Collaboration, Diversity, Group work, Professional development, Reflection

Collaborative and Reflective Staff Networks in Education

group hand fist bump
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Nick Bentley – Lead Practitioner for Inclusion and Drama

Staff in our school have been working hard to establish a range of reflective and collaborative networks, aimed at developing reflections, promoting discussions and empowering practitioners. What follows, then, is a summary of five models we have used to do this.

  1. Action Research: As a way to support staff to take control of their classrooms and act as practitioner-researchers, our assistant headteacher Charlotte Paine has successfully rolled out action research with smaller groups of staff first, before all teachers and teaching assistants from across the school have contributed to presentations on their research. This has been wonderfully popular, and supported with teacher confidence, collaborative working and innovations with teaching.
  2. Coaching: In a development which was really appreciated by many teachers and support staff, Yamina Bibi and Fiona Morris – former colleagues of mine who are educational leaders with a precision focus on developing staff to be their very best – worked hard to establish a coaching culture at our school. Here, a full range of staff are developed through personalised coaching sessions, led by staff across the school, allowing staff to set their own targets and negotiating their own paths towards them.
  3. Diversity Discussion Group: Inspired by the grassroots education movements @WomenEd, @DisabilityEd, @LGBTed and @BAMEed, we established a meaningful collaborative discussion group allowing staff to reflect on issues of diversity across the curriculum and in education more broadly. Staff have found this group to be genuinely exciting and helpful, promoting and supporting the important role of diversity in education.
  4. Teacher Journal Group: The opportunity to engage with a teacher journal allows staff to track their own learning and consider what is helpful and meaningful in their diverse teaching contexts. In line with this, we have had a teacher journal group at our school which has involved different staff including a teaching assistant, a curriculum leader and a lead practitioner discussing, sharing and learning new ideas.
  5. SB Discussions: Staff have really tended to enjoy rich discussions over hot educational topics, including inclusion, student led-learning and the value of collaboration. Hearing colleagues, with their wealth and diversity of opinions and experiences, come together to interrogate a range of educational topic, has been really meaningful.

All told, then, we have sought to establish a full range of platforms for teachers to share their opinions and empower themselves to forge their own paths. I hope this blog post may be of value to those working in education, considering how to embed or develop collaboration and reflection in the cultures of their schools.

Collaboration, Literacy, Professional development, Writing

I do it…we do it…so you can do it: the importance of collaboration across the curriculum

ADD56B9E-DD3C-400A-A064-C34118F2D469Natalie Jim-Lead Practitioner

As I read the fifth piece of coursework my heart continues to sink. Although the words on the page are definitely recognisable as being part of the English language, they seem  to be randomly placed on the page, with no actual sense being communicated. The constant question keeps circulating around my brain: “how can they write so fluently and attain such high grades in English, but be unable to transfer these same literacy skills when studying other subjects?”

It became such a source of frustration that I knew something had to done.

As teachers in secondary school, we understand that collaboration with other curriculum areas is a fantastic way to improve attainment across the school community, but we may not forge these links as often as we should. I speak very generally, but curriculum planning, the sharing of practice and finding the time to observe other colleagues can be challenging. Is it any wonder that students can’t connect the skills required in numerous subjects when we often don’t utilise opportunities to make those connections?

As a teacher of drama, I have had to shift my mindset regarding the teaching of writing and literacy skills in response to the new GCSE exam specification. Interestingly, a student’s ability to write about drama is awarded higher marks than their ability to demonstrate practical skills. There is also a further focus on preparing students to confidently sit a 2 hour written paper worth 40%.

After marking a batch of  mock exam papers,  it was with a sinking feeling that I noticed a gap in what they were achieving in English compared to drama. What was frustrating was that the skills needed to answer questions in the written paper were very similar. Taking action, I turned to a Lead Practitioner from the English Curriculum Area to support me in my quest to join the dots.

