The Surprise

The sausage rolls were burnt, but they would do. Stuart, standing back and observing the buffet, smoothed down his ‘Don’t Blame the Cook’ apron and smiled proudly. The mini Yorkshire puddings, filled with creamed horseradish butter and topped with a slither of 32-day aged rare roast beef, were a triumph. And yet, they didn’t detract from the Victoria Sponge, made from his mother’s own recipe, which was the centrepiece of the table, lovingly dusted with icing sugar and punctured with candles that spelt out: ‘Happy 50th Birthday Janet.’ The Cuckoo clock cuckooed four o’clock, so Stuart headed upstairs to change into the suit he’d collected from the dry-cleaners early that morning. The guests would be here soon.

As he glided down the stairs to meet the first guests, Stuart grinned. He’d always stayed away from surprises-they were too messy, too fussy, too wonky-but actually, he now realised he needn’t have worried. His meticulous planning meant that Janet’s surprise party was going to be, he was sure, the talk of the neighbourhood for years to come. The beaming smiles on the faces of the guests-Sue and Alan from the Tennis club, Colin and David from next door, Jason and Beatrice who they’d met on the cote’D’Azur fifteen years ago- as they turned up, laden with bottles of wine and expensive candles, only served to confirm that this would be a surprise party Janet would never forget. Stuart felt as though he had done her proud.

The final guest- Lucy from the bookshop- arrived at 4.32pm. Stuart frowned slightly as he drew a perfectly straight line through ‘Last guest arrival: 4.30pm’ in his notebook, but turned his frown upside down (he loved saying that to the children) as he saw to the next task on his list: Champagne and hiding places. One by one, couple by couple, guests were handed a chilled glass of Champagne (never Prosecco) and then directed to a hiding-place specially chosen by Stuart beforehand. Sue’s recent weight gain meant that she needed lots of space-she went behind the curtains. Beatrice, a recovering alcoholic, was directed to behind the door, well away from the reaches of the champagne, chilling in ice buckets on the table under which Colin and David crouched excitedly.

It was five minutes to five. Janet would be home, as she had been for the past thirty years, at exactly five ‘o’clock. She’d be tired and irritable-as she was getting older, the commute to and from the city was becoming increasingly wearing, but he’d meet her at the door, serene smile on show, hand her a gin and tonic, before kissing her and leading her into the living room where he would rub her feet.

Before getting into his hiding place behind the corner sofa, Stuart made one final check that the guests were perfectly hidden. He saw Sue’s fingers, poking out from behind the curtain and his mind flashed back to the way those fingers felt gripping the hair of his chest two weeks previously, at a hotel in Bath. A reassuring smile from Lucy, as she poked her head up from behind the easy chair made his heart beat: he’d have to feel those lips against his again soon. He smiled knowingly as he saw Beatrice’s tanned arm bent out from behind the door. He gently pushed it back out of view and pressing it affectionately as he did so. She winked back at him and made an obscene gesture her husband wouldn’t have understood.

Janet had found out about the surprise party two weeks before- Sue had blurted it out clumsily during their Sunday morning yoga class. Outside, she strode up the garden path. In her left hand she clutched at photographs she’d been sent that morning from a Private Investigator she’d found online. Slowly and deliberately, she laid each of the photographs out on the doorstep: Stuart leaving a sushi restaurant with Beatrice; Stuart passionately embracing Lucy in the window of a Winchester hotel room; Stuart laying his head on Sue’s shoulders at a race meeting in Somerset.

Happy with the door-step collage of her husband’s infidelity, Janet walked back to the car and fetched a container. Back at the door step, she emptied petrol onto the photographs and sloshed the remainder against the bottom of the oak door Stuart had begged her to buy back in 1989. She took a box of matches from her pocket, lit a match and threw it onto the photographs. Only when the flames began to lick at the door did she let out a snigger.

“Surprise”, she muttered.


