Reading Group 1

This year, our Journal Club has been integrated into the new CPD programme, so we have fomed a Reading Group. People can come along and talk about something they’ve read, or listen to others talking about things they’ve found interesting, and it gives us the chance to discuss them.

After a slight biscuit-related hitch (I’d forgotten to buy them, and had to make a quick U-turn on the way to work) ten of us met up on Wednesday.

Black Box Thinking

Laurence talked about Black Box Thinking, a book by Matthew Syed,  who has an impressive biography (he taught himself A levels, and gained a prize-winning First Class degree from Oxford four months after becoming British table tennis number one).


Syed compares the airline industry, which is fastidious about learning from its mistakes, to other professions, where mistakes are either too high-stakes or too far removed from outcomes to enable people to learn from any errors.

“…historically, health-care institutions have not routinely collected data on how accidents happen, and so cannot detect meaningful patterns, let alone learn from them.

In aviation, on the other hand, pilots are generally open and honest about their own mistake (crash landings, near misses). The industry has powerful independent bodies designed to investigate crashes. Failure is not regarded as an indictment of the specific pilot who messes up, but a precious learning opportunity for all pilots, all airlines, and all regulators.”

The Hudson River crash is one example where lives were saved in a potentially disasterous situation, beacause the pilot was highly trained, and this training took previous mistakes into account. But this comes at a cost:

“Everything we know in aviation, every rule in the book, every procedure we have, we know because someone died …”

We talked for a bit, as a group, about how this process can be quite difficult in education, firstly because people might be worried about admitting to failure in an increasingly high-stakes culture, but also because it is often difficult to either identify, “de-tangle” or dissect factors that occur well before outcomes are measured, and because they are not necessarily tangible events or actions.

John Tomsett at ResearchED 2016

I mentioned how John Tomsett had also talked about the Hudson River crash at the ResearchED conference on Satuday (attended by Ali and me).


John contrasted the pilot of the safely landed Hudson River plane (Chelsey Sullenberger) with “Captain Coward”, who was in charge of the capsized Costa Concordia , and was convicted of multiple manslaughter, causing a maritime accident and abandoning ship before all passengers and crew had been evacuated” (Guardian).

These slides sum up why he thinks evidence-informed leadership is so important:



Historically Capable Teachers (and “slippage”)

When we were discussing Thomsett’s talk, Sarah told us about some research by Suzanne Culshaw on “Historically Capable Teachers”.

screen-shot-2016-09-16-at-12-41-25 Suzanne says in a blog post on this subject: “…we can all picture a teacher who used to be good…. but who now struggles to cope with the job of teaching and all that it entails these days. But what triggered that change? Was it a singular incident? …..Or, more likely, was it a gradual deterioration of practice which has culminated in a struggle in the here and now?”

Suzanne has coined the phrase “slippage”:

“There’s not all that much in the educational research literature about deterioration, or slippage as I now prefer to call it; the focus seems to be on that ever upwards trajectory towards becoming an even better teacher. ‘Be the best you can be’ and ‘you don’t have to be bad to get better’ or ‘everyone can improve’ (and the inference that we all want to improve…) are the kind of messages bandied around in the edu-world. But what about those teachers who, for whatever reason, have come to a bit of a standstill? What about those who used to be pretty bloomin’ good at teaching but have started to wobble a bit? The message latently being sent to them seems to be ‘improve (aka: meet the standards & expectations ‘we’ dictate of you) or go.’”

Lemov and routines

Vicki read Lemov’s Teach Like a Champion earlier this year, and gained a great deal from it. She has collated a series of approaches from the book that she will be trying out, and she’ll be sharing them with us at each meeting, so that we can try them alongside her.

This time, she talked about routines, and how she’d been thinking about (and sometimes re-thinking) the starts to her lessons. For example, making sure there was always a “Do Now” task on the board.

We’ll be thinking about, discussing, and trying out more Lemov strategies as we go through the year.

Emerging concensus in education

Finally, I talked about a presentation at the ResearchED conference by Mike Bell from The Evidence Based Teachers Network.

In his talk, Mike said that there really is no mystery surrounding what amounts to good teaching. He said that there is an emerging concensus, and that certain common factors lead to “outstanding  learning”. You can read about the 6 steps to outstanding learning here.


Mike displayed a table summarising research from Hattie, Marzano and the EEF, arguing that, although approaches and interventions might be called different things by different researchers, they basically amount to the same thing.

Next steps

This was a really enjoyable discussion, and I really hope we manage to make this a regular event. I think we might have to consider our venue for the next meeting, because the Staffroom is (inevitably) rather noisy at lunchtime. We actually didn’t eat all the biscuits…




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