The first step was to break down the similar aspects of the English literature exam paper and the specimen drama paper. It was apparent that analysis and evaluation were the overlapping skills. So the questions can students: identify language used by a writer; infer meaning and evaluate the effect on the reader were similar to what I was considering as a drama teacher. So, for example, drama students should be able to identify theatrical skills used by a performer, infer meaning and importantly discuss the effect on the audience.

I looked at a writing frame grid being used in English and adapted it for a drama question. In addition, the LP visited and team taught a drama lesson that was introducing the grid and demonstrated the most effective way of modelling – “I do, we do, you do.” When using top band models as a teaching tool, I had often not spent enough time on the joint construction of a response with the class. Instead I would jump from showing them a model and breaking it down and analysing it, to then giving them the task of trying to create a response for themselves. What seemed to be the missing piece of the jigsaw was actually working on a new model together and then giving them the independence to try.

It is still a work in progress, but looking at students’ subsequent attempts at similar questions, I am hopeful.  I would recommend using the expertise of those around us to problem solve and support highly.

Professional development

End of the year review- my top 3 Teaching and Learning tools.

 Ruthana Christofides-Lead Practitioner 

As we approach the end of the academic year, it’s an apt time to reflect. 

What were the great moments that provided you with solace post Trump’s election? What will one change to ensure an even better academic year 2017-2018?

In light of this reflection,  I’d like to share with you my top teaching and learning strategies from this school year.

3rd place- Pearltrees


In third place is the use of Pearltrees to create a bank of current and relevant TV clips which can be used as hooks for lessons.

Pearltrees is free to use and, it allows you to store web links and resources, which any individual with the link can access.

When I see something on the TV which I think I could use to introduce a particular concept, I add it to my Pearltrees (feel free to have a look here: .

When planning, I visit my Pearltrees to see what gems await me. As well as engaging students in learning, the hooks encourage them to think how scientific ideas link to the real world.

Here are some examples of how I have used these hooks:

  • Buzz Lightyear travelling through space to address misconceptions with sound and vacuums.
  • The ‘Friends’ episode where Joey proposes he should urinate on Monica’s leg to remove a jellyfish sting to introduce the concept of neutralisation reactions.
  • ‘My Sister’s Keeper’  to analyse treatments provided for leukaemia and the ethical considerations that surround these treatments.


2nd place-Feedback sheets

In second place is the use of feedback sheets, stickers and sticky tabs to encourage effective dialogue with students. When marking, I provide students with feedback on one assessed piece of work using a coloured feedback sheet. The feedback sheet lists the WWWs as statements and EBIs as questions; these are formulated using the success criteria. I highlight the appropriate WWW statements and EBI questions and students then respond with a brief reflection on the task and answers to their EBI questions. I revisit this to either state gap closed or provide further support.

In addition to this,  I probe students with one question in their book where knowledge needs developing, or misconceptions need addressing.

This page is identified using a sticky tab with students responding to this. I also provide students with an animal sticker (see below), besides which I draw a speech mark and praise the student for something they have done particularly well.

Only those who have gone above and beyond receive a sticker. Marking isn’t too time consuming, as writing is minimal.

Marking is effective, as pupils are clear on where responses are required and do so; they make progress as a result of this. Marking encourages students to go above and beyond, as they are motivated by the specific praise they are given.

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1st place – Google docs

google docs

In first place is the use of Google Docs and its ability to promote student-led and collaborative projects. I have used it for projects ranging from: creating an advisory website on muscular and skeletal injuries for athletes (feel free to have a look here:, to writing a blog in the life of a geneticist.

A few (of the many) reasons I have found it so useful have been that students can collaborate or work independently remotely without requiring Microsoft. As well as this, a student’s work can be monitored and provided with quick and easy feedback wherever the teacher may be. The challenge I am setting myself  for next year is to use Google Docs more for self-marking activities via the Google Forms feature.

Please feel free to contact me about any of these strategies using the ‘contact us’ form or using the comments box below. 

Happy reflection time!


Professional development

Are you ready for your close up?