Militant Tenderness: Modelling Positive Behaviours in Boys.

A primary school teacher recently got in touch to tell me that he spent yesterday ‘dealing with five 10 year olds hell bent on proving their masculinity’ because one of these boys had questioned another’s masculine credentials. This same teacher went on to explain that these boys ‘can’t occupy themselves anymore with anything that isn’t fighting.’

It’s a depressing state of affairs, and whilst I’m not sure where I stand on the phrase ‘toxic masculinity’, I certainly agree that there is a problem with certain elements of masculinity as a construct. Namely, the way it can point large numbers of men towards a life of physical and sexual violence, aggressive posturing and emotional repression.

Although I’m sceptical of ‘toxic masculinity’ as a phrase, one phrase I do like is ‘tender masculinity’ as discussed in this excellent blog post by Terra Loire. According to Loire, Tender Masculinity is ‘a necessary antidote to our media portrayals of men’ as either hyper-macho meatheads or incompetent buffoons. Loire suggests that if you ask the following questions of a man, and can answer in the affirmative, then he embodies tender masculinity:

• Is he invested in all of his relationships, not just romantic ones?

• Does he express his emotions in a healthy way?

• Is self-awareness a concept he’s comfortable with?

• Does he commit to personal growth?

• Are boundaries something he is aware of and respects?

• Is he unafraid of male intimacy — for instance, can he express affection for male friends without making a gay joke?

Lots of people contact me regularly and ask for advice on how they can combat what they deem to be ‘toxic masculinity’. My answer is this: ‘Militant Tenderness’. Militant tenderness refers to the act of relentlessly and doggedly modelling a masculinity which values kindness, vulnerability and love over the power, violence, and emotional mutism which makes up the toxic masculinity that the media-in all its forms-seems so determined to instill amongst our young people.

So, what does militant tenderness look like? In my classroom it looks like this:

1. Relentless politeness at all times, wherever possible.

I always say please and thank you, at all times. When people answer the register, “Yes Sir”, I say “Thank You.” When guests come and observe my lessons, I thank them for visiting as they leave. When a child thanks me at the end of the lesson, I’ll say, “Thanks for saying thanks! It means a lot.” Because it does mean a lot. Saying please and thank you shows that you are grateful for everything; that you don’t take anything for granted and that you don’t feel entitled. One of the problems of toxic masculinity is misguided feelings of entitlement. By saying please and thank you, as often as the opportunity presents itself to do so, I am showing boys that I respect people, and I value their respect for me. Nothing is assumed. I am owed nothing because I am a man. I am owed something because I am kind.

2. Relentless honesty, at all times, wherever possible.

I try to be as honest as I can with students when it comes to my emotions. Whilst I would never discuss my personal life in any depth, I will openly discuss the feelings and emotions that arise in the context of what’s being studied or discussed in the classroom. If a poem makes me very sad, I’ll tell the class. If a kid makes me look at something in a new and exciting way, I’ll express my childish delight. And, if a kid does a piece of work that’s absolutely mind-blowing, to the point where it makes my heart swell with pride, and my eyes with tears, I’ll acknowledge that fact, frankly and openly. In fact, I’ll intentionally draw the class’s attention to it. I’ll say: “That’s making me well up with pride, that”, and face them, smiling and watery eyed.

I’ll be open about the way topics affect me and if appropriate, I’ll attempt to explain why they affect me that way. A good exemplification of this is when I read the ending of ‘Of Mice and Men.’ Inevitably, as I read the final pages, my voice will falter and waiver with emotion. I don’t try to hide this fact and when the kids notice it, and ask me why I am so affected by the ending of the book I’ll explain to them that I see in Lennie and George, the closeness I feel to my brothers and this informs my emotional response to the end of the novel.

Sometimes honesty can be something as simple as, ‘I like your haircut Jack’, or ‘Ah, it’s good to see you lot this morning.’ The fact is, as a teacher, I need to show my students that it’s okay for a man to feel and to want to express those feelings. Do this whenever you can.

