for both current understanding and learning, and also for future re-learning and the development of deep learning and mastery.

Of course, looking through 8 faculties-worth of key Stage 3 books, just like marking a set of books, can be onerous on occasions, but the benefits are always there! The pictures below are just a few of the lovely pieces of work I have seen over the last 2 days from our Key Stage 3 students. Aided by their teachers, they have really responded to the challenge of our whole-school drive. the effort, engagement and enjoyment of a good piece of work has been fantastic.So monitoring really does have its’ benefits!