Natalie Jim-Lead Practitioner 

“What am I doing? Why do I keep saying “ok”? Is my voice really that high pitch? Please stop saying “ok”. Did I miss that student with their hand up? For goodness sake stop saying “ok!”

As I prised my fingers from my eyes and watched my first ever recorded lesson observation, I went through the typical emotions most people feel when watching themselves on camera. However, once the embarrassment had diminished and I had stopped cringing, it dawned on me that here was a tool that was going to have a transformational effect on my teaching.

When the idea of using a camera in the classroom is first mentioned, most people start to imagine a 1984 ‘Big Brother is watching you’ scenario. They fear that the camera is going to capture all their flaws as a teaching practitioner and then force them to re-live it by watching it!

When I first heard of the IRIS system, my reaction was probably typical of what many felt at the thought of an ‘all-seeing’ eye watching me.

IRIS describes itself as a ‘video based learning platform’, designed to ‘enable better teacher reflection.’ Big claims are made on their website about the impact of using the system including the stat that 64% of schools regularly using IRIS improved by at least one Ofsted grade in their last inspection cycle compared to the national average of 42.5%. This system was seemingly a coaching tool that could be controlled by an observer, or the observed; it could capture a lesson to then allow for greater reflection – to actually see the lesson from a different point of view.

But my question was: could it work at Sarah Bonnell?

When we launched IRIS to all teaching staff, we made it very explicit that this was a coaching tool, unconnected with performance management targets. All footage filmed on the system would be completely private and confidential – you only share footage you want to and you don’t even need to do that if you just want to self-reflect. This also negated issues regarding the filming of students- the platform is secure and not available for public viewing.

When I first used IRIS in my drama studio, I was soon a convert to this new pair of eyes. I wanted to focus on the impact of group work and how to encourage less passengers – an issue picked up from a previous lesson observation. It was fascinating to see my classroom from this perspective. After getting over the initial sensation of watching myself, I almost forgot I was the teacher I was watching as my focus was drawn to the learners’ behaviour.

It was fascinating to zoom into  the interaction between the learners and how they responded to the tasks in the lesson. Students who I thought were engaged at the time were clearly not as engaged as I had been led to believe. I watched in astonishment as a student who had been on her feet and making all the right gestures to look engaged was, in fact, being directed by others.

This encouraged me to reflect on the strategies I could have implemented in the task that could have addressed this such as: giving students specific jobs or a focus during the task, the group dynamics and the pace of the activity. It felt very empowering to be able to view the lesson in a safe and developmental way knowing quite specifically what could be done to tweak my practice to elicit a better outcome for students.

In my role as Lead Practitioner for Teaching and Learning, I have used IRIS to support the development of others. In terms of feedback from other users of the system it has been overwhelmingly positive.

One user when asked for feedback said:

I have used Iris for both self and peer observations and found both experiences useful. When using IRIS for self-reflection, it has enabled me to identify areas of my teaching practice that I wish to focus on- for example the amount of pause time I give after posing questions. Something else I identified when watching back the recording was that my movement around the classroom was limited to certain areas and tables. This was done subconsciously and until I used IRIS, I was unaware that this was the case and since then I have become more aware of my movement around the room.”

There is still a job to be done to continue to grow the use of the system in the school and there is obviously a significant investment of time and money to bring in a system like this – but in terms of opening up professional development and self-reflection there really in no other tool like it.

Why not try it and see for yourself?

Professional development

Your challenge, if you choose to accept it…

…is to adopt and adapt the Teaching and Learning strategies you read here!

We are immensely excited to welcome you to the Sarah Bonnell Teaching and Learning blog!

The aim of the blog is to provide a platform for all Sarah Bonnell practitioners and friends to share and implement ideas and strategies that can be adopted or adapted in every classroom.

Each fortnight, a strategy will be shared in a blog and we would like you to trial and share how you have used the strategies using the blog’s comments box.

If  you would like to get involved with the Teaching and Learning blog, we would love to hear from you. Please approach the Teaching and Learning team or use the ‘Contact Us’ form. 

Thank you!

The Sarah Bonnell Teaching and Learning Team