3. Relentless critique of negative aspects of masculinity

Often, I’ll take the time out to poke light-hearted fun at masculine behaviours I believe to be undesirable. Humour comes in handy here. I’ve got a number of go-to routines with this one, but here’s an example the kids always laugh along with.

Me: Nice haircut Jack

Jack: Thanks

Me: Sorry Jack. Didn’t mean to embarrass you. Number one rule of teacher training is ‘never draw attention to a kid by complimenting them’. Thing is Jack, I’ve got no hair, and you have, and I like your haircut. So I’m going to compliment you, right? Why wouldn’t I? Isn’t it weird how some men can’t ever just compliment each other? Last week, I bought a new jacket. And I went to meet my friends in a place that definitely wasn’t a pub, and as I’m standing there with me mates, enjoying a refreshing non-alcoholic beverage, I realise that all my mates are looking at me jacket. And I’m looking at them looking at me jacket. And not one of ‘em says anything! I know they like my jacket. I know they think I look good in my jacket- I mean, how could they not? But not one of them says anything! So we’re in this ridiculous situation where they know that I know that they know how good I look and we all just stand there not saying anything. Until someone breaks the silence with “So…er…football.” I’ve never understood it! If there’s the opportunity to compliment somebody, compliment them! Jeeez….

It makes me cringe, seeing this written out. But the fact is, once upon a time, this was off the cuff. But after seeing the boys in that class agree with me, and the positive impact it had on the way that it had on their behaviour (they began to actually be nice to each other openly), it became a story I fine-tuned and worked on. Find your opportunities to critique masculinity, come up with a personal story of your own to which the kids can relate, and perfect it.

My critique of masculinity isn’t always so light-hearted. At times there are situations when something needs to be seriously addressed. This year, I took considerable time to criticise Mercutio and Tybalt’s masculine posturing, that results in both their deaths.

I’ve also scrutinised-and expressed my outright disgust- at the following passage from A Christmas Carol:

She was very pretty: exceedingly pretty. With a dimpled, surprised-looking, capital face; a ripe little mouth, that seemed made to be kissed–as no doubt it was; all kinds of good little dots about her chin, that melted into one another when she laughed; and the sunniest pair of eyes you ever saw in any little creature’s head.

And this one from Gerald Croft in An Inspector Calls:

She was very pretty…She looked young and fresh and charming

The Dickens case is an interesting one. It demonstrates that all men, however great, are products of a sexist masculinity that needs to be interrogated. What’s key is that students see me – a man- interrogate it.

On the flipside, I have also spent considerable time praising Romeo for his emotional honesty, something which I have written about here. I’m sure that many books, at primary school, contain many outdated masculine stereotypes, but also examples of a new kind of masculinity which is tender. Criticise the former, and praise the latter relentlessly. Constantly.

4. Relentless attention to the language I’m using.

There was probably a time when the anecdotes and questions I used to illuminate a concept were heteronormative. For example, in a lesson on love poetry, I might have asked, “Why might a man write his girlfriend a sonnet?” Now, for everytime I’ll ask that question, I’ll ask another that is homonormative. For example, “Why might a man write his boyfriend a sonnet?”

One of the many foundations upon which toxic masculinity is built upon is homophobia. I want to remove that foundation and I can only do that by chipping away at it as often as possible. Everytime I use homonormative pronouns in the classroom, I am not only chipping away at normalised homophobia, but also demonstrating that I am a man who is tolerant and empathic.

5. Relentless acknowledgement of my own faults.

There are times when I’ve made mistakes and reprimanded a child who didn’t deserve it. There are also times when I’ve found myself engaged in childish tit-for-tat arguments with a student. Every time I falter in this way, I hold my hands up and admit my wrong-doing. If I’ve told a kid off, and been a little too harsh, I’ll apologise to them, directly. If the student was unfairly admonished in front of the whole class, then I’ll apologise to that student in front of the whole class. Boys need to see that men can get it wrong sometimes. But more than this, they need to see that it’s okay to say sorry because saying sorry means I care about people’s feelings.

