How can we create ‘An Ethic of Excellence’ in our schools?

Improving Teaching

For twenty-five years I’ve led a double life.  I’m a full-time classroom teacher in a public school.  In order to make ends meet for my family, I’ve worked during the summers, vacations, and sometimes weekends, as a carpenter.  In the classroom or on the building site my passion is the same: If you’re going to do something, I believe, you should do it well.  You should sweat over it and make sure it’s strong and accurate and beautiful and you should be proud of it.”

So, beguilingly, Ron Berger begins An Ethic ofExcellence.  I imagine him sweating over a series of drafts to refine this passage into a fitting introduction to the aspects of the book which make it such a pleasure to read: expressing his pride in his craftsmanship and his students’ work; drawing explicit analogies between carpentry and scholarship; demonstrating his care for elegant writing.


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Round and round we go: teaching English in spirals

Reflecting English

spacing(1)Images: @jasonramasami

I have always struggled with setting learning objectives for my English lessons. At times they seem useful, at other times not. When they allow me to zoom in on disconnected, isolated knowledge and skill, such as grammatical structures or punctuation rules, they give clarity and emphasis to planning. Yet when I am teaching a chapter of a novel, a complete poem or a scene from a play – or teaching students to write an extended text – they fail to capture the breadth of what I would like my students to learn. More often than not I will stick to a title: ‘Chapter 2 of Of Mice and Men’, for instance.

The reason is that literary texts require immersion. For any lesson on a text or part of a text, I usually like my students to know and think about some or all of the following:


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A submission to the Carter Review

John Howson

I don’t normally post long pieces on this blog but I thought some readers might like to read the submission I have sent to the Carter Review.

Developing a World Class Teaching Profession in England


Cllr Professor John Howson


Education is a large-scale enterprise in England with more than half a million qualified teachers either working in schools or qualified to do so. For many years there has been anxiety about poor quality teachers. There have also been periods when recruiting and retaining enough teachers has been a challenge. The key questions as we enter a period of significant growth in the school population during the next decade is how to attract, retain and develop the next generation of teachers in sufficient numbers to ensure a high quality education for every child. For, as a Report commissioned by President Bush Senior once famously said, ‘no child should be…

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should doctoral researchers blog?

A fabulous post exploring the pros and cons of blogging publicly. A must-read for anyone engaged in, or considering reflective writing, writing to learn, or publishing work…


I often get asked about the pros and cons of doctoral researchers blogging, and I know other colleagues do too. There isn’t a right or wrong answer to the question of course, it’s always an “It depends”. But here’s a few beginning thoughts.

For a start, whether to blog or not depends what you are hoping to achieve. Maybe you are thinking about an individual blog, something you create yourself on one of the standard platforms like blogger, wordpress or medium… and if you are, here’s some possible reasons and some things to consider….

(1) Your personal blog is a place to reflect and record what is happening in your research.
A blog can do this. It can be like a journal. You might blog about the things you are reading and thinking about. Formulating ideas into a thousand words or so and linking to relevant texts and other online…

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The self-improving school system: competing policies undermine the coalition’s admirable aims


Toby Greany

On 18 March I will be giving my inaugural lecture on the ‘self-improving’ school system (there are still some places left, book here!) In this blog I want to set out some of the ideas I will explore in the lecture, focussing on the state of current policy. In a later blog I will identify some of things I think could be done to move us forwards.

In his speech at the North of England conference this January Charlie Taylor, CEO of the National College for Teaching and Leadership, talked about his aim of an ‘irrevocable shift’ towards a school-led, self-improving system by September 2016.

So what does the Government mean by a self-improving system? When you read The Importance of Teaching white paper, I think you can boil it down to four criteria:

  • teachers and schools are responsible for their own improvement;
  • teachers and schools learn…

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Work hard. Get smart. Be nice.

Class Teaching

academic courage2

This is the motto of the Springfield Renaissance School, Massachusetts, USA – one of Ron Berger’sExpeditionary Learning SchoolsDan Brinton posted a video about the school on Twitter last night and it was very impressive – resonating with much of what many of us are trying to do here in terms of growth mindset and an ethic of excellence.

Ron Berger summed up the approach of the school:

“There’s a belief in the capacity of students to do more than they expect of themselves”

“A willingness to push kids deeper and let them struggle to do more”

Through this approach the school encourages ‘deep learning’ with the students, by developing the following competencies:

deeper learning competencies

A few of the bits of the video that stood out follow.

Academic Courage

A great phrase for a simple but important principle.  Students were encouraged to support each other to take risks and have…

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