6. Relentless attention to negative masculine behaviours

It’s tiring at times, but necessary. Every single time a student uses the word ‘gay’ pejoratively; every time a student comments negatively about the way a woman looks; every time a student mocks another student for exhibiting behaviours he considers to be feminine and therefore undesirable. I call them out on it. Relentlessly.

8 Things School INSET can learn from Edu-Conferences

INSET days are often dreadful. An over-paid consultant, who knows nothing about you, your school or teaching for that matter, comes in and tells you how brilliant he or she thinks you all are, before going on to tell you lots and lots and lots about what they do and a little bit about what you should be doing. Then, later on, you are split into groups where you are forced to work with staff you don’t normally work with (Note-there’s normally a good reason for that) as you do some useless mind-mapping exercise in which you come up with ideas about ‘engaging students’ or, even worse, ‘behaviour strategies.’

I know all this because teachers are keen to vocalise their disdain for the INSET they are provided with, in the form of tortured scribblings (scrawled across the back of print-out of a presentation on last year’s progress data), or in the form of venomous rants offered up on the way to the free ham sandwiches.

And yet, in spite of the vitriol invoked by school-centred INSET days, teachers up and down the country are taking the time out of their weekends to attend educational conferences such as #researchED, #TLT, #SASFE, and #NorthernRocks on a Saturday. And they’re not even being paid for it. Nor offered days off in lieu. So, what is it that has teachers attending these conferences in droves when they could be with their kids, or at the football, or in the pub? And what can schools learn from these conferences to improve their INSET provision? Funny you should ask. Because I’ve been thinking about it…

1. Provide Refreshments

It needn’t be anything fancy, but tea, coffee, and slightly more croissants than you think you’ll need will go a long way to making staff feel positive about the day ahead. Teachers like free stuff. Setting them up with a nice breakfast (it’s croissants, so call it ‘continental’) and they’ll feel valued and satisfied. Their brains will be well fuelled and ready to go too.

2. Get a Decent Keynote

If you can help it, don’t spend money on an external speaker. After all, you’ve got a lot of croissants to buy. You might be able to find a big shot edu-tweeter who’ll do it for free (they can be clever and generous, that lot), but failing that, look to your own staff. I’m absolutely dumbfounded by the amount of INSET days in which school leaders look to external ‘expert’ speakers, whilst completely neglecting the expertise of their own staff. In fact, it’s this neglect that goes some way to explaining why INSET provision is so dire: if school leaders don’t engage with the expertise of those at the chalk face, how can they even expect to develop this expertise adequately?

The keynote speech should be informative, research informed and controversial. Wry comments about educational policy always go down well. And, when it comes to looking to someone to be the keynote speaker…

3. Take a chance on someone.

A school that uses teachers on the ground to run their INSET days, rather than the usual members of SLT, makes a powerful statement: ‘This INSET is for you. What you say, think, and do, in our school matters more than anything else.’ There may be someone in Maths who’s an expert in memory; someone in Science who knows loads about setting; someone in DT who can bang on for days about dual-coding. Use these people. School leaders should put time into developing these people, who may be nervous, shy, or even reluctant, as speakers. Show them that you value what they have to say, by helping them to say it.

4. Offer a range of optional sessions.

Giving teachers options will give them the satisfaction that autonomy brings. Giving teachers the volition to choose their own sessions means that they can take control over their own development. It also means they’re less likely to feel that they’ve been subjected to endure training which has little relevance to them. I think it’s reasonable to assume that many schools can afford to run a model that offers 3 sets of 2 sessions in a day. Sessions should cover a range of topics. Try not to make sessions too school or class specific. A lot of the value in Saturday edu-conferences comes from the fact that teachers are required to think about how what they’ve heard might have to be adapted to their own context. After all, ‘memory is the residue of thought’ (see next point) and teachers who are made to think about the sessions they’ve been to, will remember what they’ve heard, for longer.

5. Include the ‘memory is the residue of thought’ quotation from Daniel Willingham in at least one of the presentations.

6. Provide loads of breaks

Human capacity for attention is limited, and whilst teacher’s often take this into account when catering for students, rarely is it applied to themselves. I’ve sat through INSET sessions lasting two hours, without a break. At education conferences loads of time is put aside to give people the time they need to pee, poo, and ponder. Schools should afford staff this time, too.

7. Reject formality.

One of the reasons education conferences are so brilliant, is that they reject the stuffy formality that is often the feature of school INSET days. Conferences like #researchEd, #TLT and #SASFE encourage staff to respond to talks on Twitter as they happen using ‘the hashtag.’ Talk hashtags encourage delegates to engage with the material and also provide speaker’s with useful feedback, and new arguments to consider. They also enable the conversation to continue beyond the session, which is important as often, questions arise, long after the valuable Q and A session.

At #southernrocks18 I was impressed by the organisers’ insistence that delegates move between sessions as and when they see fit. Often, when two sessions run alongside each other, delegates relish the opportunity of switching between the two, half-way through, without worrying about causing offence. Of course, speakers have to buy into this, but actually, particularly when speakers are nervous, this informal approach can be welcome.

8.Go to the pub afterwards

The best conference round ups don’t happen in the main hall. They happen in places where alcohol is served. A visit to the pub allows speakers to decompress, and delegates to ask questions they previously felt too shy to ask. And a pint is always nice after an excellent day’s work.

A Collection of Similes

I like Similes.

So much so that I wrote about them here.

I’ve decided to record my favourite here. Feel free to add your own in the comments section:

  • …the sun rose out of nothing like the head of a great red phallus until it cleared the unseen rim and sat squat and pulsing and malevolent behind them. (Cormac McCarthy, Blood Meridian)

  • the snow-covered hills rippled away into the distance ‘like muscle’. (Lawrence, cited by Orwell, The Road to Wigan Pier)

  • The woman let out an expansive laugh that resounded through the house like a spray of broken glass. (Gabriel Garcia Marquez, One Hundred Years of Solitude)

Rugby vs. Football: A Class Issue

With the Six Nations tournament underway, it is time, once again, for some rugby fans to openly express their disdain for those of us whose experience and enjoyment of ball games does not stretch beyond the realms of the spherical. Once again, it’s time for football fans to endure Guinness-fuelled rants against the ‘girly’ footballers who don’t match up to the hyper-masculine ideal so perfectly preserved in the hulking bodies of those who play rugby. Once again, we must listen patiently as members of the red chino brigade bang out the old cliché about hooligans and gentlemen. Once again, it is time to be shamed.

Increasingly, as I’ve got older and moved up the social ladder, I occasionally find myself in drinking establishments frequented by those of the oval-ball persuasion. It’s what comes from living within a stone’s throw of places like Twickenham, Richmond, and Guildford. I enjoy rugby. I largely don’t have a clue what’s going on, but it’s a great game and one I wish I’d pursued as a youngster. But there is something that increasingly nags at me: it’s the fact that for some rugby fans, their preference for rugby above football, is worn as a huge flashing badge of superiority. And this badge, it isn’t pinned purely to a love for the game, but upon a toxic resentment for the working class.

Although codified and organised by the upper classes (football’s first rules were drawn up by Cambridge University), football quickly became a working class sport. The men working in the industrial towns of the North, where conditions and geography were optimal for the development of the textile trade, formed football teams as an alternative to their weekly dealings with cotton, steel, and coal. As more men started playing football, more men started watching it. Stadiums such as Hampden Park in Glasgow, made to hold 180,000 standing men, sprung up around the country to cater for those for whom, going to watch the football quickly became an integral and essential part of working class male life.

The nostalgic romance for the world of flat caps and rattle clackers was destroyed by the hooliganism of the 1980s. For the university-educated people who run the mainstream media, this world of tribalism and violence was one that they were rightfully prepared to condemn. However, there was never an attempt to understand the root cause of the reason so many young men turned to violence. As Anthony Ellis explains in his book, Men, Masculinities and Violence: An Ethnographic Study, ‘many of the historical sources of working class masculinity-heavy industry, manual work and unionised politics – have become increasingly less relevant for young men,’ and as a result, ‘personal reputation remains a “surviving facet of masculine credibility…”’For many disaffected young working-class men, football hooliganism provided a means of ensuring a reputation: an indicator of masculine power that was becoming increasingly hard to find in every day working lives. The impact on football generally, was disastrous. As Andrew Hussey states in an article for The New Statesmen, ‘By the end of the Thatcherite 1980s …. To be working class, to be a football fan, to be unemployed…was to be scum.’

Rugby league, a sport largely played by working class families in the North is a different matter entirely, but in the south, where the Union code dominates, it’s hard not to feel that for some rugby fans, their contempt for football is masked contempt for the working class. Many football fans will have observed rugby fans mocking with glee the ostentatious displays of wealth, (in the forms of chrome-plated Bentleys and gold watches that could anchor the QE2), displayed by working class boys for whom such wealth was once inconceivable. They’ll be familiar with the mocking of players such as David Beckham and Wayne Rooney as stupid, purely because of how they speak. They’ll be familiar with the way the tattooed names and birthdates of beloved children, inked across a forearm m or neck, are talked about as branded indicators of the footballer’s place on the lower rungs of the social ladder.

What these critics of football need to remember is that for many working class boys, football is the only sport available to them. Rugby is the province of the public school. Public schools with the funds to provide fitness suites that can help in building the rugby-ready body needed to perform on the rugby field. It’s not just about access either. It’s about desirability. As is perfectly rational, many boys don’t want to be smashed to pieces every time they commit themselves to the sports field.This idea that rugby is somehow noble, just because it involves enduring a battering is another example of a toxic expectation that men should be physically strong in order to be, well…men. Sceptical too, am I, of the belief that rugby players are somehow paragons of virtue to which all young boys should look to for guidance on how to live their lives. In his article criticising Rugby for the hypocrisy of the ‘superior tone’ it takes with football, Robert Kitson references players dishing out homophobic abuse, death threats and punches at referees. Hardly the behaviour of gentlemen, and that’s before we even begin to discuss the appalling antics of England rugby teams of previous trips abroad. Which I won’t discuss, by the way.

I think it’s time that some rugby fans think about who they’re really criticising when they launch into their diatribes against football. After all, sport is a leveller. It can propel people, whatever their background, to moments of glory. On the rugby pitch and on the football pitch, where you’re from doesn’t matter. It’s how you conduct yourself. The sooner fans realise this, the better.

Vocabulary: How we Undulate

Unfortunately, many of our students do not read at home.

When it comes to vocabulary, reading is hugely important. As many other bloggers have previously stated, students who read on a regular basis are likely to be exposed to up to 1.8 million words over the course of the year, compared to approximately only 8,000 words for those who don’t.

Whilst as a school we are making a concerted effort to promote reading for pleasure, as an English department, supported by the rest of the school, we are making an effort to widen student vocabulary through the use of direct instruction. This is how we do it.

Once a week, students are taught four Tier 2 Vocabulary words. This is aided by a PowerPoint slide which provides:

Slide 1: The Word (and its word class).

Slide 2: A student friendly explanation (not definition) of the word.

Slide 3: A range of example sentences in which the word is used.

Slide 4: A number of questions , which use the word, to be used in class discussion.

It looks like this:

Slide 1: NAÏVE (adjective)

Slide 2: If you describe someone as naive, you think they lack experience and so expect things to be easy or people to be honest or kind.

Slide 3:

The student naively believed that sitting the exam would be easy.

He naively believed that they would win the football match, even though they hadn’t practiced.

If you believe life is always going to be happy, you are naïve.

Slide 4:

1. Can you think of a time when it would be good to be naïve?

2. Who is more naïve? Someone who believes that you don’t need to do homework to succeed, or someone who thinks the weather will be sunny tomorrow?

3. Are old or young people more likely to be naïve? Why?

A few notes

Dictionary definitions aren’t suitable for helping students to understand the meanings of words. Dictionary definitions often rely on pre-existing knowledge of other words which students do not know. Rather, it’s best to provide an explanation of the word. I find the very best source for student friendly explanations of words is the Collins Online Dictionary as it contains a ‘Learner’- friendly results setting.

When it comes to answering the questions, we ask students to include the word in their answer, in order to familiarise themselves with how the word sounds. For example, if I ask, “Who is more likely to be naïve-older or younger people?”, I ask students to include the word ‘naïve’ in their answer: “I think older people are more likely to be naïve because…”

Each lesson is succeeded by the completion of a homework sheet in which the students complete 4 activities that ask the student to explore the words in different contexts. This may involve elements of dual-coding, but also looking at the words and their synonyms and antonyms.


Research states that a person needs to be exposed to a new word, in a variety of contexts, in order to embed it within their vocabulary. We planned our vocabulary programme to allow multiple exposures:

  • Exposure 1: The lesson in which the words are taught.
  • Exposure 2: Homework sheet, to be completed for next lesson.
  • Exposure 3: Recap vocabulary homework from last week, in next vocabulary lesson.

This system allowed for three exposures. But we needed more. Here’s what we’ve done about it:

  1. Every week, in staff briefing, all teaching staff are told the four words of the week. They are encouraged to use them with students in the context of their own lessons, or in form time
  2. All English teachers aim to use the words in lessons which aren’t ‘vocabulary lessons.’ For example, use of the word ‘rowdy’ in a Romeo and Juliet lesson, or the use of the word ‘naïve’ in a lesson on Of Mice and Men. However, we found that, understandably, as the number of words taught rose, it became increasingly difficult to keep track of what words had been learnt and when. To ensure the words of any given week are at the forefront of teachers’ minds, every week each teacher receives a laminated piece of A4 paper with the 4 words on. This is stuck on the whiteboard, as a reminder prompt for the teacher and pupils. It’s a nudge. When a new word begins, these words are then stuck at a wall on the side of the classroom and replaced with the next four words.
  3. To increase exposure, we have started incorporating previously learnt words into the example sentences. For example, an example sentence for the word ‘brutish’ reads, ‘This brutish monster seemed to violate all laws of nature.’
  4. @Tallbrun, the man who oversees our vocabulary programme has also produced a number of one slide vocabulary recap Power Points. These are available for all staff, across the school, to use and in English; all key stage 3 pupils will see one of these slides, once per week.
  5. I have also spoken to the Head and asked that, where possible, words are used by Senior Leaders in whole-school assemblies, if possible.

All resources are available here:

Homework Sheets:


Recap Slides:

Special thanks to @tallbrun and @mariarosevogler, who have been invaluable in getting this up and running.

Do let me-or them-know if you have any questions.

Simply the Best?

Yesterday, TeacherTapp asked the question, ‘Do you know who the best teachers are in your school?’ 38% of respondents said that yes, they definitely did know. 45% said they had a good idea of who the best teachers at their school were.

This prompted me to run a poll on Twitter: ‘Are you one of the best teachers at your school?’ 49% said ‘Yes’. The rest said ‘No’.

People are happy to identify the strengths of others, but loathe to do so in themselves.

There was no underlying motive behind this poll. I was not attempting to perpetuate a toxic culture of competition in the profession. Nor was I trying to be provocative for the sake of it. I have always been interested in teachers’ perceptions of themselves and so the poll was conducted purely out of interest and nothing more.

Whilst the results of the poll are interesting, the comments that the poll induced were more so. Mainly, comments came from people who were cynical about teachers identifying themselves as ‘one of the best’. Comments revealed that many people feel that a belief that you are one of the best in your profession is synonymous with arrogance, not being a team player, and not wanting what’s best for students: If you think you are the best,you are not a team player, and you are damaging to the profession.

This negative attitude to ‘being the best’ is surprising given the fact that It’s something we strive for everyday. We want ‘the best’ for our students. We want ‘the best’ for our school. We want ‘the best’ for our departments. Of course, we can be pedantic and ask, “Yes, but what is ‘best’?”and feel really clever because we have done so, but come on – we know what ‘best’ is: It’s being better than the majority at a given task or skill based on a set of criteria determined by yourself, or others.

As teachers, a huge part of our job requires having a tacit awareness of ‘best’. What’s the best question to ask right now? What’s the best way to explain this? Whose essay is the best? And yet, It seems that whilst it’s okay to want the best, and to know what best looks like, it’s certainly not okay to recognise that you might be the best at what you do.

The assumption that any teacher who thinks they are one of the best teachers at their school must be an odious creature, continually boasting about the resources they’ve made, the books they’ve marked, and the kids they’ve inspired from a soap box in the centre of the staff room is a dangerous one. Couldn’t it just be that, after years and years of teaching, and studying, and teaching some more, one simply gets better? Couldn’t greater immersion in teaching as a practice, and actually becoming an expert (rather than a novice) at teaching, actually just mean that, well…erm… you just know you’re one of the best?

It seems that there are two types of teachers in this world: those who think they’re one of the best, and those who don’t. Both of these sets of teachers need to ask themselves the questions.

Those who think they are the best need to consider:

  • On what criteria have I based my assertion?
  • Am I wrong?
  • If I’m right, what am I doing to help others in my school to be as good as me?
  • Does my headteacher know I’m one of the best? Why? Why not?
  • Why do I think I’m one of the best? Is this positive self perception of myself as a teacher impacting my students and colleagues and school?
  • How can I be better?

Those who do not think they are the best need to consider:

  • On what criteria have I based my assertion?
  • Am I wrong?
  • If I’m right, what are others doing to help me be a better teacher?
  • Does my headteacher know I’m feel this way? Why? Why not?
  • Why do I think I’m one of the worst? Is this negative self perception of myself as a teacher impacting my students and colleagues and school?
  • How can I be better?

A few people got in touch via DM to tell me that judging yourself as a good or bad is damaging to the profession. I hate the idea that there are crap teachers out there, naively thinking that they are brilliant educators. Similarly, it pains me deeply, and sincerely, that there are many great teachers out there who simply can’t recognise that they are so. But I’m not buying this idea that as teachers we should all acquire the impossible skill of not judging ourselves as teachers against the skill or ability of others. People love banging on about observing colleagues (which I hate by the way- always makes me feel dreadfully inadequate), but what’s the point of lesson observation, if not to make a judgement on yourself in light of what you’ve seen in others?

It should also be pointed out that thinking you are one of the best doesn’t mean that a) you think you are the best, b) that you feel you can’t improve or c) that you think everyone else is rubbish. That’s a straw man.

For what it’s worth, my own view is that the whole thing relies on context. If somebody’s identifying as ‘one of the best’ in an anonymous Twitter poll, that’s fine. If somebody is identifying as ‘one of the best’ in a meeting with the head about their own performance, then that’s fine. If somebody’s shouting off in the staff room about it, then that’s out of order.

I don’t think I’m one of the best. In fact, for the majority of the time I feel woefully useless. That doesn’t mean I am though. But, were I to say that for the majority of the time I feel gleefully superior, that wouldn’t mean I’m woefully useless either.